Three Regrets and a Hymn to Beauty

Three Regrets and a Hymn to Beauty

by Ian Wedde


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781869403492
Publisher: Auckland University Press
Publication date: 09/28/2006
Pages: 64
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.33(d)

About the Author

Ian Wedde is a former art curator at The Museum of New Zealand–Te Papa and now serves as an independent consultant. He has published nine previous collections of poetry, two novels, numerous short stories and essays, and was coeditor of an anthology of New Zealand poetry. He won the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry for Spells for Coming Out.

Read an Excerpt

Three Regrets and a Hymn to Beauty

New Poems

By Ian Wedde

Auckland University Press

Copyright © 2005 Ian Wedde
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-77558-219-9



    The bottle of oil I was late sending John

    This poem will mimic ordinary speech
    so well, you won't tell the difference,

    even though ordinary speech would never say
    something like that. Ordinary speech

    doesn't know it's ordinary
    until we make it say extraordinary things.

    Is that true? For a start, 'ordinary speech'
    doesn't know anything, it is we who know things

    which we express using speech both ordinary and
    unusual, in the way a great athlete can make

    running across the South Island appear achievable.
    This morning a grey, slab-shaped mountain

    appeared above the domestic horizon of rooftops
    at the southern end of our street. It was there

    and then it wasn't. While it was there
    I wasn't surprised, because it appeared so

    naturally, and when it was gone I was also not surprised
    because things had returned to normal. Ordinary

    speech can do that.
    I'd have to say, John, that running all the way

    from west to east across the Southern Alps
    would be a day at the office if a gabardine alp

    can materialise at the southern end of the street
    I turn the western corner of

    every day on my way to work, or somewhat earlier
    every day, the eastern corner, when I walk the dog.

    Every day I know I have a choice.
    I can be the docile servant of

    ordinary speech, even of ordinary speech
    describing the southern traverse of icy tarns,

    matagouri, lichened rocks and rabbit bones
    freeze-dried in the hawk's nest, I can have my day

    project-managed by human resource clerks,
    I can put a two dollar coin in the slot machine

    that dispenses chocolate bars
    and get twenty cents change, I can say yes

    when I mean no, and when I come home in the evening
    turning east at the end of the street

    where the dun mountain appeared and
    disappeared that morning, I can remain unsurprised

    by ordinary speech's failure to make something
    unusual appear so. Or

    I can choose to be reborn.
    Let's face it, ordinary speech doesn't have the cunning

    to trapeze around the end of a line of poetry
    stranding 'or' on the other side of the hyper-dramatic line

    'I can choose to be reborn'.
    What right have I got

    to make ordinary speech say things like that?
    I should know better, as I turn west (but earlier, east)

    every morning, and east every evening,
    half expecting the slab-like shape of Mount Martha

    to be there above the roof line of Wareham House
    at the bottom of our street, the 'functions

    venue' where bridal cars draw up festooned with ribbons
    and whose balcony Fills with

    singing drunks. Later, the 'happy couple'
    (in the language of ordinary speech)

    depart in another car encouraged by boastful cheers
    from the balcony, and I sometimes wonder

    if the brides have, for a moment at least,
    seen the slab-like form of Mount Martha

    rise up behind the noisy balcony of
    their pissed cousins, and if just for a moment

    they've imagined their newly wedded lover
    running tirelessly, with evenly panting breath, across

    the high screes and hawks' nests like bell-jars
    of specimens – lean, grinning with fitness, his

    skin the thin papyrus of quasi-biblical survival, his
    sponsors the makers of tents and kayaks

    in which the happy couple could live comfortably
    in Antarctica, their adventure rendered plausible

    in the ordinary speech of Discovery Channel.
    But then the honeymoon car drives on, it

    changes gears at the end of the street, as
    history seems to some days, lurching forward into a future

    not yet ready for consummation, like an athlete
    getting too far ahead of the

    record books, implausible in his own present, isolated,
    lonely, and Finally embittered — accelerating

    towards the bridal suite in
    a motel at Pekapeka. They may be in time

    for sunset over the Cook Strait horizon, they may
    walk the salty tideline feeling good about

    the way their footprints in the damp sand are
    close together and pointing in the same direction, and

    they'll feel diminished together by the
    grandeur of the sunset display on streaming clouds

    above Mana Island – whose plain, altar-like bulk
    is like a memory of something dark glimpsed,

    briefly, looming above the
    brashly lit balcony of singing wedding guests. Romance

    is good and the language of ordinary speech
    does a good job for it, making articulate

    what the young lovers know matters more than anything
    they've ever done, this moment with the plume tips

    of toitoi aflame as the sun sinks into
    the red and black sea. It's probably a relief when

    the prospect of resurrection fades, the memory of
    the blunt mountain reminiscent

    of Lazarus's 'gentle sister' fades into the lovers'
    dreams and is gone for good in the morning

    when he hands over the keys to the Honeymoon Suite
    and goes whistling to the car. Why, John, does this story

    fill me with horrible rage and sadness, and a vengeful desire
    to take ordinary speech by the neck

    and choke the life from it? Why, despite what I've learned
    over the years, do I want the young lovers

    to drive straight from their love motel into the dark
    shadow of the mountain they fled, and to

    wake every morning of their lives with a refusal
    on their lips, like those mad athletes

    refusing to lie down? The deal was, you'd give me tips
    on quirky titles addressing the Sublime, like the almost-

    forgotten Ernest Tuveson, and in return I'd send you
    obscure treats, like Columela Picual oil. You kept

    your part of the bargain, but half way through the
    turgid Tuveson I got distracted by the term

    'technocalypse' and lost interest in
    moral philosophy, especially Ernest's version of it,

    and I regret to say I forgot
    to send you the thick green oil in its heavy bottle, and I regret

    that it's taken me this long to confront
    the spooky mountain beyond Wareham House,

    to refuse the comfort stops of ordinary
    speech, and to keep on running past the

    all singing all dancing balcony
    across a kind of darkened upland plateau.

    The guide dog

    I want to help a puppy grow into a guide dog
    because, let's face it, I might as well be blind

    in the world of the senses when it comes to
    taking in what's out there. It's true,

    I can read the price tags on new appliances
    and calibrate them to deliver services

    on time. I can smell
    toast burning. Facing the windy assaults of seaspray

    in the Karori Rip, I can see from the
    GPS that we are going nowhere even as the sea creams

    past our keel. The domestication
    of the perilous adventure

    may reach its apogee in the Brown Trout Motel
    in Eketahuna, 'widest main street in the southern hemisphere'

    and Discovery Channel on the 14-inch TV.
    Once, it was believed

    the bird of paradise never landed
    but mated and reared its young in the pure air.

    If there's no unity in things,
    the many cannot appear to be one

    said Plato
    in the Eighth Antinomy of Parmenides.

    The bowerbird makes his nest beautiful
    not to live in, but just to say, I

    can do this, you need me.
    The peacock's exorbitance says,

    you want thrifty,
    keep moving.

    This morning was so quiet
    I could hear birds 'conversing' in

    wet branches, rain falling
    through the foggy air, the dog's

    paws 'plucking' at the muddy track
    as we both ran panting across the flank

    of Mount Victoria at dawn, the
    distant 'roaring' of traffic

    moving into the city
    (couple of early, distant jackhammers),

    the Westpac helicopter
    beating up the grey

    harbour surface down by Shed 5, the redeye
    business flights accelerating up from Rongotai

    into the muffling clouds, the dog's
    and my old-fart breath gasping

    and between my ears
    a high persistent 'ringing'

    day in and day out, like the sound
    (I imagine) of telephones

    heard by someone almost
    deaf, but in demand.

    Waitangi Day at Dick Smith's

    The four young guys in white shirts and cheap
    black pants who are moping outside Dick Smith's

    at 11.30 a.m. on Waitangi Day probably know
    everything that's familiar has changed because

    day to day that's how it goes. Improbably pale,
    my happiness approaches

    like dawn above a reef,
    though happiness doesn't look like anything

    even when it's absent and you have to imagine it
    looking like something. Nor does absence

    look like anything even when it's present in your life
    like the treacherous air that withers the

    weak fibred plant of love. Nor does yesterday
    have any appearance now that it's gone

    though it may have been the day you heard news
    that made appearance, sound, smell, taste, touch and colour

    drain from the world for as long as it took you to think
    do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles? Achievement

    doesn't look like anything, any more than your admiration
    for it does, though you imagine the achievement

    and your admiration for it
    drawn to each other like public holiday loiterers

    outside Dick Smith's, unsure about opening hours, unwilling
    to leave the world of appearances

    to chance, which doesn't look like anything either,
    though it pays to remember that, under the sun,

    the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong,
    neither yet bread to the wise

    nor yet riches to men of understanding
    nor yet favour to men of skill

    but time and chance happen to them all.
    Exploration has no sound – into that silent sea

    you burst, not bound to any master, wherever
    the wind takes you, you travel as a visitor.

    What does the future sound like? Everything
    that's familiar has changed, you'll hear words

    but not voices, songs
    but not singing. Did Dick Smith's

    open for business on Waitangi Day? I don't
    think so, but that doesn't matter – I can give you

    my love but not my thoughts
    because you have your own thoughts.

    Yesterday doesn't look like anything, what I believe
    has no sound, knowledge no taste, the future

    can't be touched, and happiness
    has no colour, though when it's dawn

    I often feel happy and for some reason
    imagine a line of pale surf breaking

    half way out to the horizon. It's then
    that I just don't want to die

    and regret all the many times I spent waiting,
    not knowing what to do.



    you're the trouble I'm in
    because there's a lot of sweetness in my life
    with that rude kind of magnificence
    as when they hung Le Bateau upside down,
    unusually animated and sparkling.
    Happy birthday Montgomery Clift:
    where did I see this guy – in Red River
    or From Here to Eternity?
    Accept and you become whole
    bend and you straighten.

    It's the trouble I'm in
    the paraglider's air –
    if I centre myself
    I will then be able to perform my duties with excellence
    sending back thousands of pictures of the lunar surface
    with that rude kind of magnificence.
    Happy birthday Cindy Crawford
    whose small, dark purple, fringed bell hangs down
    and shudders over the icy cleft that it has cloven.
    Search the minds
    and test the hearts of people.

    But I don't want to talk about it now
    I want to go down
    and I should be thinking about work
    only I can make things happen
    which could produce a black and white photograph in 60 seconds
    an attractive force, naturally.
    Happy birthday W. H. Auden
    your different impression of loveliness from that which we receive
    among the dead ice and the idle clouds.
    Wash me
    and I will be whiter than snow.

    Oh such a beautiful way
    to break your heart!
    You are resourceful and clever
    but your retrieving skills leave something to be desired
    if Baruch Spinoza's house of mourning opens as a museum,
    a palindrome dropped and rewritten with appeal.
    Happy birthday Luis Buñuel
    who ministers to morbid sensibilities,
    ticklers and fanners of the soul's sleep.
    I will utterly consume all things
    from off the face of the earth!

    Down through the long
    loneliness of the world
    you can take a turn for the better
    but only if you are willing
    producing a lamb named Dolly
    and love to run your eye over a mountain nymph.
    Happy birthday G. F. Handel
    whose heart is rightly tuned
    or whose mind is clearly and surely sighted.
    Create a pure heart in me,
    give me again the joy.

    I don't know where we are
    and I don't care –
    if something doesn't match up
    re-evaluate your motives.
    Yes, the second killer avalanche
    was gloomy, in a ceremonial way.
    Happy birthday Wilhelm Grimm –
    look upon those as most lovely
    which are most happy.
    You do not want sacrifices
    or I would offer them.

    You have heard the silent running
    of my dreams:
    prepare yourself well
    so you can follow
    with samples of the moon's surface
    I rant about in spectacles on the lake.
    Happy birthday Pierre Auguste Renoir
    who can only fully be established
    with respect to vital beauty.
    This, then
    is how you should pray.

    I hung around a little too long
    I was good but now I'm gone,
    I may find myself in a tight spot
    but forge ahead
    where satellite images show Yongbyon
    and a mariner in the distance appears cordial.
    Happy birthday Betty Hutton
    who is to be found in the lines and gradations
    of unsullied snow
    for your heart will always be
    where your riches are.

    You are my sorrow
    you are my splendour
    you're on your way
    to something good:
    a green light to pioneer cloning
    make copies and exit at speed.
    Happy birthday Elizabeth Taylor –
    throughout the whole
    of organic creation
    you are my defender and protector,
    in you I will trust.

    I guess I'm taking my chances
    trading in my things
    and I may find myself
    moving in a new direction
    where Princess Diana agrees to divorce
    allowing a girl to enter a sleazy place.
    Happy birthday Raphael.
    You cannot be the object of reason
    but of immediate sense and feeling,
    this includes everyone
    because there is no difference.

    Did you suffer at the end
    would there be no one to remember?
    Nice work if you can get it
    and there's no reason why you can't
    if Columbus frightens Amerindians with a lunar eclipse
    don't take it out again in a public place.
    Happy birthday Jimmy Dorsey,
    you're just too marvellous
    too marvellous for words.
    How doth the city sit solitary
    that was full of people.

    And I was almost persuaded
    to strip myself of my pride –
    a chance to make a change
    to put myself first
    as the space shuttle Columbia carries out a mission
    releasing Gilbertian medley.
    Happy birthday Frédéric Chopin
    with that rude kind of magnificence
    which appears in many of these stupendous works.
    I fear no one
    I will never be afraid.

    They're Justified and they're Ancient
    and they drive an ice-cream van
    so do what will help
    and don't worry what others think
    if King Kong premieres in New York.
    In his eyes, beauty may be seen.
    Happy birthday Lou Reed,
    as fast as a musician scatters sounds
    out of an instrument.
    one thing only do I want
    to marvel there.

    How does your body feel today?
    – I forgot to ask.
    Tie up loose ends
    you will enjoy the rest
    and Apollo 9 is launched
    a mythical tale with a sad end.
    Happy birthday Jean Harlow
    amid the deafening tumult
    scarcely heard.
    Nature is not kind
    it treats all things impartially.

    I go to bakeries
    there's a lot of sweetness in my life
    and this is the perfect time to take a trip
    or get involved in talks
    about Swan Lake first performed at the Bolshoi Theatre
    or take to the air in frenzied dances.
    Happy birthday Evan Dando.
    Amid the smoke of cities did you pass
    your time of early youth
    knowing that tools come from what exists
    but use from what does not.

    I need an empty room
    the crowd has just passed through
    where you can do no wrong
    as long as you get out
    to Italian dirigibles behind Turkish lines
    or country roads all over the place.
    Happy birthday Niki Taylor –
    beauty should be smooth and polished
    the great, rugged and negligent.
    Deal with the difficult while it is yet easy
    deal with the great while it is yet small.

    I need a gravel path
    to travel on
    to begin the long process
    of quitting a bad habit
    as Michelangelo strikes personal computers.
    Though coming by river, not all are daring.
    Happy birthday Kiri Te Kanawa
    with that rude kind of magnificence
    among the dead ice and the idle clouds.
    Arise, cry out in the night
    at the beginning of the watches.

    Searchlights on the skyline:
    just looking for a friend
    a mixed bag of happy tidings on the home front,
    some stress, an increase in travel
    when Alexander Graham Bell patents the telephone —
    it thrashes and throbs.
    Happy Birthday Matilde Serao.
    The men who thus feel will always be few
    and overborne by the thoughtless avaricious crowd.
    Nature doesn't miss these luxuries
    when people can recline in company on the soft grass.

    You were washed up on the glittering shoals
    looking for another crime to confess
    but it's time to get new clothes, a haircut,
    pay your bills and clean your home.
    The Edwin Hubble photo shows as many galaxies as the Milky Way has stars
    and loves to run the eye over a mountain nymph.
    Happy birthday Joseph Berg
    whose ear might have learned to distinguish
    the sounds that communicate ideas.
    I punish all those that leap over the threshold,
    that fill their master's house with violence and deceit.


Excerpted from Three Regrets and a Hymn to Beauty by Ian Wedde. Copyright © 2005 Ian Wedde. Excerpted by permission of Auckland University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Title Page,
Three Regrets,
A Hymn to Beauty: Days of a Year,
Letter to Peter McLeavey,
Mother's Day,
By the Same Author,

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