Ben Rudd

Ben Rudd


High above the town
He lodged with wind and sun
In a hollow of the hill
Whose tussock arms fell
About him, streams ran by
Low-voiced night and day.

Narrow hut and black hearth
Crouching to earth,
Billy, bunk and crude
Bench, axe and spade,
Candle and shotgun –
And the flag of green
Outside by the brown wall,
Potato patch and full-
Fruited raspberry, gooseberry.


No one crossed his door,
No one crossed his path
For fear
Of sudden threat or oath.

And yet his single care
Was to keep at bay
All who might interfere
Coming to pry –

The righteous who would trick
Him to their lawless town
And hold him lost and weak
To waste among men

Far from hill and sky;
So, helpless to run,
When words were thrown away
He seized his gun.


‘Up there on the mountain’, they said,
‘Half crazed, not right in the head,
Dangerous too, pointing his gun
For no reason, at anyone
Passing, not stopping even –
That’s what he’s come to, living
Alone in the wind and sun,
Old, and his wits gone;
It’s not right,’ they said,
‘Alone there, muttering mad
Words, mad old Ben Rudd.’


Start alone, end alone.

All known faces gone
And familiar talk done;
Heart that poised on a knife edge
Eased now of stubborn rage,
Beyond fear and hope content
Not to ask, not to want,
Free to live its own days
Wasting no breath upon the ways
Of other men, but every thought
Bent to work the sum out
Of what is and what is not.


‘Ben Rudd, mad Ben Rudd
Soft in the head
Thinks himself God!’
The town boys cried out
Racing past his hut.

Angry looks, a black
Word flung in their wake,
Gun snatched up –
But they were gone sharp
Down among boulder and bush
Into the evening hush
And on to the smug town,
Swelling the rumour spread
Of mad Ben Rudd.

To hear and read the rest of this poem, see “Ben Rudd: Part 2” on Charles Brasch’s Poetry Archive page.

from Collected Poems edited by Alan Roddick (Oxford University Press, NZ, 1984), © Charles Brasch 1984, used by permission of Alan Roddick, Literary Executor for the Estate of Charles Brasch. Recording from the Waiata New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive 1974

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