The Magpies – Denis Glover

When Tom and Elizabeth took the farm
The bracken made their bed,
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

Tom’s hand was strong to the plough
Elizabeth’s lips were red,
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

Year in year out they worked
While the pines grew overhead,
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

But all the beautiful crops soon went
To the mortgage-man instead,
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

Elizabeth is dead now (it’s years ago)
Old Tom went light in the head;
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

The farm’s still there. Mortgage corporations
Couldn’t give it away.
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies say.

 
I love this piece for its lyrical simplicity and the music of the lines. Legend has it that Denis Glover had set out to visit his poet friend Alfred Curnow he stopped his Austinmobile on the way for a pee and heard the magpies there squawking qardle oodle ardle wardle doodle repeatedly and the sounds stuck in his mind .As the friend sat down to write his own iconic poem Wild Iron that would later become equally famous, Dennis went repeating quardle oodle…to himself and discovered he was writing a poem with the refrain. The poem was The Magpies ,that would become an iconic poem of New Zealand, a poem that gave the New Zealand  magpie an immortality and even brought tourists to New Zealand.

The wonderful thing about the poem is the undercurrent of irony that runs in the poem.It is not a nature poem .It is not about magpies.It is about the terrible economic conditions prevailing then in New Zealand , post- Depression when farming had become so difficult yielding so little after paying off debts and the land fell into the hands of the mortgage man .

The magpie was a sarcastic bird, squawking its unique refrain quardle ardle…again and again about Tom and Elizabeth, who, the hard working farmer couple they were, soon became victims of the crippling economic crisis . Tom went light in the head and a red-lipped Elizabeth went quickly dead on the bracken bed. The beautiful crops went to the mortgage man but the farm land could not be given away and the magpies are now its owners .

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