1 December 2019 Susannah

Hone Tuwhare & ‘Rain’

Today’s newspaper included a photo of some young children in rural Australia jumping in puddles of rain that had just fallen. In this terrible time of drought, a poem about rain has extra resonance. When I was a child, I loved lying in bed with a book and hearing the rain beating on to the tin roof of the garage – it felt so warm and comforting to be inside and dry, with all that rain outside keeping New Zealand the gloriously green land it is! I love this poem by New Zealand Maori poet, Hone Tuwhare (1922 – 2008).

Rain by Hone Tuwhare

I can hear you
making small holes
in the silence

If I were deaf
the pores of my skin
would open to you
and shut

And I
should know you
by the lick of you
if I were blind

the something
special smell of you
when the sun cakes
the ground

the steady
drum-roll sound
you make
when the wind drops

But if I
should not hear
smell or feel or see

you would still
define me
disperse me
wash over me

Born in Northland, NZ, Hone Tuwhare spoke only Maori until he was nine. He was a member of the Ngapuhi tribe. He began to write poetry as a young man, and in 1999 he became his country’s second Poet Laureate. He won the Robert Burns Poetry Fellowship and many other awards, was awarded honorary degrees, and in 2007 Rain was voted the nation’s favourite poem by a clear margin.

His poetry is often about nature and his own deep affinity with the natural world. The first verse is about the sound of the rain, and he goes on in the other verses to express what rain means to him through all the senses – touch, taste, smell, before returning in the final stanza to an all-over sensory perception of the rain.

He addresses the rain as if speaking to a person, implying that his relationship with the rain is a two-way process. It’s almost as if they are two lovers – his very pores open to the rain, the rain seems to “lick” him. It is intimate and sensual, and without the rain he is lessened, his response to the world duller.

If you visit New Zealand (always to be recommended) you can see the words of this poem printed in a tunnel in Whangarei, and there’s a plaque to Hone Tuwhare in the pavements of the Octagon in Dunedin. Many of his poems have been set to music.

The poem has been set to music. You can listen to a version here.


Have you enjoyed this poem? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

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Header image credit- Northland NZ beach in the rain, https://www.facebook.com/pg/NorthlandWeather/photos/
Body image credit- Hone Tuwhare, poet, by Source. Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36794179

Comments (10)

  1. Aline

    How wonderful! Thank you for that Susannah – I had never heard it set to music before and was enchanted. We used to hang out with Hone in the 70s in Dunedin (his girlfriend at the time, Maureen, was the mother of a friend) and he kept us entertained with his wisecracks, acerbic wit and homespun philosophy! That poem is brilliant simplicity.

  2. Helen Gentle

    Beautiful poem. Thanks, Susannah, I so look forward to the poems you share with us.

  3. Susannah Fullerton

    I’m so glad you enjoy the poems. Lots of people are telling me that and I think these days people just don’t have enough poetry in their lives.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t it lovely! I was so pleased when I found it online and could share it.

  4. Hone Tuhware gave Dave Wood lifelong permission to create calligraphic works of art of Hone’s poems. Rain was very dear to Dave’s heart and he created over 100 artworks of this beautiful poem. He also used other sensitive poems in jis work. An artist book of theee of Hone’s poems sits in the National Library’s collection in Canberra. If you’re ever visiting the library, you can request to see it.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks so much for letting me know about the book. I’ll go and seek it out next time I’m in the library in Canberra.

  5. Michael White

    Rain by Hone Tuwhare
    I admire the inclusion of the so many sensual aspects of humanity inclusive in the simple genius of this poem.

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