BJ. William Plomer


7. Captain Maru. In Visiting the Caves. London: Cape, 1936.

Plomer’s verse evocation of Mori Katsue, captain of the Canada Maru, the ship that in the autumn of 1926 bore Plomer and Van der Post to Japan. Plomer and Mori became close friends, and Mori helped Plomer in innumerable ways during his years in Japan, but from early on Plomer was troubled by his militant nationalism. The poem recounts the voyage and offers admiring portraits of ‘Maru’ both as ‘traveller always cool and clean’ and at home, in ‘old gown and clogs / Scrambling along the rocky shore’, but the most memorable image, in closing, is ominous: Maru ‘has appeared to someone in a dream / Or rather a nightmare, menacing, a giant, / With no back to his head, uttering a taunt— / It is the challenge of his race, the short man scorned / Not satisfied with power, but mad for more’. The ‘someone’ is Van der Post, who in 1935 had written Plomer of the dream, which is described in Van der Post’s Yet Being Someone Other (38). Mori figures prominently in the Japanese sections of Plomer’s autobiographical writing (10 and 24), and is recognisable in the figure of Captain Sakurai in Sado (5). In spite of Plomer’s ambivalence here, the friendship was affectionate, and lasted for the remainder of Plomer’s life. The fullest account of Mori and his love for Plomer is in Van der Post, whose work is dedicated to the Captain ‘with gratitude and affection’, and brief biographies appear in Sano (36b) and Alexander (40), the latter of whom in 1985 interviewed Mori, then a vigorous 95, in Tokyo. The poem includes allusion to Saigô Takamori (1827-77), among the leaders of the overthrow of the Tokugawa (Ap), who later rebelled against the Imperial government and gained legendary status for his honour in defeat. Reprinted in 9 and 16, the latter, with revisions and notes, as Captain Maru: A Nationalist.





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