W. S. Senior

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Rev. W.S. Senior
WSSenior.jpg
Born Walter Stanley Senior
(1876-05-10)10 May 1876
Died 23 February 1938(1938-02-23) (aged 61)
Resting place St. Andrew's Church, Haputale
Nationality British
Education Marlborough College, Oxford University
Occupation Poet, educator
Notable work The Song of Ceylon, Hymn for Lanka, College Hymn of Trinity College, Kandy

Reverend Walter Stanley Senior (10 May 1876 – 23 February 1938) was an English scholar, poet and member of the Church Missionary Society.[1] Popularly known as the "Bard of Lanka",[2][3][4] his works are still widely read in the island nation. He was also Vice Principal of Trinity College, Kandy, Sri Lanka.

Early life[edit]

Walter Stanley Senior was the son of Walter Senior, a clergyman.[5] His uncle was Edward Senior, headmaster of Sheffield Royal Grammar School[6] which he attended from 1888 to 1891.[7] He continued his early education at Marlborough, a school to which he was deeply attached and about which he wrote both in prose and verse. From Marlborough he won a scholarship at Balliol College, Oxford. He took a First Class in Classical Honour Moderations (Intermediate examination) and a Second Class in Greats (classics or philosophy). He was the author of a work titled Pisgah or The Choice, which won the triennial prize poem on a sacred subject in the University of Oxford, 1914.[8]

Trinity College – The early years[edit]

Reverend Senior came out to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in 1906, and served as Vice Principal of Trinity for a decade. When the then Principal of Trinity, Rev. A. G. Fraser, was looking for talent in the English Universities which he could enlist into service at Trinity College, Kandy, he came across Senior who formed one of a brilliant set of men, including the late Dr. Kenneth Saunders from Emmanuel College, Cambridge, N. P. Campbell, also a Balliol man, who was recognised as a great scientist, and J. P. R. Gibson, later Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge. In the absence of Rev Fraser, Senior also deputised as Acting Principal for a short period.

Trinity emerged as a public school with a scholastic reputation with the appointment of Mr. Senior. His earliest students included two University Scholars, Mr. L. M. D. de Silva, KC, and Mr. J. L. C. Rodrigo, who succeeded him as Classical Lecturer at the University College. Many of his pupils adorned various walks of life but several times that number cherishes the memory of a beautiful character.

A little known fact during his stay is Kandy was his role in the marriage of Mr. George E. de Silva, which was solemnised in 1909 at St. Paul's Church, Kandy. The marriage, to Miss. Agnes Nell from a very conservative Dutch family was opposed by many to the point that The Vicar refused to marry them, and it was left to Rev. W.S. Senior to solemnise the marriage.[9]

A portrait of Rev Senior by David Paynter, also a Trinitian, hangs in the Trinity College Library.

Other work in Sri Lanka[edit]

Rev Senior assumed duties as Vicar of Christ Church, Galle Face, in 1916 and continued in this post until 1919.[10] Not only was he a great scholar and moulder of youth, but he was also an arresting preacher. The spirituality of his countenance and the beauty of his voice with its cultured tones enhanced the appeal of able thoughts and striking utterance. He was one of the pioneer slum-workers and carried on a mission in Slave Island for many years.

Mr. Senior's interest in educational work prompted him to accept the post of first Registrar of the University College and lecturer in Classics, but the material aspects of office and security had no appeal whatever to a man of his fine sensibilities. He was also the personal tutor of James P Obeysekere, and lived with the family in Reid Avenue while teaching at University College.

Later Years and Death[edit]

Having spent the greater part of his life in the service of Sri Lanka, his comparatively early death was due to rigorous tropical conditions undermining a not very robust frame. He retired to England, and one of his greatest desires, namely, to see Ceylon and some of his numerous friends before his death, was gratified when he was able to spend a short holiday in the Island two years before his death, (in 1936) already a very sick man who knew that the end was not far off.

Some of his decisions at the important cross-roads of his life could only have been taken by one who never lacked the courage of his convictions. A career in government service with the prospect of a pension before him were no deterrents to the simple notion that he would like to live with his wife and children. But always there was at his heart-strings a tug towards the land of his adoption. In a letter to a friend, written a few months before his death, he said: “The idea has come to me that I should like my ashes, for I contemplate cremation rather than burial, to be interred in St. Andrew’s Churchyard, Haputale.” His gravestone at St Andrew’s is a testament to his life, bearing the plain legend He Loved Ceylon preceded by the opening lines from his poem, Lanka from Pidurutalagala: Here I stand in spirit, as in body once I stood Long years ago, in love with all the land, This peerless land of beauty's plenitude.[11] The pulpit of the Trinity College Chapel is dedicated to his name.

Family[edit]

Rev Senior Married Miss Ethel May Poole, daughter of Bishop Poole – the first Church of England Bishop in Japan – in 1907. He had two sons one of whom was a member of the African Civil Service, and two daughters.

Writing[edit]

Senior was a fine classical scholar with a remarkable gift for conveying his own enthusiasm for the best in literature to those who were privileged to be his students. In the opinion of good judges he was the best English poet Sri Lanka has produced – for though he wrote when at Marlborough and Balliol, his best work was done in Sri Lanka and for Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). A book of his verse was published under the title Vita Magistra (1937). A common vein in many of his finest pieces is an appreciation of the diversity and beauty that is Sri Lanka. Rev Senior also has the distinction of being the author of the famous Hymn for Ceylon as well as the Hymn of Trinity College, Kandy and that of St. John's College, Jaffna.[12] His best known work however is the soul-stirring epic titled The Call of Lanka, which many consider to be arguably the finest poem dealing with Sri Lanka ever written.[13]

  • Pisgah, or The Choice 1914 (Blackwell)
  • Vita-magistra: Occasional verse 1937, reprinted 1983 (Colombo)

Selected works[edit]

The Call of Lanka

I climbed o’er the crags of Lanka
And gazed on the golden sea
When out from her ancient places,
Her soul came forth to me;
"Give me a bard,” said Lanka,
“A bard of the things to be.”

“My cities are laid in ruins,
Their courts through the jungle spread,
My scepter is long departed
And the stranger lord instead.
Yet, give me a bard,” said Lanka.
“I am living, I am not dead.”

“For high in my highland valleys,
And low in my lowland plains,
The pride of the past is pulsing
Hot in a people’s veins.
Give me a bard,” said Lanka,
“A bard for my joys and pains.”

I offer a voice O Lanka,
I, child of an alien Isle;
For my heart has heard thee and kindled,
Mine eyes have seen thee and smiled;
Take, foster mother, and use it,
‘Tis but for a little while.

For, surely of thine own children,
Born of thy womb, shall rise
The bard of the moonlit jungle,
The bard of the tropic skies,
Warm from his mother’s bosom,
Bright from his mother’s eyes.

He shall hymn thee of hoar Sri Pada,
The peak that is lone and tall.
He shall sing with her crags, Dunhinda,
The smoking waterfall.
Whatsoever is fair in Lanka,
He shall know it and love it all.

He shall sing thee of sheer Sigiriya,
Of Minneria’s wandering kine;
He shall sing of the lake and the lotus,
He shall sing of the rock-hewn shrine,
Whatsoever is old in Lanka,
Shall live in his Lordly line.

But most shall he sing of Lanka
In the bright new days that come.
When the races all have blended
And the voice of strife is dumb
When we leap to a single bugle,
March to a single drum.

March to a mighty purpose,
One man from shore to shore;
The stranger, becomes a brother,
The task of the tutor o’er,
When the ruined city rises
And the palace gleams once more.

Hark! Bard of the fateful future,
Hark! Bard of the bright to be;
A voice on the verdant mountains,
A voice by the golden sea.
Rise, child of Lanka, and answer
Thy mother hath called to thee.

A Hymn for Ceylon

Jehovah, Thou hast promised
The isles shall wait for Thee;
The joyous isles of Ocean,
The jewels of the sea ;

Lo ! we, this island's watchmen,
Would give and take no rest,
(For thus hast Thou commanded,)
Till our dear land be blessed.

Then bless her, mighty Father,
With blessings needed most,
In every verdant village,
By every palmy coast ;

On every soaring mountain
O er every spreading plain.
May all her sons and daughters
Thy righteousness attain.

Give peace within her borders,
Twixt man and man goodwill,
The love all unsuspicious,
The love that works no ill;

In loyal, lowly service
Let each from other learn,
The guardian and the guarded,
Till Christ Himself return.

To Him our land shall listen,
To Him our land shall kneel,
All rule be on His shoulder.
All wrong beneath His heel;

Oh consummation glorious,
Which now by faith we sing;
Come, cast we up the highway
That brings us back the King.

Farewell to Lanka (an excerpt from Rev Senior's last poem)

I pass, but Thou, forever Thou remainest,
Lord yet to-be of all the lure of Lanka,
Blood from her heart, high Blossom of the ages.
O Star; O Sun of all the magic distance,
All the green palm-lands setting into Ocean.
All the far dream-blue diadem of mountains.
All the lone mares of pelican and egret;
Kingly unrippled Nuwara Wewa watching.
Silver itself, Mahinda’s ridge of silver.
All the high rocks, the forest-ruin rising,
Storied and still, throughout a marvel-isle
From Trincomalee to Tissamaharama:
Kindling all these, by these to passion kindled,
Deep to their deep, a death-less Music calling,
Mould thou the songs that mould a noble people.
Peace shall be Thine; but mine is holy torment.
Knowing I know not half the lore of Lanka
Land of heart’s longing

Goodbye

So you’ve had enough of the tropics, and the back is growing bent
And the heart is not so buoyant, and it’s time you packed and went
You’re tired of wayside squatters, you’re tired of the spitting host
Of the fatal red on the pavement, of the chunam white on the post
Of the food that does not feed you, of the breeze that does not brace
Of the lawless platform lawyer all out to scratch your face
And the friends you had are all scattered, the friends who cared and knew
And a newer race is rising with never a use for you
And — yes you’re tired of the Tropics and you’d better pack and go
To the haunts and the hearths of the homeland, to the fields and folk you know
Yet, o my soul remember, when you’ve sailed the seas away
And the English climate’s chilly and the English clouds are grey
When the birds are sad and silent, and the sun is seldom seen
And life is miles of houses with miles of mud between
You will see in a sudden vision, you will see with a sudden sigh
The scarlet splashed flamboyant awash in the azure sky
You will see Anuradhapura and the old kings’ bathing pool
And the shadowy blue king-fisher, the carven granite cool
And the pass of Haputale and the lowland flat and far
And through Gravillea feathers, the rosy evening star
And the moon-besilvered jungle, the dipping magic cross
Mid steady balm in-blowing from the silver foam and floss
And better than places — faces, the Aryan face (your own)
With its brown and olive beauty, the youths and maids you’ve known
And the tender pearl of India in the black and brilliant eye
My soul, you will break with longing — it can never be Goodbye.

See also[edit]

References[edit]