The sea question
The sea asks 'How is your life now?'
It does so obliquely, changing colour.
It is never the same on any two visits.
It is never the same in any particular
Only in generalities, tide and such matters
Wave height and suction, pebbles that rattle.
It doesn't presume to wear a white coat
But it questions you like a psychologist
As you walk beside it on its long couch.
New Zealand poetry has often engaged with the ocean--not surprisingly given that only one seventeenth of New Zealand is made up of dry land; the remainder of the nation's territory has the waters of the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea washing over it. While sea-poems tend to be soulful, often turbulent, excursions into the natural world and the human condition, Elizabeth Smither's 'The sea question' renegotiates the human/marine relationship. The lightness and lyricism of her imagined exchange has few precursors in New Zealand littoral poetry. With humanity laid out on a 'long couch' being counselled by the ocean, the poem acknowledges the sea not only as a natural resouce but also as a repository of wisdom. Maybe the ocean can restore humanity's well-being, if only we listen to what it has to say? Born in 1941, Elizabeth Smither lives in New Plymouth, in a small house looking out across the Tasman. Her poems are precise, exquisite miniatures--they bring to mind the vignettes of Elizabethan painter Nicholas Hilliard or the lute-songs of John Dowland. In their capacity to be, at once, heartfelt and oblique, they hark back to one of her favourite poets, Emily Dickinson. Elizabeth Smither's selected poems, The Tudor Style, was published in 1993; her most recent collection is The Blue Coat (Auckland University Press 2013). She has also published novels, short stories and non-fiction, all in the 'Elizabethan' manner.
Further information: www.bookcouncil.org.nz/writers/smitherelizabeth.html