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Yone Noguchi (1875-1947)
[known in Japan as Noguchi Yonejirô]
http://www.h.ehime-u.ac.jp/~marx/YN/index.htm


Hokku
These ‘hokku’ first appeared in Poetry 15 (1919), p. 67.
http://www.themargins.net/bib/D/d15.html

I
Bits of song—what else?
I, a rider of the stream,
Lone between the clouds.


II
Full of faults, you say.
What beauty in repentance!
Tears, songs—thus life flows.


III
But the march to life—
Break song to sing the new song!
Cloud leaps, flowers bloom.


IV
Song of sea in rain,
Voice of the sky, earth and men!
List, song of my heart.

 

Japanese Hokkus
Japanese Hokkus, Boston, The Four Seas, 1920, 120pp [84 hokku]

1
Suppose the stars
Fall and break?—Do they ever sound
Like my own love song?


4
Some one at my door?
Go away, go,—go away!
Good night, sir or madam.


18
Is it a fallen leaf?
That's my soul sailing on
The silence of Life.


29
Full of faults, you say.
What beauty in repentance!
Tears, songs . . . thus life flows.


43
Lo, light and shadow
Journey to the home of night:
Thou and I—to love!


77
Is there anything new under the sun?
Certainly there is.
See how a bird flies, how flowers smile!

 

Yone Noguchi
A Proposal to American Poets (1904)
Yone Noguchi, "A Proposal to American Poets," Reader 3:3 (Feb. 1904): 248.

Hokku (seventeen-syllable poem) is like a tiny star, mind you, carrying the whole sky at its back. It is like a slightly-open door, where you may steal into the realm of poesy. It is simply a guiding lamp. Its value depends on how much it suggests. The Hokku poet's chief aim is to impress the reader with the high atmosphere in which he is living. I always compare an English poem with a mansion with windows widely open, even the pictures of its drawing-room being visible from outside. I dare say it does not tempt me much to see the within.

"A cloud of flowers!
Is the bell from Uyeno
Or Asakusa?"
(Basho.)

Yes, cloud of flowers, of course, in Mukojima, the odorous profusion shutting out every prospect! Listen to the bell sounding from the distance! Does it come from the temple of Uyeno or Asakusa? Doesn't the poem suggest a Spring picture of the river Sumida?

"On a Withered branch,
Lo! the crows are sitting there,
Oh, this Autumn eve!"
(Basho.)

What a suggestion for the solitariness of a Japanese Autumn evening!
The crows--what a monotonous "Kah! Kah, Kah!"--are the image of melancholy for Japanese.
Basho was a master of Hokku, a great suggester. He made long excursions to the remotest spots frequently, leaving behind him traces which remain to this day in the shapes of stones with his inscription. His monuments are said to number more than one thousand.
Pray, you try Japanese Hokku, my American poets!
You say far too much, I should say.
Here are some of my own attempts in the seventeen-syllable verse:

"My girl's lengthy hair
Swung o'er me from Heaven's gate:
Lo, Evening's shadow!"

"Lo, light and shadow
Journey to the home of night:
Thou and I--to Love!"

"Where the flowers sleep,
Thank God! I shall sleep, to-night.
Oh, come, butterfly! "

"Fallen leaves! Nay, spirits?
Shall I go downward with thee
'Long a stream of Fate?"

 

Yone Noguchi
from
Through the Torii
London: E. Mathews, 1914; Boston, The Four Seas, 1922

What is the Hokku Poem?
in Through the Torii [first published as "Hokku" in The Academy, 13 July 1912, and reprinted as "What Is a Hokku Poem?" in Rhythm 12 (Jan. 1913).

PARTLY to make my annual settlement at the end of the year, at least my spiritual settlement, one month later, as the villagers are still attached to the old lunar calendar, mainly to hunt after the plum-blossoms (why, hunting is the proper word), although I knew it was only a few weeks since the chrysanthemums turned to dust, I left cold Tokyo in December towards Atami where the glad laughing sunlight of Spring always arrives first across the seas. You may call me mad or fantastic if you will, when I tell you that I journeyed one hundred miles for just an early sight of the flowers; that early sight indeed makes my ephemeral life worth living. I was glad, when I reached Atami, to find that my flower exploration was started well, though even at Atami the season was a little early for it; when the plum trees in the well-known "Plum Forest" there, a week or ten days later, began to smile up to the skies and sunlight (and to me), I carried my world-wearied soul every day out under their shade, and talked with them in the silence that was [<126] beyond the world and humanity. I was at once besieged by the same winter cold; worse than that, I was forced to settle my yearly account from which I had attempted to escape some twenty days before. My little adonis davurica, to use the botanical name, or the Fortune Longevity Grass at the southern window of my home was not yet in bloom; I was again obliged to shut myself within the room with a little brazier on whose ashes I could write and rewrite the pages from the Songs of Innocence, and to look happy travelling before Fuji Mountain's presence in Hiroshige's pictures. But it happened one morning when I was washing my face in my garden (oh, where's yester year's morning-glory?) that the very first note of a nightingale made me raise my face at once to the plum tree where two or three blossoms had just begun to break; "At last, Spring even to Tokyo," I exclaimed. I made a habit from then to sit on the balcony facing the garden when the sunlight fell there with all heart and soul and to count the blossoms [<127] every day; I recall here to my mind the following seventeen-syllable hokku poem:

"One blossom of the plum--
Yes, as much as that one blossom, every day,
Have we of Spring's warmth."

It might be from the conditions of my impaired health of late that such a little poem as the above makes a strong impression on my mind; indeed, I never felt before as this year, the kindness of the sunlight and the joy of spring. I declare myself to be an adherent of this hokku poem in whose gem-small form of utterance our Japanese poets were able to express their understanding of Nature, better than that, to sing or chant their longing or wonder or adoration towards Mother Nature; to call the hokku poem suggestive is almost wrong, although it has become a recent fashion for the Western critics to interpret, not only this hokku but all Japanese poetry (even my work included) by that one word, because the hokku poem itself is distinctly clear-cut like a diamond or star, never mystified by any cloud or mist like Truth or Beauty of Keats' understanding. It is all very well if you [<128] have a suggestive attitude of mind in reading it; I say that the star itself has almost no share in the creation of a condition even when your dream or vision is gained through its beauty. I am only pleased to know that the star had such an influence upon you ; and I am willing to endorse you when you say the hokku poem is suggestive in the same sense that truth and humanity are suggestive. But I can say myself as a poet (am I too bold to claim that word ?) that your poem would certainly end in artificiality if you start out to be suggestive from the beginning; I value the hokku poem, at least some of them, because of its own truth and humanity simple and plain. Let me say for once and all there is no word in so common use by Western critics as suggestive, which makes more mischief than enlightenment, although they mean it quite simply, of course, to be a new force or salvation; I apologise to you for my digression when I say that no critic is necessary for this world of poetry. Who will criticise Truth or Humanity? I always thought that the most beautiful flowers grow close to the ground, and they need no hundred [<129] petals for expressing their own beauty; how can you call it real poetry if you cannot tell it by a few words? Therefore these seventeen syllables are just enough at least to our Japanese mind. And if you cannot express all by one hokku, then you can say it in many hokku; yes, that is all.
I confess that I secretly desired to become a hokku poet in my younger days, that is now twenty years ago, and I used to put the hokku collection of Basho or Buson with Spencer's Education in the same drawer of my desk; what did Spencer mean, you might wonder, for a boy of sixteen or seventeen? I myself wonder to-day about it when I look back on it; but it was the younger day of new Japan when even we boys thought to educate others before being educated ourselves (there was Spencer's Education), and we wished to swallow all the Western wisdom and philosophy, Spencer or Darwin or what else, at a gulp. I used to pass through Shiba Park famous for the Sleeping Houses of the Feudal Princes and also for the pine forest towering over the mortality and age, towards my school at Mita, whither to-day [<130] of twenty years later I turn my steps again to tell the Japanese students about the English poets born in the golden clime or other clime; and I often looked up with irresistible longing of heart, to a little cottage on a hill in this sacred park where Yeiki Kikakudo, the descendant of the famous hokku poet Kikaku in poetical lineage, used to live in his seventieth year. I cannot recollect now exactly how I happened to call on him one night except from my impulse and determination that my meeting with him was thought necessary for my poetical development; it was the night of meigetsu, the full moon of September, when many wanderers like myself, moths restless after soul's sensation, could be seen in the park through the shadows of trees. The little house, I mean that of Master Yeiki, so small that it might be comfortably put in any ordinary-sized Western drawing-room, was deadly silent with no light lighted; I thought at once that it was the poet's beautiful consideration towards the moon whose heavenly light, not being disturbed by any earthly lamp, might thus have full sway. I met the old poet sitting on the step under the golden [<131] shower of the light, when I climbed up to his house, he led me within the house where the all open shoji doors welcomed the moon with old-fashioned hospitality. Indeed that should be the way to treat the celestial guest; when you observe how the Japanese moonlight crawls in with its fairy-like golden steps, you will wonder how humanised it is here. We two, young and old, sat silent, leaving all the talk to the breezes which carried down the moon's autumnal message; the light fell on the hanging at the tokonoma whereon I read the following hokku poem:

"Autumn's full moon:
Lo, the shadows of a pine tree
Upon the mats!"

Really it was my first opportunity to observe the full beauty of the light and shadow, more the beauty of the shadow in fact far more luminous than the light itself, with such a decorativeness, particularly when it stamped the dustless mats as a dragon-shaped ageless pine tree; I thanked Kikaku, the author of the above lines, for giving me just the point where [<132] to find the natural beauty, on which my imagination should have play enough. I bowed to the Poet Yeiki for good-night, and thanked him for the most interesting talk, although we had spoken scarcely a word, but I was perfectly tickled in delight as already then the old story of Emerson and Carlyle who had a happy chat in Silence was known to me. When I left him, the moon was quite high, under whose golden blessing all the trees and birds hurried to dream; it was exactly such a night on which only two or three year ago I wrote the following lines:

"Across the song of night and moon,
O perfume of perfume!)
My soul, as a wind
Whose heart's too full to sing,
Only roam, astray . . ."

Indeed, how l wandered that night, now thinking of this poet, then on that hokku poem; I clearly remember it was the very night that I felt fully the beauty of the following impromptu in hokku by Basho:

"Shall I knock
At Miidera Temple's gate?
Ah, moon of to-night!"

Suppose you stand at that temple's gate high upon the hill lapped and again lapped by the slow water, with your dreamy face towards this Lake Biwa in the shape ot a biwa-lute, which, as a certain poetess has written, "like a shell of white lies dropped by the passing day." I am sure you will feel yourself to be a god or goddess in the beginning of the world as in the Japanese mythology, who by accident or mystery has risen above the opalescent mists which softly cover the earth of later night.
I did not forget to carry with me the hokku collection of Basho or Buson or some other poet in my American life, even when I did the so-called tramp life in 1896-1898 through the California field full of buttercups, by the mountain where the cypress trees beckoned my soul to fly, not merely because the thought of home and longing for it was then my only comfort, but more because by the blessing of the book, I mean the hokku book, I entered straight into the great heart of Nature; when I left the Pacific Slope in later years towards the Eastern cities built by the modern civilisation and machineries, I suddenly thought I had lost the [<134] secret understanding of the hokku poems born in Japan, insignificant like a lakeside reed and irresponsible like a dragon-fly; how could you properly understand, for instance, the following poem in New York of skyscrapers and automobiles:

"A cloud of flowers!
Is it the bell of Uyeno
Or that of Asakusa?"

The poet, by the way Basho, means the cloud of flowers, of course, in Mukojima of Tokyo, whose odorous profusion shuts out every prospect and thought of geographical sense, of East or West; listen to the bell ringing from the distance! Does it come from the temple of Uyeno or Asakusa? Why, it is the poem of a Spring picture of the river Sumida.
Although I was quite loyal to this seventeen syllable form of Japanese poetry during many years of my foreign wandering, I had scarcely any moment to write a hokku in original Japanese or English, till the day when I most abruptly awoke in 1902 to the noise of Charing Cross Where I wrote as follows: [<135]

"Tell me the street to Heaven.
This? Or that? Oh, which?
What webs of streets!"

And it was by Westminster Bridge where I heard the evening chime that I wrote again in hokku which appears, when translated, as follows:

"Is it, Oh, list!
The great voice of Judgement Day?
So runs Thames, so runs my Life."

In September of 1904, I returned home; the tender silken autumnal rain that was Japanese poetry, and my elder brother welcomed me (what a ghost tired and pale I was then), and I was taken to his house in the Nihonbashi district of Tokyo to wash off my foreign dust and slowly renew my old acquaintance with things Japanese; Oh, that memorable first night after thirteen years abroad! I spent it alone in the upstairs room where I was left to sleep. I did not fall asleep for many many hours as my back already began to ache from lying on the floor in the Japanese fashion; and my nostrils could not make themselves free from a strange [<136] Japanese smell, indeed the soy smell, which I thought was crawling from the kitchen. As I said, the rain dropped quite incessantly; the lamplight burned feebly; and I was alone. Listen! What was that I heard? Well, it was a cricket singing under the roof or behind the hanging at the tokonoma. I exclaimed then: "Was it possible to hear the cricket in the very centre of the metropolis ?" My mind at once recalled the following hokku poem by Issa:

"Let me turn over,
Pray, go away,
Oh my cricket !"

My thought dwelt for a long while that night upon Issa, the hokku poet at the mountainside of Shinshu, and his shabby hut "of clay and Wattles made" where he indeed lived with the insects, practically sharing his house with them; whenever I read him, the first thing to strike me is his simple sympathy with a small living thing like a butterfly or this cricket, that was in truth the sure proof of his being a poet. Although I had often read the above poem, I can say [<137] that I never felt its humanity so keenly as that night.
When the late Mr. Aston published A History of Japanese Literature quite many years ago, I know that the part about Basho, the greatest hokku poet of the seventeenth century, and the hokku poems in general, did not make a proper impression on the Western mind. And here I have no particular intention to force on your appreciation with this Japanese form of poetry; this article is only to express my own love for it. When we say that the East is the same as the West, we mean that the West is as different from the East as the East is from the West; how could you understand us through and through? Poetry is the most difficult art; it will lose the greater part of its significance when parted from its background and the circumstances from which it spring forth. I should like to ask who in the West will be able to think the following hokku poem the greatest of its kind as we Japanee once thought:

"On a withered twig,
Lo, the crow is sitting there,
Oh, this Autumn eve!" [<138]

Even to us, I confess, this solitariness of a Japanese Autumn evening with the crow crying monotonously on the tree is growing lately less impressive, when in fact as to-day the crows become scarce before the factories and smoke; and our modern heterogeneous minds are beginning to turn somewhere else. [<139]


Again on Hokku

THE word "epigram" is no right word (and there's no right word at all) for Hokku, the seventeen syllable poem of Japan, just as overcoat is not the word for our haori. "That is good," I exclaimed in spite of myself, when I found this comparison to begin my article. We know that haori is more, or less, according to your attitude, than the overcoat of Western garb which rises and falls with practical service; when I say more, I mean that our Japanese haori is unlike the Western overcoat, a piece of art and besides, a symbol of rite, as its usefulness appears often when it means practically nothing. If I rightly understand the word epigram, it is or at least looks to have one object, like that overcoat of practical use, to express something, a Cathay of thought or not, before itself ; its beauty, if it has any, is like that of a netsake or okimono carved in ivory or wood, decorative at the best. But what our hokku aims at is, like the haori of silk or crepe, a usefulness of uselessness, not what it expresses but how it expresses itself spiritually ; its real [<140] value is not in its physical directness but in its psychological indirectness. To use a simile, it is like a dew upon lotus leaves of green, or under maple leaves of red, which, although it is nothing but a trifling drop of water, shines, glitters and sparkles now pearl-white, then amethyst-blue, again ruby-red, according to the time of day and situation; better still to say, this hokku is like a spider-thread laden with the white summer dews, swaying among the branches of a tree like an often invisible ghost in air, on the perfect balance; that sway indeed, not the thread itself, is the beauty of our seventeen syllable poem.
I cannot forget Mrs. N. S. who came to see me at the poppy-covered Mountainside of California one morning, now almost seventeen years ago; what I cannot forget chiefly about that morning is her story that she made a roundabout way in entering into my garden as the little proper path had been blocked by a spider-net thick with diamonds. I exclaimed then as I do often to-day: "Such a dear sweet soul (that could not dare break that silvery thread) would be the very soul who will appreciate our [<141] hokku." What do you say, if there is one, suppose, who brings down the spider-net and attempts to hang it up in another place? Is it not exactly the case with a translator of Japanese poem, hokku or uta, whatever it be? To use another expression, what would you say if somebody ventured to imitate with someone's fountain pen the Japanese picture drawn with the bamboo brush and incensed Indian ink? Is it not again the exact case with the translator like Mr. William N. Porter in A Year of Japanese Epigrams?
We confess that we have shown, to speak rather bluntly, very little satisfaction even with the translations of Prof. Chamberlain and the late Mr. Aston; when I say that I was perfectly amazed at Mr. Porter's audacity in his sense of curiosity, I hope that my words will never be taken as sarcasm. With due respect, I dare say that nearly all things of that book leave something to be desired for our Japanese mind, or to say more true, have something too much that we do not find in the original, as a result they only weaken, confuse and trouble the real atmosphere; while perhaps, it means [<142] certainly that the English mind is differently rooted from the Japanese mind, even in the matter of poetry which is said to have no East or West. When I appear to unkindly expose Mr. Porter's defects (excuse my careless use of word) to the light, that is from my anxiety to make this Japanese poetry properly understood. To take a poem or two from his book at random

Uzumibi ya
Kabe ni wa kyaku (not kaku) no
Kage-boshi. Basho.

Mr. Porter translates it as follows:

"Alas! My fire is out,
And there's a shadow on the wall--
A visitor, no doubt.

I should like to know who would ever think of the above as poetry, even poor poetry, in his reading of it in one breath; what does "no doubt " (which the original hasn't) mean except that it rhymes with the first line; and the rhyme cheapens the poetry at least to the Japanese mind from the reason of its English conventionality. The first line of the original is not "my [<143] fire is out;" on the contrary, it means that the fire, of course the charcoal fire, is buried under the ashes. The poem is a poem of winter night which becomes late, and when a charcoal fire already small grows still dearer as it is more cold without, perhaps windy; now the talk of the guest or visitor (lo, his sad lone shadow on the wall) and the master poet stops, then it starts again, like a little stream hidden under the grasses; and the desolation of the advanced night intensifies the sadness of the house, doubtless Basho An whose small body is wrapped by a few large leaves of Basho's beloved banana tree in the garden. You must know, before you attempt to understand it, a few points of the poet's characteristics, above all the way of his living, and the general aspect of his house, I mean Basho An, the poetical poverty of which will be seen from the fact that he made a big hole in the wall to place a tiny Buddha statue as he had no place to enshrine it ; not only this Basho's hokkus, nearly all the seventeen-syllable poems that were produced 'in the early age, you will find difficult to understand when separated from the circumstances [<144] and background from which they were born, to use a simile, like a dew born out of the deepest heart of dawn.
It is not my purpose here to criticise and examine Mr. Porter's translation to satisfy my fastidious heart of minuteness-loving ; let it suffice to say that the hokku is not a poetry to be rightly appreciated by people in the West who lie by the comfortable fire in Winter, or under an electric fan in Summer, because it was originally written beside a paper shoji door or upon the straw mats. We have a saying: "Better to leave the renge flowers in their own wild plain;" it suggest[s] quite many things, but what it impresses me most is that you should admire things, flowers or pictures or what not, in their own proper place. To translate hokku or any other Japanese poem into English rarely does justice to the original ; it is a thankless task at the best. I myself was a hokku student since I was fifteen or sixteen years old ; during many years of my Western life, now amid the California forest, then by the skyscrapers of New York, again in the London 'bus, I often, tried to translate the hokkus of our old masters [<145] but I gave up my hope when I had written the following in English:

"My Love's lengthened hair
Swings o'er me from Heaven's gate:
Lo, Evening's shadow!"

It was in London, to say more particularly, Hyde Park, that I wrote the above hokku in English, where I walked slowly, my mind being filled with the thought of the long hair of Rossetti's woman as I perhaps had visited Tate's Gallery that afternoon; pray, believe me when I say the dusk that descended from the sky swung like that lengthened hair. I exclaimed then: " What use to try the impossibility in translation, when I have a moment to feel a hokku feeling and write about it in English?" Although I had only a few such moments in the past, my decision not to translate hokku into English is unchanged. Let me wait patiently for a moment to come when I become a hokku poet in my beloved English. [<146]

 

Yone Noguchi
Hobby
Yone Noguchi, "Hobby," The Adelphi (Ser. 2) 11:2 (Nov. 1935): 106-111.
This essay also appeared in The Visva-Bharati Quarterly n.s. 2 (Nov. 1936): 35-40.

One who looks in my section of Who's Who will notice that walking is my hobby. Some fifteen years ago when I was asked about my life by its editor, I found that the item of "hobby" was difficult to satisfy, because I had no hobby that might pass under its name. But to have nothing of it, I thought, it might bring disgrace upon my gentleman's dignity. Driven into a corner, I might say, I put down the word of walking as my hobby. But this walking, at least in England, was supposed to be a legitimate kind of hobby for any gentleman. Especially as a hobby of an old man it is healthy, economical and proper. It is true that I know personally a few men in England who make a hobby out of walking. It sounds somewhat spiritless to become one of them; but I thought that, when walking was said to be my hobby, nobody would spin controversies out of it. As I said, it was the affair of humbug altogether; so I never happened to think whether walking suits me or not. If you accuse me with irresponsibility, I will say that I only feel small. But when in Who's Who I see many men whose hobby is walking, I cannot help feeling suspicious, smiling in thought that they might be as I am, a poor creature with no hobby to mention of. I know that nearly all my friends are better off for the matter of hobby; even when people criticise me, saying that I am a miserable fellow like a dry herring hard and tasteless, I have no word to protest against them.

But I feel sometimes terribly lonesome from very reason that I have no hobby. In the book of Issa's hokku poems which I opened not long ago, I found the following:

"Alas, thirty-six years have passed since the 6th of Anei (1772-1780) when I left my country home for life's vagabonding over ten thousand miles; thirty-six years are fifteen thousand nine hundred sixty days. How bitterly have I been subjected to application! There has not been even one day when I felt ease in my mind. But before I knew it I became a white-haired old man.

How strange it is
That I should have lived fifty years!
Hallelujah to flower's spring! [<106]

First day of spring at last!
Fifty years I've lived, . . .
Not a beggar in rush-clothes!

Alas, fifty years have passed,
Having no night
When I danced in joy."

How strongly I was impressed by the last hokku poem, since I myself, like Issa, had spent long fifty years with no night in dancing! Issa must have been a poor fellow like myself, who, if he was asked about his hobby, had no other way to answer but with the word of walking. I have had no opportunity to suffer Issa's intense application; even though I had no chance to feel a mother's great love -- I had no experience like Issa's, to suffer under step-mother's tyranny. Issa, it is said, was turned out from home when he was a boy; but from my own free will, in elated spirit, I left home toward the western country, where I spent more than ten years. Now having already passed fifty years, I look back upon the past and often think what a hard life I experienced. Indeed my fifty years were a painful series of fight in loss or gain, having no favourite pursuit in leisure to please myself. I was a miserable creature, like Issa, who "passed fifty years having no night when he danced in joy."

I used to play a game of shogi-chess when I was a boy; my usual opponent being a son of a neighbouring priest, who was a better player, beside being clever to make me irritated; I always lost the game eight times out of ten, because my passionate love of it made me more awkward and clumsy. With a great determination to beat him during my life, I played the game with him one summer night, sitting on a wooden bench which I brought out in front of my house. But fate was not kind to me again so that my king became checkmated, when at this moment of death agony I kicked off the chess-board by my foot, and exposing my cowardice, I jumped back into my house. Never again my fingers touched chessmen.

I cannot understand how the game of go-checkers is played, although I have seen its contests so often in the past. While I lived in America, I went not so seldom to a place where my countrymen get together in joy or sorrow, and I saw sometimes how they played this game. In spite of my complete ignorance with its rules, I felt some agreeable sensation running through me. How pleasantly the checker stones sound striking the board! I should say that the pleasure in their sound was something hard to define. And it was so amusing to see the faces of the players [<107] with their special expression not seen in ordinary time, which, as if an autumnal sky, now became cloudy and then clear, or as if a spring bird, now sung songs and then stopped singing. It is the mischief or playfulness of the game that makes a man who is close-tongued in usual days talkative and jolly in mood, or makes a man who is simple and straight, unmask of his hidden psychology when he repeats "not yet" all the time. Since returning home, I have had hardly any occasion to see a go contest. Once some years ago when I was living in a monastery at Kamakura, I happened to hear a cool refreshing sound of the checker-stones echoing through the large rooms with sliding screens unclosed; I knew that the monk was playing the go game with a guest. But not wishing to see their contest, I only enjoyed then the rhythmical sound of the checker-stones which was most appropriate to the summer morning. It is indeed the sound that suggests Oriental solitude. If I am asked what I love in sound, I will point out, first of all, the sound of go-stones, then the sound of a wind playing fox and geese in a bamboo forest.

There was a "Chinese Town" in San Francisco of olden day, a dirty extraterritoriality where dusky weird atmosphere obscured Oriental immortality into mystery ; not the Chinese Town of late, but that of thirty years ago, revolved on its axle of gambling and harlotry. It was, in truth, a human garbage wherein Japanese labourers threw freely money which they earned with sweat. Comparing life with the game of cards, Rossetti writes:

"What be her cards, you ask? Even these:
The heart, that doth but crave
More, having fed; the diamond,
Skilled to make base seem brave,
The club, for smiting in the dark;
The spade, to dig a grave."

Indeed these are life's cards. A heaped gold, Rossetti sings, is found beside the card-dealer whose "eyes unravel the coiled night and know the stars at noon"; the dream that wraps her brows is wonderfully rich. We human beings surround this mysterious card-dealer, and stake all upon the cast.

When Rossetti writes about the cards flying on Life's board faster than a dancer's feet, a pale skinny Chinese in the gambling den comes to my mind, whose long fingers, so cunning and slippery like a snake, counted the buttons on the board with a bamboo stick. I was charmed strangely, I confess, by the stillness in the den, that kept for a time all the gamblers in anxiety. I was, however, a man of whom game or sport was not [<108] in blood; so I never felt to bet anything that night when my friend took me to the gambling den about which I am speaking. My friend wished me to put down his stake on his behalf; but when I obeyed him and lost the game, I was sorry for him that fate had opposed me in this new undertaking. how could the gamblers' god have smiled, I wondered, on me who cursed him ! When I gave my friend some money to cover a portion of his loss, I felt easy in my mind thinking that it relieved me somewhat from a responsibility which, however, I had taken reluctantly. One more occasion on which I showed that I was born without gambling instinct, came to me afterwards at Santa Barbara of California in South. There were many Japanese farmers who tried to kill time with buying a Chinese lottery called ''Fool's Ticket.'' They were buying it in hope that this lottery might change into a wise man's ticket. Being asked by one of the farmers, I chose for him characters of the lottery which being wise words from the analects of Confucius, were used for such a vulgar purpose as gambling. I mused, however, thinking that this Chinese lottery was not without the suggestion that in China a sage and gambler live together. Unfortunately, I could not represent these two persons myself; so you will know, without my telling, how the lottery ticket which I marked turned out. Although I had in America for a long time, where gambling might be a sort of gentleman's pursuit, I never again put my hands on any game or sport. I never saw even a game of baseball or boxing match in America.

As next thing I would like to dwell on my diet. Being a person with a sweet tooth by nature, I kept myself apart from any bottle of wine. But the majority of my old friends, strange enough, were wine-bibbers or even soakers; being sober myself, I was obliged to keep a face of pot-companion towards them, and often listen to their wild talk and sometimes chime in with pleasing remarks. A few years ago I bought some bottles of Claret which I hoped to drink for my health ; after spending one or two months to finish one bottle of them, I sent down the rest to my kitchen to be used for cooking purpose. Some friend of mine says to me: "Drink, Noguchi, you know that wine makes blood ! It is a pity that you don't drink, that is one flaw in your being a perfect jewel." Whether it is a flaw or not I cannot tell, but my teetotalism is inborn; I cannot help my nature.

I was, however, somewhat an epicure in my Western life; I went round searching after a good coffee or salad from one restaurant to another in New York or London. I was able to [<109] criticise even tamales which Spaniards are fond of, or tell you how to make a good dish out of Italian macaronis. Once I wrote the following: "it is certainly a proof of one's being a prig crank that he is fond of sea-hedgehogs or pickles of chopped fish-salt. The fellow who eats an indigestible food with joy or pain will be one quick-tempered or obstinate. People who can {not} live without a dish of taste or food rich and heavy, something like a tempura (fried fish) or spitchcock, are often the men given up to pleasure; they are sometimes irresponsible. One who repeats pies already at the breakfast table, cannot be bad in temperament; the man who orders a toast cut to the size two inches square, or wants to boil his eggs exactly for three minutes, is a complete egoist."

When I returned home and lived in Tokyo or in its vicinity, I went round from one restaurant to another for a fried fish or broiled eels, and appeared to be a man of special taste in food. But for the past four or five years I have been neglecting them; to-day I am only a peaceful fellow, prosaic, of taste not so particular, and my diet has no distinguished hobby.

Well, and what about my clothes? There was a time, I confess, long ago, when I took pains with my neckties or shirts, and was not afraid to spend even one guinea for a pair of stockings. But to-day I am content with a proletarian necktie of one shilling, and wear it at least for one year. And the clothes, Japanese or foreign, which I am wearing today, are as old as kitchen rugs; one or two buttons of them are always off. My old wife worries about it, and sometimes says that such a careless manner in dressing is beneath my dignity. But I am a harmless; anarchist who wears a hat three years old.

Now that I have said everything, I must return to the beginning and say that walking is the one thing left to me as my hobby. I dare say that this walking is quite a suitable thing for me at present. But none the less it is a question which I must think about. When I was young, walking was my hobby, and I even took a journey on foot that lasted more than thirty days; my walking then became sometimes one of the newspaper gossips. But my faith in walking grew impaired some ten years ago, when Robert Bridges, then Poet Laureate, took me round Oxford for sightseeing. I could not walk as fast as this old poet; my walking speed was only a half or third of the speed he walked. Robert Nichols who was then an undergraduate, saw us by the roadside and murmured to himself: "Noguchi, a short-legged tortoise, runs for life after Bridges, a long-legged [<110] stork!" I do not know whether Robert Bridges gave walking in Who's Who as his hobby, but I have no right to profess it. If walking may not be my hobby, ought I not to correct Who's Who? To tell the truth, even a little walking in my garden begins to be tiresome to me now. If such a term as "Not walking" is permissible, my hobby is "Not walking"; that is to say, I sit quietly before my table in the dingy study. But you must not take me for a studious person, because it is only that I sit before the table -- that is all. Therefore "Not studying" instead of "Not walking" might be a better hobby for me to-day.

Yeats used Noguchi's translation of Kobayashi Issa's haiku in Hobby (1935) as the basis for his poem "Imitated from the Japanese."

W. B. Yeats
Imitated from the Japanese (1938)

A most astonishing thing
Seventy years have I lived;

(Hurrah for the flowers of Spring
For Spring is here again.)

Seventy years have I lived
No ragged beggar man,
Seventy years have I lived,
Seventy years man and boy,
And never have I danced for joy.

 

cf.

The pilgrimage ; Japanese Hokkus ; The ganges calls me, book of poems / [by Yone Noguchi]
(Collected English works of Yone Noguchi : poems, novels and literary essays / edited by Shunsuke Kamei ; v. 6)
Tokyo : Edition Synapse, 2007, xi, 142, 115, 79 p., [1] leaf of plates : ill. (some col.), port. ;

"The pilgrimage" originally published: Kamakura : Valley Press, 1909
"Japanese Hokkus" originally published: Boston : Four Seas, 1920
"The ganges calls me, book of poems" originally published: Tokyo : Kyobunkwan, 1938

 

 

Noguchi, Yone 1875-1947
Japanese poet, critic, essayist, and autobiographer.

Yone Noguchi was a Japanese poet best known for his writing in English. This included not only his poetry itself, which appeared in works such asSeen and Unseen or, Monologues of a Homeless Snail (1897), but also his critical works on both poetry and art. Noguchi's poetic style in English was characterized by a halting quality which, given his proficiency with the language, appears to have been conscious. His words and the way he used them writing nostalgically of Japan in From the Eastern Sea (1903), for instance serve to indicate his abiding awareness that he was operating in a world far removed from that of his upbringing. In The Spirit of Japanese Poetry (1914), Noguchi presented forms of Japanese literature, including haiku or hokku, in a manner comprehensible to western readers; according to Yoshinobu Hakutani, a leading authority on Noguchi, it in part was through such works that Noguchi influenced Ezra Pound's later Imagist experiments.

Biographical Information
Noguchi was born in a village near the city of Nagoya, southwest of Tokyo, in 1875. Japanese society, which a generation before had been closed to western ideas, had in recent times become increasingly open to the influence of the West, and Noguchi took a great interest in the English language. As a preparatory school student in Tokyo in the 1890s, he read the works of historian Thomas Macauley and other British writers. These Anglophile tendencies found greater expression when he enrolled at Keio University, also in the Japanese capital. There he expanded his readings of British writers to include the poet Thomas Gray, the philosopher Herbert Spencer, the critic and historian Thomas Carlyle, the humorist Oliver Goldsmith, and others. In addition, he also began reading the American short-story writer Washington Irving, and after finishing high school, he left Japan for America. In December of 1893, an eighteen-year-old Noguchi arrived in San Francisco, beginning a two-year period in which he worked at a series of odd jobs. He continued to study the works of American writers including Edgar Allan Poe, and in 1896 met poet Joaquin Miller. Miller took an interest in the young man, who lived with him for three years. During this time, Noguchi published his first books of poetry, Seen and Unseen or, Monologues of a Homeless Snail and The Voice of the Valley (1897). Noguchi travelled to the eastern United States and later to England, where in 1903 he published From the Eastern Sea. During his London sojourn, as he would later record, he had the idea of using the Japanese form of haiku to write in English, thus avoiding "the impossibility in translation... [of] ahokku feeling" from Japanese. Around this time, Noguchi married an American, Leonie Gilmour, and they had a son named Isamu, who would later attain international fame as a sculptor. Relations between father and son, however, would be strained throughout their lives: in 1904, the year of Isamu's birth, Noguchi returned to Japan for good, leaving his family behind in America. Back in Tokyo, he returned to Keio University, where he would serve as a professor of English for several decades. During these years, he published dozens of books in Japanese, as well as a number of notable English-language works, including books of criticism and an autobiography. He traveled to the West occasionally, and corresponded with at least two of the era's literary principals, Pound and William Butler Yeats. With the coming of World War II, Noguchi supported the Japanese government; thus like Pound, who sided with the Fascists in Italy, he found himself ideologically cut off from friends in England and America. Amid the devastation that was postwar Japan, Noguchi died in 1947.

Major Works
Noguchi published some half-dozen books of poetry, the first three during his decade-long tenure in the West as a young man. The most well-known of these is the first, Seen and Unseen, which won the praise of Willa Cather. In this and other volumes, Noguchi showed the naturalistic influence of Walt Whitman, and of his friend Miller. Around the time he published From the Eastern Sea in London, he began experimenting with the use of Japanese forms, particularly haiku, which he explored in The Pilgrimage (1908). The Spirit of Japanese Poetry established Noguchi as not only a poet, but as an authority on Japanese literary forms, including haiku and Noh theatre. He also published a number of volumes of art criticism, beginning with The Spirit of Japanese Art in 1915. The period around the beginning of World War I was a particularly fruitful one in Noguchi's career: during this time, in addition to his two principal books of criticism, he also published Through the Torii (1914), a collection of essays that presented comparative views of the East and West; and an autobiography, The Story of Yone Noguchi Told by Himself (1914).