The Latest Thing in Poets
The very newest thing in poets is a young Japanese (recently discovered by Gelett Burgess, editor of the Lark), whose weird imaginings and riotous rhetoric have attracted the attention of literary critics. Yonejiro Noguchi is a slender lad of 20 years, with a fine expressive face, large dark eyes, and sensitive mouth; his only distinguishing Japanese characteristic being the scant of eyelids, the olive skin and the thatch of coarse black hair which typify the race. Living with Joaquin Miller, on his rocky hillside farm at Oakland, Cal., the young poet, both by environment and temperament, is a disciple of things weird and mystic. And the Poet of the Sierra, who acts the part of guide, philosopher and friend, with an interest born of sympathy and congeniality, says: 'He's one of my class: I like queer folks—the queer are always good. This boy is the right sort; he does just as he pleases—lives in the cabin yonder. I never go into it. Sometimes he comes in here and we talk of men and books. I love the Japanese people—always have: and this lad comes of the best blood in the kingdom.'
Yone Noguchi is almost inaccessible to interviewers, and artists have tried in vain for an opportunity to sketch him. Restless, moody and sad as his own songs, he shrinks from notoriety for himself, though he is ambitious for the recognition of his work. His favorite haunt is a rocky dell high up in a canyon among the redwoods. 'I like it,' said he, speaking of this place, where he does most of his work; 'I like it much better than down in the sunshine; down there you feel happy, but up here more sad, and you can meditate and mature. By-and-by I will build a cabin, and maybe stay up here all the time.' Educated in Tokio, the lad has spent the last three years in California. He is well-read; familiar with the great English poets, and fond of American work. He prefers not to be photographed in his native dress, as he objects to that sort of interest, saying he wants to write for America, and depend solely upon the value of his work. The Lark for July first gave his songs to the public; and in Mr. Burgess he has found a firm friend, to whose judgment he confides even the disposal of his manuscripts, which have just begun to be asked for.
Though for the most part these songs are as unintelligible as a Japanese dream, yet they have a poetic quality which need not be understood to be enjoyed. They have been compared to Stephen Crane's but this is a mistake, as both men suffer by the comparison. With his intuitive grasp of Nature's greatest meanings, Yone Noguchi is an avowed admirer of Walt Whitman, but his Oriental spirit protests against being called a follower of that poet. He is also a lover of Wordsworth, Thoreau and Burroughs. Two more of his songs were printed in the September Lark, and one in a recent Chap-Book. Mr. Burgess explains that all the words are Noguchi's though they have been slightly rearranged by the editorial pen. I quote from the July Lark's 'Seen and Unseen':
- The brave upright rains come right down like errands from
iron-bodied yoretime, never looking back; out of the ever tranquil,
ocean-breasted, far high heaven—yet as high but as the gum tree at my cabin
Without hesitation, they kill themselves in an instant on the earth, lifting their single-noted chants—O tragedy! —Chants? Nay, the clapping sound of earth-lips.
Oh, heavenly manna, chilly, delicate as goddess' tears for the intoxicated mouth of the soil, this gossamer-veiled day!
The Universe now grows sober, gaunt, hungry, frozen-hearted, spiteful-souled; alone, friendless, it groans out in the flute of the stony-throated frog.
Resignedly, the fleeting mountain of tired cloud creeps into the willow leaves—washed hair of palace-maiden of old.
Lo, the willow leaves, mirrored in the dust-freed waters of the pond!
The flat-boarded earth, nailed down at night, rusting under
the darkness. The Universe grows smaller, palpitating against its
My chilly soul,—center of the world,—gives seat to audible tears,—the songs of the cricket.
I drink the darkness of a corner of the Universe,—alas! square, immovable world to me, on my bed! Suggesting what—god or demon?—far down, under my body.
I am as a lost wind among the countless atoms of high Heaven!
Would the invisible Night might shake off her radiant light, answering the knocking of my soft-formed voice!