Joaquin Miller

The Little Brown Man (ca. 1904)

Where now the brownie fisher-lad?
His hundred thousand fishing-boats
Rock idly in the reedy moats;
His baby wife no more is glad.
But yesterday, with all Nippon,
Beneath his pink-white cherry-trees,
In chorus with his brown, sweet bees,
He careless sang, and sang right on.
Take care! for he has ceased to sing;
His startled bees have taken wing!

His cherry-blossoms drop like blood;
His bees begin to storm and sting;
His seas flash lightning, and a flood
Of crimson stains their wide, white ring;
His battle-ships belch hell, and all
Nippon is but one Spartan wall!
Aye, he, the boy of yesterday,
Now holds the bearded Russ at bay;
While, blossom’d steeps above, the clouds
Wait idly, still, as waiting shrouds.

But oh, beware his scorn of death,
His love of Emperor, of isles
That boast a thousand bastioned miles
Above the clouds where never breath
Of frost or foe has ventured yet,
Or foot of foreign man has set!
Beware his scorn of food (his fare
Is scarcely more than sweet sea-air);
Beware his cunning, sprite-like skill—
But most beware his dauntless will.

Goliath, David, once again,
The giant and the shepherd youth—
The tallest, smallest of all men,
The trained in tongue, the trained in truth.
Beware this boy, this new mad man!
That erst mad man of Macedon,
Who drank and died at Babylon;
That shepherd lad; the Corsican—
They sat the thrones of earth! Beware
This new mad man whose drink is air!

His bees are not more slow to strife,
But, stirred, they court a common death!
He knows the decencies of life—
Of all men underneath the sun
He is the one clean man, the one
Who never knew a drunken breath!
Beware this sober, wee brown man,
Who yesterday stood but a span
Beneath his blossomed cherry-trees,
Soft singing with his brother bees!

The brownie’s sword is as a snake,
A sudden, sinuous copperhead:
It makes no flourish, no mistake;
It darts but once—the man is dead!
’Tis short and black; ’tis never seen
Save when, close forth, it leaps its sheath
And, snake-like, darts up from beneath.
But oh, its double edge is keen!
It strikes but once, then on, right on:
The sword is gone—the Russ is gone!—From the Century.



Miller’s note:

The Japanese, or more properly the Nipponese, are the only entirely temperate people I ever knew, and travel has been my trade since a lad. True, there are English, American, French, German hotels at Nagasaki, Kobe, Tokio, and like large cities, where the tourist can have “all the comforts of a home” and disport himself much as at Newport or Saratoga. And here the little brown man often brings his venerable parent and others of his house to dine, observe foreigners, and listen to the music; but they all eat sparingly and drink not at all, in the sense that the white man drinks. His wildest dissipation is cold tea.


Joaquin Miller was the pen name of Cincinnatus Hiner Miller (1837-1913). He was for a time considered an important American poet, though now is remembered more for an eccentric and bohemian lifestyle than for his verse. In the 1860s in San Francisco he was associated with Bret Harte and Charles Warren Stoddard, but his literary reputation was established in London. By the time of his arrival in the city in 1870 he had worked as a cook in the California gold mines, taken part in an aborted scheme to establish a Native American Republic near Mt. Shasta, married a Native American woman and fathered her child, consorted famously with gamblers and horse thieves, escaped from jail, purchased and edited a newspaper, operated a pony express service, practiced law, and served a four-year term as a judge. Soon after his arrival in London he was befriended by William Michael Rossetti, then published Songs of the Sierras (1871) and other works, and in chaps and sombrero became the sensation of several literary seasons.

Miller’s connection with Japan comes by way of Yone Noguchi, who between 1895 and 1898 lived with Miller at ‘The Hights’, Miller’s misspelt estate in the hills above Oakland, California, now Joaquin Miller Park. There Noguchi in his first foray outside Japan performed odd jobs, improved his English, and worked to establish a literary career of his own, which like his early mentor’s would come to fruition in literary London (see the Bibliography D15). A collection of verse and prose co-authored by Miller and Noguchi, Japan of Sword and Love, appeared from the Tokyo publisher Kanao Bunyendo in 1905. ‘The Little Brown Man’ appeared in volume one of Joaquin Miller’s Poems (San Francisco: Whitaker & Ray, 1909).

Miller’s Poetical Works, in an edition first published in 1923, is in print in the US and available here.

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