A Starry Night At Arue

James Norman Hall (1887-1951) was co-author of "Mutiny on the Bounty" along with Charles Nordhoff, a Harvard graduate, who he had met as a pilot in the Lafayette Flying Corps during World War I. A social worker in Boston before the war, Hall had joined the British Army and experienced trench warfare, then became a pilot, and after being shot down, spent the last months of the war in a German prison camp.

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Upon his return to the USA, he was unable to re-adjust to an American society which had sent its men to fight across the Atlantic, yet had been untouched by the war and had no comprehension of the horror which had taken place. Sound familiar?

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Replica of HMS Bounty off Tahiti. She is flying the Tongan flag from her stern and the French flag on her main mast.

Nordhoff felt the same and both men moved to Tahiti in 1920 to write articles for Harper's magazine. Hall married and had two children. He lived in Tahiti for most of his adult life in Arue (pronounced ah-roo-eh), just outside Papeete. Nordhoff and Hall wrote twelve books together. Some were made into movies. Hall wrote some seventeen books of his own. A few were about the war, the others were novels about the South Pacific.

I recommend any and all of them to anyone with an interest in the South Seas, though many are now out of print.

As much of his work as I have read, I came across this poem for the first time just the other day. It is like a window into the man's soul and I find it very thought provoking.

A Starry Night at Arue

These are my beliefs, in eight and twenty lines:
That men are nobler than their actions show;
That “Beauty is Truth” defined and still defines
As much of the ultimate truth as we shall know;
That ever-questing Science yet may bare
Much that is strange and new, and after all
Her farthest flights, that Man will stand and stare,
Awed and humbled, at the self-same wall
That hemmed him round when once he lived in trees;
That littleness makes still the happiest nation;
That states do wrong to emulate the bees
In industry, the ants in population;
That of men’s crimes against themselves, the latest,
Distance conquered, is among the greatest;

That Reason is a rock no more than Feeling
(Intuition is a safer guide);
That those who make a god of Reason, kneeling
Devout, are not the wholly sane, clear-eyed
Beings they fondly think; that cocks will crow
At dawn, as now, in twice ten thousand years,
Changelessness a changing world to show;
That men will still shed blood and women tears
As long as there are tears and blood to shed;
That joy has lunar months as well as grief.
When everything is said that can be said,
This is my sure, my very firm belief:
That life, to one born whole, is worth the living,
Well worth the taking, having, and the giving.
- James Norman Hall


Robin said...

That life, to one born whole, is worth the living,
Well worth the taking, having, and the giving.

Should we all live life like this..

Thank you..

Pandabonium said...

You're welcome. He lived a full life, and his life experiences were not lost on him.

The Moody Minstrel said...

At least he was honest with himself in realizing that he didn't belong back home in his "safe" home country and had the strength of character to build a new life for himself elsewhere. Few people have that much backbone.

I built a model of HMS Bounty back in my school days, one of four sailing ships I was brave enough to tackle. (All those tiny details and all that rigging! Waaaah! But it was beautiful!) It wound up getting smashed by a cat, and its hulk ended its days as a BB gun target.

That picture brought back a flood of memories.

Funny, though...the design and markings are the same, but the colors are a little different...

Pandabonium said...


Hall returned to Iowa a few times - his native state - as he said his "tap roots" were there, but he did build an entirely new life in Tahiti.

I attempted only two sailing ship models, and completed only one of them. Wow, they are complex. I went back to building model airplanes. Kudos to your skill and determination.

The replica in the photo was built for the 1984 film with Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson. I've seen paintings and models with various paint schemes, usually a light blue, yellow and black. The replica that was built for Brando's 1960 version of the film was painted a blue/gray with yellow. I don't know what is historically acurate, but both films were very fussy about having ships built to the original plans.