YONE NOGUCHI

Years ago, when a group of gay young blades were making San Francisco a literary centre with the now traditional Lark; when Gelett Burgess, Bruce Porter, et al, were young, and Joaquin Miller was writing his rugged poetry, Yone Noguchi came to this country — a rather frail, dreamy Japanese lad of perhaps eighteen He went to live with Joaquin Miller, and the big-hearted bard encouraged his dreams. Presently fragile little poems began to appear in The Lark, a first breath from the living Orient.

Looking back on them now one can see how directly they forecast the modern movement. They were in free verse—in the nineties—they were condensed, suggestive, full of rhythmical variations. In matters of technic they might have been written today, and, though few people understood them then, time has proven Mr. Noguchi a forerunner.

Since then he has grown to be the most important link between the poetry of America and the poetry of Japan. He writes in both tongues, though mostly in English, interpreting the East to the West and the West to the East. He lives now in a suburb of Tokyo and is professor of English in Keio University. This year he is making a lecture tour of America.

Mr. Noguchi has lived also in London, and his two books of poetry, From the Eastern Sea and The Pilgrimage, were both printed first in London and soon after in Japan; also The Pilgrimage was published later in this country by Mitchell Kennerley. They are books of subtle, delicate lyrics, full of that strange blend of old Japan and the West of today which makes the poetry of contemporary Japan so intriguing. This Ghost of Abyss, from The Pilgrimage, is typical of them: [97]

My dreams rise when the rain falls; the sudden songs

Flow about my ears as the clouds in June;

And the footsteps, lighter than the heart of wind,

Beat, now high, then low, before my dream-flaming eyes.

"Who am I?" said I. "Ghost of abyss," a Voice replied,

"Piling an empty stone of song on darkness of night,

Dancing wild as a fire only to vanish away."

But Mr. Noguchi's chief service to English and American poetry is perhaps that of interpreting to us the spirit of his own land, where every educated person is still a poet, and where everyone writes a spring poem with as much regularity as every American purchases a straw hat. His little book The Spirit of Japanese Poetry (Dutton) is really a door into the Japanese mind, a door through which the western reader can take the first steps towards understanding, and therefore loving, the sharp, condensed, almost aching beauty of classical Japanese poetry.

E. T.

 

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