"The Pilgrimage" From Far Japan

Mr. Yone Noguchi's New Volume of Imaginative Poems Compared to Rainbow Tints and Perfumed Whispers.

By Richard Le Gallienne.

Mr. Noguchi's poems are the most charmingly uncompromising example with which I am acquainted of that modern literary ideal which seeks its perfection in escape, if possible, from "literature" altogether; an ideal long ago expressed by Walter Pater in his famous essay on "The School of Giorgione," when he represents the arts "as continually struggling after the law or principle of music, to a condition which music alone completely realizes."  Certain purely lyrical poetry, he said, approached nearest to that condition, "and," he added, "the very perfection of such poetry seems to depend, in part, on a certain suppression or vagueness of mere subject, so that the meaning reaches us through ways not distinctly traceable by the understanding * * *"  Actually, so to say, to mean nothing, yet mean everything; to escape subject matter and yet convey an infinite significance.  Your song shall "mean" no more than laughter heard in the woods, the sound of running water, or the play of sunlight on a wall.  An art of pure suggestion, exquisitely evanescent and mysteriously poignant.  Suggestion of what--do you ask?  Ask the sunlight on the wall, ask some painfully perfect tint of unfathomable color in sky or flower.  Ask Mr. Yone Noguchi, if you like, for this is the art he so delicately practices, and, so far as an artist can understand his own art, seems to understand.  Let him tell you in his opening poem, "The New Art":

She is an art (let me call her so)
Hung, as a web, in the air of perfume,
Soft yet vivid, she sways in music:
(But what sadness in her saturation of life!)
Her music lives in intensity of a moment and then dies;
To her, suggestion is her life.
She left behind the quest of beauty and dream:
Is her own self not the song of dream and beauty itself?
(I know she is tired of ideal and problem and talk.)
She is the moth-light playing on reality's dusk,
Soon to die as a savage prey of the moment;
She is a creature of surprise (let me say so),
Dancing gold on the wine of impulse.
What an elf of light and shadow!
What a flash of tragedy and beauty!

"She is an art * * *
Hung as a web, in the air of perfume" * * *
"She is the moth-light playing on reality's dusk"--

powerful, yet so delicate, imaginative phrases, which tell it all.  Such is the theory of this very fascinating and wistful art.  Take, now, one of its charming expressions: this poem, or rather incense picture, of Kyoto:

Mist-born Kyoto, the city of scent and prayer,
Like a dream half-fading, she lingers on:
The oldest song of a forgotten pagoda bell
Is the Kamo River's twilight song.

The girls, half whisper and half love,
As old as a straying moonbeam,
Flutter on the streets gods built,
Lightly carrying Spring and passion.

"Stop a while with me," I said.
They turned their powdered necks. How delicious!
"No, thank you, some other time," they replied.
Oh, such a smile like the breath of a rose!

    We cannot but repeat after the poem, "How delicious!"  How thrillingly evanescent, and quite unforgettable!--like the "powdered necks."  If this poem is for you, there are many more like it--quite a treasury of butterfly wings--in Mr. Noguchi's two volumes quaintly packed together in a blue cloth case, fastened by little ivory pegs, after the Japanese fashion.  Butterfly wings--yet one feels the stern thinking that has gone to these delicate things, which, though seemingly made of breath and bloom, have the strong framework of iridescent insects; and very saturated with world-sorrow and the pathos of living are these gayly winged sighs.  Poetry--surely.  Literature? -- who cares?  As the poet says elsewhere:

". . . . I used to fancy
In her the deathless romance of Cathay
And declare she was the beauty of [?]...poems!

    The book is full of pictures--a real Japanese picture book.  Enter into this "Meditation on a Chinese Tea Cup":

Fill me a cup with the tea ancient-brewed, Cathay in heart,
(What a forlorn look of the empty cup!)
And let me dream the Confucius land of dragon and dream.
The moon of very old gold stares far down:
Art thou, Chinese moon, wearied of wisdom and song?
What an Autumnal face softer than a soft sigh,
What an oblivion sweeter than a sweet death!
Hear the whisper of ecstasy and forgotten love
In Opium's yellow smell, eternal and free!
Here in the opium den, powerless are Time's teeth,
And Vice sleeps on Fancy's delicious breast: [26]
See the smokers with bodies like a fallen pagoda,
Putting their souls at pawn for the whitest sleep.
Is it the blast of a rebellion's cry?
Nay, a mandarin prince with a long pipe
Windily parades with slaves like hurrying leaves,
With a thousand banners, with drums and flutes.
Oh, I pray to see again
A Chinese damsel of beauty like a far-off song,
Shaking her shoulders of butterfly's wings,
Stepping uncertain like the shiver of a lily's stem,
Through the adoring eyes of a tidal crowd.
Fill me a cup with the tea ancient-brewed, Cathay in heart,
(What a forlorn look of the empty cup!)
And let me dream the Confucius land of dragon and dream.

    But nothing seems to me more entirely delightful and characteristic among the poems than these "Cradle Songs":
Sleep, my love...dry your eyes!
    Can't you see the little Japanese mother, bending, with little birdlike murmurs, over her little Japanese babe?  Again, "How delicious!"
    Criticism, in the usual sense, seems a cumbrously concrete form of appreciation of such rainbow hints and perfumed whispers as make, for the most part, Mr. Noguchi's poems.  A vivid Autumn leaf carried on the wind, a handful of rose petals, "a straying moonbeam"--for these we need equally delicate exclamations.  Indeed, one might call Mr. Noguchi's art an art of delicate exclamations--exclamations which have an added charm of naïveté from being made in a language which he still writes, I am glad to say, with a Japanese accent.  I hope he will never lose that.