Issue 23: 5 December 2008

Kendrick Smithyman was one of New Zealand’s most widely published poets and was a senior tutor in the Department of English from 1966 to 1987. In late 1982 Smithyman was asked to compose a centenary ode of a “celebratory nature” by the Chair of the Centenary Committee, Professor Nicholas Tarling. The poem was read by Professor Tarling at the Centenary Assembly held in the Town Hall, Sunday 8 May 1983.

‘Calling the Roll’ - the University Centenary Ode

  An aged woman, an aged man, they may be
paltry things come to their century – the cake,
  that telegram
They are seldom, who grow more behovely
                                                         yet a house
  not altogether built by hands outlives, sept
with sib, its generations. Goes not upon sticks, and stones
ring into prime
                   when today a University
not old in its hundredth sings in good heart,
claps hands and sings (Gaudeamus, of course).
Small heart as was, of a smaller town amor loci,
gets to tell over its roll
                               after wars, after
so many natural causes. More than one person’s
missing from classes
                           whom we remember honourably.
   Especially we do well to account
one almost always present 
                                    Kate Milligan Edger
  ‘who walked into the open citadel and took
  possession of the heritage of her sex’,
affirming the not even then house (secondhand,
shabby, reachmedown, however in impulse shrewd),
was to stand upon Tamakimakaurau of the thousand
Lovers, women along with men,
                                             at the hill
once called Horotiu, lovers who drew to learning
hopefully, more suredly slowly to knowing

   by what ways? Proper to recollect
some distinction: philology, Middle English,
soil science, Comp. Lit, geometries,
preEuclidean, heads and tails counted in polling
booths – where Science ends did Art find out
a mean? – in nonconformist conscience, or non
conforming viruses, in Austronesian grammars…

   The Chairman of the Education Board had
   ‘much pleasure in informing the Chancellor
   That the greatest possible interest was 
   evidenced’
                in the Choral Hall where met to applaud
Clio, Minerva, Calliope, Thalia
and Kate Edger.
                     This day we could all name
names. We are purposed to speak them, to answer.
How may you, should I, respond?

- Kendrick Smithyman