Poli Anuanu

An Essay by Kīhei de Silva

Haku mele: Unknown.

Sources: 1) Nathaniel Emerson, Unwritten Literature, 164-165. 2) Harry B. Soria, Jr., Kimo Alama Keaulana, and Keawe Lopes, liner notes to Bill Ali‘iloa Lincoln – Hawai‘i's Falsetto Poet, Cord International, HOCD 9800.

Discography: 1) Bill Ali‘iloa Lincoln – Hawai‘i’s Falsetto Poet, Cord International, HOCD 9800. 2) Robert Cazimero, Robert Cazimero (LP), Mountain Apple, 1978; re-released as RUC (CD), Mountain Apple, 2000.

Text below: Transcribed from Hawai‘i’s Falsetto Poet. Translation: Kīhei de Silva.

You alone are loved


I am numb, tingling

With cold

The rain is a cold thing

The water is a cold thing

My skin yearns

For the cold

What if

You and I

Were the ones who embraced

In the cold?

I call to you


Please answer me

In the cold.

Aloha wale ‘oe

Poli anuanu

Mā‘e‘ele au

I ke anu ē


He anu e ka ua

He anu e ka wai

Li‘a ku‘u ‘ili

I ke anu ē


Inā paha

‘O ‘oe a‘o wau

Ka i pūkuku‘i

I ke anu ē

Hea aku nō wau

Poli anuanu

E ō mai ‘oe

I ke anu ē

Nathaniel Emerson gives us, in Unwritten Literature, the first 12 lines of the now 16-line text of “Poli Anuanu.” He identifies the song’s date of composition as “no longer ago than about the sixth decade of the last century [1860],” and he describes its personal and subjective tone as now “very popular in Hawaii … in contrast with the objective epic style of the earliest mele."[1]  Emerson’s introductory remarks make good sense, but his interpretation of the song is skewed, we think, by his western view of “cold” as something inhospitable and unloving. As something to be gotten out of as soon as possible. His translation of “Poli Anuanu” is, therefore, laced with imagery reminiscent of New England and Edgar Allen Poe; it speaks of a cold-hearted woman, Miss Breast-So-Cold, to whom the poet (left out in the bitter, pinching cold) directs his plea for a cold-defying embrace.  Brrrr.  

Love fain compels to greet thee,

Breast so cold, so cold

Chilled, benumbed am I

With the pinching cold.

How bitter cold the rainfall

Bitter cold the stream

Body all a-shiver

From the pinching cold.

Pray, what think you?

What if you and I

Should our arms enfold

Just to keep off the cold?

Harry B. Soria, Jr., Kimo Alama Keaulana, and Keawe Lopes, in their liner notes for the CD anthology Bill Ali‘iloa Lincoln – Hawai‘i’s Falsetto Poet, explain that Lincoln took Emerson’s old waltz and gave it a new melody and time signature. We suspect that the otherwise unaccounted for, fourth verse of the song (“Hea aku nō wau…“) is also Uncle Bill’s handiwork.[2] The three anthologists take Emerson’s lead in their interpretation of the song as the plea of a lover who “feels the intense fear of loneliness and calls out to his companion … [saying] that separately, they are alone and cold, but together with close cuddling, the coldness may be overcome.” 

Our interpretation of “Poli Anuanu” is less dramatic and hinges on the old-time understanding of anu and mā‘e‘ele as highly desirable sensations associated with the exhilaration of love-making and the tingling numbness that follows. When James I‘i writes, “E anu kāua” in “Makee ‘Ailana,” he doesn’t mean, “Let’s get miserably cold, uncomfortable, and unloving.” He means, “Let’s get cold-excited-aroused.” He means, “Let’s make love.” When the now-forgotten poet of the hula kuolo “Kauo Pu ka Iwa” writes, “Ua nonoho hooipo me ke kohekohe / Ua anu maeele i ka ua noe,”[3] he doesn’t mean, “We made love in the kohekohe and were miserably cold and numb in the mist.”  He means, “We tingled wonderfully in the cold mists of love-making.” 

We think that these words, anu and mā‘e‘ele, carry the same positive connotations in “Poli Anuanu.” We think that our poet is anything but miserable; he is, in fact, tingly-numb with love, anticipation, and arousal. He has the “colds” for Polianuanu. She makes him cold, and his entire world, as symbolized by rain and water, shares in the cold of his exhilaration. “Li‘a ku‘u ‘ili i ke anu,” he says. “My skin yearns for the cold of love-making and the cold of Polianuanu.” He is not trying to get out of the cold or overcome the cold; he wants more of it. “Inā paha ‘o ‘oe a‘o wau ka i pūkukui i ke anu?” “What if you and I,” he asks her, “were the ones who embraced the cold, in the cold?”


1. Emerson, Unwritten Literature of Hawai‘i, 164.

2. Soria, Alama Keaulana, and Lopes report that Uncle Bill added his own verses to several other songs, among them “Pua ‘Iliahi” and “My Yellow Ginger Lei.” We also know from Mary Kawena Pukui that he took at least one old song with a forgotten melody and gave it a new and now very popular tune: “He Aloha Moku o Keawe.”

3. Emerson, 76.  Another example of the positive, love-making connotations of “anu mā‘e‘ele” can be found in the last two lines of “Rain Kilikilihune:” “Wai hu‘i anu o ka uka / Ua anu au a mā‘e‘ele” (Agnes Malabey Weisbarth and the Makaha Serenaders, Sunset at Makaha, Hula Records, 1971).

© Kīhei de Silva, 1997. All rights reserved.
This essay was first published in Hālau Mōhala ‘Ilima's 2009 Merrie Monarch Fact Sheet. 

It is offered here in slightly revised and updated form.