‘Stewart Island’ is a poem written by Fleur Adcock about the third largest island in New Zealand. Fleur moved to England when she was five years old and considered England as her spiritual home. So life back in New Zealand did not have any meaning in her life and this is what is reflected in the poem Stewart Island published in the 70s.
About the Poet
Fleur Adcock (born 10 February 1934) went to England when she was five but returned to New Zealand in 1947 when she was 13. She continued her studies there and even worked as a teacher and librarian. She married twice but they were not very successful marriages. She had two children one from each marriage. As a divorce compensation her second husband Crump agreed to pay her passage to England and it was in England she found her life again. She was a poet, a translator and an editor. She earned a good name in all the three aspects of writing. She received the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2008 and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2006.
The poem starts off as a conversation as it begins with the conjunction ‘but’ and this clearly indicates there is a connection to a conversation that had preceded this. The conversation might have been about the unpleasantness of the island and the hotel manager’s wife replies ‘But look at all this beauty’. It was true that the island had a nice bay, there were hills all around. The white sands, the bushes by the sea’s edge and the oyster boats added to the scenic beauty of the place. The fishermen were Maori with Scottish names. The poet walks down the beach but could not enjoy the waters as it was too cold. Her seven-year old child was collecting shells but could not do it in peace as he was being ‘bitten by sandflies’. While her four-year old son ‘paddled’ a ‘mad seagull jetted down’ and tried to ‘jab its claws and beaks into his head’. This was too much for her to bear and she had already decided to leave the country. The poet in the 8th and 9th line says that the hotel manager’s wife who had praised the island also ran away from that place. No one really wanted to stay on the island.
The poem ‘Stewart Island’ written by Fleur Adcock has eighteen lines in one block. It is free verse as there is no specific rhyme scheme and it is written in a conversational tone. There is no mention of the island in the poem but the title says it is Stewart Island, the third largest island of New Zealand. The imagery used to describe the place is strong. The description of the island is nice and the imagery of the sandflies and the seagull is frightening and the reader also feels that the island is not a very safe place to live. There is an element of irony in the parentheses that follows ‘she’ in the eighth line. The hotel manager’s wife who was singing the praises of the island also runs away from the island. The poet is trying to reiterate that the island was not really a good place to be. Adcock uses enjambment in her poems and Stewart Island is no exception. The language is everyday speech without lyricism and too many poetic devices. What makes this a poem rather than a prose piece is its mystery and conciseness. The reader has to make assumptions, interpret and speculate the story behind the poem. The result of this is that the story is poignant and intriguing.