MR. YEATS AND THE NO.
———
(Written for the Japan Times by
Yone Noguchi.)

   I quite agree with Mr. William Butler Yeats that a drama has not to wait on its audience; and it would be a poor thing which has not the dignity of independence.  The drama is first, the audience has to follow.  And I should like to say also that the so-called realism is cowardice, and that a drama which can only claim its existence in realism is not poetry by any means.  I feel happy to think that our No has nothing to do with that realism, which is quite often a gilded thing; but I am sometimes afraid it goes too far in the opposite direction.  It is the No's dignity to command you to believe in its representation, though you may incline to think contrariwise; here you have a No character of a lady whose appearance and voice are not different at all from a man's; but you have no right to quarrel about it, you have only to believe that it is a lady.  And if you cannot, you are utterly outside the No realm.  Spirit is the main thing; and dramatic art is nothing but a mode of expression.  Mr. Yeats remarks somewhere: "Neither an hair-breadth escape no[r] a love affair more befits it than the passionate exposition of the most delicate and strange intuitions; and the dramatist is as free as the painter of good pictures and the writer of good books.  All art is passionate, but a flame is not the less flame because we change the candle for a lamp or the lamp for a fire; and all flame is beautiful."  That is well said; it would be a blessing to have such an opinion of the Western world of art.  And I firmly believe that the small candlelight of art at the Hosho or Kanze's stage is no weaker than the electric lamp of any theatre; of melodrama; on the contrary, it is far stronger.
    I think, as Mr. Yeats once wrote, that the modern stage in the West as in Japan, has been degenerating for some time.  He has been attempting to reform and strengthen the Western stage through his own little plays which are built on Irish legend or history; and so far, in his own

way, he is successful.  I feel happy to think that he would find his own ideal in our No performance, if he should see and study it.  Our No is sacred, and it is poetry itself.  It is ten times more agreeable to have a thoroughly appreciative audience, however small, than a big house with little attention.  I dare say in that respect our Japanese audiences leave much to be desired, as much as the Japanese stage and play; I believe that I have never seen such an uninterested audience in my life; if you go into the Japanese theatre, you see the audience eating, drinking, and even snoring; it is really too much to see some woman carrying her baby on her lap who may start to cry out at any time.  Where is the theatrical dignity?  But the No house is an oasis where your poetical ideal will be perfectly refreshed and encouraged.
    And again Mr. Yeats says: "Above all, [<6] for one imagines as one pleases when the eyes are closed, it (the ideal Irish theatre) will be a theatre of speech; the speech of the countryside, the eloquence of poets, of rhythm of style, of proud, living, unwasted words, and among its players there may be some who can sing like a poet of Languedoc stories and songs where the music shall be as simple as in a sailor's chanty, for I would restore the whole ancient art of passionate speech, and would no more let a singer spoil a word or the poet's rhythm for the musician's sake than I would let an actor who, as Colley Cibber said, 'should be tied to time and tune like a singer,' spoil the poet's rhythm that he might give to a word what seemed to him a greater weight of drama."  I think that I can apply such language to our No without much alteration; the No performance of speech, though it may not be the "speech of the countryside," appeals to the ear with such a "proud, living, unwasted rhythm of song."  And it has such a simplicity in effect of plot and arrangement as Mr. Yeats dreams of simplicity of art and of feeling; the No is the noblest kind of poem.  There are no better examples of lyrical poetry than the No plays; they fulfil every requisite of epic beauty.  There is not a phrase, an image, an incident, too much or too little in either not a false note of atmosphere or feeling; they are exquisite and deathless; and it is true that their charm of simplicity is even greater as time goes on.  In the course from the homogeneous to the complex, it is true that the loss in simplicity is made up by the gain in variety and richness.  But you must return to simplicity ever and anon, for repose, and if you want the theatrical regeneration, you may be sure that you have to go through the method of No performance—the theatre of speech and poem.  We have here the No play in the most prosperous fashion; in some respects, we are not entirely at a loss in our dramatic art.


Notes:

Preface from W.B. Yeats, Dramatical Poems (1907):

Preface

The first two plays in this book were written before I had any adequate knowledge of the stage, but all were written to be played.  I have always looked upon the play written to be read only as an imperfect form, even for the reader who would find it the more exciting for the vigorous structure, the working to a climax, that had made it hold some fitting audience.

A writer of drama must observe the form as carefully as if it were a sonnet, but he must always deny that there is any subject-matter which is in itself dramatic—any especial round of emotion fitted to the stage, or that a play has no need to await its audience or to create the interest it lives by.  Dramatic art is a method of expression, and neither an hair-breadth escape nor a love affair more befits it than the passionate exposition of the most delicate and strange intuitions; and the dramatist is as free as [<v] the painter of good pictures and the writer of good books.  All art is passionate, but a flame is not the less flame because we change the candle for a lamp or the lamp for a fire; and all flame is beautiful.

A lover is subtle about his mistress's eyebrow, and I have found in Dublin a small audience so much interested in Ireland that they have not complained too loudly that my fellow-dramatists at the Abbey Theatre or I myself write of difficult and unfamiliar things.  I have chosen all of my themes from Irish legend or Irish history, and my friends have made joyous, extravagant, and, as I am certain, distinguished comedy out of the common life of the villages, or out of a phantasy trained by the contemplation of that life and of the tales told by its firesides.  This theatre cannot but be the more interesting to people of other races because it is Irish and, therefore, to some extent, stirred by emotions and thoughts not hitherto expressed in dramatic form, for the arts have [<vi] always gained by their limitations, and I look forward to a day when a company will carry its plays into other lands, —above all, where there are Irish people, —and when I close my eyes I can see all clearly.  It will play principally comedy, for the day of tragedy will return slowly, but of an extravagant, abounding kind that is half poetry; the inspiration of a muse that, although she is a little drunken, her lips still wet from the overflowing cup of life, is ready, as in old days, to abate her voice when her sister carrying a taper among the tombs would tell strange stories of the deaths of kings.  Above all, for one imagines what one pleases when the eyes are closed, it will be a theatre of speech; the speech of the country-side, the eloquence of poets, of rhythm, of style, of proud, living, unwasted words, and among its players there may be some who can sing like a poet of Languedoc stories and songs where the music shall be as simple [<vii] as in a sailor's chanty, for I would restore the whole ancient art of passionate speech, and would no more let a singer spoil a word or the poet's rhythm for the musician's sake than I would let an actor who, as Colley Cibber said, "should be tied to time and tune like a singer," spoil the poet's rhythm that he might give to a word what seemed to him a greater weight of drama.  The labour of two players, Miss Florence Farr and Mr. Frank Fay, have done enough to show that all is possible, if the summer be lucky and the corn ripen.
December, 1906.