the wedding party


I see them walking
their horses down the Carrington Road
white satin bows tied to each bridle
white satin shoes laced with ribbon
sidesaddle in the summer morning
buttonholes of wild rose and forget-me-not
from the clearings at Hurworth
the wedding party advances into history


I found words
rough winds do shake
the darkling buds on their candelabra
dusk and spring on the Carrington Road
the magnolia, the mountain
my eyes were sealed up
but my ears caught the sound
of japonica and persica, the plantings
the mountain, the magnolia
jasmine all over the ponga house
clematis horse on the garden fence
we rode and climbed and looked out
skimming up trees to perches
settled in advance
by age, by who could walk the bar
and swing into the lower branches
the elm, the red gum, the rimu
but not the pōhutukawa
whose pathways baffled our monkey hearts


on a winter’s night
a traveller
coming by the Carrington Road
to the ruined houses at Hurworth
could read in chalk on a broken shutter
e nga tangata katoa o te taua
all the men of the troops
kaua e tahuna tenei whare
don’t set fire to this house
hei moenga mo nga tangata e haere ana ki Waitara
as it is a sleeping place for the people going to Waitara
na Te Tapihana
the match flares
throwing light for a moment
on the words of a chief of Ngatihikairo from Kawhia
travelling overland
between loss and strategy
leaning tawa fallen across the road
lookouts under the trees
hangi pit under the front windows
bookcases thrown down
but the house stands and is not burned
a question in need of a reply


at sixteen I dreamed
in colour and could finally translate
small pieces of Carrington Street
my mother in a sunlit kitchen
newspaper clippings pinned to the curtain
six cherry trees frothing in the driveway
Latin homework waiting downstairs
quomodo barbaricos auxiliares discerneremus
how we might distinguish friendly natives
mihi videtur indusium vel tunicam subalbam signum idoneum esse
it seems to me a white under-tunic could be an appropriate sign
not Caesar but one of the horsemen
from the wedding party
not three months later
writing to Auckland by the overland mail
hoc Latine (canum more equidem) scripsi
I have written this Latin (dog-style though it is)
ne nuntio intercepto literae in manibus hostis accederent
lest the messenger be intercepted and the letters fall into enemy hands


mihi videtur it seems to me
the words come flying out of the dark
ngā mihi warm regards
between two waves of the sea
two languages, two trees
throwing shade over the Carrington Road
this fine morning
the war party sets out for Waitara
the wedding party, finished with church
rides for Mangamahoe and breakfast
at the Meeting of the Waters

Michele Leggott was the New Zealand Poet Laureate 2007-09 and received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry in 2013. Recent collections include Vanishing Points (2017) and Mezzaluna: Selected Poems (2020). Michele coordinates the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc) with colleagues at the University of Auckland. In 2017 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Poem note: Māori and Latin texts are quoted from The Richmond–Atkinson Papers, Volume 1, edited by Guy H. Scholefield (Wellington, N.Z.: R. E. Owen, Government Printer, 1960), published one hundred years after the Taranaki war that is their common ground.

Leggott comments: 'In November 1859 Eliza Ronalds and William Atkinson were married at St Mary’s in New Plymouth. Bride and groom rode to church from the bush at Hurworth with eleven other couples, their horses’ bridles festooned with white satin bows. Less than three months later James Crowe Richmond wrote to his brother Christopher William Richmond in Auckland, using Latin to disguise the content of his letter from possible interception by Māori. A year later, at the end of the first Taranaki War, James Richmond reported messages from a Waikato chief that appeared on the walls of his house at Hurworth, giving instructions to the war parties who traversed the district during the twelve-month struggle. A hundred years later, in 1960, Guy H. Scholefield published the letters of James and William Richmond and their families in The Richmond Atkinson Papers. In the 1960s my family came to live at 289 Carrington St in New Plymouth, unaware of the intricately layered history that underlies each step on the road passing by outside. "the wedding party" imagines a conversation between some of these layers.'

​Poem source details >


Mezzaluna: Selected Poems (Auckland University Press)

Photographer credit: Tim Page