tell of prowess and peril, and, taken from pocket,
show faceted crystals from high rock-surfaces.
To muse: All this, it has been like to crystal,
cold-dropping waters, clearest bird-voice,
sheerest silence, light-flashing glacier.
To be invited: Please have this crystal.
And so, like fay-bestowed flower in the fairy-tale,
beauty, fast in a crystal, bearing,
back to the city.
Humanity has ever found it comfortable
to render richest experience portable,
heart to heart with a sign indenture,
sum up in symbol, most high adventure;
till, years gone by, and significance broken,
folk ask: What mean you by this token?
Let us in kindness covet for every man
one lovely memory at least in life-span
fit to be locked up in crystal reliquary,
so all may see it, yet none see, save he.
I found this fascinating poem in the Guardian online. And there's a terrific write-up to go with it. As the article says, Bethell was one of our seminal poets. Born in 1874 in England, she died in Canterbury NZ in 1945.
Many of her most beguiling poems celebrate the sloping garden she built at Rise Cottage, on the edge of the Cashmere Hills. They often begin like letters or journal-entries, informal, matter-of-fact: "I find vegetables fatiguing" ("Perspective"), "My garage is a structure of excessive plainness" ("Detail"). Sometimes, Bethell half-playfully addresses the plants themselves: to an orange-tree sapling she writes, "O little Omi-Kin-Kan, your green shoots are so sturdy ..." ("Citrus"). From such informalities, the poems blossom into rich verbal gardens, relishing intense colours and litanies of plant-names.
Bethell the painter and Bethell the musician collaborate in her best work. The garden she writes about is a repository of spiritual meaning, and also symbolises her love for Effie Pollen, the woman with whom she shared the happiest, most artistically productive, years of her life.
This week's poem, "Rock Crystal", travels beyond the garden and celebrates wider nature. It's a "holiday poem" but one that takes a metaphysical turn, and invites us into the process by which a refreshing new vista expands into the visionary.