the mutt

Clamorous lamentations, suggestive of bewildered bereavement

Posted in Writing by grx20 on August 29, 2008

A priceless gem from the master, Saki (H.H. Munro).

It’s a line from the story, The Quest, (Chronicles of Clovis). Here, the Momebys have just discovered that they can’t find their baby. (You can read the full story here at Wikisource.)

“An unwonted peace hung over the Villa Elsinore, broken, however, at frequent intervals, by clamorous lamentations suggestive of bewildered bereavement.”

When I first read it in school, it stuck in my mind like a starving leech. I muttered it like a mantra under my breath for weeks. I tried coining my own gems. A more lasting impact was that I fell in love with alliterations. In the weeks to follow, I wrote shamelessly-Saki-inspired stories. More than the story, I loved spending hours on creating titles like The Chirruping Cheetah of Cherfordshire County.

Things started getting out of hand when I devised devious ways of incorporating Saki’s sentence
(… clamorous lamentations …) in my English exams.

I made just one change – I did, after all, want to emulate Saki – I changed the word clamourous to lugubrious. One more alliteration – lugubrious lamentations, suggestive of bewildered bereavement.

But I was honest. I added a footnote admitting that such brilliance was not my own. I got a great kick when my teacher read my paper out loud as an example of fine writing. She even appreciated the fact that I had admitted taking help from Saki.

But of course! Like I could have ever written something like that and gotten away fooling people it was mine … all mine! In any case, I loved Saki’s writing too much to drag it into charges of school boy plagiarism.

Decades after I first read that line, I still remember it verbatim.

And I still get childish kicks writing alarming alliterations. Please tell me, you got that.

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2 Responses

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  1. MSR-5701 said, on September 21, 2008 at 9:19 am

    nice article.

    who can forget ‘the background’ or ‘mrs. packletide’s tiger’, not to mention ‘the phaontom luncheon’?. in my book, saki ranks right up there with the very best in the short-story department. for such a fine craftsman with words, his last words, though, were decidedly mundane: “put that bloody cigarette out”, to boot!

    another master of using word-play to devastatingly humorous ends was the immortal p.g. wodehouse, whose allusions to silver salvers, plates with watercress on them, flitters-and-sippers, and being butted in the small of the back by the cornish express, and countless others, have provided me with endless hours of pleasure.

    o for a beaker full of gold spot
    with beaded bubbles winking at the rim,
    asterix, obelix, and tintin
    wodehouse and agathe christie
    through the long summer days
    giving company to him….

    damn, i want the late eighties back….

  2. the mutt said, on September 24, 2008 at 9:51 am

    Hi MSR,
    Saki’s last words are mundane, yes, but characteristic of his wit – consider the situation – he was shot by a sniper!
    Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you brought up the ‘cornish express’ gem by PGW. That’s easily one of my favourites.


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