Seven Years and Fifty Weeks — Stanza 1

Rudyard Kipling in conversation with (probably) N F Kennedy at (also probably) 11 Budock Road. Auckland, 1891

Rudyard Kipling in conversation with (probably) N. F. Kennedy at (also probably) 11 Budock Road. Auckland, 1891

Res Publica, Book One

Prologue

Wherein the narrator gives proof
the story he will tell, of seven years and fifty weeks of his life, is
true. . .

1.

The following is a true account
of seven years and fifty weeks
of my life. The thrifty reader1 who seeks
some greater truth from such an amount
should stop here. A visiting Kipling once said
our island nation is British fed
but will repay its debt in stories.2
Rudy was known for allegories.
This is not one – its factual role
as firm as the land our Capital stole3
from the sea! I write my past. I pave it
with truth. And with ‘Arcady’ engrave it.4

1To those who’ve followed Zireaux’s public statements that his works were ‘composed to be heard, not read,’ I wish to point out that in Kamal, books one and two, a ‘reader’ is addressed no less than 70 times (not ‘listener,’ which never occurs), and in the whole of Res Publica, ‘reader’ occurs with the same frequency – including, most significantly, the ‘reader’ mentioned in the dedication page.
2Kipling’s story, ‘One Lady at Wairakei’, in which Kipling makes this point, first appeared in the
New Zealand Herald on January 30, 1892.
3Several streets in downtown Wellington are built on land which rose out of the sea during an earthquake in 1885.
4Those who’ve read Zireaux’s second book,
Kamal, may find it interesting that the narrators of both books – Res Publica and Kamal – are named Arcady Robinson. Are they meant to be the same person? No, they most certainly are not. There is, however, a continuity of character which this editor will expand upon in future footnotes, and which might give us some insight into Zireaux’s own development as a writer, recently migrated to New Zealand, as he composed first Res Publica, and later, Kamal.

———-
Zireaux’s comments on this stanza:
Two things I should say about this opening stanza:

First, it seemed appropriate to begin Res Publica, an epic poem about a kind of nation- or state-building (both personal and public), with a reference to Kipling, the great poet of Empire (see my post about Kipling’s “The Way Through the Woods“).

Second, the reference to the 1885 earthquake in Wellington is fundamental to Res Publica — with earthquakes playing a primary role in the poem (the central character of the poem, the island of Res Publica itself, emerges after an earthquake). But unfortunately, as we’ve seen earlier this year, earthquakes also play a distressing role in the real lives of New Zealanders. There was, for this poet, an eerie and uncomfortable sense of theft (life’s plagiarism being deadly in this case) on February 22, 2011 — as will become uncannily clear when we read the lines in stanza three: “And several hundred people dead.”

For Tuesday Poem readers, here is a piece of verse Kipling wrote about Auckland:

“Auckland,” The Song of the Cities, by Rudyard Kipling

Last, loneliest, loveliest, exquisite, apart–
            On us, on us the unswerving season smiles,
      Who wonder ‘mid our fern why men depart
        To seek the Happy Isles!

Kipling wrote these quatrain poems about many cities across the British Empire — Calcutta, Rangoon, Singapore, Sydney amongst others. Apart from the poem, he had this to say about his visit to Auckland in 1891: “All I carried away from the magic town of Auckland was the face and voice of a woman who sold me beer at a little hotel there.” Not as insignificant a souvenir as he implies, as this very Aucklander would inspire the central character of his short story, “Mrs. Bathurst.”

Listen to the audio version (read by Stuart Devenie) | Buy a signed copy of the book

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6 Comments

Filed under Res Publica, Book One

6 Responses to Seven Years and Fifty Weeks — Stanza 1

  1. Hooray! Res Publica in daily, annotated mouthfuls. Perfect for the distractable browser. Thank you.

  2. SB

    I read the book and simply loved it. To re-read the stanzas here in the context of New Zealand history/contemporary events works brilliantly – makes the work so much alive and rich! Just imagine – if we could read all the literary classics this way – as told by the authors themselves…

  3. Thanks Penelope. It’s fitting, and a privilege, to have the writer of the novel, Island — which I’m afraid I haven’t read but which sounds fascinating (where/how to purchase?) — visiting the island of Res Publica. Will be very interested in your impression.

    SB, good to hear you’ve struck up a relationship with my book. Of course, the parent of a loved-one is not always the person you want hanging around your dinner date — so I expect readers to let me know (a gentle hint will do) if my presence becomes oppressive.

    -Z

  4. Island in each of its parts has been praised and scorned in equal measure (I mean, my visit’s a dubious privilege on that score) however, a click on the cover in my website sidebar takes you to Fishpond. Whitcoulls don’t stock it but independents should do.

  5. Praised and scorned — what great island isn’t? Let them come on their cruise ships and eco-tours, but shall we cater for happy holiday-makers alone? Crags and lava-pits, I say. Beaches and sandflies. Wonder and woe. (Look forward to reading your book).

  6. Penelope

    Diphtheria and marmalade, nurses and mutton — step ashore at your own risk, but welcome.