BJ. William Plomer


38. Van der Post, Laurens. Yet Being Someone Other. London: Hogarth, 1982.

The final chapters 4-7 of Van der Post’s long and lyrical autobiography are preoccupied with his relation with Japan, and focus often and lovingly on Plomer and details of his reaction to the country and the people. The work is dedicated to Mori Katsue (see 7 and 10a), ‘with gratitude and affection’.

a. ‘The Ship and the Captain’. This chapter and ‘Full House’ (b) are important supplements to Plomer’s account of identical events in ‘The Voyage’ (10a). Van der Post’s keen memory and sense of detail after more than half a century are remarkable. No part of the narrative differs significantly from Plomer’s, though with more than eighty pages devoted to the journey itself Van der Post’s account is considerably more detailed. Includes frequent portraits of Plomer aboard ship, his warm relation with Mori, and his anticipations of what awaited in Japan.

b. ‘Full House’. Seventy further pages that correspond to events Plomer describes in ‘The Voyage’, these about the two frantic weeks of touring Japan after the Canada Maru arrived at Moji. Again Van der Post’s narrative does not differ in substance from Plomer’s, but provides far more detail. Like Plomer’s account, Van der Post’s ends at Kobe harbour, with Mori, Van der Post, and the Canada Maru pulling away toward the open sea, and Plomer on the shore looking ‘disturbingly’ like a ‘Dickensian . . . orphan seeking food and asylum in the slums of a great city’. Van der Post’s memory of the parting characterises both the tone of the work and its treatment of Plomer: ‘William had never lacked courage, but he had never possessed it in greater measure than in that autumnal sunset moment of farewell. What made the parting even keener was a premonition . . . that it was a double farewell: we were not only saying goodbye to each other but also to a William whom neither of us would ever see again, and whom the England to which he was committing himself with such a conscious determination would never know. He vanished from view to a farewell blast on the Canada Maru’s horn with that bass note of the irrevocable which only ship’s sirens command.’

c. ‘The Shadow in Between’. Includes details of Van der Post’s nightmare about Mori that found its way into the cryptic closing lines of Plomer’s Captain Maru (7).

d. ‘The Sword and the Flower’. Largely about Van der Post’s capture and imprisonment by the Japanese Imperial Army in Indonesia, but as the book draws to a close (pp. 337-39) it focuses again on Plomer, Mori, and Japan, this time in connection with Plomer’s sudden death in 1973. Includes poignant details of responses by Japanese friends, Mori’s journey to England at the age of eighty-three to ‘pay . . . respects to William’s ashes’, and subsequent events that led to a monument to Plomer, in the form of a white lilac, being transplanted in Japan.





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