Arthur Davison Ficke
At Ise (1907)
When she was dead, and the votive tablets
Began to darken
that bore her name,
He left the cheerless mountain village,
The hills that
seemed no more the same,
And donned the faring pilgrim’s garments;
And turned his
face toward the happy south
Where the Lord of Summer dwells forever
With a sunny
smile on his poppy mouth.
But his was no glad path of summer.
No lighted meadow
bloomed for him.
He trod strange lonely hills at noontide;
At dusk, strange
ways with shadows dim.
Men gave him rice or fruit or saké
fish, as each could spare.
The rains of eve fell coldly round him;
The dews of night
were on his hair.
Along the great Tokaido roadway
As by some unseen
He drifted ’mid the stream of travellers,
Silent and weary
And in the end won slowly onward,
Less live than
dead, less man than wraith,
To where in Ise’s valleys moulder
of the Ancient Faith.
He passed the timeless groves of camphor;
He passed the
blessed Cleansing Stream;
And saw amid the sacred cedars,
Beneath the torii’s
That Shrine before all others holy,
Set in a wide
And standing at the white-veiled portal
He bowed his
head and prayed:—
“God who art sun and earth and sky,
heart, my father’s spirit,
Unto whose ear the priests lift cry,
Lord of all life
our souls inherit,—
“Thou who art shadow over me
And shining light
around my head,—
Give back one light to comfort me,
Bring back one
living from the dead.
“I fear the labyrinthine ways
Where in new
shapes our souls are born,
Lest she and I may miss always,
Nor ever see
the same white morn.
“Thou who art judge of all the earth,
Who art the judged,
who art the rod,—
Stay, of the countless, one rebirth;
And praised be
thou, the Unknown God.”
A thousand pilgrims came and went.
A thousand prayers
rose from the Shrine
To Him whose eye as one beholds
The dawning and
the set of time.
The years went by; yet day by day
the holy place
He waited, in whose heart grew fear,
hope shone on his face.
The camphor-trees are mouldering now.
A newer greater
Where stood the old; and pilgrims come
To pray the prayers
of many lands.
But as last night I walked the grove,
I heard before
the temple stair
A voice that trembled on the dusk
passion of faint prayer:—
“Shadow and light around our heads,—
Thou who art
judge, and judged, and rod,—
Who are the living? Who the dead?
Who art thou,
thou Unknown God?”
For an overview of Ficke’s
relation with Japan see Arthur
Davison Ficke and Japan in the Bibliography. ‘At
Ise’ (BG1c) appeared
in The Happy Princess and Other Poems (BG1).
Of Ficke’s work with a clear
relation to Japan only Spectra (BG6)
is in print. The full text is included in The Spectra Hoax, by
William Jay Smith (available in the US here,
the UK here).