John Gould Fletcher

from Japanese Prints (1918)

A Picnic Under the Cherry Trees

The boat drifts to rest
Under the outward spraying branches.
There is faint sound of quavering strings,
The reedy murmurs of a flute,
The soft sigh of the wind through silken garments;
All these are mingled
With the breeze that drifts away,
Filled with thin petals of cherry blossom,
Like tinkling laughter dancing away in sunlight.

Court Lady Standing Under Cherry Tree

She is an iris,
Dark purple, pale rose,
Under the gnarled boughs
That shatter their stars of bloom.
She waves delicately
With the movement of the tree.
Of what is she dreaming?
Of long nights lit with orange lanterns,
Of wine cups and compliments and kisses of the two-sword men.
And of dawn when weary sleepers
Lie outstretched on the mats of the palace,
And of the iris stalk that is broken in the fountain.

A Woman in Winter Costume

She is like the great rains
That fall over the earth in winter-time.
Wave on wave her heavy robes collapse
In green torrents
Lashed with slaty foam.
Downward the sun strikes amid them
And enkindles a lone flower;
A violet iris standing yet in seething pools of grey.

Kiyonobu and Kiyomasu Contrasted

One life is a long summer;
Tall hollyhocks stand proud upon its paths;
Little yellow waves of sunlight,
Bring scarlet butterflies.
Another life is a brief autumn,
Fierce storm-rack scrawled with lightning
Passed over it
Leaving the naked bleeding earth,
Stabbed with the swords of the rain.

The Young Daimyo

When he first came out to meet me,
He had just been girt with the two swords;
And I found he was far more interested in the glitter of their hilts,
And did not even compare my kiss to a cherry-blossom.


She was a dream of moons, of fluttering handkerchiefs,
Of flying leaves, of parasols,
A riddle made to break my heart;
The lightest impulse
To her was more dear than the deep-toned temple bell.
She fluttered to my sword-hilt an instant,
And then flew away;
But who will spend all day chasing a butterfly?

A Young Girl

Out of the rings and the bubbles,
The curls and the swirls of the water,
Out of the crystalline shower of drops shattered in play,
Her body and her thoughts arose.
She dreamed of some lover
To whom she might offer her body
Fresh and cool as a flower born in the rain.


Rain rattles on the pavement,
Puddles stand in the bluish stones;
Afar in the Yoshiwara
Is she who holds my heart.
Alas, the torn lantern of my hope
Trembles and sputters in the rain.

The Endless Lament

Spring rain falls through the cherry blossom,
In long blue shafts
On grasses strewn with delicate stars.
The summer rain sifts through the drooping willow,
Shatters the courtyard
Leaving grey pools.
The autumn rain drives through the maples
Scarlet threads of sorrow,
Towards the snowy earth.
Would that the rains of all the winters
Might wash away my grief!

A Night Festival

Sparrows and tame magpies chatter
In the porticoes
Lit with many a lantern.
There is idle song,
Scandal over full wine cups,
Sorrow does not matter.
Only beyond the still grey shoji
For the breadth of innumerable countries,
Is the sea with ships asleep
In the blue-black starless night.

On the Banks of the Sumida

Windy evening of autumn,
By the grey-green swirling river,
People are resting like still boats
Tugging uneasily at their cramped chains.
Some are moving slowly
Like the easy winds:
Brown-blue, dull-green, the villages in the distance
Sleep on the banks of the river:
The waters sullenly clash and murmur.
The chatter of the passersby,
Is dulled beneath the grey unquiet sky.

Yoshiwara Festival

The green and violet peacocks
With golden tails
Beneath the fluttering jangling streamers
They walk
Violet and gold.
The green and violet peacocks
Through the golden dusk
Showered upon them from the vine-hung lanterns,
Stately, nostalgically,


Despair hangs in the broken folds of my garments;
It clogs my footsteps,
Like snow in the cherry bloom.
In my heart is the sorrow
Of years like red leaves buried in snow.


A poet’s moods:
Fluttering butterflies in the rain.

Mid-Summer Dusk

Swallows twittering at twilight:
Waves of heat
Churned to flames by the sun.

Evening Bell from a Distant Temple

A bell in the fog
Creeps out echoing faintly
The pale broad flashes
Of vibrating twilight,
Faded gold.


An old courtyard
Hidden away
In the afternoon.
Grey walks,
Mossy stones,
Copper carp swimming lazily,
And beyond,
A faint toneless hissing echo of rain
That tears at my heart.




Japanese Prints is based on particular works in the Clarence Buckingham collection of ukiyoe at the Art Institute of Chicago (see BH7).

For an overview of Fletchers Japanese interests see John Gould Fletcher and Japan in the Bibliography, and for a note about Fletcher titles in print see From the Japanese.








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