Editing an entry on tangihanga recently reminded me of the power of Māori poetry to evoke the experience of grief. The natural world was a vivid reference for Māori metaphorical imagery, and one of the thrills of reading and listening to Māori oral literature is the landscapes, birds, trees, seas and skies it describes are all here around us: beautiful Aotearoa.
It’d be a challenge for a lyrical poem in English to swallow a name like ‘bull kelp’, but rimurimu, its Māori name, is lovely. In a song written in grief for her dead child, an East Coast mother begins ‘Rimurimu teretere e rere ki te moana,’ describing the way kelp drifts and eddies on the tides, a powerful metaphor for the helplessness of grief.
In the last verse she compares her child to a tīrairaka, a fantail, a bird which flits about and is never still, a dazzling simile for the elusiveness of memory.
Another metaphor for the yearning of grief comes from the song ‘Tai timu tai pari taihoa e haere,’ which implores the turning tide to halt. This was sung to Māori troops heading off to the Second World War.
There’s an everyday poetry in te reo Māori which to me rivals the potency of Shakespearean English … why wouldn’t you want to learn it?