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A Pair of Sandals 1972. James Kier Baxter. Death? What are the clues? His ever-increasing identity with Maori culture? Reflection/Introspection on his life? More social commentary?. So... what is THIS one about, Miss?.

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Death? What are the clues?

His ever-increasing identity with Maori culture?

Reflection/Introspection on his life?

More social commentary?

So... what is THIS one about, Miss?

“It is a poem taking leave of dear friends.” (Bill Manhire, Victoria University). With this in mind, discuss the following in pairs/groups, then report back:

“I must go, my friends/Into the dark...”

“...the ribs of the ancestor are the rafters/Of a meeting house”

“...in there/The ghosts gather who will instruct me”

“...the shapeless clay of the mind”.


So – yes, indeed – a case can be made for this poem being about Baxter's impending death (about six days after writing this poem on a wall, he died).

HOWEVER: Bill Manhire seeks a deeper interpretation.

First – the links back to previous, published poems. What is the significance of this?

Also – remember his religious beliefs. Is he making peace with his God? Yes? No? WHY/NOT?


Te Whare Runanga Waitangi Marae.Inside Te Whare Runanga of Waitangi, the wharenui is the archive of their tribe (iwi) recording priceless history (hitori) through the art of carving, tukutuku panels, and kowhaiwhai (scroll work on rafters)

  • Therefore, “…the ribs of the ancestors are the rafters/Of a meeting house” is an important reference because it links back to a previous poem, but takes the poem further by suggesting that the meeting house (i.e., Baxter’s body) is empty but for the history of his ancestors.
in conclusion then
In conclusion, then…
  • Baxter’s reference to the meeting house is the key to the poem. It suggests that he has become a hollowed-out husk of a man and is therefore ready to meet his Maker.
  • OR, it could be referring to the fact that his hollowed-out body makes him the perfect “foil” for the poem – an observer again, rather than a social commentator.
  • OR a bit of both.