The entrance to purgatory
What you will notice first is the air’s
greater clarity: you had not remembered
how it gave to trees the instructive simplicity
of a botanist’s drawing. The hills too, so distant
but so sharply delineated, seeming to wait
for a turret, a temple, a whole town
circumscribed by justice: in the foreground a space
left for Madonna and Infant, and in the southern sky
new stars hanging as beacons of virtue.
You are glad to be here, when it would have been so easy
at the last moment simply to permit
the past its habitual choice: blind, heavy-handed
and hopeless in its passion. Even so
that you are here, that you are no longer hunting
an imaginary shape through streets of lead
turning back always upon the same dead vista
of northern cities which have lost their hearts for ever
seems mere chance, although it is not.
For the light which bathes these streets is sober, the sun
though welcoming as love is placed to illuminate
an architecture whose details always tell
the same legend. Those whiskered bigots who planned
this city in holy ignorance of its terrain
meant it a cradle of virtue, but perhaps you must
return here more than once, your suitcase crammed
with disappointments and leading loss by the hand
to learn how insistently its ways will bring
you always to one point, until their choice becomes
your second nature. But this is only the beginning
when suffering seems a new adventure, the past
a backdrop lending it dignity. Later you must unpack
pictures and broken ornaments, making them
the measure of your loss, and what it takes to forgive.
Here too the city will help, hill tree and tower
by sunlight or by starlight assembled into a setting
for something to take place in, a place to go on from.
Iain Lonie (1932-1988) was an authority on ancient medicine, especially Hippocrates. As a poet he anticipated the domestic ironic register favoured by younger generations and became, arguably, New Zealand’s finest elegist. Despite this, he is an invisible man. Such works as were published in his lifetime remained out of print for decades until A Place To Go On From: the Collected Poems of Iain Lonie gathered them, adding the posthumous Winter Walk at Morning and a further 118 poems from manuscript and typescript sources.