New Zealand Poetry Day: To an Expatriate

TO AN EXPATRIATE, by A. R. D. Fairburn

“Weep ye not for the dead, neither bemoan him: but weep sore for him that goeth away: for he shall return no more, nor see his native country.”

Jeremiah XXII:10

Pine for the needles brown and warm,

think of your nameless native hills,

the seagulls landward blown by storm,

the rabbit that the black dog kills.

Swing with the kelp the ocean sucks,

call to the winds and hear them roar,

the westerly that rips the flax,

the madman at the northeast door.

Dream of the mountain creek that spills

among the stones and cools your feet,

the breeze that sags on smoky hills,

the bubble of the noonday heat.

The embers of your old desire

remembered still will glow, and fade,

and glow again and rise in fire

to plague you like a debt unpaid,

to haunt you like a love betrayed.

I have loved this poem since I first encountered it in an English lecture at Auckland Uni, when I’d read very little New Zealand poetry before and had no real idea that I would become an expatriate. The poem took immediate hold of my heart and imagination and it has been part of the soundtrack of my life ever since. At that first encounter I was struck by both the accuracy of the imagery and its deeply romantic appeal, and all I have to do to bring the whole poem to mind is to start that first line off in my head and I’m away – back on Waiheke Island as a child at my grandparents’ house, or sliding on nikau palms down the back hill beside the lines of pine trees, or … or …

I haven’t lived in New Zealand for any length of time since I left (and the Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse was one of the five books I took in my suitcase on that first plane journey) but I revisit as often as I can, and stay for as long as possible. And New Zealand poetry in general, as well as this poem in particular, now as then, connects me to that set of almost tribal loyalties and understandings which matter a great deal to me.

So I’m delighted to be able to post this on New Zealand’s Poetry Day – I hope you’ll check out the other poems on the Tuesday Poetry blog.

6 Responses to “New Zealand Poetry Day: To an Expatriate”

  1. Helen Lowe Says:

    Thank you for this poem, Belinda–you are so right; even for a resdient Kiwi it is very evocative.

  2. Sarah Jane Barnett Says:

    Hi Belinda. What year was this poem written? It is very engaging – I enjoy the romantic lyricism of the poem that sort of turns on itself with lines like “the rabbit that the black dog kills.”

  3. admin Says:

    I’m delighted you both like this! Sarah, I don’t know exactly when it was written – Rex Fairburn (1904 – 1957) wrote most of his poetry in the 1930s and 1940s, so I’d guess it was somewhere in that period. Belinda

  4. mary mccallum Says:

    I agree with Sarah – it seems to be one thing but is strongly another – the breeze that sags etc. Great poem. Thanks Belinda.

  5. Belinda Hollyer » Blog Archive » Tuesday poem: A Riddle of the Soul Says:

    [...] by other important New Zealand poets of that generation in recent years – Rex Fairburn’s To An Expatriate and R.A.K. Mason’s Song of Allegiance still resonate in my [...]

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