Thursday, September 4, 2014

From the Maori rites

Light Poem 

From the conception the increase
From the increase the swelling
From the swelling the thought
From the thought the remembrance
From the remembrance the desire

The word became fruitful:
It dwelt with the feeble glimmering:
It brought forth night:
The great night, the long night,
The lowest night, the highest night,
The thick night to be felt,
The night to be touched, the night unseen,
The night following on,
The night ending in death.

From the nothing the begetting:
From the nothing the increase:
From the nothing the abundance:
The power of increasing, the living breath
It dwelt with the empty space,
It produced the firmament which is above us

The atmosphere which floats above the earth.
The great firmament above us,
the spread-out space dwelt with the early dawn.
Then the moon sprang forth.
The atmosphere above dwelt with the glowing sky.
Then the sun sprang forth.
They were thrown up above as the chief eyes of heaven.
Then the sky became light.
The early dawn, the early day.
The mid-day.
The blaze of day from the sky.

   I have long had a fascination with myths. Creation myths especially, and the similarities of expression and description across cultures. Mythology is primitive religion; the incantatory power of language is present equally in deitic rite, in poetry, in prayer: the gods use language to fashion the world, and men use language to conjure the gods. For me these connections are as fundamental as they are inexorable – which is why, perhaps, I wrote “The Pulse”.

    The poem celebrates the coming of light, that pivotal moment in the world’s awakening which recurs each day of the universe’s life, in a way that renders our Biblical equivalent – the tyrant’s curt edict: let there be light – insipid and matter-of-fact; though the significance of the word, the Logos, and the act of naming is identical. The poem seems to me to come in four distinct fragments, which the stanzas do not precisely define. In the first the growth of consciousness; in the second the Logos; in the third the evolution of matter; in the fourth the birth of light. Order is also more logical than in the Genesis equivalent – perhaps because the Genesis version was constrained by the need to give each sphere of creation to its original deity and each original deity to his or her own day, thus leaving the anomaly of light, which belongs to the Creator-Father, being created on the first day, but the material sun, moon and stars to the fourth day. Quite probably, like that hidden sub-text in Genesis, each of the abstract concepts conceals and reveals a god in the Maori canon too.

    The poem, incidentally, should be chanted, not recited – much as the New Zealand “All-Blacks” chant the haka before rugby matches, recalling the ancient war-cry before pitched battle. Somehow, as I chant it in my head to write it down in these pages, the shadow of Ted Hughes’ “Crow” seems to rise up darkly at my shoulder.


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