“A candle that must melt away”: Early Keats Scholarship in Japan

This essay explores the ethos of early Keats scholarship in Japan, focusing on three major scholars: Saito Takeshi, Sato Kiyoshi, and Hinatsu Kohnosuke. Japanese scholarly investigations into Keats were pioneered by a group of young scholars centered around the Imperial University of Tokyo. In the first place, Saito attempted to establish a humanistic understanding of the poet’s ideas, as exemplified by his Keats’ View of Poetry (1929). His love of Keats reflects his early reading, higher education, and Protestantism. His meeting with John Lawrence, a philologist, at the University perhaps opened the way for a modern methodology of Romantic study in Japan today. Secondly, unlike his fellow-scholar, Sato in The Art of Keats (1924) embraced Keats as an apostle and victim of beauty, while understanding English Romanticism as a catalyst for social modernization. Thirdly, Hinatsu, a scholar-poet from Waseda University, authored a massive study entitled The Priest of Beauty (1939) on the psychological process through which Keats composed the “Odes.” His account of Keats’s artistry owes something to his early background and reclusive character. The achievements of these scholars attest to their high-minded ambition in guiding the progress of national literature and literary scholarship in Japan.