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This work is in three movements:
I. Song of Exile – 1: The poet reflects ob his life in a new country (New Zealand) in the years after WWI and his longing for home (England). The thrush, whose song pervades the poem, is a symbol of all the poet has left behind. Its song, surpassing that of the local riro-riro (grey warbler), is 'beyond compare'.
II. Song of Exile – 2: The singer creates two characters. The first verse is sung by "Joe", a Warwickshire man, whose longing for his homeland is expressed in his resentment at drinking beer out of a glass rather than a 'pewter'. The poet, singing the second verse, reflects that he may have more words at his command than Joe but his love for England could not be stronger or more sincere.
III. The Wisdom of Riro-riro: This poem, like the first Song of Exile, is dominated by birdsong, but this time the New Zealand riro-riro (grey warbler) replaces the English song thrush as 'hero'. The poem suggests that the poet has reconciled himself to life in New Zealand. The poet, accompanied by the riro-riro, wanders between the trunks of trees he planted ten years previously on his Otaki farm. Have the trees grown into 'cathedral arches' to bess and comfort the poet? Little riro-riro puts the poet in his place by singing the story of Rangi and Papa: the trees were created by Tane to give shelter to birds, not poets. The piano creates the grey warbler's tuneful, tonal song so commonly heard throughout New Zealand.
Text by Donald H. Lea