NZ Folk Song * Po Atarau (2023)

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In 1913
Palings published a piano-variations piece in Australia, Swiss Cradle Song.
In 1915 its opening theme was modified for the singing of Po Atarau to farewell Maori WW1 soldiers. In 1920 Maewa Kaihau wrote a This is the Hour verse, and in 1935 she modified the Po Atarau verse. This became the Haere Ra Waltz Song, which was sung when steamships were departing overseas.
n 1945 English wartime singer Gracie Fields learnt Haere Ra on a visit to New Zealand. Her version of it, known as Now is the Hour, became a world-wide hit in 1948.

Pö atarau
E moea iho nei
E haere ana
Koe ki pämamao

Haere rä
Ka hoki mai anö
Ki i te tau
E tangi atu ne


On a moonlit night
I see in a dream
You going away
To a distant land

But return again
To your loved one,
Weeping here

"Haere ra,"
te manu tangi pai.
E haere ana,
koe ki pamamao.

Haere ra,
ka hoki mai ano,
Ki-i te tau,
e tangi atu nei

"Bon Voyage"
cries out the seabird
as you depart
for a distant land.

but return again
to your loved one,
weeping here."

Now is the hour, when we must say goodbye.
Soon you'll be sailing far across the sea.
While you're away, oh please remember me.
When you return, you'll find me waiting here.

NZ Folk Song * Po Atarau (1)

Swiss Cradle Song

In 1913, Palings published Swiss Cradle Song by "Clement Scott". This was a piano piece (a music score of seven large folio pages) consisting of about 8 variations the 16-bar theme shown below. Palings sold 130,000 copies of Swiss Cradle Song; several thousand of these would have been sales in New Zealand.

Here is the melody line of the first 16 bars.

NZ Folk Song * Po Atarau (2)

Po Atarau: several stories of its origin

In new Zealand these 16 bars of Swiss Cradle Song were changed from 4/4 time to 3/4 time to become the tune for Po Atarau.

A Maori elder who was at Te Aute College in 1915 and 1916 said everyone was singing it there at the College because of its appropriate farewell theme during those war years when so many young men were embarking for Gallipoli and France.

These words seem to have been added to and modified by various people. The Grace and Awatere family shearing gang from Tuparoa on the East Coast used the Swiss Cradle tune in 1919.

According to Dick Grace, who was a small boy at the time, after hearing the Swiss Cradle song played by the pianist accompanying the silent movie pictures at Gisborne they wrote a verse in English and two in Maori. They called the song Po Ata Rau. The 1973 LP, Maori Song and Rhythm, by the Ma-wai-hakona Musical group concludes with Po Atarau (farewell song) attributed to the Grace and Awatere families.


NZ Folk Song * Po Atarau (3)This verse was collected by Angela Annabell from a woman who had learnt it at Ratana services as a child in 1925. Notice that it was sung to the original 4/4 time Swiss Cradle Song tune, with the first seven notes holding the same pitch.

It translates as Everybody, everybody, turn back to the Mouthpiece (i.e. to the prophet Ratana). The Ratana movement began in 1920, and Anglican hymns first used by the church gave way to Ratana "Mangai" hymns. This may have been a modified Maori Anglican hymn, as shown below in the 1928 version.

Maewa Kaihau

NZ Folk Song * Po Atarau (4)Emira Maewa Kaihau (b.1879 - d.1941) was born Louisa Flavell at Whangaroa, in Northland. On her father's side she is said to have descended from French nobles fleeing the French Revolution, and from a musician from the court of the Austrian Emperor. On her mother's side she was a direct descendant of Nga Puhi chief Hone Hika of Ngati Rahiri and Ngati Rehia Hapu.

Maewa was the second wife of Henare Kaihau,

(of Waiuku, near Manukau), the Maori Member of Parliament representing Western Maori until 1920, and she bore him six daughters and two sons. Maewa was musically gifted; she played the piano, sang, and also taught music. She was also well known for reading her poetry.The Prince of Wales visited NZ in 1920. At a ball in Rotorua, Maewa's eldest daughter was one of a group of teenage girls who, in bare feet and piupiu, entertained the Royal entourage, and the girl formed an attachment with one of them. But he had to depart with the Prince.

So Maewa quickly wrote this for her daughter, using the well-known Po Atarau tune as a basis, but with some of the opening phrase lowered, as shown here. This was published privately in the early 1920s, with ornate Maori translations added to the original English verses.

NZ Folk Song * Po Atarau (5)

This is the hour, for us to say goodbye.
Soon you'll be sailing far across the sea.

Do not forget, but, remember me.

When you return, you'll find me waiting here.

I love you dear, but duty calls you now
How I will miss you, when far, far away.
God guard you dear, and guide you safely home,
When you return, you'll find me waiting here.

Kua tae mai te wa, he we he nga mo tatou
E tata koe ka matangi, ki runga o moana nui
Kei wareware ahau e koe kia a tou maha ra
Ko konei au tari ai, kia hoki mai koe a taihoa

E tangi ra e kare, kua tau a matariki
Kai ake te aroha i roto, ana ma koe ki tawhiti.
Mate-ariki koe e kawa, kia tae ki tou Tauranga
Ko konei au tari ai, kia hoki mai koe a taihoa.

Now is the Hour

This was published in 1935, with the first verse of Maewa's version, a Christian version of the Ratana Te Iwi verse, and then the Po Atarau verse with a crying sea bird replacing the moonlit dream.

NZ Folk Song * Po Atarau (6)

Now is the hour,
when we must say goodbye
Soon you'll be sailing,
far across the sea.
While you're away,
Oh please remember me.
When you return,
you'll find me waiting here.
Te iwi, te iwi,
e te iwi e
Tahuri mai ra
te ngakau e
Ki nga kupu
o te Rongopai
He oranga
o te iwi e
"Haere ra,"
te manu tangi pai.
E haere ana,
koe ki pamamao.
Haere ra,
ka hoki mai ano,
Ki-i te tau,
e tangi atu nei

Turn back
your heart
to the word
of the Gospel
for the welfare
of all of you.

"Bon Voyage"

cries out the seabird
as you depart
for a distant land.
but return again
to your loved one,
weeping here."

NZ Folk Song * Po Atarau (7)The first and last verses became extremely popular, and Maewa Kaihau claimed that all the words and tune were her own work. But Palings soon claimed copyright for the tune, and Maewa Kaihau's words were not copyrighted until 1928, by Robertson's Publishers, a company that was later taken over by Lewis Eady which was in turn taken over by Charles Begg & Co. More recently Dick Grace has claimed most of the words as the work of his family.

In those days before radio and before locally-made recordings, the the lyrics of this song were probably being changed constantly according to circumstance and memory, and Kaihau's genius was to mold a version whose words could be understood and appreciated by both the Maori and British communities.

Says researcher Angela Annabell

"Perhaps the chief factor contributing to the success of Now is the Hour as a representative New Zealand song is its reflection of the Maori/English amalgamation fundamental to the national fabric."

Over the next 25 years Haere Ra became a favourite as the last waltz at dances, and was sung an the wharfside to farewell friends and troops on departing steamships. I remember hearing Haere ra, te manu tangi pai sung on the wharf in Wellington in about 1948 (I was a 7-year old) when the Wanganella was pulling out, and everyone on the wharf was holding streamers with the passengers lining the rails (JA).

The song was recorded by Ana Hato 1927, Ernest McKinlay c1928, and George Nepia c1935, all of which included English and Maori words, although there are minor variations in the text.

Gracie Fields

NZ Folk Song * Po Atarau (8)In 1945 British wartime singer Gracie Fields visited New Zealand, where she was given a reception something akin to a Royal Visit. At Rotorua, she heard Haere Ra sung by Guide Kiri's concert party, and later in her limousine, her driver, an Auckland dance band leader, taught her the song. Gracie's manager Dorothy Stewart was also her American agent.

In July 1947, Gracie Fields sang her version on a BBC radio programme, and around the same time recorded it for English Decca with fantastic success.

Gracie Fields did not include the Sunset glow passage in her version. It seems that the Sunset glow bridge -words and music - were composed by Dorothy Stewart. Hence her share in the copyright.

(Also at about this time Albert Saunders died. He comes into this story later. Or should he be at the beginning?)

Bing Crosby

We are guessing that Dorothy Stewart returned to the USA in 1945/46 with her version of the music score of Now is the Hour and, because of her influential position, was able to introduce it to Bing Crosby. He recorded it in November 1947 with the Sunset glow bridge passage. Bing's recording of it had no orchestral support. His only accompaniment were the voices of the Ken Darby Choir. On the B side of the record was Silver Threads Among the Gold.

Now is the hour, when we must say goodbye.
Soon you'll be sailing far across the sea.
While you're away, oh, then, remember me.
When you return, you'll find me waiting here.

Sunset glow fades in the west.
Night o'er the valley is creeping.
Birds cuddle down in their nest
Soon all the world will be sleeping.
Now is the hour, when we must say goodbye.
Soon you'll be sailing far across the sea.
While you're away, oh, then, remember me.
When you return, you'll find me waiting here.

Crosby's version was probably released and distributed after Fields' version had already made an impact in America. Around Christmas 1947, because of industrial action in the US, it may have been difficult to distribute US-made recordings, including the distribution of Crosby's Now is the Hour. This is probably why in January 1948 a planeload and shiploads of Fields' version were sent to the US to satisfy demand for the tune. And that is how Gracie Field's version was as successful as Bing's in America at that time. Several million copies of the record were sold.

Bing Crosby's Now is the Hour entered the Top Ten charts on 5 Feb 1948. It was No. 1 or 2 from 28 Feb to 29 May. It stayed on the Top Ten charts until 3 July 1948. (23 weeks). It was Bing's 42nd and last single to reach the top of the pop charts.

Albert Saunders a.k.a Clement Scott

INZ Folk Song * Po Atarau (9)n 1948, two years after Albert Saunders had died, his widow claimed that it was her late husband who had written the "Swiss Cradle Song," way back in 1906. She said they had had a family of 11 children to feed and her husband had sold the copyright of Swiss Cradle Song for two guineas ready cash to Palings Music Publishers, as part of a series of his compositions called "Songs of all Nations," using the name Clement Scott as a pseudonym.

Peter Downes, a retired Radio NZ executive producer, says that although Albert Saunders was on the music staff of Palings as an arranger and composer, his compositions were mostly dance tunes (like the Mad Pranks Foxtrot) or military marches (like the Comet March, commemorating the coming of Halley's comet), all vastly different from the type of composition listed for Clement Scott.

This is not to say that they weren't one and the same person, says Mr Downes. Saunders could have used the pseudonym for his piano solos and more romantic pieces in order to differentiate between the two very different composing styles.

Albert Bokhare Saunders/Clement Scott lived in Moree in Northern NSW,


My thanks to
  • Dr Angela Annabell for research in her PhD thesis, New Zealand's Cultural and Economic Development Reflected in Song - Aspects of the New Zealand Folk song Ethos, University of Auckland, 1975
  • Gordon Spittle for allowing me to use information from his book Counting the Beat, a History of New Zealand Song (1997),
  • Roger Flury of the music section of the National Library of New Zealand,
  • and Peter Downes, retired Radio New Zealand executive producer, and author of several books on aspects of NZ theatre and music.

Other Maori Songs - Main Song List - Home

Published on the web Sept 19, 2001, revised Nov 28 2001, revised Oct 2006, revised and reformatted 2021

NZ Folk Song * Po Atarau (10)

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