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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Great and Wise authors; SAKI


While shepherds watched their flocks by night
All seated on the ground,
A high explosive shell came down
And mutton rained around.


THIEPVAL MEMORIAL: Burial place of Saki (H. H. Munro) Note the date here is November 14, 1916; I have seen other sources that say November 16.

Casualty Details
Initials: H H
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Lance Serjeant
Regiment/Service: Royal Fusiliers
Unit Text: "A" Coy. 22nd Bn.
Age: 45
Date of Death: 14/11/1916
Service No: 225
Additional information: Younger son of the late Col. Charles Augustus Munro (Bengal Staff Corps), and Mary Frances Munro. An Author ("Saki"), Special Correspondent and Journalist. Enlisted in 1914.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: Pier and Face 8 C 9 A and 16 A.

Saki was the pseudonym of writer Hector Hugh Munro (1870-1916). Born in Burma, but raised and educated in England, he began his writing career because poor health precluded more strenuous occupations. He borrowed the nom de plume "Saki" from a character in The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam made famous in the Fitzgerald translation. It was a favorite poem of my parents and I have always loved it the way I love Burns and Shakepeare's sonnets.

Yon rising Moon that looks for us again--
How oft hereafter will she wax and wane;
How oft hereafter rising look for us
Through this same Garden--and for one in vain!

And when like her, oh, Saki, you shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scatter'd on the Grass,
And in your joyous errand reach the spot
Where I made One--turn down an empty Glass!

“The young have aspirations that never come to pass, the old have reminiscences of what never happened. “ Saki is very funny. He seemed to see right through the hubris and pretence of Edwardian society particularly upper class English society. He anticipated the almost complete collapse of the Anglican Communion (remember even Tony Blair became a Roman Catholic). He wrote some drama but is primarily, as you know a master of the short story genre. I have been lucky enough to be able to teach him (every other year). The story I usually use is “The Interlopers”. "The Open Window" may be his most famous, with a dramatic and ironic closing line :"Romance at short notice was her specialty" It has been quoted many times and remains amusing.

Es ist nicht genug, zu wissen, man muss auch anwenden. Es ist nicht genug, zu wollen, man muss auch tun." – (Goethe) Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre. It is not enough to know, one much use one’s knowledge. It is not enough to desire one must DO.” Saki had an unusual cosmopolitan background(like so many Scots or overseas Scots because that’s what he was). He was born in Burma to a class of people higher than my own; they were the junior officers and we were the NCO’s and privates.

Saki was a great favorite of Chesterton and I think Chesterton wrote an introduction to one of his posthumous books. Chesterton’s brother as you may or may not know, enlisted in the British Army and like Kipling’s only son and like Sir Hector Munro’s only son (the chief of the Clan Munro) was killed in action as was Saki. I think I sent you the memorial page if I didn’t I can send it again. He is indeed remembered with honor. He was killed in action November 16, 1916 by a German sniper. That is a fact I have known almost all of my life; we always toasted the lad’s …who fought with heart and hand to burst in twain the galling chain. And kept free our native land. …Aye To do a true man's part -To free my land I'd gladly give The red drops of my heart."

Saki did a true man’s part. NE OBLIVISCARIS…do not forget. I do not and I shall not.

These are some favorite stories I highly recommend. “the Interlopers” is also almost prescient. It takes place in the Balkans and it is about the rivalry of two proud men over control of a certain border land. The Germanic (Austrian?) family Ulrich von Gradwitz are the lairds with legal title dating back centuries. But Georg –I forget the last name but it is Slavic- is the resentful “native” in the sense his people stole the land by force in an earlier era (when the Eastern Roman Empire fell appart). If you think about it how many wars have been fought in that regions between the Ottoman Turks, the Slavs , the Russians, the Austrians, the Romans, the Visigoths, the Dacians etc. etc.!!! This story has a dramatic exciting finish. What gives the story strength it that it deals with the ultimate price and folly of pride to POSSESS and HAVE PRESTIGE? In a way it is an anti-Imperials story the foreshadows the complete destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the tragic suicide of Europe 1914-1918. But as you know I am no pacifist; I believe Belgium (which was neutral) and France (which was invaded) and Britain (which guaranteed the Independence of Belgium had to defend themselves. The British knew it would be real threat to their security if the industries and channel ports of Belgium and France were occupied by a hostile power with a strong submarine force. Rolling over to the Prussians (as they did in 1940) would not have guaranteed peace or freedom. Appeasement is, as Churchill described it, like feeding crocodiles. When you are in a fight to the death with a Croc the only thing to do is fight back and scratch its eyes out.

“ The Interlopers”reminds me of another allegorical Tolstoy story “How much land does a man need”; the Tolstoy story was much admired by Hemingway and Joyce which is great praise indeed because both men were masters of the short story so they really knew excellence when they saw it. .Anyway READ this story. It is one of the greatest short stories I have ever read. The best of Saki is very good indeed.

I love his cat story “Tobermory” ; it is simply charming almost science fiction.

(Tobermory is a town on the isle of Mull and is featured in I KNOW WHERE I AM GOING one of the greatest movies every made about the Scottish Highlands and the character or Highlanders and their relationship with the English. Roger Livesey and Wendy Hiller. First rate with some nice Gaelic singing. It was my mother’s favorite movie of all time and naturally since her story in a way paralleled the Wendy Hiller character. She gave up everything to be with the young, penniless Scottish immigrant who had ‘naught to offer” , “nae gold frae mine, nae pearl from sea” and “nor was he of high degree” but he loved her and had a leal heart and promised to be true to her till death did them part. And he kept that promise. My parent’s entire life was one of the greatest love stories I have every known.

We need more love songs about marital bliss and the growth of AFFECTION (storgic love) FRIENDSHIP (philla love), and ALTRUISTIC LOVE (Caritas or Agape love); naturally in marriage PHYSICAL ATTRACTION and PHYSICAL LOVE (Eros) are part of the package, the icing on the cake so to speak.

But the greatest part of EROS as far as I am concerned is TRUST in the intimacy and the memory of the UNION and its FRUITS (the children you share together). But I must say all writers seem to have their limitations and Saki does not write about heterosexual love in any extraordinary way. Perhaps he was not capable of it; I do not know.

Another story which is absolutely amazing is “The Toys of Peace”. The mother is very PC and she refuses to give her sons toy soldiers or guns or swords or ships for (Christmas? Or Easter or their birthday I don’t remember). They are instead given a cultural gift which is a model of a museum and a public library with figures of public intellectuals, scientists and poets.

Many of his references are very sly for example he alludes to John Stuart Mill (a utiliarian/utopian) and poetess Felicia Hemans.

Hemans was well-regard lyrical poet of the romantic era and she was a fixture in Victorian anthologies of poetry and is mentioned in the Oxford Book of quotations. Saki teases the reader and makes fun of the mother very subtly. The PC mother obviously DOES NOT know the works or themes of Felicia Hemans. The effect would be like Jane Fonda quoting Edmund Burke! Her most anthologized poem is about LOYALTY and OBEDIENCE to a FATHER and an OFFICER. “Hold until relieved!”

This was the watchword at 2nd Ypres, El Alamein, and Pegasus Bridge (Normandy 1944)

“The boy stood on the burning deck” or Casabianca

The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle's wreck
Shone round him o'er the dead.

Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
As born to rule the storm;
A creature of heroic blood,
A proud, though child-like form.

The flames rolled on–he would not go
Without his Father's word;
That father, faint in death below,
His voice no longer heard.

He called aloud–'say, Father, say
If yet my task is done?'
He knew not that the chieftain lay
Unconscious of his son.

'Speak, father!' once again he cried,
'If I may yet be gone!'
And but the booming shots replied,
And fast the flames rolled on.

Upon his brow he felt their breath,
And in his waving hair,
And looked from that lone post of death
In still yet brave despair.

And shouted but once more aloud,
'My father! must I stay?'
While o'er him fast, through sail and shroud,
The wreathing fires made way.

They wrapt the ship in splendour wild,
They caught the flag on high,
And streamed above the gallant child,
Like banners in the sky.

There came a burst of thunder sound–
The boy–oh! where was he?
Ask of the winds that far around
With fragments strewed the sea!–

With mast, and helm, and pennon fair,
That well had borne their part–
But the noblest thing which perished there
Was that young faithful heart.

Young Casabianca, a boy about thirteen years old, son of the admiral of the Orient, remained at his post (in the Battle of the Nile), after the ship had taken fire, and all the guns had been abandoned; and perished in the explosion of the vessel, when the flames had reached the powder.

Edition: Hemans, Felicia Dorothea. The Poetical Works of Felicia Dorothea Hemans London: Oxford University Press, 1914. p. 396.

A. J. Languth wrote an excellent biography of him; SAKI which details his war experiences. It also is the only book I had ever read that talks about his bisexual or homoerotic tendencies. Of the truth of that lifestyle I don’t know and I don’t care. It matters no to me if Saki were a saint or a role model or a good cook or a bad cook. What matters is he was a patriot and he put his life on the line for his counrty. What matters is he was a writer of great talent. If he had lived (he was only 45 when he died) he may have written one of the great books about WWI. As it is the whole world is his monument not just the lonely grave at THIEPVAL.

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