Chapter 16: In This Valley Of Dying Stars

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river

Leonard Cohen, “Suzanne”

I finally got my Canadian quotation – but Leonard Cohen belongs to the world doesn’t he? I read his biography while I was revising my novel. This quote was destined to be attached somehow. Suzanne Aubert is mentioned in this chapter – she founded the Order of the Sisters of Compassion who are the nuns in Jerusalem. They are still there after a century or so. It is Aubert’s image on the medicine bottles. She was famous for selling remedies based on Maori herbal knowledge – sold in Wellington to raise money for the mission in Jerusalem. Her story and Baxter’s together make for a fascinating history of this area – or maybe they make for a window for non-Maori to look into this area? Suzanne is one of my favourite songs of all time and she provides an ethereal image for the women of the river. (You can watch the film, How Far is Heaven to learn more about the sisters currently in Jerusalem).

Chapter 17: In This Valley Of Dying Stars

The eyes are not here

There are no eyes here

In this valley of dying stars

In this hollow valley

This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

 

In this last of meeting places

We grope together

And avoid speech

Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

 

Sightless, unless

The eyes reappear

As the perpetual star

Multifoliate rose

Of death’s twilight kingdom

The hope only

Of empty men.

 T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

There’s just so much here in this passage that links, at least in imagery, with this section of the book – a valley, a river, groping together through the dark, the stars that enrapture Conrad as they walk across the swing bridge, empty hollow men that sound like Kurtz, eyes. This is the poem that Marlon Brando is reading when he plays the Kurtz character in Apocalypse Now which is based on Heart of Darkness.

 Chapter 18: My Light Is Spent

When I consider how my light is spent

Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide

John Milton, “On His Blindness”

This is an old, little gem. The blindness aspect again; “light spent” has many connotations but for the novel, I see links with the light and Frankie in his interactions at the end. It also speaks of loss too soon. 

Chapter 19: The Rainbow Bridge

And I can lie down at the end of the road

Like an old horse in his own paddock

Among the tribe of Te Hau.

Then my heart will be light

To be in the place where the hard road ends

And my soul can walk the rainbow bridge

That binds earth to sky.

 James K. Baxter, “Sestina of the River Road”, 1972

Baxter wrote a series of poems called Jerusalem Sonnets and I think this comes from that. The “tribe of Te Hau” are the river people. There is a peace in these words – Frankie will lie down here where the hard road ends. The rainbow bridge connects with Conrad’s return over the swing bridge. He also sees a rainbow, a universal symbol for all sorts of thing. As is common, it represents a bridge between heaven and earth, between the natural and the divine (think of the rainbow bridge in Scandinavian mythology); there are Biblical connotations regarding covenants between God and humans (Noah); the spectrum of colours that form light link with the multiplicity theme (one and many at the same time); but for Maori, the rainbow can acknowledge the success of a mission . . . Conrad says that he has failed in his mission, but has he? 

Chapter 20: Haere Rā Ki Hiruhārama 

Farewell to Hiruharama – 
The green hills and the river fog 
Cradling the convent and the Maori houses –

The peach tree at my door is broken, Sister, 
It carried too much fruit, 
It hangs now by a bent strip of bark –

But better that way than the grey moss 
Cloaking the branch like an old man’s beard; 
We are broken by the Love of the Many

And then we are at peace 
Like the fog, like the river, like a roofless house 
That lets the sun stream in because it cannot help it.

 James K. Baxter, “Haere Ra”

“Haere ra” means farewell. When Conrad arrives in New Zealand, the chapter title was “Welcome”. Baxter says “Farewell to Hiruharama” for Conrad here. There all sorts of images here (even the peach links to one of Frankie’s journal entries alluding to another T.S. Eliot poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

Now – this feels better having shared this. If you are interested in more, check out my “Further Reading” section in the back of the book or on my Redeeming Brother Murrihy page.

Antony Millen, October 2013