Thursday, 22 May 2008

Published at last - Charlie Douglas poem


Charlie Douglas (centre of photo) lived on the West Coast of New Zealand from 1867 to 1916, exploring, surveying and mapping the mountains, bush, rivers, lakes and coastline. He was born in Scotland and for his outstanding work was referred to respectfully as Mr. Explorer Douglas. Recently, this poem I wrote some years back, was published in the NZ Alpine Journal.

Charlie Douglas

So what was the inner spring that made you tick ?
In valleys where snow, ice, water and mica mix
Incessant rain and slippery logs
Mosquitoes, sand flies bush and bogs

And ah, paradise lurking in those hot pools
Stripped your rags far way from ’those fools’
As you soaked your matted beard and ropey hair
And a moment of thanksgiving, a silent prayer

Strong, sinewy and stringy as Weka meat
After years of amazing geographical feats
You lay awake, dreaming year after year
Many thought you were a man without a care

But you were putting the world together
While stranded for weeks in nor’westerly weather
Puffing, sucking the old brown brair
In your batwing tent you kindle a fire

No mortgage family possessions houses or barns
You are a free-wheeling man with only socks to darn
A river to cross and a range to measure
Keeping a watchful eye on the wild weather
Weeks of rain and sodden clothes
Notebooks full of maps, observations and prose

Your thrills came from discovery and not wiley tarts,
Betsy Jane at your side, obedient and fast
Never answered back when you got it wrong
The tuis, bellbirds and robins kept you in song
Your footprints were the first in many places,
Mountain top, gorges river and glaciers


The whiskey jar at the Forks, Okarito and Scotts,
Discussing the world with fellow Scots
The jar was your best mate on the binge
You were one of those living over the fringe

Banking almost got you, wife kids and all
But marriage to you was like a pall

Your dreams wafted like smoke from your pipe
Slabs of rata your company during the night
The cursed danps got into every joint
Did you ever ask ‘whats the bloody point ?'

Was it you Charlie or the others who were the fools ?
Your maps, sketches and diaries over which generations drool
No Charlie it was a good deal you got
Harper, and others, you never tolerated that lot
Alpine Club braggards you named them true
Canterbury amateurs who stole feats from you

It was Roberts McFarlane, Bannister and Teichy
They were soul mates of a similar physie
Staunch and modest friends who knew your strengths
Overlooked your weaknesses and came to your defence

The final years in Hokitika with Mrs Ward
Wife of your mate in the mountains who died at a ford

After the stroke you were seen camping at Kaniere
With batwing tent, maps, diaries but without a penny
Possessions and money had no meaning or dues
It was the uncharted land that was treasure to you.

Copyright. Bob McKerrow 2007


Charlie washing his shirt in a stream while his towel dries on a rock behind.

Charlie Douglas
Between 1893 and 1895 Charlie Douglas explored with Arthur P. Harper, a Canterbury mountaineer and lawyer, particularly in the Franz Josef and Fox glacier areas. Harper took this photograph of Douglas washing his shirt in a glacial stream. At this time, Douglas began to muse on his life of exploration: ‘[H]ere I am after thirty years wandering, crouched under a few yards of Calico, with the rain pouring & the Wind & Thunder roaring among the mountains a homeless, friendless, Vagabond, with a past that looks dreary & a future still more so. Still I can’t regret having followed such a life and I know that even if I & thousands besides me perish miserably the impulse which impels them to search the Wild places of the Earth is good’ (quoted in Philip Temple, New Zealand explorers: great journeys of discovery. Christchurch: Whitcoulls, 1985, p. 148).

If you want to read more about this amazing explorer, read Mr Explorer Douglas: John Pascoe's New Zealand Classic



13 comments:

Marja said...

Congrats with the publishing of this great poem about this character. I can just imagen him.
Just don't know what slabs of rata
are?

BTW If you for any reason can't participate in my Pay it Forward could you please let me know than I pass it to somebody else

Ruahines said...

Kia ora e Bob,
Congrats and well done. I love it, and you write with a real flair and flavour of the explorer you are. I shall be back to read it again.
I love that chapter, recalling in my mind, in Aat Vervoorn's book where he is in, I believe, a hot pool and has a vision of Charlie joining him fro a long discussion. Charlie wonders if Aat might be toting any malted beverage with him! That is one ghost I would gladly share my whiskey ration with. Kia ora Bob!
Ka kite ano,
Robb

Bob McKerrow said...

Dear Marja

Sorry for a late reply but my computer crashed three days ago and finally have a new one. I am delighted to have been picked out of the hat for Pay oit Forward. I will be returning to NZ in July and I was wondering if it was possible to send it to my daughter who lives in my house. He name and address are :

Ruia McKerrow
34 Flower Street
Christchurch
New Zealand

Many thanks

Bob

Bob McKerrow said...

Kia Ora Robb

Yes I loved that discussion Aat had with Charlie Douglas at the hot pools.
Would you believe Robb, this poems took me two years to write. I had to go back into the bush a number of times to get a feel of how damp you get day after day in nor'westers. I sat in the bush being Charlie Douglas imagining and reconstructing what his life would have been like. Also in my book on Teichelmann, I managed to prize out more about Charlie's living habit's.

Thanks for your feedback Robb.

The ghost of Charlie Douglas.

Bob McKerrow said...

Dear Marja

You ask what are slabs of Rata ? Rata is a glorious tree that is a very dominent species in South Westland. It makes the best firewood of all timbers and will give off amazing heat even when wet. People like Charlie would have a fire outside their tent and before going to bed would throw on a few slabs of Rata. The leave go red in summer and the whole forest is ablaze with a tinge of red midst a sea of green. Rata and West Coasters are like the Dutch and their cycles.

Have a great weekend.

Bob

Ruahines said...

Tena koe Bob,
I can feel you sitting in the bush, letting this piece ferment inside you. It is there in your writing.
I see in your comment to Marja you will be in New Zealand in July. Any chance you might get up this way for a wander in the Rauhine? You are certainly welcome here. Have a great evening!
Rangimarie,
Robb

PATERIKA HENGREAVES, Poet Laureate said...

Oh I love the name Charlie, my late husband's pet name. You have written a wonderful tribute poem to Charlie Douglas, this Kiwi explorer of the wooded lands and mountain ranges of Aotearoa. I'd say the open form style you have used for this tribute poem is very appropriate given the nature of the content. The imagery and poetic devices used in this narrative poem are fantastic and quite effective in keeping my interest in the reading of it at an all time high. The information in the poem was quite informative too. I paused to say that it is a burning shame that early pioneers were not given the recognition they deserved during their lifetime. Much of the recognition is showered on them, I dare say, posthumously. Anyway, pioneers like Charlie Douglas did their exploits for the inner pleasure derived. We as writers now can relate to that inner satisfaction too. Rest assured his memory lives on in this beautifully crafted poem.

I'm feeling much better now. Thank you for showing your concern.

I have a lot of reading to catch up with on your blog. I shall get it done because it provides much pleasure.

Bob McKerrow said...

Dear Paterika

Thanks for your encouraging feedback. I like the term tribute poem. I have never heard the expression before.

It was indeed a tribute to a wonderful explorer who had his strengths and his human frailities. We poets need to be accurate when adventuring into the lives of people of the past. I spent years getting the history and detail correct. I struggled with every two lines rhyming, but that is how I saw it and framed it.
We have to go from the heart.

I am happy you are well.

So good to be connecting again.

Ka kite ano my friend.

Ropate

(Bob)

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