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.

Poem source details >


A Place To Go On From at Otago University Press
Iain Lonie at the New Zealand Poet Laureate blog