Marianne Moore: Poetry

July 20, 2010

“Smooth Gnarled Crape Myrtle:” Yone Noguchi

Filed under: Marianne Moore,Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 12:15 pm
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Yone Noguchi is credited as the source of lines 45-47 in “Smooth Gnarled Crape Myrtle:” “Without loneliness. . .” from The Spectator. Here is the passage in its entirety:

“I love a bamboo thicket and, if I have my own ideal home, I shall place one in the back yard. It is delightful to receive a tropical touch from the bamboo leaves scorching in the summer light. But how lonely it would be to hear the sudden sound of the stalks breaking in a snowy night! I am a Japanese like Saigyo of the twelfth century, a vagabond priest and poet, who exclaimed: ‘Alas, without loneliness I should be more lonely, –so I keep it!’ It was Kyorai, one of Basho’s ardent followers, who listened to the nocturnal cry of the cuckoo while the midnight moonlight strayed into the bamboo thicket. There is nothing like he voice f a bird to break the night stillness and make my poetical mood leap.” –Yoni Noguchi. “My Ideal Home,” The Spectator, 154 (February 15, 1935), 245.

However, the reason Moore chose that passage to connect with a “Rosalyndeless redbird,” or someone not allied to Thomas Lodge’s heroine, may lie in the previous passage where Noguchi speaks of  Elizabethan drama:

In one of my Japanese essays I wrote: “Suppose my study facing the south with a verandah in the shape of an L. I would place a table at the turn of the verandah, on which you would find many works of the Elizabethan dramatists, Webster, Ford and Dekker. Shakespeare, although, as Emerson said, an omnipresent humanity co-ordinated in all his faculties is altogether too great for my quiet mind to select. The caliber of Marlow is more to my fancy.” (p. 245)

Noguchi had interested Moore for some time. She would have seen Eunice Titjens’s piece on him in Poetry in 1920:

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 still 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:

My dreams rise when the rain falls; the sudden tongs

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. —Poetry, 15 (March 1920), 96-97. (Note: The Bruce Porter mentioned here was the husband of Moore’s close college friend, Peggy James.)

She published his work in The Dial repeatedly, and in the last three issues. In 1933, she wrote “The Poem and the Print” in Poetry (43 [November 1933] 92-95), a review of his  book on the Ukiyoye primitive painters. And she had in hand a copy of Noguchi’s article in The Spectator when she composed “Smooth Gnarled Crape Myrtle:” the clipping survives in her collection at the Rosenbach.

A biographical statement on Noguchi:

Father of Isamu Noguchi, Yonejiro (Yone) Noguchi (1875-1947) was the first Japanese national to publish poetry in English. Yone Noguchi was born near Nagoya in 1875, and traveled to the United States in 1893.  He soon established a reputation among the Imagist poets of San Francisco, and his first book of poetry was published there in 1897, Seen and Unseen or, Monologues of a Homeless Snail. After traveling to Great Britain Yone Noguchi went to New York, where he was helped with his English by writer Leonie Gilmour, mother of Isamu Noguchi.  . . . In addition to his long career as a poet and Professor of English at Keio University in Tokyo, Yone Noguchi published a number of books on Japanese art. He died in Tokyo in July 1947.” –The [Isamu] Noguchi Web Site.

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