Thursday, March 10, 2011

Immortality and Paradise

I’d like to share with you a beautiful poem – Tiare Tahiti – written by the English poet Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) while he was in living in Tahiti in early 1914.

Brooke was fleeing from a complicated love life in England that had driven him close to a nervous breakdown. He lived for three months in a native hut in Mataiea on the south coast of the island with his friend, the American writer Frederick O’Brien. O’Brien described their daily life in his memoir, Mystic Isles of the South Seas:

"Brooke and I swam every day off the wharf… The water was four or five fathoms deep, dazzling in the vibrance of the Southern sun, and Brooke, a brilliant blond, gleamed in the violet radiancy like a dream figure of ivory. We dived into schools of the vari-colored fish, which we could see a dozen feet below, and tried to seize them in our hands, and we spent hours floating and playing in the lagoon, or lying on our backs in the sun.”
Like so many others before and after him, Brooke succumbed to the charms of Tahiti, experiencing a peace and a sexual freedom he had never known before. When he cut his leg on coral while swimming too close to the reef and the leg became infected, he was nursed by a young woman called Taata Mata - “a girl with wonderful eyes, the walk of a goddess, & the heart of an angel.” Taata Mata is the “Mamua” to whom he addresses this poem, which he wrote on the veranda of his hut, overlooking the dazzling blue of the lagoon. It is considered by those who know to be one of the best he ever wrote. In the poem he contemplates eternity seen from an earthly Paradise and guesses that even among “the Good, the Lovely, and the True” in Heaven he will miss “the palms, the sunlight, and the south.”

Tragically, within a year of leaving Tahiti, Brooke was dead. Having been commissioned in the Royal Naval Division on the outbreak of World War I, he died of blood poisoning from a mosquito bite on the Greek island of Skyros while waiting to be deployed to the carnage of the Dardanelles. He was 27.
As you will see from the last two lines, this poem was where F. Scott Fitzgerald found the resonant title for his first novel, This Side of Paradise

Tiare Tahiti (Papeete, 1914)
Mamua, when our laughter ends,
And hearts and bodies, brown as white,
Are dust about the doors of friends,
Or scent a-blowing down the night,
Then, oh! then, the wise agree,
Comes our immortality.
Mamua, there waits a land
Hard for us to understand.
Out of time, beyond the sun,
All are one in Paradise,
You and Pupure are one,
And Tau, and the ungainly wise.
There the Eternals are, and there
The Good, the Lovely, and the True,
And Types, whose earthly copies were
The foolish broken things we knew;
There is the Face, whose ghosts we are;
The real, the never-setting Star;
And the Flower, of which we love
Faint and fading shadows here;
Never a tear, but only Grief;
Dance, but not the limbs that move;
Songs in Song shall disappear;
Instead of lovers, Love shall be;
For hearts, Immutability;
And there, on the Ideal Reef,
Thunders the Everlasting Sea!
    And my laughter, and my pain,
Shall home to the Eternal Brain.
And all lovely things, they say,
Meet in Loveliness again;
Miri's laugh, Teipo's feet,
And the hands of Matua,
Stars and sunlight there shall meet,
Coral's hues and rainbows there,
And Teura's braided hair;
And with the starred tiare's white,
And white birds in the dark ravine,
And flamboyants ablaze at night,
And jewels, and evening's after-green,
And dawns of pearl and gold and red,
Mamua, your lovelier head!
And there'll no more be one who dreams
Under the ferns, of crumbling stuff,
Eyes of illusion, mouth that seems,
All time-entangled human love.
And you'll no longer swing and sway
Divinely down the scented shade,
Where feet to Ambulation fade,
And moons are lost in endless Day.
How shall we wind these wreaths of ours,
Where there are neither heads not flowers?
Oh, Heaven's Heaven! - but we'll be missing
The palms, and sunlight, and the south;
And there's an end, I think, of kissing,
When our mouths are one with Mouth. . . .
    Tau here, Mamua,
Crown the hair, and come away!
Hear the calling of the moon,
And the whispering scents that stray
About the idle warm lagoon.
Hasten, hand in human hand,
Down the dark, the flowered way,
Along the whiteness of the sand,
And in the water's soft caress,
Wash the mind of foolishness,
Mamua, until the day.
Spend the glittering moonlight there
Pursuing down the soundless deep
Limbs that gleam and shadowy hair,
Or floating lazy, half-asleep.
Dive and double and follow after,
Snare in flowers, and kiss, and call,
With lips that fade, and human laughter
And faces individual,
Well this side of Paradise! . . .
There's little comfort in the wise.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this poem of a forgotten poet. Only here in Tahiti his name is still remembered