It was no madman who gardened and farmed lifelong,
Making green the valley,
Ploughing and sowing the unbroken hill,
Laying out fields, setting byre and barn,
Planted pine-belts, raised stone walls
To run like natural boundary marks
Of hollow and terrace and rounded slope;
Walls that stand and run
Boulders, hill-stones, grey everlasting, rough-marbled
Marking out place and time, separating
Field from field, life from life;
Vanishing over the flank of a spur,
Melting into drifts of night
Or cloud, or winter snow;
Moving beyond known years and lives
Across the hill-face, round the sheer globe
Far into memory, myth;
Carefully, lovingly raised, stone by chosen stone
Day after day, year on year,
A lifetime burden of stones,
A history hewn of silent walls.
Moving higher at length
He left field and wall behind,
Looking down at them, looking beyond them
To town and harbour, and farther yet
Swart-green headlands, white beaches
And the sombre arc of ocean
Unheard except on still nights after storm,
But always present, the oncoming night
Waiting, the end of time waiting;
Cold ocean, grave of waters
And the world's burial ground.
Few passed his door,
None crossed his mind.
At home in summer air
And railing wind
He lived out day and night
As though none but he
Trod earth's deck, beset
By sea and sky.
The town clacked, mocked, forgot, was reminded.
An old man on the mountain
He had no right there
Setting himself up against
Decent folk in houses.
It didn't do anyone good to think of him,
Old men should not live alone
- It wasn't right for anybody
To live like that alone.
Why, he might die there one day all by himself
And no one be any wiser.
And some think the town neglected him
Which would give it an ill name -
Like the bad names the old man threw
At the passer-by or visitor
Who gave him a friendly word, proffered a kindness.
But, live and let live,
No one was looking for trouble,
It wouldn't be wise to use force
Unless it was needed.
They found him when his strength failed,
Carried him down at last
Tired beyond protesting.
And the town received him,
Nursed him barely a week,
Until death shook
His leaf from the bough,
Out of then, into now.
“Ben Rudd” was first published in Landfall 44 (December 1597). Brasch revised it for Ambulando (1964). But Brasch’s recording contains some variants from each version and some from neither.
‘Ben Rudd’, from Collected Poems edited by Alan Roddick (Oxford University Press, NZ, 1984), © Charles Brasch 1984, used by permission of Alan Roddick, Literary Executor for the Estate of Charles Brasch.
Recording from the Waiata New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive 1974.