Alan Duff: Fill children's hearts with beautiful, endless love

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Love again in the rebuilding of a nation before steel, before anything. Makes you think, right? At least it should do.
Love again in the rebuilding of a nation before steel, before anything. Makes you think, right? At least it should do.

I'm going to selectively quote from a Pablo Neruda poem titled To Wash a Child.

"Love, the most immemorial on earth,

washes and combs the effigy of the children,

straightens the feet and knees;

the water rises, the soap slithers,

and the pristine body emerges to breathe

the air of flowers and the mother.

... and from scrubbing and combing and amber,

from ancient scruples and from jasmine,

emerges the child, cleaner than ever,

running from the mother's arms

to clamber again on its whirlwind,

to look for mud, oil, piss, and ink,

to hurt itself, tumble about on the stones.

In that way, newly washed, the child leaps into life;

for later, it will have time for nothing more

than keeping clean, but lifelessly by then."

Neruda's always soaring words are my several times a week source of pure joy. He's a Shakespeare of poetry, a sage and keen observer of humanity. And I only read the translation from Spanish. Here are a few more lines from his epic Cataclysm:

"There is no misfortune which the needle

cannot reconstruct, sewing, time sewing like a seamstress.

The red rose will stitch over the scars

and now we have new islands, volcanoes,

new rivers, a newborn ocean -"

It's been two weeks since my wife and I were flying back from New Zealand to France, me glad to be with someone who shared my gratitude at being whisked to the other side of the world in about a day's flying time. Fed, wined and dined, provided with movies, television drama, docos, music, sport, the only negative being the lack of book readers.

But we never complain. The red rose will always stitch over the petty scars of long-haul travel. As it does with life.

" ... let us put on our faces the only smiles floating in the sea,

let us pick up the burnt hat and the dead surname,

let us again clothe the naked man and woman,

let us build the wall, the door, the city,

let us begin again the industries of love and steel:

let us rescue again our quaking homeland."

Many of us have suffered setbacks, but never has our country had civil war or an oppressive, murderous dictator. Our homeland has never got to the "quaking" stage and in the foreseeable future is not likely to. Unlike the poet's own politically roiling country, Chile, and many other South American states.

Isn't it beautiful that in the first work Neruda elevates love? Of the mother, her child and the child back in its unknowing, restless way of eagerness to play like a horse herd, clamouring to be set loose. Love again in the rebuilding of a nation before steel, before anything. Makes you think, right? At least it should do.

In Ocean Lady, he asks a snail to sing to him, a bell to sing; of underwater wheat and a moon "that cried in the cold". Of "song circulating in my blood ... no voice 'til you arrived quivering in the sea's bubbles". Oh, Lord. To be born of such genius. We should fill our children's hearts and ears with language and concepts like this. We should vow to never carp about small things, to never envy nor complain. And of course raise children on that which nourishes even the saddest heart: love.

- NZ Herald

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