Please note that the poems and essays on this site are copyright and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Thursday 26 January 2012

Katherine Mansfield: To L. H. B. (1894-1915)


Red Mistletoe, Hopkins River, New Zealand: photo by William M. Connolley, December 2005

Last night for the first time since you were dead
I walked with you, my brother, in a dream.

We were at home again beside the stream

Fringed with tall berry bushes, white and red.

“Don't touch them: they are poisonous,” I said.

But your hand hovered, and I saw a beam

Of strange, bright laughter flying round your head

And as you stooped I saw the berries gleam.

“Don't you remember? We called them Dead Man's Bread!”

I woke and heard the wind moan and the roar

Of the dark water tumbling on the shore.

Where -- where is the path of my dream for my eager feet?

By the remembered stream my brother stands

Waiting for me with berries in his hands
“These are my body. Sister, take and eat.”


Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923): photographer unknown, 1912; image by Yohan euan o4, 23 October 2008

Pittosporum crassifolium, Pukerua Bay, New Zealand: photo by Pseudopanax, 1 August 2006

Ngaio or Mousehole Tree (Myoporum laetum): photo by Júlio Reis, 19 June 2004

The man in the moon becomes, in Maori legend, a woman, one Rona by name. This lady, it seems, once had occasion to go by night for water to a stream. In her hand she carried an empty calabash. Stumbling in the dark over stones and the roots of trees she hurt her shoeless feet and began to abuse the moon, then hidden behind clouds, hurling at it some such epithet as "You old tattooed face, there!" But the moon-goddess heard, and reaching down caught up the insulting Rona, calabash and all, into the sky. In vain the frightened woman clutched, as she rose, the tops of a ngaio-tree. The roots gave way, and Rona with her calabash and her tree are placed in the front of the moon for ever, an awful warning to all who are tempted to mock at divinities in their haste. -- William Pember Reeves: The Long White Cloud, 1899

Katherine Mansfield's birthplace, Thorndon, Wellington, New Zealand: photo by Lanma726, 3 December 2007

Myoporum sandwicense, habitat, sunrise: photo by Forest & Kim Starr, 29 October 2004

Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923): To L. H. B. (1894-1915), from Poems at the Villa Pauline, 1916, in Poems, 1923

Everything in life that we really accept undergoes a change. So suffering must become Love. This is the mystery. This is what I must do.

-- Journal entry for 19 December 1920, in The Journal of Katherine Mansfield (1927), ed. J. Middleton Murry

for A.


Nin Andrews said...

Breath-taking poem. I totally love it.

I woke up thinking of how Eleanor said that she often felt she was writing poetry as if she were already dead and looking back.

ACravan said...

This is both exceptionally beautiful and so, so surprising. (I've never seen a red mistletoe tree before, for instance.) I expect you also must know how impossibly moving it is. Having lately felt stirred in all the wrong directions, this corrects course if that's in fact possible. Curtis

TC said...

The end came so early for this wonderful writer, so unfair as it seems, and yet not without a painfully long run-up at that.

KM had been living in London for some years when her brother, Leslie Heron "Chummie" Beauchamp, died as a New Zealand soldier in France in 1915. The shock of that event changed her life, and too her work, which returned, as if for sanctuary, in a poem like this quiet marvel, to their shared childhood locales in New Zealand.

One feels sad she never got to go back. Partly that was due to the t.b. certainly. But still.

Curtis, that red mistletoe!

The extremely toxic (yet photogenic) red berry of the Ngaio or Mousehole Tree (Myoporum laetum) recalls here the name of the suburb of Wellington where A. grew up.

No, not Mousehole but... yes, Ngaio. (Lots of Maori place-names in that neighbourhood of course.)

Glad you liked this one Nin and Curtis.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Now I'd like to go there and look around, walk around and find those berries.



What with "the roar/ Of the dark water . . . on the shore" and that photo of "Myoporus sandwicense, habitat" could almost be right here. . . . (thanks)


grey whiteness of fog against invisible
plane of ridge, green of leaf on branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

measured relative to system,
time in terms of form

corresponding to this, then
condition of, follows

shaft of sunlight in fog against ridge,
light blue of sky to the left of point

Anonymous said...

love this!

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Though I do have her Selected Stories, which are marvelous examples of her art, I wasn’t aware Mansfield wrote such moving poetry; as you point out, at thirty-four she was much too young to leave this world. A real loss.

TC said...

Many thanks Susan, Stephen, Sandra, Vassilis.

Katherine Mansfield began writing poetry as a young girl in Wellington, and kept on with it thereafter, but her poems didn't really get out to "the public" (if at all) until the appearance of this posthumous collection.

I think this moving elegiac piece provoked by the loss of her brother -- Beauchamp was their common surname, she was born Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp and adopted the pen name Katherine Mansfield upon her first paid publication, in the Australian journal Native Companion, in 1906 -- is her finest poem.

Always good to be reminded that deep feeling is the oldest and truest source of great poetry.

Marie W said...

A beautiful poem, and oh so well completed by the line 'everything in life that we really accept undergoes a change'. A. very kindly sent me the link to this post, and now I remember how I wrote I don't want things to change, why can't they just stay as they are. A., you are the usual delicate and thoughtful Angel. I will come back to this post...

TC said...

It seems whenever we reach the point where things seem so very nice exactly as they are... things change.

(We have pittosporum here too... just not quite so luscious and, what's the word? fruity?)