A NOTE ON THE POEMS OF MR. NOGUCHI
When a mere boy I read with interest, in a certain magazine, the story of a
poet, who had tramped a merry journey over American plains: surely a stream of
water did duty for a mirror when, on his way, he had streets or villages to pass
through as an artist of pleasing aspect; or the starshine faintly reflected on
the waves inspired him with a real poetical sensibility as he was camping out on
Many years afterwards I was a student of the dismal science at Mita, on the cool hill, with its expansive outlook over a misty bay beyond a graveyard of house-tops. One temperate autumn noon, when the flavescent gingko leaves were beginning to fall slowly, and the distant sea grew airy under the deepest blue of sky, I saw a sallow-complexioned professor, whose looks seemed to give me an idea of what the languidness or grief of poets should be like. Then, for the first time, I certainly had the honour of seeing the poet in question. So my own memory was jogged when I first planned to study the poetry of Mr. Noguchi. And it is almost a sad thing to think of, but really I remained in total ignorance of his writings until lately.
Most of his earlier poems have always seemed to me so terrific, so bewildering, as to startle me out of reason or system; and while reading them, I feel my weakish heart beat furiously. But in certain of them there is indeed a sweet eeriness, or a melodious fantasticism, which, it would appear, represents the very spirit of a breezy dreamland in his kingdom of poetry. With him, however, many other poets too might make the same impression. And having said this of Mr. Noguchi, have I got some notion of his poetical genius?
I must confess I am incompetent to be impressed with the absolutely mysterious world, where "the void-coloured shade of the trees," or the "faceless face of deepless deep," may be piquantly felt. For my [<105] senses, long in the service of realism, fail to work so inwardly. To be brief, I am not qualified at all to penetrate the truth of his earlier poems, specially 'Seen and Unseen.'
Still, I am certain that in these poems, however, Ralph Waldo Emerson might have found the lover of nature, a true poet. A strong aspiration for Nothing, or the Not Me, is evidently declaring itself there, in pointed, bitter, clanging tones of agony. So far as concerns these poems, he seems to be a philosopher and a poet at once rather than simply a poet. He uses abstraction, has always before him the universe to treat with, disembodies spirits like death. Sometimes he affords the picture of a repellent young philosopher, who, shut high up in an old tower on a deserted coast, with his only friends, the piping sea-birds, makes equation with strenuous "dreaming-power," reducing all existences to the void, the tabula rasa; or of a sentimental monk, as of the Engakuji Temple, in the green pine-scented hills, meditating on serene moonlit nights, or listening to the rustling darkness, till his soul passes into blank paper. Hear him:
"Down the tide of the sweet night
(O the ecstasy's gentle rise)
The birds, flowers and trees
Are glad at once to fall
Into Oblivion's ruin white." ["By the Engakuji Temple: Moon Night," The Pilgrimage]
"I want not pleasure, sadness, love,
hatred, success, unsuccess, beauty,
ugliness--only the mighty Nothing
in No More." ["Seas of Loneliness," Seen and Unseen]
Dipped in holy water as a true poet of nature, he appears to be forgetting to be a human being, or rather scorning to be so; transforming himself into a flower, a butterfly, a bird, a cherry blossom, a wind, or even a heavenly body. Take, for example, these lines:
"I walked with the moon, by the sea,
Till the dawn: what I thought was that
The moon thought, I knew not what." ["By the Sea," FTES]
Or again: [<106]
"What a bird
Dreams in the moonlight is my dream:
What a rose sings is my song." ["Under the Moonlight," FTES]
Perhaps the state of his metamorphosis often may be perfect to a fault:
"My face was a fragrance......"
"I turned my face as a flower,..."
To my thinking, he naturally loves the moonlight as
fervently as our great mendicant poet Ryokwan, who made all his moonlit nights
sleepless; and indeed he says in 'Under the Moon'" "There is nothing like the
moon-night." And one might believe his thoughts somewhat "moonshiny" also.
To be quite exact, we must say that he takes a fancy to the dreaminess, the
ghostliness, of things. His earlier poems, as a whole, are really hideous
dreams; apparitions flitting to the horrible strum of a crazy guitar, and
capering and frisking to his "broken flute."
But it must be noticed that his words are fugitive, indeed, partly because of seemingly shocking neologies such as, for instance, "known-unknown-bottomed," or "truth-dead Cloud," and of the very intricate rhetoric, as found in 'To the Cicada':--
"A tear that is a voice, a voice that is a tear."
And lastly, it should be remembered that of sins done against the
decorum and niceties of English versification our poet has already been cleansed
in advance at his baptism as a real poet of the elements.
Let us then pass on now -- having studied the poet's mode of thinking and its tendencies -- to consider his sensibilities, as expected from him. It is a happiness to me to measure the stretch of fancy, and touch the warmer and softer part of a poet, as if to feel his heart upon myself. For, unlike a critic that would, like a physician, make it his business to find out a sufficient reason for the defects of one's garden of art, I am only gathering the ripest fruit where it falls, to feed the senses for a higher flight of emotion.
He must be a seeker after repose, because he is a habitual dreamer; the reason may really be explained by these beautiful [<107] lines:
"O Repose, whose bosom harbours the heavenly dream-ships, welcom[e] me, an exiled soul!" [vv/ftes, Night Reverie]
Next, see how his heart sends forth delicate pulsations on the breeze in 'Address to a Soyokaze':
"And I'll listen to your tales
That you heard under the roses
Passing through the woodland." [ftes]
Or this from the same:
"You will instantly rise,
And play the harp of the leaves,..."
In 'Pilgrimage' he seems to have entirely lost his former
plangency. Now an obtrusive tranquility of twilight is falling rapidly
upon him. We see him, with a cheerful fire before him, peering into a
dimmer world, with its air mellowed by the odour of his ripening "garden
languid," and stars scintillating in the dark sky.
It seems to me that he is beginning a proper affinity with the gloaming of a fairyland, or a legendary age. To him, evening really came, "like a fragrant evening." Listen to him muttering:
"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."
To write poetry is so hard a thing that it is a grief. I think Mr. Noguchi is a man irredeemable from the anguish of Art, not a day of his being spent without its sharp taste; but I hope his poems breathe sweetness through all memory.