A JAPANESE POET
"The Pilgrimage." By Yone Noguchi. 8s. net. (Elkin Mathews.)
Mr. Noguchi insisted on his nationality when, in publishing a brown paper pamphlet seven years ago from a boarding-house in the Brixton Road, he described himself on the title-page as Yone Noguchi (Japanese)." There is no need for such insistence in this book. It is printed on silvered rice-paper by the Valley Press in Kamakura, and its two slim volumes are held together in a small blue-cloth folding-case that fastens with ivory pegs. Its frontispiece is a reproduction of one of Utamaru's colour prints. No setting could be daintier, more Japanese, or better in keeping with the poetry it contains.
That poetry is of a kind rare in English literature. Its theory is that of the French symbolists, for whom it is a new inspiration, and that of the Japanese writers of hokku, for whom it is as old and sure as poetry itself. There are some translations of hokku in The Pilgrimage," and one of them will show how different is their principle from that of most of our poetry; or, how much further towards a logical conclusion do they carry principles that all poetry must recognise:
"My Love's lengthened hair
Swings o'er in from Heaven's gate:
Lo, Evening's shadow."
That is all. Perhaps the difference between this poetry and most poetry may be clearly put in saying that it more consciously writes its poem in its reader's mind. It is never explicit. For it, to be explicit is to be dead. It does not describe a scented room; but it is itself the fragment of incense whose mounting smoke will turn the room to poetry.
Noguchi's poems are like that. In reading them I am not conscious of reading verse. Instead it is as if I were sharing with him the cherry-blossom falling in the mist, the bird's cry, the quick motif of rippling stream whatever it is that has harked or waked his mood, or been waken by it. In his verse the cherry-blossom falls again for some one else, and a new poem is written in a new collaboration. With the writing of this new poem Noguchi would interfere as little as he can. He moves among his incantations (for that is no incorrect description of his poetry) like a wisp of thin smoke, seeking to veil itself. The smoke from a pipe in a still summer pinewood is not more delicately elusive, and it is perhaps this frailty of personal presence that makes his world seem but the soap bubble of a moment floating, floating, ready at a touch to furl its colours into nothingness.
Something of his method may be seen from "The Temple Bell":
"Trembling in its thousand ages,
Dark as its faith,
It wails, hunting me,
(It's a long time since I lost my faith,)
Up through the silence with a scorn,
Heavy but not unkind,
Out of the dusk of the temple and night
Into my heart of dusk
Hushed after my song of cities played,
Weary and grey in thought.
My heart replies to the sound of the bell,
Slow-bosomed in sadness and faith,
With my memory rising from dusts.
Namu amida butsu! Namu amida butsu!"
And there is another poem, "The New Art," not one of the best, that may almost be taken as a description of the book:
"She is an art (let me call her so)
Hung as a web, in the air of perfume.
Soft yet vivid, she sways irl 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 wire of impulse.
What an elf of light and shadow!
What a flash of tragedy and beauty!" [<235]
But single quotations do not fairly illustrate those books that are meant for fingering leaf by leaf, backwards and forwards. They are like single notes from a harmony.
Noguchi writes an English that is new and surprising to us because it is new to him. Sometimes he slips, but usually because we have spoilt some word or other by an irreverent use of it with which he is not familiar. Sometimes, too, his gravity is shaken for us by some accident of humour, as when, unschooled by tradition into condemnation of what may after all be quite beautiful, he writes "To O Suzu Chan the Puss":
"The voice of a night of hush,
(Is it the silver thrill of a star ?)
The voice of the depth of love,
(Is it the falling note of a rose's petal ?)
I hear in thy throat, O Suzu Chan, the very string
The musicians lost in the dusts of age
O the voice of the fairies of dance
Beckoning to the wind of sorrow!
O the voice of joy turned to pain!"
But such misfortunes are few: and are unnoticeable in the consistent mood of poetry that fills the book. It may be too consistently poetical to be great poetry: it is certainly a poetry that is not easily forgotten, and a poetry to which it is delightful to return.