Fleur Adcock’s “Stewart Island” is a free verse poem of eighteen lines. The poem is printed as a single stanza, though the ninth line, exactly halfway through the poem, is heavily end-stopped, and a change of direction follows.
The first line of the poem is the only direct speech it contains:
“But look at all this beauty.”
The first word signals a conversation and an objection. The speaker has just asked the hotel manager’s wife how she can bear to live there, presumably in a place so remote. The speaker’s own description of the beauty to which the woman alludes, “all hills and atmosphere,” is rather dismissive. The difficulty of living there is confirmed in parentheses, when the story of the hotel manager’s wife ends as she runs off with a Maori fisherman. Until this event, the Maori fishermen seem simply a part of the picturesque atmosphere, along with the white sand and the oyster boats. The flatness of the description gives ironic distance to the idea of the "local color" which draws in the tourists.
The second half of the poem presents the speaker alongside their two children of seven and four. Their typical beach-holiday activities, collecting shells and paddling, are impeded by equally typical holiday obstacles: sandflies and “a mad seagull.” The speaker’s own decision to leave the country, abruptly stated, if not abruptly made, reflects the sudden departure of the hotel manager’s wife in the middle of the poem. In both cases, the simple, declarative description of events hints at a great deal of hidden complexity which we must imagine for ourselves.