It was in the darkest age of China that some poet declared, "To learn how to read is to learn how to be sad." To-day when stars and flowers sing the golden song of peace and prosperity the library is a sanctum of joy. I will say with Richard Le Gallienne:
What are my books? My friends, my loves,
My Church, my tavern and my only wealth;
My garden—yea, my flowers, my bees, [m]y doves;
My only doctors—and my only health.
Autumn, ("season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, close bosom-friend of the maturing sun,") is the book season of the year. Here by a little hibachi, sipping tea, I read the late Naofumi Ochiai's book of uta "Haginoya Kashu." Dear, sad Haginoya! How he loved the hagi flowers! How he sings of them—
Yes, the hagi it is,
The hagi is my life,
How could I forget
My own heart!
Let me turn to English poetry. This may still
be called a transition period. It is a sceptical period—a period of
distrust not favourable to high and creative art. Great productions are
nothing but the outburst of some national or world wide faith, and its common
atmosphere pervades them. The want of such a belief often has led to undue
realism, or to inertness on the part of the best intellects, and in many other
ways has checked the creative impulse, the joyous ardour of the visionary and
poet. And the present time has been troubled mightily by a stress of
scientific iconoclasm which appeared at once to put poetry to pieces. The
poets, startled, exclaimed:—"Where is it now, the glory and the dream?"
But we have found out now that there is no inherent antagonism between science
and poetry. And the approaching harmony of poetry and science was insured.
Yet it is true to say that this is not an age sympathetic to the poet; and
recent poets have no themes and essential purposes, although they may be rich in
reflection. They are attempting to hide them by excessive finish and
ornamentation. They are overloaded altogether with culture and knowledge,
and their spontaneity is destroyed. There freedom is utterly checked by
increasing sphere of scope and purpose, and they have lost their high passion
and dramatic power. This is the composite period, therefore negative in
art production. The modern poets may embrace a variety of rhythm and
technical effects, and they may excel in descriptive song and external
portraiture. But, alas, they have lost the golden song of heart and love.
The work of any great poet is nothing but the history of struggle: how he attempted to return to Nature, —to the original state of simplicity and truth. After all, the knowledge of through-bass and an historical range of composition are not the highest value in the poet. I love the carol of the divine child whose soul is old like a star. The warble of a skylark scattering music at his own will is the sweetest treat. From such a reason I am glad to turn occasionally to our Japanese poets of uta.
What simplicity in Mr. Ochiai's uta! His art is the apparent lack of art of conscious effort, quite often to the saddest degree. It is easy for him to fall into a childish babble, and insipidity. But his song has the personality of sweetness and refinement. His lyric does not soar so high, but has rare distinction of purity and unerring poetical taste. I value his poems and his personality, thinking that they will become historical. It will grow too difficult to find such an artless song, and such a sweet simple poet in Japan. We are building a composite period here in Japan. Our song is growing quite idyllic. Hear his simple muse—
From beyond the lake,
The temple bell is heard to-day too,
And the day, too,
Blown and blown and beaten
By the Autumn wind,
Yet the suzuki reed puts out its head,—
Oh, how it is like me!
I push my sick body on
To the verandah, and I set
The butterfly free
From a spider's net.
Forgetting the floating world,
With thee, this day,
I gaze on
The white mountain cloud.
After the goddess of my dream
Lo, the lily white!
Are they the hair jewels
Forgotten by an angel,
Oh, dews upon the hagi flowers!
[Thou] art ill,
I am too.
What misery, what misery
In this world where we have so much to do!
The Autumn night is deep:
Canst [thou] hear
The passion talk of the man-star
And woman-star met together?
He has been dead some ten years. His last uta is sad indeed:
O fall of leaves, I'll dream
On the last silence of thy passing way,
I find his sweet temperament and also his unspeakable sadness in the following poems:
I cannot think of them
As the Spring things:
Yea, how lonely and quiet
Are they, —those white wistaria!
Like the Yellow cloud!
Toward the Lord Buddha!
And when I try to find his highest lyrical loftiness I read the following. They are of the real poetical creation according to our Japanese judgment, —the work which only the soul steeped in poetry could utter:—
Suppose the morning stars
Fall and break?
Do they sound
Like my own song?
I will sleep on Fuji's Mountain top,
And see whether my dream
Rise to the heavens,
Or fall to the earth.
In the midnight,
I awake, and think over the song:
Oh, am I not
As a cataract
It once has fallen,
And now it rises up,—-
Lo, white mountain cloud!
What difference they show from the somewhat suffocated English poems! It is a delightful change to read after Keats and Tennyson. Any one who has such tenderness and fancy in heart, I should say, could appear as a genuine poet under any clime. It is a pity that such simple song is dying away in Japan.