Four Sections from Robin Hyde's “The Book of Nadath”
AU Fair Copy Manuscript (1937)

Introduced and with editorial notes by Michele Leggott


Hyde wrote The Book of Nadath early in 1937 and revised it through the year. She may have taken it to England in 1938 but it was not published in her lifetime or in the posthumous collection of her poems in 1952. It is the book of nothing (nada) and the book of everything, arguably the crowning achievement of her poetry and a great “lost” poem of the 1930s. The four sections selected here represent the range and type of Hyde’s lyrical social prophecy: the false prophet Nadath searches the landscape and conscience of a time and place which is 1937 New Zealand and Nietzschean (or Maori) all-time.

The fair copy manuscript is a complete version of the poem and was used to supplement the damaged typescript that was the basis of first publication in 1999 by Auckland University Press. The manuscript (AU 610) is held by Auckland University Mss and Archives as part of the Iris Wilkinson Papers 97/1. It consists of 88 leaves written on Exquisite and Ariel Bond paper. The arrangement of the thirteen sections is not necessarily Hyde’s after the eighth section, where consecutive page numbers give way to individually numbered sections.

                                                               –Michele Leggott, September 2001


The House of Woman

The Weavers and the Dyers

The Yellow Man

The Far Flyers


The House of Woman.

        A garden, a garden and a garden : three spaces held between the seas.

        Triple as all things are triple, partaking of the nature of the body, the mind and the spirit.

        Which are three, but one : and from which all men have echoed their creeds.

        There shall the violets lie in beds, in bays of dark blue, and the soft tide of odours wash about her feet. 

        Very small is the sunbeam, very white : an almond, and she shall set it between her lips.

        The sunlight is wheat grain, and the doves fly down out of the tree of her dreams : the tree Nadath has planted for her in her garden.

        Her pavement is the rose : her wine is of the anemones.

         I have set her sign in Heaven, the thin crescent moon, which holds the ghost moon between its horns.

        And the crescent moon today is all her light : silvery and fierce, but slender, easily set aside or thwarted by the clouds.

        But when she has come into her own, the full moon will shine.

        And search out the dark places of this earth, the places that are full of fear.

         Nadath is building a house, the house of woman : in the morning he set out to build.

         In her father’s house she is a daughter : in her husband’s house she is a wife: and at last in her son’s house she is his mother, who has grown old.

         And though he reverence her, yet is the ground she treads on not her own. But where is the house, the house of woman?

         Shake the bells over the little bride, the bride of seven : shake out the bells and the curtains upon the wind, and carry her through the streets in the gay palanquin, tasselled with crimson and silver.

         Bear the wands of ivory before her, and grant her her hour, though you curse her in your hearts, because she was born a daughter and not a son.

         For after this day, she is wedded to custom, and to the sad inner knowledge of women, and is no more her own.

         And her hands that were light and swift, become heavy, filled with rebukes.

         Of a man it is said, He is a man. But of a woman they ask, Is she such as will give pleasure and comfort to men?

         To her father, her lover, her husband or her son, to all such as may ask of her?

         And if not, she shall be left desolate. There is no place for her in the world.

         In the east was the binding of feet, that she should not walk again. But in the west was bound and holden more than her feet.

        Even her heart, her dignity and her grace lest she should move alone.

         Nadath went out in the morning and spoke to the swallows, that were building their nests of twigs and clay. Their shuttle of blue came and went, dissevering the air.

        Nadath said, Give me a crumb of your masonry, and the little secret of your craft. I go to build a house for woman, who has no house of her own.

        But the mother of swallows answered, I may not. It is all for the young, and the nest is not of my own.

         Then Nadath went into the woods : and he saw the bark worn from the trees where the stags had rubbed their antlers, and marked on the earth the swerving trails of many little feet.

         And the sunlight let down white hair, like a woman that is alone, and joys because of her aloneness. She lets down her hair, and walks gravely on the moss, or suddenly dances with none to see her, or runs forth and takes the sea between her two hands.

         And these are hers, her possessions. She loves them as the bower-bird loves his bright berries,

         Having been never the possessor, but always the possessed.

         Nadath found the squirrels, that were busy with nuts and acorns, rolling them along the ground,

        And said, Give me : and I will make a drinking vessel for the house of woman.

         But the mother of squirrels said, I cannot. It is for the young ones in winter.  And though I starve, still must the young ones feed.

        And on an island the seals lay basking, where the waves broke white and green, and the dull sea fretted its sides softly against the rocks.

         And dived, and brought up fish. And Nadath said, Give. It is for the table in the house of woman. She will be hungered, having come a long way.

         But the mother of seals said, I feed my children. And if there is no milk in my paps, it is time I were dead and turned to bones.

        Then Nadath went into the cities, and sought men, and said to them, Give. It is for the house of woman, unbuilded as yet. But one day it shall be a fair house, and you shall rejoice to be its guests.

         It may even come that you win to safety therein.

         And the men of the cities laughed and answered Nadath, We have given indeed. What beast has so fair a skin as woman?

         Have we not combed the jungle, and brought back the plumes of the bird of paradise, the osprey and the aigret?

        And the white wastes where the fox is a hummock against the snow? The ermine, the silver foxes, the little things taken in traps? Have we not clad her in cruelty, and given also the orchid with its strange colours and an odour as of sleep?

        In the depths of the sea we sought dyes, and tore off the bark of trees for crimson. We slew one another for opals, and robbed even the gods of their emeralds.

        We sought a lotion that would make her tresses yellow, and a secret to keep her breasts as burning snow.

        Answer then, prophet who speaks for woman, what beast has so fair a skin?

Nadath answered, You have indeed given richly to your vanity.

        Yet neither with the skins of trapped beats, with the purple feathers or the jewels : neither with vair or with miniver shall you cover up that which is left undone.

        But now I must go on my way. For I go to build the house of woman.

        Nadath came to the women who worked in the houses and the fields, and said to them, Will you give?

        It shall be a fair house, and your own, and in it you may live.

        It is sanctuary also for the seekers of this world. For all who cry out, and are unappeased.

        And some said, We will give. But they had no heart for what they said, and did not believe.

        Some said, In my father, my husband and my son there is satisfaction for me, and a place where I may lay my head.

        And all who spoke looked beyond Nadath, seeking to watch the ways of men, if they should come or go.

        Nadath said to the women, Look. And against the skies was shown a vision, the shape of a man who sought to climb a hill. But it was labour in vain.

        Slowly he climbed and heavily, and his eyes were the eyes of one bewildered. And the body of a woman was hung about his neck. Her hands touched the ground and her head fell back.

        There were pearls in her ears and about her throat, but her eyes ar and her lips were senseless, vapid as if she slept.

        Nadath said, He climbs heavily, burdened with what he has slain.

        Or perhaps that which is hung about his neck is neither dead nor sleeping, but thinks, The man has willed it, It is better so, for I love the man.

        Yet there is a crest to the hill and an ocean beyond the crest. Salt is on the air there and the birds are white flakes.

        And no beauty is lost there, but runneth like a child in the woods : but runs and cries, in the might of the abounding sea.

        Sunsets burn and die there, like roses cast into a fire upon an altar. The dawn rises again, and her hair of roses enwraps her feet.

        It is a country of song, but the man may not come to it, because of the burden hung about his neck.

        Neither may the woman meet him there, running among the birch trees.

        Yet you may be satisfied, women of the houses and fields. For what beast has so fair a skin?

        And for you that are not fair, where is the equal of your obedience and devotion?

        Oh slaves, is it out of the loins of slaves that the new world can be born?

        But now I may talk with you no more, for I go to build the house for woman.

        But Nadath was desolate in his secret heart, because none would give to the house.

        Neither the birds not the beasts, neither man nor the woman herself.

        Nadath said to the evening sky, It is in vain. She has chosen as she wills, and it may be she has chosen well.

        There is a dignity in defeat, and forgetfulness also. And if the world beyond her womb grows loud and foul of mouth, a strutting braggart or by turn a child that whimpers, what is that to her?

        She knows the child, but she does not know the man. But a voice spoke to Nadath and said gently, The house is built.

        And Nadath looked over a level stretch of waters, and saw the house of woman. It was little and old, and its wooden walls were set down on the edge of the sands. And the woman stood in her door.

        And the sands mounted above the yellow flowers and swept into her house, as if they would bury it deep. There was the sand of forgetting about her threshold. But as she stood she swept it out.

        Her eyes looked over the seas for a sail that would come. Sometimes the sand mounted to her knees, sometimes it was a thin film, and Nadath saw her bare feet. But the woman in her house was not afraid. Her lips smiled, and Nadath said, The loneliness is gone out of the world. Fear is struck dead at its heart.

         The olives and the cress, the irises, the lilies that go forth like angels with trumpets, and the little flowers also, that browse in the grass like goats,

        Nadath is planting them in her places : a garden, a garden and a garden, three spaces set between the seas.

        But as for the house of woman, it is built. And one day she shall be called the conqueror of the sands.


The Weavers and the Dyers.

        White lay the toi-toi in the wind : the plumed spears were all at rest.

        And slow as smoke, across the evening drifting, the singing came : but faster than a falling star, the dream behind the singing.

        Nadath awoke and followed, and came to the place where they sat,

        The weavers and the dyers, the old women who know the secrets : their withered hands plied fast, and around them lay the fragments of a broken world, a world that is gone.

        The water-gourds and the calabashes, the red ochre and the instruments of carving, with the small bone flutes, and the greenstone, both inanga and robe-of-the-sky.

        They were shards together in the moonlight : but before the heap, a young damsel danced, her brown limbs slender and supple.  Nadath’s heart called the damsel his sister.

And the weavers and the dyers made their slow singing, as it were a sorrow upon the place,

        A rent veil of the ancient things that are past, and the things that are still to come.

        Their hands took the flax : and when it was bleached, and hung in narrow strips, in fringes of flaxen beads, they dipped it in the dye-pots, and drew it forth black, vermeil and white.

        Nadath said to the old, What do you?  And they answered, We make her a dancing-skirt,  the young maiden of out race, who goes forth to dance before the world.

        Nadath said, Her limbs are fair enough, Leave her be, without your custom and your sorrows. But the weavers and the dyers said,  She shall wear it. The vermeil for her pain, the black for her darkness, and the white for her hour of vision.

        Nadath said, Must it be? His heart was heavy for the damsel, for she was young.

        But the weavers and the dyers said, Aue! we may not do otherwise,

        For the white is not, except together with the black and the red. And they hung the dancing skirt upon her limbs, and she danced no more.

        Nadath took her by the hand, and said, Come, e hine. And they went to a place of cliffs.

        Where the gannets lay, a great snowstorm of wings, and the sea beat below. The sea was a pulse of darkness, and the beat of ancient things, that befell here when the place was empty and new.

        Before the dancing-skirt was hung upon the damsel’s limbs : before the heart of Nadath was a house where the shadows go out and in.

        The large stars arose, cutting the black water with fins of fire.

        Nadath said, Sing to me, e hine.  The heart of Nadath is heavy tonight, heavy for the sake of thy race and mine also, because of the things that must be so.

        The damsel, Nadath’s sister sang. Her voice floated out, and the white gulls cried in their dreams.

        She sang the ancient song, “My brother is the brother of the seagulls.”

Which is sung when the spirit goes free : when there is no more fear or holding back, no border to the magestic world.

        The tide rose large and heavy, brimming the vessel, and the birds cried sharply, disturbed in their rest and driven against the rocks.

        Nadath said to the damsel, It is very little that we know, thou and I,

        Whose school was solitude : whose only beacon was the star over the mountain, as was known to thy fathers when they steered from from a distant country long ago, from the lost Hawaiiki.

        But it is in my heart that some canoes perished, and their names were set aside : as the wise forget all those who do not come to shore.

        And it may be that we sit in such a canoe.

But two things we know, e hine, that are not known except to the people who climb the cliff by night

        We know how the birds cry, the seagulls and the terns, being driven against the rocks by the weight of the forcing tide. We know their sharp vexed voices, 

And we know the silence that comes thereafter, when the tide runs out again in its channels, and little stirs, but the diamond birds sleep as if frozen into the moonlight, bevelled on the dark hands of the sea.

        And the damsel sat by Nadath’s side, her chin cupped in her hands, her limbs weary of the white, the black and the vermeil. Nadath heard her lips say, “My brother is the brother of the seagulls.”


The Yellow Man.

        The yellow man stood on a little height above the city, and in silence looked down. His hands were sensitive and fine. He did not speak, but his thought vibrated like the string of a harp. Below him the lights came out in the milky haze. The lights were like lost angels.

        And the world had changed since Nadath’s day, and the day of his young companions. There had been a victory and a defeat, and after that the day of the poppy. So now the yellow man stood upon the hill, looking down.

        And was the master of what he saw : in so far as one dream can vanquish another, which is not greatly.

        And it seemed to Nadath that many of his young companions, grown old now, and the children born to them in times of war and oppression, and those other children, the seed of the yellow men in the wombs of our sisters, lived on in the city, which was to them but a ruin with an anthill built above : and had learned to endure the yoke.

        There was no more revolt among them, except the revolt of him who thinks in his heart, “You are there, but you are as a shadow. I do not acknowledge you.”

But the flame had sunk low enough, and now the sifting ashes choked whoever would walk among them : a fine dust on the air, too fine to be perceived.

        And the people of Nadath had changed much, and become a silent folk. They spoke little to the yellow man, or when they spoke to him their tongue was false. And when he had passed them by, they laughed : and the old men spat where his shadow had fallen, but the young had too bare and desolate a pride even for that.

        Among themselves they conversed in a secret language : but the when the stranger came, they fell silent.

        Or muttered, Now he comes among us with his talk of brotherhood, as if he were the elder in the land.

        But the yellow man does not understand : let him pry in the ruins, this much we have kept, our secrets from his understanding.

        There was great sickness among the people of Nadath, and quick dying : the children perished : the broken doors opened easily, and let in death,

        To where the young mother lay on a ragged bed with her child.

        For the people of Nadath would not come to the yellow man, or accept the medicines at his hands, or hear him when he gave counsel.

They said, Is it for Abel to ask favours of Cain? But Abel was struck down by his brother. Now let Cain find the burying-place, and dig deep through earth, since his nostrils are uneasy.

        Let him learn, he who sleeps in a conquered land beds himself with a corpse : which shall take its time to rot.

        And the yellow men wrote many books about the people of Nadath. They painted pictures, and went into savage places to find relics. They said among themselves, It is good : it is the truth at last. But the people of Nadath laughed.

        With a low laughter and bitter, an echo in the countryside.

        And the yellow men sought to goad on the people of Nadath, that they should work at their ancient crafts, and make their songs, as in the times unconquered.

        Not that these things were now of value in their world : yet to lose them was as if a fair captive should cut off her hair and sear her eyes.

        But it was as if the hands of Nadath’s people suddenly were dull, with a cunning dullness,

        And the voice had nothing to say. And if one of Nadath’s people walked in the streets with the yellow men, his voice was loud and brittle with its falseness, and his eyes were the eyes of a dead man.

        And the women who bore them sons crept back to their own at last : they would not stay for all the golden robes and the azalea trees.

        They were secret, and desired their own tongue. They were a legend that faded.

        Nadath heard the thought of the yellow man, he whose hands were slender, and who stood alone on the hilltop. He said in his heart, “What curse has fallen on me? For I have come to hate my race and my companions.

        “We are too loud in these streets; but beyond is an echo of a voice that was beautiful, singing its death-rune in solitude to the stars.

        “When we go among the defeated, we are hypocrites, and we bring back only that pretence which we deserve,

        “For we love them not in their defeat : but only the shadow of their days without challenge, only that greenstone shadow.

        “Layer upon layer the story is made, with a death at t its heart. And all that we build here is new, but the land is very old.

        “With white hair, a streaming hair of surf, a hair of starlight, and of snow upon the mountains.

        “I am left desolate in the wake of a world, and standing alone before the closed door of another. For I cannot imagine beauty but in freedom, and freedom is neither victories nor a banner.

        “It is the sacredness of the soil, the sacredness of an integrity left untouched,

        Which dies when its air is polluted : which cannot live, without its living water.

        And among my countrymen I stand alone : yet the dead thing at our heart poisons us all, and accursed is the air we breathe.

        We cannot be ourselves, we cannot know ourselves, for shame at the watching of the greenstone shadow.

        Nadath said, So I remember it from the days of my youth, before a world was fallen.

        It was the burden of the conqueror, and the heavy price of an empire. Our backs were young when we took it up, but old enough before we laid it down in the shadow :          

        And for the reason of this, we learned to hate one another, and so fell.

        It is strange how the plans of a few shall make water-carriers of the children, ere yet their limbs are grown.

        And if there be still in the world a place where the feet of the children dance, let Time hang it with mists and with the snowy fleeces of the fir-trees, and the put a cordon around it of young trees with raven locks.

        Lest it be known, and an evil come to it.

        But the yellow man on the hilltop neither heard Nadath, nor saw him, no more than the living behold the misty dead. He stretched out his delicate hands, and they were empty. The weight of a world lay upon his wrists, but it was not enough.


The Far Flyers.

        It was late in the year : the time of the shining cuckoo was past, when the children,  hearing three notes of a call, run out among the trees, and say “It is lucky to see the summer bird.” (For the blue-striped body is seldom seen.)

        The flowering-time was gone of the seaward trees that burn red at Christmas, and the bellbird drank an autumn honey from the withering flax.

        Winter was not yet, but the shadows of the first flames were cast about the walls of houses, and the earth was lulled towards her sleep. Sometimes in the skies the pale autumn lightnings were shown, without terror but with splendour, like the face of a god without wrath.

        Old people remembered the Maori names of the stars who guard the sleeping crops, and saw to it that the kumara gods were set at the edges of the fields, little gods of clay and stone,

        Lest she be too sullen, the earth in her white time and her black time, and forget the whisper of the striving roots.

        In a valley of the north, where the manuka grows down to the sand, and beyond the sparse grasses is nothing but ocean, the wings of the far flyers made ready : the godwits, who fly each autumn to Siberia. Day and night their wings crest the sea, and it is written that they do not pause in the long journey.

        But in the spring they fly over the northern villages. a mighty cloud, and come again to the country of Maui : and in the waning year they fly the many thousand leagues, and find Siberia; and if there be people in those wastes, it may be that the children of the Kulaks welcome them, and the little villages that are lost ring the bell or beat tin drums because they are visited.

        But why they fly so far, every year hither and yonder across the ocean, that is their secret, and is written in the book of the ancient things that are not to be known. It is their destiny, and the light bones of the mother chose it before the egg was hatched in the nest.

        But though their coming may be seen, a great cloud across the beaches, the hour of their going is their own affair, and no man has watched their flight,

        Unless it were someone old and solitary, who lived alone, and closed his heart about what he saw, thinking, Fly on. I will not betray you.

        Nadath watched them as they made ready. And sometimes, as if children were playing, one of them strutted on the sands and threw out his voice, crying, Follow, follow. And a group rose into the air, the wings beat fiercely. There was tumult among the great host. But in a little while the claws were on the sands again, making the starring trails, and the young leaders averted their heads as they passed the camps of the elders.

        The mothers screamed, but the very old were serene : as for their leader, he was secret, none might come to him, know whom he should be, until the hour,

        When the ancient knowledge of the blood, and that which bears up the hollow bones of the wings, should come upon him, and the sea speak plainly : then he should lead them without question or rebuke.

        Nadath said to the far flyers, Shall I watch the going? But they answered, Is not Nadath the prophet also a man?

        No man has seen, unless it were someone lost and old, whom we willed to encounter miracle before he left this earth : it may be we have enclosed such a one in our wings, and afterwards he enclosed us in his heart,

        But the secret is not told.

Watch the false starts, and the boastings of the young who circle in the air. When the time comes we will depart, but we will not be seen.

        Nadath said, The fringes of a sea-anemone are rose and blue, when they sway in the rock-pool : but touch them, and the beauty is gone.

        So with the heart and its secrets, whether it be the heart of a man, or the heart of a people with wings.

        There is nothing to fear from Nadath, far flyers : he is best pleased that the heart should retain its mysteries.

        Yet speak a little of where you go, and what you do.

        And the godwits said, For the many dropped in the sea and broken upon the journey there is the nest of jade, even the nest of death.

        But for the others, unless the land has fallen away, there is a nest of brown in the north.

        We fly across strange wastes, but we are known to the villages that no man from the world beyond shall ever know :

        That dwells there because they dwell there, even as we godwits fly because we fly. It is their lot, and flying over we drop them a feather. We are known to them by name, though they know little of the kings and the emperors. Has Nadath the false prophet a word for these villages, that the godwits may drop it when they drop the villages?

        Nadath said, Tell them that there is a green ocean beyond the white, and the spirit shall set out. There comes a time when they are no longer prisoners, and the white shall melt.

        But tell them this also, it is good to grow deep. Her minerals are not known in the earth, nor the colours of flowers sought out, unless the root search.

        And the heart and being of man is little understood, except by way of searching in a winter twilight,

        When the mind is a lanthorn and sheds its beams : but the gazer, whose hands are bitten by frost, suffers because the circle of light is so little, and the walls of the snow are very great.

        Then against these ancient enemies, the snow and the darkness, shall emerge the something called man : and because of him the race dies not, though it seems to wither in the cities.

        He that thinks himself the laggard, the dweller in the ice-bound places, is mounted upon another barricade, and fends off time.

The far flyers said, Nadath speaks well, for a prophet who is false, and the feather shall be dropped when we fly over. But what of the countries we shall pass?

        There is a saddle of silver, and it is a great mountain : there are silver reins, and they are rivers.

        There were ikons in the wooden churches, a time ago, and we saw the sleighs outdistance the young wolves. There were heavy furs, and emeralds in the head dresses.

        But these have changed, and the old cities have changed their names for new, and have the haggard faces of  a youth that dares much but has never yet been cherished,

        They are a child born without nurse, and given suck at a breast of little wealth : they have endured without a cry, and seek their own salvation.

        Young and gaunt and ready, they stand with the weapon in their hands : ready to live, if it may be, or else to die hardly.

        They take little thought today for the prophets, true or false, having a prophet of their own, who is dead : but on his body their dreams must stand.

        And they do not watch the far flyers, being concerned to hold their own : being concerned that the spare child shall grow to manhood.

        Under Siberia lies the country of Russia : shall the far flyers drop a feather there?

        Nadath said, Say this.

        No man can hold the dream in his hands, and be equal to the dream, for more than a little time.

        After that, let him be what he will, let him protest and use many words, and give service or evil to the people,

        He is no longer the man who dreamed the dream in his youth : and in time, rest comes from the knowing of this.

        It is only a little that any man can give of his best : for his best is not his own, but vouchsafed, and taken again.

        And after this, he is the man alone, with the follies and weakness of a man : no more.

        Therefore rejoice that our sons shall be impatient, and rise and overcome us. Rejoice that they in turn shall dream the dream.

        Grown men who have tested the dream with steel and shod it in method, do not weep. Remember that we still have the children.  Sacrifice heavily for tomorrow : for alone in the world, you have tomorrow safe between your hands. The nations live out their day, but you have tomorrow.

        And if today be a cold one, a bitter day on the steppes and a threadbare in the cities, with much complaint and much deceit, as thick as the leaves on an autumn wind, yet it is not unworthy.

        For you the virtue is patience : it began with the shawled heads bowed before the altars, with the humble chants, and with the people who called their tyrant little father : it shall see your cities bow their heads before the impatience of your youth.

        In Russia it is very deep of root : deeper than the voices of assurance, deeper than courage.

        The far flyers said, It is a dark feather, But Nadath said, The edge of it is silver.

        The far flyers said, Is there no more? Nadath answered, say the words of the old tongue, that was before the white man came.

        Aroha nui : which says in the old tongue, our love.



Texts for The Book of Nadath

AU Ms          Manuscript, “Nadath.” Auckland University Iris Wilkinson Papers, Mss and Archives 97/1 (AU  610).
RH Ts              Robin Hyde’s revised typescript, “The Book of Nadath.” Derek Challis Collection.
“Roots and Crown”                Manuscript of two draft sections for The Book of Nadath. “If a man whom I know for a liar says to me”(pp. 1-11); “The Roots and the Crown”(pp. 11-31). Derek Challis Collection.


The House of Woman

Fifth section in AU Ms (36-[46]). Nadath’s mission to build the House of Woman contains an echo of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra who says: “I love him who laboureth and inventeth, that he may build the house for the Superman, and prepare for him earth, animal, and plant”(Nietzsche  Prologue 4). But ideologically Nadath more closely resembles the historical Zarathustra (c. 630-550 BC) whose Gathas or divine songs refer to paradise as the House of Songs and Praise where Ahura Mazda (Lord of Life and Wisdom) dwells (Zarathustra Yasna 51:15).

as the bower-bird loves  First of many instances where non-native motifs confuse sense of The Book of Nadath’s location. The synthesis of native and exotic flora and fauna is deliberate and seems designed to make the ground of the poem hybrid and unsettling.

Yet there is a crest to the hill  Sandbrook (425, n.5) identifies this as a motif derived from the story of the gipsy waif Folle-Farine, where the heroine sees the ocean for the first time from the crest of a sandhill:

There was no sound near them, nor was there anything in sight except where above against the deepest azure of the sky two curlews were circling around each other, and in the distance a single ship was gliding, with sails silvered by the sun. All signs of human life lay far behind; severed from them by those steep scorched slopes swept only by the plovers and the bees. (Ouida 315)                                                             

cast into a fire upon an altar.  See “Whangaroa Harbour,” written early 1937, which extends the Homeric epithet of roses and fire in the sky:

May none confront thee, but the secret daughters
Who light the glass, and see themselves new-fair,
And burn across the sea to kindle morning
Against the streaming torches of their hair?  (Houses 81)

sands mounted above the yellow flowers “I must pay a tribute [. . .] to the heavy manna-sweetness of the scent of lupins, growing by the hundred thousand out at Castlecliff, and notorious for the lovers they harboured. That liquid honey, scent and colour, was a thing not to be despised”(A Home 28).

the little flowers also, that browse in the grass like goats  “My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies. I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies,” Song Sol 6:2-3.  Also: “Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?” Song Sol 6:10.

The Weavers and the Dyers

Seventh section in AU Ms ([48-52]). An unspecified locale, perhaps partly modelled on Muriwai, west of Auckland, where gannets have nested at least since the 1930s.(Oliver 208) Evening gives way to the phantasmagoric moonlight seen also in “Nadath and Master of Wheels” and the close of  “Young Knowledge”(Houses 60), each of which addresses Maori/pakeha relations.

fragments of a broken world    Hyde’s engagement with the postcolonial legacy is notable for its attempts to understand the history of contact and the dilemmas of each position. See final section of “Young Knowledge,”

By bridges slender as the ake ladder
Where Heaphy, climbing, found the Greenstone People,
Saw the wide nets wash out in thundering surf
Too huge for the canoes, drawn in by moonlight;
Watched the brown women drying out inanga
For fodder in the nights of eaten moons
When wind prowls round the thatch with thievish fingers;
Saw the marled greenstone littered on the ground,
And how they fine the edge with whalebone drills —
And turned away at last, and climbed the ladder,
And standing on the clifftops, saw their smokes
Final steam up, blue parting of a dream.
There standing on the clifftops weighed his knowledge —
The thin precarious weight of early knowledge —
And staring in a sun, half steeled his heart
To tell the cities there was no such world.  (Houses 64)

See also “The Singers of Loneliness”:

But in New Zealand, where little local history and no knowledge of the Maori language is taught in schools, though in certain advanced university courses a knowledge of Icelandic is requisite, there are walls of glass-locked library cupboards between the seeker, and a knowledge of those days one hundred years ago. If one discovers anything, it is by accident or through persistence. Wonderful old Maori fairytales — real fairytales, with their mingled grotesquerie and illogicality, their no-beginning and no-ending, flowing on in the mind of the race.  (Disputed Ground  348)

Nadath’s heart called the damsel his siste     rThe claiming of a pyschic bond discloses Hyde’s interest in pan-cultural mythology. She remarks of a poem which conflates the Waitomo limestone caves with ancient gods: “Sounds like a terrible mixture of mythological observances, but I’ve always held that Osiris, Dis, Pluto are obviously one and the same, and their customs might very well be swapped without damage”(1934 Auto Ch 8).

A dream of common ancestry between Maori and Egyptian is adduced in Nor the Years Condemn (102), and the immediate subject of the analogy is a young Maori girl who is dying of tuberculosis:

The Egypt bud, narrow, brittle and dark, broken before its looks under loss can be ascertained; it always wins, sometimes by dying. That girl under the Sphinx, playing her own game, kidded the soldiers up a tree, and then she died, her teeth a white open rind of laughter. The Maoris and the Egyptians had many things in common. They had the same word for “sun,” and in places, both north and south, Maori dead were buried in cave-tombs, after great ceremony, and the way of access to the caves carefully sealed up and forgotten. Some people said, though, that the Maoris came from Peru. It didn’t matter; perhaps once there was an old race, from which freaks were drawn for many countries, and that made the Egypt bud.

See also “The Flying-Off Place” (NZ Railways Magazine, 1 September 1937):

If some Hollywood producer were filming “Antony and Cleopatra,” and wanted a Cleopatra who wouldn’t chew gum or roll her hips like a ship at sea, he could do a great deal worse than seek among the Maoris for one of the straight-haired, high-cheekboned slender girls of the north.

Aüe!    The untranslated cry is explained by context only.

she danced no more    See “The House of Woman,” where a bride is “wedded to custom, and to the sad inner knowledge of women, and is no more her own,  / /  And her hands that were light and swift as sparrows become heavy, filled with rebukes.”

Come, e hine   “o girl.” Again Hyde does not transate.

Where the gannets lay  The Australian gannet (takapu) nests on outlying islands. Here they occupy a setting like that of the Oaia Island colony near Muriwai, and prefigure the godwits of “The Far Flyers.”

She sang the ancient song  The first line of the song seems to acknowledge Nadath’s status as her spirit brother.

the people who climb the cliff by night  Exploring the West Coast in 1846 for possible settlement, Charles Heaphy’s expedition was assisted by local Maori who showed them the rata vine ladders referred to in “Young Knowledge.” There, as here, Hyde is intent on the issues surrounding transmission of specialised local knowledge. 


The Yellow Man


Twelfth section In AU Ms ([74-79]). Nadath is projected into a post-war future in which an Asian power has conquered the country. The parallel, at first implicit, is European occupation of Aotearoa/New Zealand. The section has close links with A Home in This World, written March 1937 at Waiatarua.

his thought vibrated like the string of a harp Nietzche, The Will to Power:

If we affirm one single moment, we thus affirm not only ourselves but all existence. For nothing is self-sufficient, neither in us ourselves nor in things: and if our soul has trembled with happiness and sounded like a harp string just once, all eternity was needed to produce this one event — and in this single moment of affirmation all eternity was called good, redeemed, justified and affirmed. (532-33)

The lights were like lost angels    Perspective of a watcher from the hills above a city, often Wellington in Hyde’s writing but here Auckland looking east from Waiatarua. See also the opening of A Home in This World:

Now the lights of Auckland are all out, wonderful from this distance, wonderful as old-time pantomime jewels, as the great sparkling misty jewels that never were, and never will be. Over the city they sparkle and tremble. There is tenderness in them, as in the beating breasts of the foolish young starlings who got trapped in my attic. And something heartbreaking, as if the stars had alighted chanting on the earth, and taken the town, and strolled about friendly in silver helmets, but no man knew it, because we were all too blind.  (7)           

too bare and desolate a pride    Hyde referred to her second collection of poems in similar terms. The Conquerors (1935) was written mostly at the Lodge in Avondale.

But I’m so proud about it —  with a rather desolate sort of pride —  the poems are fiery and bitter stuff, the main theme the humanity of Christ —  book’s called “Thine Accursed.”  All but four were written here, when I was blind and mute and deaf with illness —                        (1935 Jnl, 6 April):

our secrets from his understanding  Again the crux is transmission of knowledge. In “The Weavers and the Dyers” and “Nadath and the Master of Wheels,” Nadath stands apart from the conquests of his race (as does the yellow man) claiming empathy which seems to be given. But here, conquered, he will not extend trust to a representative of the conquest.

There was great sickness   >Epidemics of post-colonisation, but also the post-war influenza epidemic of 1919.

Let him learn    Quoted, unsourced, to John A. Lee in a letter of August 1937 about the misappropriation of Maori land at Orakei. The Book of Nadath had already become a source of aphorism and parable for Hyde. There is an earlier trail of aphoristic writing in the 1935 Journal (29 July) where a page of short statements occurs between plans for the play “Chariot Wheels” and the novel “The Unbelievers”; see The Victory Hymn.(25)

And the yellow men wrote many books  Ethnography, a double-edged sword, viewed from the subject position. See also “The Singers of Loneliness”:

I spoke to a Maori of this area, where once the great honey-peaches had stocked hundreds of canoes gliding down to Auckland, of the tragedy of lost legend, lost poetry.  He said: “It’s all here still...only covered up. But the people who could uncover it — they, mostly, seem to be too busy.” An exception to this “too busy” rule was the late Elsdon Best, author of Tuhoe and other celebrated books, who became a white tohunga, risking his life to make the Maori Yesterday a coherent prelude to Maori life today.  (Disputed Ground 351)

I have come to hate my race  The Nadath/Hyde position, the conscience of a people who are themselves alienated.

before the closed door of another   See A Home in This World (28, 46, 52):

It seems to me now that I am caught in the hinge of a slowly-opening door, between one age and another. Between the tradition of respectability, which was very strong in my household and had cut me off from all real family love the moment I infringed it, and the new age, foretold by Nietzsche and some others. [. . .] I was caught between the two doors, between their laws and the freedom which hasn’t come. [. . .] But, caught in the door, can you or dare you be honest with anyone? Only in the last resort, when honesty is Antony’s sword and Cleopatra’s asp.

Nadath said, So I remember it    Direct parallel made at last, as Nadath conquered remembers the role of conqueror.


The Far Flyers

Final (thirteenth) section in AU Ms ([80-87]). There is also a second draft of the four opening verses (AU Ms [88]) which expands some details of the setting. Nadath encounters a migrating bird colony in the north. The connection made through Siberia to Russia past and present refocuses the poem’s international concerns. There is an obvious parallel with The Godwits Fly, particularly with its Author’s Foreword as noted by Sandbrook (244-56).

It was late in the year    Past summer, early autumn; “late” in terms of the growing cycle. Hyde was at Whangaroa for three weeks in February 1937 finishing The Godwits Fly, then at Waiatarua in March.

the time of the shining cuckoo    The shining cuckoo (pipiwharauroa) arrives from New Britain and Solomon Islands September-October, leaving again January-February (Powell  74).

the seaward trees that burn red at Christmas    Pohutukawa. See The Godwits Fly Author’s Foreword: “England is very beautiful, she thought, staring at a tree whose hair . . . not properly flowers . . . was the colour of fire. And this also is very beautiful”(xviii). 

But in the spring  The godwits (kuaka) arrive from Alaska and Siberia October-November, leaving March-April (Powell 72).

the country of Maui    The ancestor by whose skill Te Ika a Maui (the fish of Maui / the North Island) was hauled from the ocean and made habitable.

the light bones of the mother    See The Godwits Fly Author’s Foreword (xviii): “The light bones of the mother knew it before the chick was hatched from the eggshell.”

No man has watched their flight    See Powell: “Much publicity has been given to the alleged spectacular departure of the Godwits from the extreme north of New Zealand, but in fact large flocks of Godwits are on the move most of the time, ranging from one local feeding ground to another, and a mass departure from our shores has not as yet been witnessed”(72). See also “The Flying-Off Place”(NZ Railways Magazine, 1 September 1937) where the pakeha Allan Bell is attributed legendary status as the only white man to have witnessed the departure of the godwits.

and the young leaders averted their heads   Wisdom of elders upheld over the usurping young. But the value of rebellion is registered at the close of the section, reflecting Hyde’s assessment of literary contemporaries in “The Singers of Loneliness” and her view of social revolution generally.

a word for these villages     Stalin’s brutal collectivisation in the 1930s was in fact exterminating vast numbers of peasant farmers in Siberia and elsewhere.

When the mind is a lanthorn    Image salvaged from final lines of  “Roots and Crown,” where light and community are set against the “ancient enemies” of cold and darkness:

No man walked the forest with his lantern :  yet it is natural for men to do this, for a man to take his lantern and visit the cottage of his neighbour, to talk awhile and drink and eat bread. The darkness, fearing to be discovered, put out the moon. A laugh and a cry came from the grove.

Nadath said, Come to me, come to men, men carrying lanterns : honest men, men of goodwill and peace : come with your lanterns from every part of the world :  we shall talk, though afterwards a traitor and a spy kill us, because of the carrying of lanterns. (31)

a prophet of their own   Lenin.

No man can hold the dream    See signed prose fragment, beginning: “A man who travels with his dream travels with a dark torch”(AU  601). Nadath addresses post-revolutionary Russia, obliquely acknowledging the difficulties of Stalinism but not disillusioned with Communism. For Hyde, as for many pre-war sympathisers in the West, Soviet industrialisation was still the model of a rationally planned economy which might win the ultimate revolution of a stateless, classless society. The costs outlined here stand in bitter (though unintentional) contrast to those inflicted by the Great Purge (Yezhovshchina) 1936-38 and the Siberian labour camps. Stalin’s Russia is another face of the Iron Child but this was not yet certain knowledge in the West. Hyde, who called herself variously a Socialist and a Communist, wrote to John A. Lee (11/18 August 1937), protesting the Labour government’s treatment of Maori at Orakei:

if there is one gospel in the world today which is consistent with an honest, slow-moving but not monkish idealism, it is Socialism. I’d rather be shot with the socialists than sit down to dinner with the bloody Fascists any day.

The signing of the August 1939 Soviet-Nazi Non-Aggression Pact was the determining shock to Communist sympathisers in the West. The moment is famously defined by another New Zealander, David Low, in a cartoon published 20 September 1939 in the London Evening Standard, in which Hitler greets Stalin over the corpse of Poland saying: “The scum of the earth, I believe?” to which Stalin responds: “The bloody assassin of the workers, I presume?”

Aroha nui  :  which says in the old tongue, our love   

This is the last line of the final section in AU Ms but RH Ts adds five subsequent verses.


Works Cited

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spake Zarathustra: A Book for All and None. Trans. Thomas Common. London, 1891.  First published in German 1883-85.

_____. The Will to Power.  Trans. Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale.  London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1968.  First published in German 1901.

Oliver, W.R.B.  New Zealand Birds. Wellington: Fine Arts (New Zealand), 1930.

Ouida (Marie Louise de la Ramée). Folle-Farine.  London: Chatto & Windus, 1883.  Searchable rext at

Powell, A.W.B.  Native Animals of New Zealand. 3rd ed. Auckland: Auckland Institute and Museum, 1987.

Sandbrook, Patrick. “Robin Hyde: a writer at work.” PhD thesis. Massey, 1985.

Zarathustra. The Translation of Gathas. The Holy Songs Of Zarathushtra. Trans. Mobed Firouz Azargoshasb. Council of Iranian Mobeds of North America,1988.  Searchable text at


back to readings

go to this issue's table of contents