Rain in Westland

Writing about Peter Hooper the other day, I started thinking about how wet this winter has been in Wellington. Randell Cottage has many times looked out on low cloud and the resulting gloom, and it occurs to me, how appropriate to be writing about Peter’s life to the sound of frequent rainfall. Here is an extract from the writing that features one of Peter’s poems:

For some of us the shift into a hot dry climate was difficult. In his poem ‘Rain Over Westland’, Peter writes memorably about the way in which rain seeps into the Coaster’s psyche:

Rain over Westland
and the night moths battering the pane
rain on the roof
drumming the heart’s despair
rain on the road’s camber
swilling to the gutters
and the street-lamps lonely stare
in the unvisited gloom,
and the sea’s thump and moan
in the thick night stifled
by the rain, black rain
lamming into the world

Over the rufous towns and the
huddles of men
the punishing rain,
rain on the forest and the
wild, tossing branches,
rain loosening
the rotting boards and tettered iron
of lost endeavours;
on the melancholy swamps
of stumps and bottomless pools
rain on our ruin, rain.

Forty years and the rains
exile my words,
at their birth
my footsteps drown;
before me and after
the rain of circumscription,
the floods that climb
my heart’s diminishing island.

Where is, at the world’s end,
refuge from the rain?
In haunting dark
my mother hears it enter
at door and window, shrinks
from its lonely emphasis on
larger fears. Over my father
in his numbered bed, the rain
mocks memories of the sun
of the years that cannot come again
of a strength the random will
commands no more.

Between my father and my mother
falls the rain.

Rain in a broken house
a love dispersed
nettles among the ashes
the hearth-stone cold
rain in the branches at the splintered pane
rain on the tangled paths,
pooled in the fields of a lost inheritance
over familiar once-loved earth
rain of obliteration
floods again.

Between the mountains’
frozen  storm of rock
and the bitter
tumult of the living sea
slashes the rain,
hoarse roar forest and torrent,
on lonely farms
the lights douse one by one.

Only the dead do not hear
in their graves high in the hills
where the names on leaning stones
spell nothing to the rain
to the unremembering rain.

While this poem, written as a cry from the heart years after he lived away from the Coast, is as much about the pain of losing parents to age, and childhood to the memory of a desolate run-down farm, the evocation of rain is vivid to the point of pain.

Rain affected us all. I can remember lying awake at nights while at College, wondering if it was ever going to rain again, longing to hear rain on the roof. Once a sudden rattling of a downpour on the roof of the lecture theatre forced an English lecture to finish early. We could not hear the lecturer over the din on the roof. While it was a case of elation for others, the sound made me suddenly homesick for a place I had no wish to return to right then.

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