Beside a yellowed newsprint clipping of a poem, a black and white photograph of a young Māori woman, looking to camera.
J.C. Sturm, photographed in 1948, about the time she wrote Brown Optimism; the clipping she kept of the poem (Images: Supplied)

Brown Optimism, by J.C. Sturm

It is believed that Sturm wrote this poem between 1946 and 1948, in her 20s. It was likely published in a student newspaper and has just been rediscovered in a box of her old clippings. 

Read more about the poem and how it was found here


Brown Optimism

With dust of labour on a summer’s day

They slouched with careless stride of people come

From nowhere, going nowhere, smiling, tired,

And cursing with a laugh the Pākehā

Veneer. For them life is a childish farce

To paint in white the brown which stains their lives.

Their ancient world is gone, and in the pā

The death of past traditions of a once

Proud race is mourned by age with mumbling gums

In soft tones of despised melodious tongue.

You seek your future in the white man’s joy;

You sing your songs to ape his foolish tune;

You change your rhythm to the jazz band’s beat;

And slave and sweat for coin so easily spent;

You play a losing game with loaded dice

And know no rules to help you win a chance;

While Pākehā stands quietly waiting with

A smile, to move you at his will across

The draughtboard of his policy and faith.

A child went past; neglected, poorly clothed

In imitation of the white man’s dress.

Hard feet on hard road running in the heat

To spend the white man’s money in the white

Man’s store. And what is there for you, oh child

Of Māori pride? Will you be swallowed in

The rising tide, and mingle blood till all

Your heritage is gone?

This shall not be.

For brown must learn from white, the rules to make

Him equal partner in the game they play;

And white must cease to trample underfoot

These dark leaves of the Polynesian tree.

When this is done, and each the other’s worth

Has found, from union will spring a new

Race keen, with courage strong to face the world

And find at last its place and aim in life.

 




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