blacktitle.jpg (12329 bytes)

Genevieve Taggard's Preface to Origin: Hawaii (1947)


hawaii.jpg (49999 bytes)Please remember, dear reader, that some of these verses were written when, so to speak, I was a one-celled poet. I will not make a big slur on my early self--that would be outrageous pride upside down. But remember that the first of these verses were written about 1914--a long time ago.

It is very hard to be a poet, even before the cells begin to multiply. This fact should set someone in Hawaii to trying. A place that has not been truly felt and communicated does not, in a certain sense, exist. Just as a human being who is not quite conscious may be said not quite to exist either. Hawaii's color and her unique life stream out into the vastness of space; it shines for me in time, but it is in danger of being lost to both.

I wonder why the Hawaiian, the Japanese, the Chinese and all the other racial groups have never written poems in the language of the Islands? There was a Hawaiian poetry of old, just as there is a literature of every country represented in the Islands. What accounts for the blank now? Is the life of a poet an economic impossibility in Hawaii? Are there no scholarships, no awards, no prizes? More important, does no one tell the young student that poems can be written today? When I look at Gauguin's picture of the girl with mango flowers, I laugh at first glance because they are not mango flowers at all; but the girl is very good, second cousin to a Hawaiian girl. That is the important thing--we draw near Tahiti when we see her. It is hard for me to imagine what the true poems of Hawaii will be like. Poppy juice illustrates how they should be written, I think.

I have been startled to reflect that "Child Tropics" written in 1921 and "Luau" written in 1946 are on related themes, except that the later poem introduces as counterpoint the reality of racial suffering. In the little church my parents attended in Honolulu I was impressed with the text, "I am come that ye might have life and have it more abundantly." When we sat listening I had only to move my eyes from the minister to see outside the flowering vines and colored trees of abundance. Nevertheless, or perhaps because we lived a rich sensuous life, the text became my own. I have never ceased to think that the text, taken literally, should be the aim of all governments. I scoff at those who tell me solemnly that government must be something else. I am not interested in anything else and come to think of it, neither are you, dear reader.

When we were living in Pearl Harbor where I wrote some of these verses, (just before World War I) I was reading Latin and playing the piano. I did both badly, impressionistically, never accurately, but I touched something I still keep. We had a little Victrola, a light brown oaken one that we carried with us, and a few songs by Schumann in German; our lives were enormously enriched by a friend who took us sailing. Other things stirred me in those days to attempt poems, but what I wrote was sentimental and blurry, in imitation of bad models. I am forever indebted, when I remember those years, to the kindness of Mrs. Walter Frear, in whose house we lived on the Peninsula. The German lyrics became a standard of something fine and remote, the bees in our algaroba trees made the same sound that Virgil imitated in the Latin text, and sailing added something new,--the masculine pleasure of boats. One's miseries--and there were some which were acute, having to do with my father's illness and the lack of money--became the final push toward writing. I am still forced to write. No matter how happy or fortunate our personal lives the great cause still remains--it is "the misery of the world that will not let us rest." (John Keats, Hyperion)

Return to Genevieve Taggard