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