A striped shell – Ruth Dallas
Not for us this shell grew like a lily,
Is striped outside and ivory within,
Too many flower-like shells have been washed up
And crushed and scattered on these wild beaches,
Spin and glint along the blowing sand.
A shell must have some shape, but you would think
That any shape would serve, any colour;
And then the way they breakthrough all that seems
Dark and threatening in the sea, as strangely
Easily as snowdrops through dead leaves.
It is the same with every beautiful thing
Perhaps that breaks through darkness or decay,
But here where we walk warily, at times
In places where no man has ever been before,
These things are startling held against the silence.
If it is not a striped and rounded shell
Found unharmed among the sharp rocks or under
Yellow snakes of week, it is a fern
That seems to delicate to touch uncurling
In the gloom of some deep forest glade.
Behind a shell that fills and cups the hand,
Ferns that shine like sunlight through dark trees,
Must lie innumerable shells and ferns
No man has seen, shells like this, and ferns
As delicate as any we have found.
If only one could learn to accept this shell
For what it is; but there is something in
Its shape and colour, something in its breaking
Like a flower from the sea, that makes one
Turn it over in the hand, and over.
O'Sullivan, V. (Ed.). (1979). An anthology of twentieth century New Zealand poetry. Wellington: Oxford University Press.