reading lament

Huia Bird Intaglio print by Kapiti artist

“The Huia Returns” 

So time moves swiftly on.  Only three weeks left at school, four weeks until we go. What began as a playful wondering in our minds a year ago is fast becoming real. I almost can’t believe it. And yet I can. Because a house is waiting for us. A little house in the suburbs waits, with trees across the road and a wide sky above it. The open road waits, with stops and adventures thoughtfully planned. And a new life waits,  one that is open and spacious and unhindered in so many ways. We can’t wait to go. We are eager to move.

The novel waits too, waits patiently for the warm space of time that will be mine over summer. It waits for my full and knowing attention. Which it has not quite had yet, not in the way it will have very soon. We will spend time together, that story and I, and talk about all the words that sit on its periphery, the words that are waiting, the ones that were too hard, or too raw, or too uncomfortable to be written in the first time around.

An unexpected conversation about lament happened this week. My sparkling year 11 class and I found ourselves reading Hone Tuwhare’s No Ordinary Sun, that poem of poems. At first they were bemused, but with a bit of prompting they stretched themselves out amongst the words. One of the students thoughtfully asked whether the narrator of the poem is telling the tree to give up.

“Tree let your arms fall:                                                                                                                                                                                 raise them not sharply in supplication                                                                                                                                                       to the bright enhaloed cloud.                                                                                                                                                                         Let your arms lack toughness and                                                                                                                                                     resilience for this is no mere axe                                                                                                                                                                   to blunt nor fire to smother…”

I shook my head without thinking much but then as we read it together I realised she was partly right. The tree is no match for the “monstrous sun” of a nuclear blast and the narrator is keen to ensure the tree is under no false illusions regarding its durability. Its “end at last is written.” It will not survive. The poem is a lament, I found myself saying.

“Your former shagginess shall not be                                                                                                                                          wreathed with the delightful flight                                                                                                                                                               of birds nor shield                                                                                                                                                                                                     nor cool the ardour of unheeding                                                                                                                                                               lovers from the monstrous sun…”

Lament. We wrote the word on the white board. Talked about lament as a song of sorrow, a song that recounts what has been lost as a way to honour and remember it. Talked about how the bible, which some of them know well, is full of lament. And then I realised that a lament can be a form of protest. That Tuwhare’s much loved poem is lament in protest.  Loss is envisioned in such a way as to caution against further loss, in such a way as to communicate the pressing need for change, in such a way as to bring about change. Which is the essence of protest.

And then that novel, the one I’ve been telling you about for so long now, came to my mind. I saw something I hadn’t seen before. The Last Huia is lament in protest. It is a lament for things that have been lost and must be remembered, for things that have been lost and must be honoured, for things that have been lost and must never be lost again.  And my eyes filled with tears.

They were ok with that, those sparkling students. They’re used to me getting carried away occasionally, and they humour my sensitivities. I play the role of eccentric teacher in their lives, and every good learning career has one of those, doesn’t it? So the tears were smiled at and then wiped away as we read our way through the poem. But I carried that word with me for the rest of the day. Lament.

It has taken me from sixteen to forty to find my voice in life and on the page, and I am sad about that. There are a multitude of factors that I think of as accessories to this loss, but I am the principal charge.  I allowed myself to be silenced, I yielded when I should have fought, stayed when I should have walked out, conformed when I should have rebelled. I understand, in part, how this happened. Individuation as Jung has described it is a process contra naturam. To follow it through we must go against the forces without us which would have us conform, and the inclinations within us which hunger for acceptance. It was not a road I was capable of taking until now.

Sorrows gone unheeded fester, they weigh themselves down in dark corners and distort our perceptions. They sit waiting for us to see them, to put voice to them, to lament them. The song that arises is shadowy, at first uncertain. But it gathers strength as it recounts the loss, and the bittersweet notes themselves, by weaving a cautionary tale, become firm ground, a pathway for new possibilities. A pathway of growth, and of vital change. I know about this.

One thought on “reading lament

  1. Lament is something I used to run from. Recently I learnt to embrace lament as part of living. Every day holds many deaths and resurrections in many shapes and forms. Without lament we deny death it’s sorrow, and never really experience true resurrection.

    I heard recently that every lament is a love song.

    Arohanui Idoya and family. I miss you


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