Analysis of the Poem "Friend" by Hone Tuwhare

Updated on January 31, 2020
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Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Hone Tuwhare
Hone Tuwhare | Source

Hone Tuwhare And A Summary Analysis of Friend

Friend is an early free verse poem of Tuwhare's and concentrates on recollection, memory and the passage of time. The speaker looks back to childhood and shared friendship in a particular place where land met sea.

Hone Tuwhare was the first Maori (the indigenous people of New Zealand) poet to make a name writing poetry in English.

When his book No Ordinary Sun was published in 1964 it quickly sold out and had to be reprinted such was the enthusiasm for his work. Friend is one of the poems from that book.

His poems cover many subjects - political unrest, Nature and Maori tradition to name but a few - and often focus on the life of the worker in city and countryside. Though mostly conversational in tone, some of his poems reflect the influence of the bible in their structure and rhythms.

  • Friends is a poem rich in literary/poetic device and invites the reader into the life of the speaker who is on a nostalgia trip, detailing the times he spent with a companion on a 'wild stretch of land' where a lone tree grew. This tree takes on a symbolic significance as the poem progresses.


Do you remember
that wild stretch of land
with the lone tree guarding the point
from the sharp-tongued sea?

The fort we built out of branches
wrenched from the tree, is dead wood now.
The air that was thick with the whirr of
toetoe spears succumbs at last to the grey gull’s wheel.

Oyster-studded roots
of the mangrove yield no finer feast
of silver-bellied eels, and sea-snails
cooked in a rusty can

Allow me to mend the broken ends
of shared days:
but I wanted to say
that the tree we climbed
that gave food and drink
to youthful dreams, is no more.
Pursed to the lips her fine-edged
leaves made whistle – now stamp
no silken tracery on the cracked
clay floor.

in this drear
dreamless time I clasp
your hand if only for reassurance
that all our jewelled fantasies were
real and wore splendid rags.

Perhaps the tree
will strike root again:
give soothing shade to a hurt and
troubled world.

Analysis of Friend Stanza by Stanza

Friend is a free verse poem, so has no set rhyme scheme and a varied metre (meter in American English).

The lines, a total of 32, also vary in length.

First Stanza

The speaker addresses someone (other than the reader), asks the question of the wild stretch of land and the tree. Note the conversational tone, the speaker going back to a time past, trying to jog the memory of this other person.

The tree is by itself but is seen as a guard, it stands like some protector of a special point where the sea, sharp-tongued, hits the land.

So there's a mild tension set up already, between the stable sentinel the tree and the always moving aggressive sea.

Second Stanza

The speaker continues with the memory specifically naming a fort they built - perhaps to find security as young boys, perhaps to play a military game. The fort is still there in real time but the wood once green and alive is dead.

This could be a reinforcement of the fact that time has passed and their act of togetherness - their security - is no more. As adults the change has come.

They also played with grass (toetoe grass) spears, as boys will, pretending to be soldiers or warriors or hunters. Now the only things moving through the air are gulls, wheeling (circling slowly overhead on the currents).

That word succumbs also suggests that the space they dominated as children with their games of fort and spears has with time been taken over by nature.

Third Stanza

Written in italics to emphasise the detail of a specific memory, the children also ate what was for them at the time, fine food, primitively cooked in a rusty can. This is almost like a drifting recall the speaker experiences as he thinks about those past times.

Fourth Stanza

The speaker wants to repair or tie up the loose ends of this shared friendship. The tree, here given a feminine role, has gone. The symbol of life and goodness, bosom of their dreams, is no more.

Does this mean that their time together has no value now? The magic of the leaves - as musical instruments, fine patterning - is nowhere to be found.

Fifth Stanza

The previous four stanzas have built up to this point. The speaker addresses directly...Friend...and puts their shared past into context by stating that adult life (modern times?) is boring, lacking dreams.

To gain a sense of worth and security the speaker wants to hold the friend's hand, just to confirm that the childhood games and play at the tree was indeed a treasured time. The memories are not false, the feelings not hollow.

Sixth Stanza

In a last gasp effort to retain worth and value the speaker suggests that the tree might grow again (their friendship be rekindled?) to help heal and relieve the pain of the here and now.

This is a hesitant optimism. Looking back to the past for a solution to the present is always a challenge, but it is a natural thing to do. We all have memories, warm and cold, good and bad. The speaker has a need to reconnect to the feelings of security and fun again, of a carefree time provided by nature and a child's imagination.

Analysis of Friend Literary/Poetic Devices


When two or more words are close together in a line and start with the same consonant, bringing texture and mixing phonetics:

built out of branches

that was thick with the whirr

spears succumbs

grey gull's

finer feast


cooked in a rusty can

me to mend

that the




When two or more words close together have similar sounding vowels:

thick with

mend the broken ends


When a line is paused midway by punctuation:

wrenched from the tree, is dead wood now.


When a line runs on into the next building momentum and maintaining the sense. For example, the whole of the first stanza.


The tree could be a metaphor for their friendship. Once healthy and alive it is now dead.


When an object is given human like traits:

lone tree guarding

sharp-tongued sea

© 2020 Andrew Spacey


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    • Bushra Iqbal profile image

      Aishatu Ali 

      8 weeks ago from Rabwah, Pakistan

      Thank you for introducing me to this Kiwi poet!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      2 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Andrew, I love this poem by Hone Tuwhare, and your analysis is spot on. Thank you for also listing the poetic devices used.


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