James Elroy Flecker

James Elroy Flecker (5 November 1884 – 3 January 1915) was a British novelist and playwright. As a poet, he was most influenced by the Parnassian poets.

Flecker, in his rooms at Cambridge


Herman Elroy Flecker was born on 5 November 1884 in Lewisham, London, to William Herman Flecker (d. 1941), headmaster of Dean Close School, Cheltenham, and his wife Sarah.[1] His much younger brother was the educationalist Henry Lael Oswald Flecker (1896–1958), who became Headmaster of Christ's Hospital.[2]

Flecker later chose to use the first name "James", either because he disliked the name "Herman" or to avoid confusion with his father. "Roy", as his family called him. was educated at Dean Close School, and then at Uppingham. He subsequently studied at Trinity College, Oxford, and at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. While at Oxford he was greatly influenced by the last flowering of the Aesthetic movement there under John Addington Symonds, and became a close friend of the classicist and art historian John Beazley.[3]

From 1910 Flecker worked in the consular service in the Eastern Mediterranean. On a ship to Athens he met Helle Skiadaressi,[4] and they were married in 1911.

Flecker died on 3 January 1915, of tuberculosis, in Davos, Switzerland and was buried in Bouncer's Lane Cemetery, Cheltenham. His death at the age of thirty was described at the time as "unquestionably the greatest premature loss that English literature has suffered since the death of Keats".[5]

Works and influenceEdit

His contributions and biography was described by Geraldine Hodgson in 1925.[6] She summarised his contribution in Life of James Elroy Flecker as "singular in our lterature". This comment and her book in general received a damning review.[7]

The excerpt from Flecker's verse drama Hassan ... The Golden Journey to Samarkand inscribed on the clock tower of the barracks of the British Army's 22 Special Air Service regiment in Hereford provides an enduring testimony to Flecker's work:

We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
Always a little further; it may be
Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow
Across that angry or that glimmering sea.[8]

The same inscription also appears on the NZSAS monument at Rennie Lines in the Papakura Military Camp in New Zealand, and at the Indian Army's Special Forces Training School in Nahan, Himachal Pradesh, India.[9]

A character in the second volume of Anthony Powell's novel sequence, A Dance to the Music of Time, is said to be "fond of intoning" the lines For lust of knowing what we should not know / We take the Golden Road to Samarkand, without an attribution to Flecker. (This is in fact a misquotation, the original reads "...what should not be known").

Saki's short story "A Defensive Diamond" (in Beasts and Super-Beasts, 1914) references "The Golden Journey to Samarkand".

Agatha Christie quotes Flecker several times, especially in her final novel, Postern of Fate (1973).

Jorge Luis Borges quotes a quatrain from Flecker's poem "To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence" in his essay "Note on Walt Whitman" (available in the collection Other Inquisitions, 1937–1952):

O friend unseen, unborn, unknown,
Student of our sweet English tongue,
Read out my words at night, alone:
I was a poet, I was young.

Nevil Shute quotes from Hassan in Marazan (1926), his first published novel, and in the headings of many of the chapters in his 1951 novel Round the Bend.

The Pilgrims' Song from Hassan and its setting by Delius play a pivotal role at the beginning of Elizabeth Goudge's novel The Castle on the Hill (1942).[10]

Diana Rigg quotes an amended stanza (not the original) from Hassan in the 1969 film On Her Majesty's Secret Service as she looks out of the window of Piz Gloria at the sun rising over the Swiss alps:

Thy dawn, O Master of the World, thy dawn;
For thee the sunlight creeps across the lawn,
For thee the ships are drawn down to the waves,
For thee the markets throng with myriad slaves,
For thee the hammer on the anvil rings,
For thee the poet of beguilement sings.

The original in Flecker's play is more romantic, and makes clear that the Caliph is being addressed, not the Almighty:

Thy dawn O Master of the world, thy dawn;
The hour the lilies open on the lawn,
The hour the grey wings pass beyond the mountains,
The hour of silence, when we hear the fountains,
The hour that dreams are brighter and winds colder,
The hour that young love wakes on a white shoulder,
O Master of the world, the Persian Dawn.

That hour, O Master, shall be bright for thee:
Thy merchants chase the morning down the sea,
The braves who fight thy war unsheathe the sabre,
The slaves who work thy mines are lashed to labour,
For thee the waggons of the world are drawn –
The ebony of night, the red of dawn!

In Flashman at the Charge (1973), author George MacDonald Fraser concludes a final scene with a decasyllable quatrain pastiche in Flecker’s style. Following many misadventures suffered by the book’s picaresque hero Harry Flashman, brother-in-arms rebel leader Yakub Beg waxes poetic and evokes the mystique of middle Asia with its concomitant voyage of self-discovery and friendships hard-won by reciting:

To learn the age-old lesson day by day:
It is not in the bright arrival planned,
But in the dreams men dream along the way,
They find the Golden Road to Samarkand.

Flecker's poem "The Bridge of Fire" features in Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, in the volume The Wake, and The Golden Journey to Samarkand is quoted in the volume World's End.

In Vikram Seth's "A Suitable Boy[11]" the young English Literature lecturer Dr Pran Kapoor attempts to reduce colonial influence in the syllabus and suggests removing Flecker (to make room for James Joyce). Professor Mishra disagrees and quotes from "The Gates of Damascus"

Pass not beneath, O Caravan, or pass not singing. Have you heard
That silence where the birds are dead yet something pipeth like a bird.[12]



  • The Bridge of Fire (1907)
  • Thirty-Six Poems (1910)
  • Forty-Two Poems (1911) (e-book)[13]
  • The Golden Journey to Samarkand (1913)
  • The Old Ships (1915)
  • Collected Poems (1916)


  • The Last Generation: A Story of the Future (1908)
  • The King of Alsander (1914)


  • Hassan (1922; full title Hassan: The Story of Hassan of Baghdad and How he Came to Make the Golden Journey to Samarkand)
  • Incidental music to the play was written by Frederick Delius in 1920, before the play's publication, and first performed in September 1923.[14]
  • Don Juan (1925)


  • The Grecians (1910)
  • The Scholars' Italian Book (1911)
  • Collected Prose (1920)
  • The Letters of J.E. Flecker to Frank Savery (1926)
  • Some Letters from Abroad of James Elroy Flecker (1930)


  1. ^ Charles Williams: The Third Inkling, Grevel Lindop, Oxford University Press, 2015, p. 380
  2. ^ "Henry Lael Oswald Flecker (1896–1958), Headmaster of Christ's Hospital". Art UK. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  3. ^ "Beazley, J[ohn] D[avidson], Sir". Dictionary of Art Historians. Retrieved 14 June 2012.
  4. ^ Walker, Heather. Roses and Rain (2006). Melrose Books. ISBN 1-905226-06-3
  5. ^ "James Elroy Flecker, About.com". Classiclit.about.com. 3 January 1915. Archived from the original on 21 June 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2014.
  6. ^ Hodgson, Geraldine Emma (1925). The Life of James Elroy Flecker: From Letters and Materials Provided by His Mother. Basil Blackwell.
  7. ^ Rickword, Edgell; Garman, D. (14 January 2014). Calendar Modern Letts 4v Cb: Cal of Modern Letters. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-14773-0.
  8. ^ The same extract appears on the UK SAS Memorial in Herefordshire (Popham, Peter (30 May 1996). "SAS confronts its enemy within". The Independent.)
  9. ^ Staff (15 September 2009). "The Selected Few – Training in the SAS". [New Zealand Army]. Archived from the original on 18 September 2010.
  10. ^ Elizabeth Goudge, The Castle on the Hill, Chapters I.i, II.i
  11. ^ Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy, chapter 1.16
  12. ^ https://allpoetry.com/The-Gates-of-Damascus%7Ctitle=The Gates of Damascus by James Elroy Flecker|access-date=2021-05-19
  13. ^ Forty-Two Poems by James Elroy Flecker – Free Ebook. Gutenberg.org. 1 January 2002. Retrieved 23 August 2014.
  14. ^ "Delius-hassan-review-1923". Thompsonian.info. 29 September 1923. Retrieved 23 August 2014.


  • James Elroy Flecker (1922) by Douglas Goldring
  • An Essay on Flecker (1937) by T. E. Lawrence
  • No Golden Journey: A Biography of James Elroy Flecker (1973) by John Sherwood
  • James Elroy Flecker (1976) by John M. Munro
  • "Hassan" (1922) by James Elroy Flecker, Windmill Press, as reprinted 1946

External linksEdit