(Is that the word?)


Ronald Holloway gives me this
diary at the Unicorn Press,
offers beer. But
Robert Lowry is churlish
sullen and inhospitable
the Atlantic waves breaking
over his sullen Irish coast,
Jerseys and men with
stumpy legs and dogs with
stumpy tails, looking for
casks of rum after
   the shipwreck. But
        finding it not.
Brings me back to the beer;
Ronald seeks it, I do sit in
the sun, on a broad-based
   rock of
Volcanic origin. But
Imperturbable nature. Hard by
an ivy geranium, complete
Pink stare and baby snail,
       There dream, watched by
Loafers, dogs with scabby
tails, sparrows, shiny car-
surfaces, hot-baked bricks
      Loaves crusty from
The giant’s oven,
The Police who know no
            Better. Till
Ronald arrives with the
      beer and,
under the disapproving
    eye of Robert, we
Drink it out of a jug
Which has held nasturtiums,
velvet nasturtiums, cinnamon,
      orange flowers, flowers
absorbent of too
         much sunshine, too
great a lucidity and
grasp of
          the sun’s big idea,
     marked a comprehension
     what it is all about, too
     little tolerance
groundlings, nidderings; star-
    squibs, the
trite and the obscure, the
       Rueful ones left out
Colour was handed round.
     the earthenware influenced
     by these masterful
                 Flower-dragoons, I
Drink beer without visible
   effect, but
          not without comfort;
return to sitting on the
   stone in
       the sunshine,
a lizard but not so
Salve regina, that is to say
nasturtium: salve
             Imperator, the
beer. Save all of us
Politicians: and Robert.


Robin Hyde (1906-1939) published three poetry collections in her lifetime, and a posthumous edition of her later poems appeared in 1952, edited by Gloria Rawlinson. A Selected Poems was published in 1984, edited by Lydia Wevers, but there has been no full collection by which to evaluate the many uncollected and unpublished poems Hyde wrote during her intensive thirteen years of production. With the publication in 2003 of the chronologically arranged Young Knowledge (Auckland University Press), a new Robin Hyde emerges to take her place in the canon of New Zealand poetry.

Michele Leggott, editor of Young Knowledge, comments: ‘There is a single draft of “Incidence”, written into the first five pages of the notebook that printer Ron Holloway gave to Hyde at the Unicorn Press in Kitchener St, Auckland, 21 October 1935. The date is written at top right of the first page. If narrative and reality go hand in hand here, we can assume that Hyde sat on a rock over the road from the Press on that date, waiting for Ron Holloway to return with beer and soaking up the sunny ambience of the city on a fine spring day. Perhaps she was at the Press to discuss with Ron the project of printing her anti-war poem “The Victory Hymn”, which he set that December as a broadsheet. And perhaps Robert Lowry was disagreeable about politics rather than printing. Elsewhere Hyde described the three friends squabbling at the Press that same October as communist (Lowry), pacifist (herself) and bourgeois (Holloway). On that occasion disturbing news of Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia had just broken around the world, and the placatory Holloway went flying down the road for icecreams to settle the peace.

‘ “Incidence” falls down the page, rhymeless, jaunty and without regard for the conventions of punctuation. It sketches a moment and a place, acknowledging the gift of the notebook which travelled with Hyde to the war in China and on to England in 1938. The remainder of it is mostly notes for Dragon Rampant, the book she wrote about her Chinese experiences. But perhaps we should count the vivid evocation of an Auckland spring day in 1935 as part of the bigger picture that was drawing the Pacific and European hemispheres closer to another world war.

‘Derek Challis discusses the poem in his biography The Book of Iris: A Life of Robin Hyde (Auckland University Press, 2002), p. 300.’

Poem source details >



nzepc Robin Hyde author page (includes audio files of Helen Morse reading ‘Incidence’, July 2003)
Young Knowledge: The Poems of Robin Hyde
New Zealand Book Council Writer File