Arthur Davison Ficke

from Chats on Japanese Prints (1913-1915)

Pillar Print by Harunobu

From an infinite distance, the ghostly music!
Few and slender the tones of delicate silver,
As stars are broidered on the veil of evening. . . .

He passes by, the flute and the dreaming player—
Slow are his steps, his eyes are gravely downcast;
His pale robes sway in long folds with his passing

Out of the infinite distance, a ghostly music
Returns—in slender tones of delicate silver,
As stars are broidered on the veil of evening.

Shunsho: Portrait of an Actor in Tragic Role

His soul is a sword;
His sword with the spirit’s breath
Is bathed of its terrible lord,
In whose eyes is death.

And the massive control,
And the lighted implacable eye
Leash a fierce and exalted soul
Of dark destiny.

* * * * * *

With the strength of the hills—
Kiso’s iron mountains of snow—
He waits: time brings and fulfills
The hour for the blow.

He waits; and the white
Full robes round his shoulders sway,
With woof of pale orange alight,
Pale green, pale grey.

Like a falcon, flown
To bleak mid-regions of the sky,
He poises. One image alone
Holds his sinister eye—

A vision, a prey
Towards which he shall soon be hurled—
And his fury shall darken the day,
And his joy, the world.

* * * * * *

A music enfolds him
Like the thunders that are poured Across heaven; it holds him
With the song of the sword.

It enthralls, it inspires,
And its zenith shall be
Lightning of unleashed desires
Crashing along the sea.


Your lovely ladies shall not fade
Though Yedo’s moated walls be laid
Level with dust, and night-owls brood
Over the city’s solitude.
Far be the coming of that day!
Yet that it comes not, who shall say?
Who knows how long the halls may stand
Of your once-golden wonderland?
Perhaps shall Nikko crumble down,
Its carvings worn, its glow turned brown
Through many winters. On that hill
Where great Ieyasu’s brazen will
In brazen tomb now takes its rest,
Perhaps the eagle’s young shall nest.
Kyoto’s gardens cannot last.
At Kamakura, where the vast
Form of the Buddha fronts the sea,
A waste of waves may someday be. . . .
Ah, stale and flat the warning bell
Whose melancholy accents tell
Impermanence to hearts that guess
Time’s undiscovered loveliness.
A fairer Yedo shall arise;
A richer Nikko praise the skies;
Ieyasu mightier than of old
Shall cast the world in wiser mould;
Fresh gardens shall be spread; new faith
Shall spring when Buddha is a wraith—
And more puissant hands than yours
Shall paint anew life’s ancient lures.
Yet when he comes who shall surpass
Your beauty that so matchless was,
A joy shall light him through your eyes,
A flame shall from your embers rise,
Your gentle art shall make him wise
In mastery of melodies.
And though your wreath in dust be laid,
Your lovely ladies shall not fade!




Chats on Japanese Prints (BG5) remained in print until the 1980s. Several of the poems in the book, including ‘Portrait of an Actor’ and ‘Shuncho’, appeared earlier in Twelve Japanese Painters (BG4).

For an overview of Ficke’s Japanese interests see Arthur Davison Ficke and Japan in the Bibliography, and for a note about Ficke’s work in print see At Ise.




















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