Vachel Lindsay

The Jingo and the Minstrel:
An Argument for the Maintenance of Peace
and Goodwill with the Japanese People (1914)

“Now do you know of Avalon
(The minstrel speaks.)
That sailors call Japan?
She holds as rare a chivalry
As ever bled for man.
King Arthur sleeps at Nikko hill
Where Iyeyasu lies,
And there the broad Pendragon flag
In deathless splendor flies.”

“Nay, minstrel, but the great ships come
(The jingo answers.)
From out the sunset sea.
We cannot greet the souls they bring
With welcome high and free.
How can the Nippon nondescripts,
That weird and dreadful band,
Be aught but what we find them here:—
The blasters of the land?”

“First race, first men from anywhere
(The minstrel replies.)
To face you, eye to eye.
For that do you curse Avalon
And raise a hue and cry?
These toilers cannot kiss your hand,
Or fawn with hearts bowed down.
Be glad for them, and Avalon,
And Arthur’s ghostly crown.

“No doubt your guests, with sage debate,
In grave things gentlemen,
Will let your trade and farms alone,
And turn them back again.
But why should brawling braggarts rise
With hasty words of shame,
To drive them back, like dogs and swine,
Who in due honor came?”

“We cannot give them honor, sir.
(The jingo answers.)
We give them scorn for scorn.
And Rumor steals around the world,
All white-skinned men to warn
Against this sleek silk-merchant here
And viler coolie-man,
And wrath within the courts of war
Brews on against Japan!”

“Must Avalon, with hope forlorn,
(The minstrel replies.)
Her back against the wall,
Have lived her brilliant life in vain
While ruder tribes take all?
Must Arthur stand with Asian Celts,
A ghost with spear and crown,
Behind the great Pendragon flag
And be again cut down?

“Tho’ Europe’s self shall move against
High Jimmu Tenno’s throne,
The Forty-seven Ronin Men
Will not be found alone.
For Percival and Bedivere
And Nogi side by side
Will stand,—with mourning Merlin there,
Tho’ all go down in pride.

“But has the world the envious dream—
Ah, such things cannot be,—
To tear their fairy-land like silk
And toss it in the sea?
Must this day rob the future day,
The ultimate world-man,
Of rare Bushido, code of codes,
The fair heart of Japan?

“Go, be the guest of Avalon.
Believe me it lies there
Behind the mighty gray sea-wall
Where heathen bend in prayer:
Where peasants lift adoring eyes
To Fuji’s crown of snow.
King Arthur’s knights will be your hosts,
So cleanse your heart, and go.

“And you will find but gardens sweet
Prepared beyond the seas,
And you will find but gentlefolk
Beneath the cherry-trees.
So walk you worthy of your Christ
The church bells do not sound,
And weave the bands of brotherhood
On Jimmu Tenno’s ground.”

Lindsay’s ‘Glossary for the uninstructed and the hasty’:

Jimmu Tenno, ancestor of all the Japanese Emperors; Nikko, Japan’s loveliest shrine; Iyeyasu, her greatest statesman; Bushido, her code of knighthood; The Forty-seven Ronins, her classic heroes; Nogi, her latest hero; Fuji, her most beautiful mountain. The Pendragon flag is King Arthur’s Banner (see Tennyson).

Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931) was in the second decade of the twentieth century among the most well-regarded of American poets, both a popular and a critical success, acclaimed by eminent contemporaries such as Edwin Arlington Robinson, Harriet Monroe, Louis Untermeyer, W. B. Yeats, John Masefield, and Christopher Morley. The decline of his reputation in the twenties and thereafter continues to be the subject of the occasional critical study. Lindsay’s reputation such as it is now rests largely on the volumes Rhymes to be Traded for Bread (1912), General William Booth Enters into Heaven and Other Poems (1913), The Congo and Other Poems, in which ‘The Jingo and the Minstrel’ appeared (1914), and The Chinese Nightingale and Other Poems (1917). In the year that The Congo and Other Poems appeared Lindsay’s parents, religious fundamentalists and members of the Disciples of Christ Church, were travelling in Japan.

The Congo and Other Poems is in print and available in the US here and the UK here.

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