Friend by Hone Tuwhare discusses a friendship that has fallen into ruin through the passage of years, and that ruin is represented by references to a state of disarray that a “stretch of land” has grown to know. Though the narrator finds a need in life’s current moment to have the comfort and strength that came with the friendship that has potentially been forsaken, the time past has created such distance and disrepair that there is no certainty that the friendship will be revived. Though the narrator hopes, the damage has already been established so deeply as to negate absolute possibility of renewal or resurgence.
This poem can be seen as a warning to those who allow friendships to become so weakened. Those friendships might be out of reach, but wanted, in the future should the lack of care continue. You can read the poem in full here.
The tone of this poem starts off as conversational when the narrator poses an informal question, as if the audience and the narrator have a common history that would make this question something of great relevance. Just as a friend might begin reminiscing a past event with a dear companion by asking if they, too, have that recollection, this narrator brings the audience into the past moment that is important enough for the narrator to resurrect. Specifically, the narrator asks the audience if they “remember that wild stretch of land” from years earlier. As the general reader of the poem likely would not recall this moment, the notion of this being a conversation grows because the intended recipient of the words is the person with whom the narrator “share[d]” the memory. Rather than having the reader as the audience then, the audience is the former friend of the narrator.
The imagery that is provided in this stanza sets the visual of childhood, despite childhood not specifically being mentioned. This is done through the nostalgic approach to the topic of “[d]o you remember,” but also in the visual of having a “lone tree guarding” “from the sharp-tongued sea.” This can be interpreted as having a parent or responsible adult overseeing the playtime of the children to shelter them from the dangers surrounding them. The presence of that adult is vastly important in that the “land” the children were playing on was a “wild stretch.” Even among that kind of “wild[ness],” the children were safe because of this “guarding.” It could be, as well, that the friendship itself is the “guard” watching over them, as if the narrator’s connection with his companion is what gives him safety and security, but the imagery is still sufficient to set this as a childhood scene.
Second and Third Stanza
The narration takes a turn from the security and happiness that existed within the time that these memories first occurred to reflect on what has become of the “land” on which these children played. What was once a place of fun, including a “fort…built out of branches,” has fallen into ruin over the passing of years until that “tree is dead wood.” Even “[t]he air” that had an energy about it has become “grey” and dull. Essentially, this stanza destroys the visual of childhood and happiness that appeared in the narrator’s “youth” to replace it with a scene that is desolate and unfulfilled, despite the fullness of life that had existed there in earlier years.
This can be seen as a commentary of the passage of years and the ruin that can befall a physical setting as time changes things, but the possibility also exists that this is a metaphor for the relationship between the narrator and the companion. Perhaps the connection between the two companions has fallen into disarray that is mirrored in the desolation of the “land” from their childhood.
This stanza furthers the notion that the narrator is using the “land” as a representation of the friendship since that narrator asks for permission “to mend the broken ends of shared days.” Even though the “land” now has a series of things that are unproductive and unkempt, the narrator is not asking to tend to the territory, but rather the “shared days.” This would hint that the memories themselves are the focal point of “mend[ing],” which would reveal that the connection the narrator wishes to refashion is connected to human ties and a “shared” bond. As the “tree” cannot feel a connection with the narrator, just as details like “roots” cannot, it is fair to assume they are not the elements truly missed. Rather, the narrator wants to rekindle something more mutual, and that notion falls in line with the idea that a friendship is the item whose “broken ends” should be “mend[ed].”
Repairing this friendship will be no easy matter, though, if the ideas of the scenery are continually shifted to represent the friendship. For instance, “the tree [they] climbed that gave food and drink to youthful dreams, is no more.” This concept implies the happiness that was experienced in earlier years because of this friendship is no longer a possibility between the narrator and his companion. While this friendship used to be so strong that it nourished the two of them, as is referenced by the “food and drink” concept, that unending supply of goodness has vanished.
Likewise, there is no more happy “whistle” to be had, and the “silken tracery” has become “cracked” and as boring as “clay.” Whatever has occurred between these two friends has led to a relationship that is quite lacking as compared to what it used to be, whether that alteration is due to the passing of time or some sort of disagreement between the two of them. Regardless, the friendship has lessened, and the lower quality is represented through the failings of the “land” itself.
If any word in this poem supports the concept that the narrator is commenting on a friendship rather than the actual “land,” it is the first word of the fifth stanza that specifically addresses the “[f]riend” for the discussion. This is due in part to the desperation that follows this greeting, ideas that are clearly directed toward this “[f]riend.” To that “[f]riend,” the narrator proclaims that the “drear dreamless time” calls for “clasp[ing the friend’s] hand if only to reassure” that all of those vivid memories of happiness truly “were real.” There is a desperation in that notion, that the narrator must hold onto this companion simply because he cannot endure the idea that those previous “jewelled fantasies” of their younger days were false.
There exists a bit of a twist in the idea that those “jewelled fantasies” “wore splendid rags” as no matter how “splendid” they seemed, they still remained “rags.” What this could entail is that the narrator believes those beautiful moments of childhood were incredibly valuable, but overtime, they have been so mistreated that their quality has been lessened until they have essentially been covered in “rags.” This speaks to the ill treatment the friendship has endured over the years, but if this is the case, the true value of that friendship is still in reach—just hidden away under “rags.” The narrator, should he truly believe this concept, would find rationale in trying to sort through the complications of what the friendship has become because he knows in his heart that what is “jewelled” and precious is still able to be reached with a bit of work and effort.
This “jewelled” underneath “rags” concept gains momentum within this final stanza since the narrator plainly states the possibility of “the tree” being able to “strike fresh roots again.” The narrator hopes to uncover the treasures of the friendship underneath the years’ worth of “rags” that have hidden its true value, and it seems the reason for that hope is because the narrator has come to a place where he needs it to be so.
Specifically, the narrator wants the friendship to be rekindled and strengthened to provide “soothing shade to a hurt and troubled world.” In the midst of the hardships that life provides, the narrator needs to have a solid connection to take comfort in, something that is similar to the calm and happiness that saturated the “shared days” of younger years with the companion. In this forgotten friendship, that happiness can be rediscovered—but only if those “rags” can be removed from the surface to reveal the still-remaining hidden beauty.
This remains only a possibility though, in that the stanza begins with the uncertain word, “Perhaps.” It could be, as it happens, that the distance between the two companions is so great that repairing the relationship will never come to be. If such is the case, the situation will remain “broken” and “dead,” despite the narrator’s desire to have the comfort that once existed within the relationship.
This, overall, is the theme of the poem—that this friendship is what the narrator desires to ease the burdens of life, but the disrepair might be too great to overcome. With this mindset, there is an feeling of despondence and desperation because what the narrator needs might never come to pass. It could be, in the end, that this is a warning to any who allow friendships to fall into such ruin since one day, those friendships could be needed or welcome to assist in coping with life’s struggles.
About Hone Tuwhare
Hone Tuwhare was a poet from New Zealand who often embraced concepts of nature within his works in ways that were as informal as his approach to “Friend.” In his life, he received multiple awards and honors for his works, and he was highly significant in the creation of the Māori Writers and Artists Conference. He passed away in 2008 with a number of notable works to his credit.