Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added)
is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.

--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Monday, March 16, 2009

More of the wisdom of William Plomer

A very happy
St. Patrick's Day to you--
and to my mother on her
rather large St. Patrick's Day


from "A Writer's Faith"

"I believe in art because of its ability not only to console one when life is disheartening but for its power at any time to make life less disheartening and more exciting, to make life fuller and happier, when it already seems full and happy--when one is young, for instance, and in love, and beginning to succeed in one's chosen work."

"When we come to the question of what my belief in art has meant to me in my own life, I would say that it has meant first and foremost a battle. I do not mean a battle against any wavering or weakening of that belief held by me, but a battle against the pressure of the everyday world."


from "Leonard Woolf"

"Leonard Woolf loved life and enjoyed many things right up to the time of his last illness. But he did feel, and had reason to feel, like most people who can recall the atmosphere in the early years of this century and who were living above the powerty-line, that the kind of hopefulness or confidence which largely imbued life in Western Europe before 1914 became, from then on, hardly tenable and eventually impossible. He felt that civilization, in his sense of the word, had largely declined and had on a large scale been destroyed..."


from "C. P. Cavafy"

"Cavafy is like that old mirror which 'had seen, and seen, / In the many years it had been / In existence, thousands of things and faces;' and he has that kind of serene disillusionment and spiritual urbanity that is only to be found in old, noble, and corrupt civilizations." --C. P. Cavafy


from "R. S. Thomas"

"Round the obscure, small village spins 'on slow axis' a world 'vast and meaningful', everything matters, the transient is seen in the light of the eternal."


from "The Church Operas" (from essays on Benjamin Britten)

"It would be a mistake to suppose that the refinements of Nō make it a precious or remote or esoteric form of musical drama. 'The purpose of all art', Zeami wrote, 'is to bring sweetness to the hearts of all people and to harmonize high and low.'"


from "Marginalia" (27 July 1952: Houghton)

"Conversation with the Queen Mother about Elizabeth I. She said she greatly wished she had had a classical education. I asked her if she had had any classics at all. Only a little Latin, she said. She rather wistfully wondered how there could be a 'new Elizabethan Age' when people were too easily satisfied with second-hand things, cinema, television, newspapers, etc."


(17 May 1969)

At the Poetry Dinner at the Rembrandt Hotel, over which I presided, a Nottinghamshire member told me that there is an elderly chemist stilll living in Nottingham whose grandfather, or great-grandfather, carried on the same occupation there, being spoken of in those days as an apothecary. He relates that Byron's mother once came over from Newstead, and said that if Lord Byron were to come in and ask the apothecary to make up a poisonous draught, she wished him to dilute it with distilled water. Shortly afterwards Byron came in and said, 'If Lady Byron comes in and requires you to mix a poisonous draught, you will oblige me by diluting it with saline.' The apothecary supposed that these visits were the result of a great row between the mother and son.


from "Herman Melville"

"He saw what the world was and he saw what it might be, and the difference between these two visions sent him into a kind of trance."

Not enough? All these quotes from Plomer are from Electric Delights, a lovely book from David R. Godine.

Photograph of a whitewashed and thatched Irish cottage with rhododendrons and a heap of dried peat: courtesy of and the photographer, Mira Pavlakovic of Croatia.


  1. Sure a begorrah you've made my Saint Patty's day, and it's not even come yet!
    Interestingly, a friend in yoga class whose family hails from a small town in Ireland was telling me the other day that her brother sent a sample of saliva to a genome project at National Geographic and learned that he actually came from a largely ashkanazi Jewish background, something no one in his family now living ever suspected!
    Maybe if I sent in some of my saliva it would come out the other way!

  2. Robinka,

    I can see you among the Little People! You could be a giant among them at 4'11". No shrinkage since we last met, I hope.

    Interesting story--I didn't know that any of the Ashkenazim wandered to Ireland. Perhaps they wanted to acquire a pinch of the luck of the Irish.

    My known background is fairly uniform--English, Welsh, Scots (a few of whom became "Ulster Scots" in Ireland before moving on), and French--though there was certainly a lot of vigorous mixing going on.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.