RUMER GODDEN, the one and only


The Golden Cat on Silk



Definitely one of my favorites, the endearing Brit authored children’s books, novels, fiction and non, and gave us movies her writing inspired. The images she creates!  I am swept into a rare ship at sea by her, only to be kept in sight of shore, not to be released from her spell of lulling waves or violent shipwreck passages when I might close her books and tear free –until I collapse in reluctant hallucinatory exhaustion.

Rumer (also a professional dancer, and dance teacher; named after a beloved relation) and her sisters were raised in India and this rich banquet she kept exploring (not leaving for England til 12 years old then back and forth, raising her infant daughters in Kashmir before and during WWII) is the setting of her many stories, including, most especially, the miraculous “BLACK NARCISSUS”.  Indescribable. An order of Nuns are gifted a former Indian General’s brothel perched 10,000 feet up on a cliff in the Himalayas, where they intend to heal the sick and tutor the unschooled; the view and ceaseless winds of this oddly beautiful castle prove a stunning unsettlement to all who dare take it on.  The movie, (made by the Archer’s team Powell and Pressburger”  is extraordinary, worth seeing a dozen times, potent in color and form and acting, very rare in every way with a superb cast, delightful; frightening; brilliant.

But it is this RUMER GODDEN  passage I want to bring to you, and it is from her memoir, A TIME TO DANCE, NO TIME TO WEEP”, which is bloody marvelous and full of fearless originality, independence; courage and joy.  She speaks so honestly and directly, describing the sheltered child’s ritual expectance of palatial indulgence —and then wrenching poverty, surviving in strange and dangerous, hostile worlds. She has an endless curiosity for life, people, and how to survive. She knows early she will be a writer, comes late to success.

What I loved about this small Rumer Godden inserted mid-book is the kind of thinking we, the reader, are invited to take on as our own.  It’s all full of  knowing that any and all things are, after all, possible.  There is here a life to lead, apush out of complacency,  start and do things we never dreamt before.

This, page 164 from Godden’s “A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep”, is it:

Pfeiffer Beach, Crashing Boulders


“Once upon a time, perhaps when Noah lived and perhaps this flood was Noah’s flood too, in another time when the earth was filled with violence, the waters of Teesta river in North Bengal, India, began to rise int he valleys of the Himalayas, whose ranges are higher and more terrible than the Andes.  The water rose higher and higher, past the foothills and the lower hills, past the villages of Riyang and Teesta and the people began to be seriously afraid that their retreat would be cut off by the sky.  Only the spines of the ridges showed in the water, spines of monsters and dragons petrified, with their colours hidden in the Teesta that today, after the rains, is that same milky blue.  The prayer flags were snatched and carried to the to the ridge, horns blew and the drums sounded, while behind and inaccessible, the line of snows that not even a flood could reach, reared themselves into the sky.

Down below them the consternation continued and the water spread and rose and spread.

In a temple at the top of one of these ridges, a Lama was saying his prayers.  The people went in and disturbed him, but they disturbed him quietly; the horns stopped blowing, the drums were not beaten, and the people stood still as their headman went to him.

‘Well, what is it?’ said the Lama.

‘The water — the water is coming up.’  It was.  The people were standing in it; it was lapping the temple steps.,

‘Tell it to go down,’ said the Lama.

‘Tell it?’ 

‘Yes.  Give it a positive order.’

‘But it won’t pay attention.’

‘Won’t it?’ said the Lama. ‘Then I must tell it myself.’   And he came out from his prayers and put out his hand.

I think of him as looking Chinese in a stiff robe, with a Chinese absorbed and peaceful face. He looked at the spines of the hills and the water swirling round them and the jumbled colours of the people and their frightened faces and silent horns and agitated flags; he looked up at the sky and the unmoving snows and back at the water, and he put out his hand and said, ‘Rungli-Rungliot. Thus far and no further.’

The flood immediately stopped; the water went down and the Lama went back to his prayers.

The words that he said stayed there in the place, as its name.”                                            (End of passage)

 Rumer  Godden adds:   (“Rungli-Rungliot is a real place on the spur of Himalays, facing south above the plains and the gorge of the little Runglee river that they say was left behind by accident when the Teesta water fell.”)

======================================            ===========================

Original oil painting above is by Sparhawk. “Pfeiffer Beach, Crashing Boulders’, it was sold to a family visiting my Big Sur gallery from Japan;  the photograph of author Rumer Godden is from the internet unattributed;the golden tabby cat on top is the marvelously beautiful Tommy Jefferson.


2 thoughts on “RUMER GODDEN, the one and only

    • She’s really wonderful. Her autobiography, the “A Time To Dance, No Time to Weep” the except is from, is inspiring me in the construction of my own biography. She is a rare author whose work I can never put down. Jack London has the same effect on me. The painting of course is from my Big Sur years, lots of water to suit the tale; so glad you likie this too, thanks. I had the photograph of my cat Tommy up before I found a portrait of Godden, and Tommy looked so glowing and pretty I decided to leave him there too.

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