The Invention of Landscape: Keats's Influence on Modern Japanese Poetry

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This paper offers a historical and aesthetic discussion of the influence that Keats’s poetry had on Japanese modern poetry. The enthusiastic reception of Keats in the period roughly ranging from 1880 to 1910 coincided with Meiji Japan’s obsessive appropriation of Western culture. The coincidence between the acceptance of Keats and Japan’s Westernization articulates a situation not solely attributable to the incorporation of Western poetic diction and imagery into Japanese poetry. Rather, Keats’s influence on Japanese poetry was an extension of the contemporary changes in perception that had been cultivated through the reading of Chinese literature. The transformation in the mode of perception illuminates how English Romantic poetry initiated a turning point in the cognition of Meiji literati to reinvent landscape in a new language; the acceptance of Keats in Japan advanced a process that enabled modern Japanese poets to defamiliarize conventional topoi and invent a new, more “real” landscape.

The Invention of Landscape: Keats’s Influence on Modern Japanese Poetry

Mie Gotoh
Fukuoka University of Education

1.        The enthusiastic reception of Keats in the Meiji period from around 1880 to 1910 coincided with the larger process of Japan’s obsessive appropriation of Western culture. In their acknowledgement of Keats’s art, Japanese poets experimented with alternative voices that deviated from conventional aesthetic codes embodying premodern modes of perceiving the external world. In other words, introduction to Keats enabled modern Japanese poets to defamiliarize conventional topoi and invent an alternative, more “real” landscape. This paper considers how Keats’s poetry initiated a turning point in the cognition of Meiji literati leading to their reinvention of landscape. The newly invented landscape illuminates the modes of expression they acquired to project the internal space of the self—the inner self that vigorously swells into expression and articulates lyrical passion and intensity. [1] 

2.        As Augustin Berque argues, aesthetic modes invent “landscape”; without modes of cognition, there can only exist the pre-artistic conditions of “circumstance” (49–50). It is the aesthetically educated “eye” which composes the vision of scenes into “landscape.” Similarly, in his highly influential book, Origins of Modern Japanese Literature, Karatani Kojin declares how we accustom ourselves to seeing a pre-conceptualized transcendental vision of the external world:

[M]edieval European painting and landscape painting share something in common that differentiates them from modern landscape painting. In both, place is conceived of in transcendental terms. For a brush painter to depict a pine grove meant to depict the concept (that which is signified by) “pine grove,” not an existing pine grove. This transcendental vision of space had to be overturned before painters could see existing pine groves as their subjects. (27)
The issue is, as Karatani points out, our lack of awareness that “the painter is not looking at an object but envisioning the transcendental” (21). Therefore, to deviate from the established “transcendental vision,” modes of poetic vision have to be replaced by new mode of seeing. Karatani further argues that the rediscovery of existing phenomena requires the “repression of the signification, or figurative language (Chinese characters) that precedes ‘things,’ as well as the existence of a language which is supposedly transparent” (61). In the Meiji period, the Japanese literary milieu was strongly under the influence of Chinese literature, so that to raise a voice against the established conventions meant marginalizing the original Chinese modes of poetic representation.

3.        Consequently, the exploration of the unfamiliar terrain of English poetry involved implementing a transformation of the conventional Japanese mode of perception to a new aesthetic manner. The absorption of English Romantic poetry was not only a matter of semiotic change in the relationship between language and things, but it also meant inventing landscape by abandoning the transcendental model which the premodern Chinese literature had historically constructed in Japan. Karatani accurately regards the birth of the “inner man” stationed in “an introverted, solitary situation” as the occasion in which landscape was “discovered” (25). Landscape does not exist as what is outside. The “external world” itself had to be “discovered” (26). For the new poetry, it was the “inner man,” who did not “look outside,” that was able to reinvent “landscape” and demonstrate the period’s alienation from the transcendental vision of landscape (25). A more “real” landscape was formulated in the radical innovative mode of expression, which was developed to project the introverted self.

4.        Indeed, a metamorphosis in perception was required to engender a modern poetic mode that challenged the aesthetic codes informed by the premodern legacy of Japanese literature. In alignment with the reformative movement, Kunikida Doppo (1871–1908), who is regarded as having instituted a new language in his novel Musashino (1898) by describing the suburbs of Tokyo and focusing on a white birch never previously included as an element of Japanese scenery (Berque 48), debated the issue of accommodating natural imagery:

I have never had any ideas about what style I should choose to describe nature. Neither do I care much about a particular literary style for depicting nature. In any case, you can choose whatever style you might like. However, we should take it into consideration that the writers, who are cultivated enough to appreciate the numerous travelogue-styled waka compositions, and read and skillfully manipulate passages from the Chinese, tend to intensively focus on the style of writing, and end up ruining nature as their subject. To observe and depict nature, we have to describe simply what we see and what we intuitively perceive. (299) [2] 
Kunikida proposed an appropriate response to nature, aiming to drive poetry instinctively towards the “real” entities of the external world. A writer’s motives to reproduce the natural world originate in subjectivity, the human agency that responds dynamically to the visible object. Turning away from the formats prescribed by traditional criteria, the poet’s perception is valorized by envisioning “nature” per se. In effect, Kunikida recognizes that a deep appreciation of Japanese traditional poetry and Chinese classical literature is likely to run counter to the dynamic formulation of perceived “nature” and a vital aesthetic formula which could afford the writer a heightened, innovative response to the outer world. Travelers searching for the picturesque fail to look beyond the determined form of landscape, since pre-determined aesthetics frames a prescribed picture of the external world. At stake is the issue of turning the existing paradigm of cognition into a new aesthetic mode of perception.

5.        Historically, the established modes of imagery, rhythm, and diction in traditional Japanese verse were overshadowed by the long-cultivated aesthetics derived from Chinese literature and Japan’s own literary legacy of waka (a five-seven-five-seven-seven-syllable Japanese poem: the tanka). Also, figurally, the traditional landscape in Japanese poetry was derived from strong affinities and interaction with Chinese landscape drawings (Tanaka 54–55). For instance, the specific terrains of a pine grove, the thin white ribbons of plunging water denoting a waterfall, a river, and a mountain have been identified as analogues for conventional elements of Chinese scenery [figure 1].

Den Mokkei, Enpokihanzu [Eight Views of Xiaoxiang], 13th century, Kyoto National

Figure 1. Den Mokkei, Enpokihanzu [Eight Views of Xiaoxiang], 13th century, Kyoto National Museum

6.        A stock visual vocabulary of signs—a mountain, a pine tree and a waterfall—pre-conceptualizes the actual scenery to the extent that in the waka form these signs are shared, stable, communal referents of beauty, independent of any actual travel experience and witnessing of their reality. Artistic landscape provided a means with which to view the phenomenal world, but not vice versa [figure 2].

Utagawa Hiroshige, Fuji Sanjurokkei Suruga
                            Mihonomatsubara [Thirty-Six Views of Mount
                            Fuji: View of Mount Fuji from the Miho Pine Grove in Suruga],
                        1859, Ota Memorial Museum of Art

Figure 2. Utagawa Hiroshige, Fuji Sanjurokkei Suruga Mihonomatsubara [Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji: View of Mount Fuji from the Miho Pine Grove in Suruga], 1859, Ota Memorial Museum of Art

7.        While people traditionally shared enculturated perspectives for viewing the world, the entrenched artifice in the Chinese context had exhausted the possibility for profuse meanings of “real” nature, and it gradually eroded other possible conceptions of the natural in poetry. In fact, in pre-Meiji poetry, “real” nature had always been a vital presence, but modern Japanese poets were confronted by a burgeoning awareness of “landscape” and the necessity of overthrowing prolonged Chinese influence.

8.        For instance, Tayama Katai (1871–1930), who made a great contribution to the original Japanese style of the Shishosetsu (the autobiographical novel), seems to wrestle artistically with the inherited style of envisaging nature in his lyric, “Araiso” (“A Rocky Shore”) composed in 1897 (Tayama 23–24). The poem constructs the seashore furnished with the conventional icons of pine trees and waves in the seven-and-five-syllable form. Further, the poet tries to integrate the archetypal seascape with the poet’s lonely self:

On the seashore with hills crowned thick with pines
Deep into the heart of the pine trees,
Wandering aimlessly
I passed the days.
いそ山まつのかさなれる (i so ya ma ma tsu no ka sa na re ru)
しげみのおくの奥までも (shi ge mi no o ku no o ku ma de mo)
さまよひ入りていたづらに (sa ma yo i i ri te i ta zu ra ni)
日をくらしたることもあり (hi o ku ra shi ta ru ko to mo a ri)

By the seaside with raging waves,
Alone on the rocks,
Watching the sea,
I stood in loneliness.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Alas! While I spent time vainly
What was on my mind?
Besides you, my beloved,
What else could I think of ? (1–8, 17–20) [3] 
The illustrations of pine trees and rocky shore convey the poet’s alienation from the addressed beloved. However, Tayama’s utterly conventional fabrication of the seascape and its environs is largely dissociated from his subjectivity. The waka form with its seven-and-five-syllable meter and brief sentences seems unable to offer room enough for the poet to expand his emotional range. Eventually, the “I” wandering the shore is never unified with the landscape, nor are the objects of perception claimed as vital resources to express the poet’s solitary anxiety. The external world is, as it were, merely a stage, because the poet rigidly projects his mood on the outside world. Therefore, the delineation of “real” nature does not merely involve shaei 写生 (observing and depicting), or the projection of emotion onto nature as a backdrop, but also makes an alternative process necessary—a process of establishing an innovative form of expression which could unify and articulate both nature and the introverted poetic self. Beyond the subject and the object, the interaction between the inner and the outer was to offer a newly acquired space for lyrical passion and intensity in the Western style.

9.        The year 1897 was crucial in its heralding of a new age of Japanese poetry—it was the year Shimazaki Toson (1872–1943), one of the period’s leading men of letters, published his first book of lyrical poems entitled Wakana-shu (Seedlings). In the introduction to the volume of poetry he published seven years after Wakana-shu, Shimazaki provocatively declared that the time had come at last to resuscitate poetry in the national context (Shimazaki, Anthology 564). Deliberately positioned as artistic reinvention, his poems challenged the prevailing codes in the Japanese literary heritage. For instance, “Aki no Uta” (“Song of Autumn”), one of his lyrical poems in Wakana-shu, exemplifies the drastic change in perception by transforming the conventional aesthetic codes of describing the autumnal period (Shimazaki, Wakana-shu 138–39). Explicitly reflecting the influence of Keats’s “To Autumn” and “Ode to a Nightingale,” the poem builds up a “foreign” realm with elements of Western landscape:

Autumn has come.
Autumn has come.
On one leaf and flower, dew gathers.
Caressed by the breeze, the sound of the harp has touched
The unripe vines with dark purple hue,
And the grapes naturally mellow into wine. (1–6)
秋は来ぬ (a ki ha ki nu)
秋は来ぬ (a ki ha ki nu)
一葉は花は露ありて (hi to ha wa ha na wa tsu yu a ri te)
風のきて弾く琴の音に (ka ze no ki te hi ku ko to no ne ni)
青き葡萄は紫の (a o ki bu do u ha mu ra sa ki no)
自然の酒とかはりけり (si ze n no sa ke to ka ha ri ke ri)

Autumn has come.
Autumn has come.
On all autumn flowers in late bloom and the early florescence,
A winter frost will form.
Fill a cup of sorrow
With pleasant wine. (7–12)

Autumn has come.
Autumn has come.
All leaves and trees turn to red hues.
Who could not be intoxicated with autumn?
I feel melancholy seeing your face with a wise visage.
So you, pipe, and I will sing. (13–18)
Shimazaki’s “Song of Autumn” adjusts the already-established codes of autumn to a sense of pathos, employing the seven-and-five-syllable meter characteristic of traditional Japanese verse. However, his subtle celebration of autumn reaches for the radically unconventional images of an aeolian harp and a cup of wine, derived from Coleridge and Keats respectively. The Japanese autumnal landscape blessed by nature’s prolific growth and conventionally enhanced by the yellow and brown hues of rice fields and chestnuts, is associated with Western figures of the harp and the purple wine. Moreover, in the last stanza, by granting “you” a face aware of winter’s approach, the poem extends the pathos of life’s transiency, so that the first person narrator wishes to share this melancholy with “you,” by asking to play the pipe while the “I” sings. The “I” attempts to overcome the evanescence of life by finding consolation in love and in the arts; and this escapist manner of lamentation is highly reminiscent of the Keats’s imaginative flight away with the nightingale. In this way, the scene is embellished with Keatsian poetic visions, and the poet’s attempts at observation and description reveal significant adjustments to a pathetic autumnal landscape with the introduction of intoxicating wine and subsequent melancholy. Eventually, Shimazaki’s “Song of Autumn” renovates the formulaic autumn scene by remarking on the sensuous pleasure of ripeness and the pathos of time’s transiency producing the season’s dynamic disharmonies.

10.        Predictably, however, Shimazaki’s poetry was not totally dissociated from the established literary criteria of traditional Japanese form, because the addressed “you” is an impersonal figure, and the expressive mode of “you” functions as a rhetorical figuration solely to articulate the other person to whom the “I” vainly dedicates his love (Isoda, “Wakana-shu” 460–62). Moreover, though the “I” might represent the poet’s consciousness, it is not granted its own unique individuality drawn from a deep interiority. Self-evidently, the piece does not attain the atmosphere of high Romantic landscape, where intense feelings of love, fear, or despair imbue the scene until the internal space of the self swells into expression and animates the outer world. Inevitably, Shimazaki’s volume was situated between an acquired Westernized sensibility and traditional Japanese aesthetics: a fusion of both the innovative and the orthodox. Indeed, this could be seen as a state of confusion, both maintaining the contemporary predicament and aspiring to the revolutionary poetics of the late 1890s and early 1900s, which were by no means limited to Meiji Japan.

11.        Intriguingly, discerning a new mode for describing nature, Shimazaki was attracted to Keats’s idiosyncratic and highly subjective application of the term “indolence” in reading Book II of Endymion (Matsuura 299): “as when heav’d anew / Old ocean rolls a lengthened wave to the shore, / Down whose green back the short-liv’d foam, all hoar, / Bursts gradual, with a wayward indolence” (Keats, Poems, 2.347–50). For Japanese poets traditionally, ocean waves had been seen—or rather had been conceptualized before being seen—as transcendental. A wave is a wave; yet a wave might not be a wave. Shimazaki seems to have experienced a transformation in aesthetic paradigm by encountering a poetic landscape inflected by “indolence.” He identified the internalized landscape of the ocean in Keats’s poetry as an instance of modern “pathetic fallacy” in which the centrality of the poet’s inner self increasingly grows (“On Landscape Painting” 800). Significantly, he articulated the modernity of Keats’s subjective description, while contrasting it with Homer’s objective sublimation of waves into grand spectacle as a means of embracing the infinite power of the gods (“On Landscape Painting” 800–02). Just as the configuration of a pine tree or Mount Fuji epitomized customary ways of viewing nature, so the Homeric epic constituted a communal narrative of the Greek deities, being the accepted poetic mode of taking pride in national culture and history. Shimazaki seems to have recognized the modernity of internalized realms through his encounters with both the Homeric world and the internalized space of Keats’s seascape.

12.        From this perspective, we can see that Japanese literature customarily shared received narratives in order to embrace the public sphere, but this was never received as the dissociated space of private territory. For instance, the elite samurai were well-grounded in literary knowledge appropriated from Chinese literature. This cultivation of literary taste endorsed an ideal which worked to both the public and the private good, enabling better comprehension of how the world was organized in the service of the nation, while also educating individuals in aesthetic taste as a samurai’s silent but eloquent proof of devotion to his lord. Instead of advocating dilettantism, the samurai’s self-cultivation of tastes in Chinese literature involved a common cause of loyalty and patriotism, since the style modeled on Chinese classical literature was employed in contemporary political and diplomatic scenes, and the acquisition of a thorough knowledge of Chinese writings meant the samurai’s constant awareness of affairs of state (Saito 126–29). Therefore, the Japanese literary milieu entailed a preestablished harmony between the individual and the public sphere, disclaiming the deployment of the individual as an isolated figure cut off from the outer world (Isoda, “English Romanticism” 150). [4] 

13.        As Augustin Berque argues, in Western aesthetics since the Renaissance, when the concept of “landscape” was instituted, the cognitive mode of seeing had presupposed the Cartesian model based on the demarcation between the subject and the outer world, a clear division witnessed later in the device of the camera obscura (53–58). This cognitive system, which enclosed the human agent, enabled the perception of the outer world through a hole, and granted a fixed stance of self-preservation (Newton 51–52). The secured posture of the subject participated in part in the formulation of the autonomous modern self. In this vein, the Romantic aesthetic mode can be seen as embedded in a conflict-ridden oscillation between the poet’s inner self and the external world.

14.        Conversely, the Meiji literati regarded themselves as socially integrated presences, devoted to public virtue, and simultaneously refined both private and national tastes, having acquired the aesthetic codes established through Chinese literature. However, in the process of Japan’s economic and cultural Westernization, a clearer articulation of inner identity was to gain prominence over a harmonious attitude toward the external world. Eventually, the formulation of a modern autonomous self engendered a greater sense of human agency in Japanese aesthetics, which inflected the outer world with a deeper interiority and invented a new phenomenology of landscape through a new mode of seeing. Indeed, in the Meiji era, the literary sensibility derived from the Chinese context came to be destabilized through the techniques gained from the West, establishing a more engaged interaction with the modern private self.

15.        Therefore, the acceptance of Romantic poetry implies that Japanese poets were conscious that the communally adopted stance with which to perceive the visible object could be modified, and they confronted this by observing the phenomenal presence of the outer world. Over and against the cultural climate embedded in the Chinese context, the process of revolutionizing Japanese culture focused less on the balance between the communal sphere and private interest than on the centrality of the individual. Unlike the integrated classical chorus, modern voices could be realized through the celebration of a landscape invoking the introverted space of the private self. Indeed, there was a prevailing sense that a new language was in need to register and explore the modern Japanese self. [5] 

16.        In effect, the Westernization movement initiated genbun-icchi—“the unification of the written and spoken language”—which was founded on Japan’s imperative to establish a modern nation and a contemporary functional Japanese language that would be appropriate for absorbing and disseminating Western culture. The reinvention of the national language called for a prioritization of the spoken against the written word in the conviction that a phonetic revision of written language guaranteed the attainment of Westernization and release from the restraints of the literary Chinese characters (Karatani 46–47, 69–70). In this key transition from writing to orality, the new Japanese literature was to play an active and essential role, and the coincidence between Japan’s acceptance of Keats and linguistic reform encapsulates a situation not solely attributable to the incorporation of Western poetic diction and imagery. It was also closely interrelated with contemporary changes in modes of perception that had been cultivated through the tradition of reading Chinese literature.

17.        In fact, as in Romantic poetry, Japanese traditional waka and Chinese poetry projected the individual poet’s feelings onto nature (Saito 166–69). However, it seems that the contemporary Japanese vogue for Westernized aesthetics stimulated by Romantic poetry was a symptom of Japan’s lack of its own quintessential vision with which to represent the private self. The issue at stake in the reception of Keats concerned the poets’ abilities to maneuver and relativize their stances towards nature, rather than their total employment of Westernized imagery and style. For instance, Tsubouchi Shoyo (1859–1935), who was well versed in English literature, specified Keats’s “Human Seasons” as a desired interfusing of the poet’s subjectivity and the seasons, actually quoting Keats’s poem: “quiet coves / His soul has in its Autumn, when his wings / He furleth close; contented so to look / On mists in idleness–to let fair things / Pass by unheeded as a threshold brook” (Tsubouchi 620–21). The passive retreat in the poet’s “soul” enacts Keats’s ambition not merely to attach a gloomy mood to the autumn scene, but to evoke the introverted intensity of the poet himself, who calmly “looks on” the transiency of beauty and youthful strength.

18.        Struggling to explore visions embedded in the inner self, the Japanese poets needed a gestation period to invent a new mode of expression. Japanese Romantic landscape was to finally gain ground in the work of Susukida Kyukin (1877–1945). His first volume of poems Botekishu (A Pipe in the Evening), published in 1899, was strongly influenced by Keats. “Boshun no Fu” (“On the Late Spring”) begins with a clear invocation of “Ode to a Nightingale” (Susukida 18). Just as Keats craves for a “draught of vintage! that hath been / Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth” (“Nightingale” 11–12), Susukida longs for the taste of fine, richly colored red wine. However, while Keats is intoxicated with ecstasies reminiscent of the escapist flight with the nightingale, Susukida is disturbed by Spring growing dim in the dusky evening, an awareness substantiated in physical discomfort:

Brewed in the deep-cooled cellar,
Its light purple turned to a deep hue,
A cup of wine with bubbles,
Bring to my lips.
Bewildered by the waning Spring,
I found my emaciated arm getting cold. (1–6)
冷たき土窟に釀されて、(tsu me ta ki mu ro ni ka mo sa re te)
若紫の色深く、 (wa ka mu ra sa ki no i ro fu ka ku)
泡さく酒の盃を、(a wa sa ku sa ke no sa ka zu ki o)
吾唇に含ませよ、(wa ga ku chi bi ru ni fu ku ma se yo)
暮れ行く春を顫きて、 (ku re yu ku ha ru o wa na na ki te)
細き腕の冷ゆる哉。 (ho so ki ka i na no hi yu ru ka na)
Bodily imagery enters to convey agony, not through the distance of metaphor, but through the immediate description of the “emaciated arm,” as in Keats’s agony in his “living hand” (“This living hand” 1), or Hyperion’s “giant nerve” (Hyperion, 1.175). These overtly corporeal visions offer the archetypally Romantic imagined moment in which empirical sensation is imbued with the truth of human pathos. And here, the intrusive effects of corporeality coalesce with the material qualities of the cool cellar and the evening, fearfully conveying life’s evanescence.

19.        The next stanza witnesses Saohime (Flora), a traditionally personified figure of Spring, traversing the evening dusk:

Saohime in bewilderment,
Impatiently makes a journey in the evening.
While people enjoy their evening meal,
She passes away, strewing cherry blossoms.
How pitiful it is to see the pleasures of Spring
Returning to the earth. (7–12)
The fallen petals of the cherry blossoms resonate with the transience of pleasure and the pathos of the human journey towards the ground and the final burial beneath flowers. In this distinct appearance, Saohime bridges the esoteric boundaries between the immortal realm of the Spring Goddess and the earthly Japanese landscape. Etymologically, the name Saohime derives from Mount Sao, located to the east of the Heijo Palace and the site of the former capital city of the Nara period (710–784), with the east signifying Spring in ancient Chinese philosophy (“Saohime”). Yet Susukida expands on the traditional poetic tropes for Spring, such as the goddess personifying the season veiled in a haze, now rendering her as an alternative embodied human presence alongside that of the poet’s in a vital but non-mythological landscape. The path that Saohime treads and the breath that she expels invoke the poet’s own phenomenal actions and anxieties.

20.        Tracing Saohime’s journey himself, wandering in the field at dusk, the poet transforms the darkness into a visionary space of deliberate and powerful images in the next stanza. The poem embraces Keats’s imagery of “Ode to a Nightingale” in its exploration of the darkness: “I cannot see what flowers are at my feet, / Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs, / But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet / Wherewith the seasonable month endows / The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild” (“Nightingale” 41–45). Susukida defines the dusky evening with vigorous images of fresh verdure and sweet-scented pollen, which ironically denote the paradox of the declining vitality of Spring:

Under a rich shade of young leaves,
With the torch flickering and dying,
I strained my eyes in the darkness.
The moisture-laden pollen on calyxes,
Still giving forth a scent after the blossoms have all fallen,
Exhausts the last remains of Spring. (13–18)
In the next stanza, as the poet shifts his gaze from the shades of the flowers to the dusk, the bright star which heralds Summer’s return holds him in derision, causing an anguished recognition of the difference between the eternally glittering starlight and mortal existence, as in Keats’s “Bright Star.” Then his indolent but intense sensory impressions occur within the darkness:
I hear a sound, and sense its deep resentment
For a short life.
I found that it was the sound of peonies falling apart.
In the darkness which also deeply enfolds me,
Intoxicated with the scent of the poisonous flower,
I am about to die into a spirit.
. . . . . . . . . .
However vulnerable I am,
On my breast, you, playing the harp,
Shed tears. (31-36, 40-42)
. . . . . . . . . . . .
Susukida expands his poetic effects in a further range of sensory impressions: the Japanese harp added to the peony and its fragrance. Whereas according to the poetic convention, peonies, like Saohime, symbolize spring and female beauty, here the sound of the flowers shedding their petals manifests the Romantic grievances of bitterness over the brevity of a life span and the vulnerability of human existence; the figure of Saohime is similarly revitalized by feelings of resentment. The renewed fragility of the poet gains apotheosis in the darkness and in the diminution into a Keatsian entity of “easeful Death” (“Nightingale” 52).

21.        Yet, the last stanza suddenly bursts into an unprecedented intensity of feeling:

O, in the resentful Spring darkness,
The small storm.
Do not extinguish the flame of passion.
Saohime, impatiently making a journey into the woods,
Cursing her paths with spells,
Expires a breath of burning passion. (43-48)
The spring dusk might extinguish the poet’s passion, which he hopes does not burn itself out, as it is the very feverish emotion that the fading Flora inspired, although she too almost expires in her vitality. However overwhelming the ephemeral visions in the Spring dusk seem, the landscape is entirely dominated by the “burning passion” through which Saohime’s presence intermingles with the poet’s figure. The strong emotions, however poisonous or spiritual, and which are aroused by resentment and curses, are dramatically sublimated into permanent passion and formulate the Romantic landscape of a deeper interior.

22.        Susukida envisions the evening as the introverted darkness within the poet, whereas Keats defined a valley or a bower as a place to celebrate the extreme feelings of pleasure and pain. These specific spaces are also shared by Susukida, who embraces the opportunity to dramatize the inner self in the passion and intensity of sensuous imagery. In particular, Susukida reinvents the conventional Japanese scenery with his own personalized Romantic formulae, rather than restrictively borrowing from the catalogue of Westernized imagery. The particular configuration of the spring dusk, Saohime, and the poet’s inner self, induce a Romantic darkness, in which we recognize a new poetic language metamorphosing the traditional Japanese spring landscape. Here, neither “real” nature, nor the overt gloom of the Romantic poet’s self can be clearly discerned. This critical moment invites a potentially fruitful reconsideration of English Romanticism in the presence of unfamiliar Japanese landscapes and semantics.

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[1] This is a revised version of the paper presented at “Romantic Connections,” a Supernumerary Conference of the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR) held at the University of Tokyo on 15 June 2014. This study is supported by Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research allocated by Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology of Japan. BACK

[2] The translation of the quotation from Kunikida is my own. BACK

[3] The translations of the three poems—Tayama’s “A Rocky Shore,” Shimazaki’s “Song of Autumn,” and Susukida’s “A Pipe in the Evening”—are my own. BACK

[4] Intriguingly, the negation of subjectivity toward the outer world in Japanese aesthetics was embraced enthusiastically by the Western art world and established its influence as Japonism, which functioned as a counter system to destabilize the Cartesian cognitive manner in the late nineteenth-century Europe. (Berque 66–72). BACK

[5] Importantly, we can find English parallels to the transformation of the aesthetic paradigm in the Meiji Japan. For example, T. S. Eliot formulated a definition of English Romantic poetry as dissociation from a “unified sensibility” that directly relates to Dante (Karatani 53). Eliot situated his notion of a “unified sensibility” in a pre-Romantic and pre-Cartesian past, in the time of Dante, when “non- Romantic” direct and symbolic images still existed (Patea 17). BACK


Published @ RC

December 2016