BJ. William Plomer
2. Notes for Poems. London: Hogarth, 1927.
Many poems in Plomer’s first collection of verse are set in South Africa, but six take their subjects from Japan. According to Alexander (40), Blunden read these and encouraged Leonard Woolf to publish the work. In addition to the poems noted, another, Plomer’s Christ, according to a note following the text, was written at Kami Nerima (see 10b). See also 28a.
a. Lines Written in a Garret. Plomer lived for a time in a Japanese-style room at the Kikufuji Hotel (see BD166j), also Blunden’s address, but by the winter of 1926 had moved to a less expensive room at another Tokyo hotel, and suffered from the cold. The latter is probably the ‘garret’ of this brief poem, which concerns the ‘pleasures’ that ‘fall to the lot of the poor’, including ‘Snorts of debauch in the room next door, / The sound of a flute, the sight of falling snow, / And somebody . . . murdered in the room down below’. A note places the setting in Tokyo. By the end of February, with the prospect of the income he would gain from the Tokyo gaikokugo gakkô (foreign language school, see 10b), Plomer had moved from the ‘garret’ to Kami Nerima.
b. Snow. The winter of 1926-27 was the coldest in living memory in Tokyo. The Taisho emperor had died on Christmas day, the temperature plummeted, and snow fell through a grey and austere shôgatsu. By late February more than thirty centimetres covered the city. The tone of this brief poem, however, is in contrast to the general mood. The speaker muses happily about his past and future while the snow falls, and a ‘companion’ smiles at the memories. The work was probably written at Kami Nerima, in which case the companion would have been Sumida (see 10b). They had taken the house together in late February. In Double Lives (10) Plomer recalls the ‘delicious’ winter there, the ‘dry snow like sugar’ spread ‘thickly on the landscape and outlin[ing] the bare branches of paulownias . . . in the garden’.
c. Earthquake. The speaker is alarmed when the house ‘oscillates / Like a boat’. The earthquake would have been that of 7 March 1927, in which two thousand died. Plomer was visiting an acquaintance in Mikage. His brief account in Double Lives repeats details from the poem.
d. Verses. Two quatrains that according to a note are ‘spoken by a character in an unpublished work’; the second, ‘To Japan’, requests that if the speaker die in the country he should be given no tears or mourners, but ‘music . . . and Asiatic mirth, / The flute called shakuhachi and the drum’. The ‘unpublished work’ would perhaps be reference to the manuscript that became Sado (5).
e. Elegy: Written in a Japanese Landscape. Four cryptic quatrains about ‘a funeral, / That no one understood’, perhaps for a suicide. Often details in Plomer’s poems from Japan return in his autobiographical prose, but nothing in this work is further illuminated by anything in his later published writing.
f. Noon Poem: Among the Mausolea at Heirinji. The speaker speculates about the mausolea of the title on a hot summer day. Heirinji is a temple widely known for its bamboo groves, and associated with the Tokugawa (Ap), particularly Ieyasu, in what is now Saitama prefecture.