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New-York tribune. [volume] (New York [N.Y.]) 1866-1924, May 28, 1905, Image 31

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Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030214/1905-05-28/ed-1/seq-31/

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IT* THT li? ¥ A TO) A "ROT TfP <S Iff" T^T (H\ T^r TCT tt T
1L ITU ]£=, J Jy± ur J*k XnJ Jo o) Jo iniOJl^Ji^.U
Shortest P©em§ ii mi the Wo fI dl
Truth is the marrow of
style. — Basho.
JANE AUSTEN has loft
a delightful and fade
less portrait of her
self :;S working with a J:ne
bru:-h "on a little Lit. two
i:;i.h<.s wide, of ivory." It
is tii us that nearly all the
Japanese artists work:
painting an exquisitely
delicate picture on a nar
row kakemono that will
1-e hung behind a single flower-stem: carving a
prim, mysterious Buddha out of a few inches of
ivory; writing a deathless j>oem in less than a
score of syllables.
If we examine the little picture or carving or
poem, we soon shall see that the Japanese artists
do not work on this minute scale because their
conceptions are small, but because their art is
subtile — finished and fine. They have chosen these
lirnitati'ins deliberately, and have accepted an ex
treme brevity and compression as their supreme
law of form. They have carried selection and
exclusion to the farthest degree known in
all art.
While extreme brevity is the most obvious char
acteristic of this form of Japanese poetry, 1 do not
wish to be understood as holding the opinion that
t ;.i~ -is its greatest charm, nor that it is the foundation
of its only claim to originality. The virginal orig
inality of the Japanese poetry cannot, indeed, be
questioned. While Japan has been, perhaps, the
rnc«st reckless of borrowers, and never has hesitated
to appropriate whatsoever alien things she found
to her taste or suited to her needs, he has kept her
poetry cloistered and chaste. It has not been
«.r-.:>hcd beneath the weight of "barbaric pearl and
Japan borrowed her writing, half her language,
and nearly all of her institutions, religions and
civilizations; but her songs, at least, have come out
of her own bosom. Even the Chinese traditions,
which fetter all customs and learning in the Empire,
have here no authority. Altho\:gh Chinese words
form the bulk of the language of business, of daily
intercourse among the educated, and even of prose
literature, they are otulawed in the demesne of
song. While a few of the present-day writers are
v.sing Chinese words somewhat freely, as in the
style known as the shin-tai-shi (new form poem),
there are not, it has been asserted, a dozen foreign
words in the entire range of the national poetry.
The full significance of this will be appreciated if
we remember what an encrustation of Romance
words rests upon the poetry of England and
There are three extremely brief poetic forms in
Japanese: the iarJka, consisting of five lines thai
make thirty-one syllables; the dodoitsu, of four lines
that make twenty-six syllables; and the Jwkku, of
three lines. Of these the hokku is at once the brief
est and the most popular. It has the twofold
honor of being the shortest poetic form in all lit
erature and the true national poetry of its native
land." Its music, fleeting as a wood-bird's melody,
is heard wherever Japanese is spoken. Its great
popularity is due, perhaps, to the ease with A'hich
the little poems are written, remembered, quoted
and applied to almost every incident or sen
Every Tapanese carries a sheaf of them in his
memory, each one embodying for him and for all of
his countrymen and countrywomen the spirit of
some familiar and beloved scene in Nippon, the
climax of sonic heroic action, the soul of some great
or beautiful passion. The seventeen syllables of the
hokku have expressed in immortal verse every
emotion known to the Japanese heart, and every
aspiration and every glory of the Empire. This
mere breath of song is the chosen vehicle of ex
pression of the greater and of the lesser poets.
Emperors and nobles, statesmen and warriors, the
learned and the illiterate, and of course friends and
lovers, all have found solace <>r exaltation in "the
melody of tins small lute." The composition of
is considered a necessary accomplishment —
one of the primal and I grai es of life. If a
beautiful image or thought arises in the mind,
the J. ■ trives to seize its precise spirit, its
very soul, and to imprison it in a hokku. The
th song of Japan. Has any other poetic
literature had such exalted h
Tennyson speaks of "jewels five- words-long," but
: many more than live \\ords t<> fashion
this beautiful phra
Yet Basho was able to expi tl ime idea in
two words. Tennyson's full thought is:
■ • • • r of all time

The immortal phra ■■ I Ba ho which is too re
plete with meaning to be shut within the c<
<>f a short English sentence, is fu-eki ryu-ko. The
meaning is that, in order to be literature, the sub
ject-matter must be of enduring interest, and the
style musi be that best suited to the age in which
it l- written.
The poetess Chiyo n <
perhaps the most familial ners ol all Jap
anese poems, in exactly five words:

water! i
Sir Edwin Ara I, 1 c, ued forty Ei
words to " these five Japan* c, or eight
f< >r c me
Thi mon
Her ' ■ iund
My 1 >u< ket-han .
I I not bi
Of tl
■ ..-11 to her I left :
Give me some water for 1 come bereft
Some brief explanation of the principal charac
teristics of Japanese poetry may help to a better
appreciation of the few poems 1 shall cite in the
original. There is neither
rime nor rhythm, neither
accent nor stress. The
hokku is read with a slight
recitative effect, an almost
imperceptible rise on the
first and second lines, and
a decided fall on the last
line. The Japanese find
the poetry in whatever
rhythmic effect lies in a
fixed number of syllables,
in the truthfulness and
beauty of the image or
thought, and in the exquisite choice of words —
inevitableness of epithet and phrase. Keat wrote
that all thai was necessary for the singer to
know was that "beauty is truth, truth beauty."
But Basho anticipated his thought, in the phrase,
"Truth is the marrow of style," by more than two
So line, so subtile, is the spirit of Japan, that
brevity may be said to be a Japanese invention.
Each hokku must paint a single picture, make a
single comparison or contrast, express a single
thought or sentiment, or give utterance to a solitary
cry of pain or joy or exaltation, or imprison some
hauntingly beautiful suggestion. These little poems
often are written on small slips of paper, and attached
to the boughs laden with white cherry or plum
blossoms, or with the red autumn-leaves (montiji);
and those who come to "view" the Bowers and the
leaves may also read the poems. Like chary nature,
they limit themselves to a single bird-melody or to
a single flower-hue.
Here is a simple miniature by the master-hand
of Basho, greatest of hokku writers and the promul
gator of its laws :
Chimaki run
Kaia-d* >:: !:.: amu
. i -g itni. —
(She wraps up rice-cakes, while with one hand she
restrains the hair upon her brow.)
Another famous hokku, by Yamazaki Sokan, pre
sents to the imagination a picture that suggests
the "water-fowl" of Bryant —
Darkly painted on the crimson sky.
Thy figure floats .i.> ing:
Koe ;• .- ; . ul i
Sagi koso yuki no
Hit ■-:• urane.- —
(Rut for its voice, the heron were only a line of snow.)
The Japanese, who often call Nippon "The Land
of the Dragon-fly," have written thousands of
hokku to this beautiful insect, which they name
tombo. I give a favorite:
Tombo no
yio ya iri-hi no
(Dance, O Dragon-fly, in your world of the setting sun
This little poem is remarkable for its construction,
as well as for its cherished beauty. In every line
there are one or two contracted syllables* reducing
the rugged curtness of the hokku by four syllables,
or making only thirteen in all, instead of seventeen.
The mysterious note of the cuckoo has stirred
every poetic nature, and to an ancient Japanese
poet, as to Wordsworth, the coy singer was
Xo bird, but an invisible thing,
A lice, a mystery.
The Japanese, hearing the cuckoo's note amid the
deep silence of the evening, has this quaint fancy:
Hit koe iva!
Tsuki ga naita kaf
HotoU gisul —
(A solitary cry! Is it possible that the moon sang? Ah
the cuckoo!)
All of Wordsworth's beautiful poem, many times
longer than this tiny gem, is held in germ in these
few syllables.
The Japanese themselves doubtless prefer those
hokku that present to the imagination or to the
These Little
Poems Often
Are Attached
to Doughs La
den -With

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