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Tuesday, 4 September 2007

'High Country Weather' by James K. Baxter

I cannot let mention of James K. Baxter pass without bringing up my favourite poem. For a New Zealander, it is a very conventional choice. What can I say? This poem is well-known and beloved for a reason.

High Country Weather

Alone we are born
And die alone;
Yet see the red-gold cirrus
Over snow mountain shine.

Along the upland road
Ride easy, stranger:
Surrender to the sky
Your heart of anger.

I brought this poem up in the first blush of my aching discussions with my former darling love about religion, as an explanation of how my worldview differed fom his. In some ways this was almost a misstep. Archibald Baxter was an unchurched Christian who never mentions praying and barely mentions God. James K, though, was a Catholic convert. How the heck did he write a poem that had such a marked influence on my secular humanism? 'Alone we are born, and die alone' -- famous phrase -- is not the statement of a person who believes himself to be perpetually in the presence of God. But then, 'to be or not to be' is still the question despite the fact that most people, of most religions, believe that not being is not an option!

My point, though, was this. I don't live in a happy manufactured world overseen by a benevolent deity. And I don't need to. As my worldview stands, I have so much invested in seeing-the-red-gold-cirrus-over-snow-mountain-shine! I like it that way. The first line is worth it for the second one. (I have some sympathy as a result for the idea that the best of all possible worlds -- without altering human nature -- might involve suffering. But I'm still pretty sure that this world isn't the best possible one).

And remember, the snow mountain in question is one of those Lord of the Rings New Zealand vistas. Mmkay?

Ride easy, strangers :-)


L.L. Barkat said...

I suppose this makes us similar. Neither do I live in a happy manufactured world overseen by a benevolent deity. Somehow the world seems more like a work of art in which I might revel, seeing the red-gold, naming it and loving it. And the deity? A whisper, a wind opening my heart to the mountains, shadowing the valleys with presence rather than rescue.

L.L. Barkat said...

Small postscript...If there is any rescue, it is from my own dark tangle, not generally from the world.

Lynet said...

Fair enough, LL.

Anonymous said...

I read this poem the first time when I was in New Zeland in Karamea. There it was painted on a wall in a backpacker and I immediately could relate to it. For me it sums up some core ideas of existentialism. It hints at the desperation of humans to live in a world deprived of its paradise and unity (Camus would have called it "absurd feeling"). The poem then continues with the romantic revolt against a disparaging and malevolent god, the rider feels anger against the injustice of god. The existentialistic tweak .. which could als be read as a relisgious turn around ... is that the poem says: although the world is harsh and god is of no interest and therefore you are alone and free and fully responsible of anything you do ,the world is still a wonderful place to be felt in flesh and bone... just like the greeks did. So here i read "sky" as the literal sky not as an transcendental sky... jsut my two cents about a most lovely poem Jens

Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work.