A Japanese Wood-Carving (1911)
High up above the open, welcoming door
It hangs, a piece of wood with colours dim.
Once, long ago, it was a waving tree
And knew the sun and shadow through the leaves
Of forest trees, in a thick eastern wood.
The winter snows had bent its branches down,
The spring had swelled it buds with coming flowers,
Summer had run like fire through its veins,
While autumn pelted it with chestnut burrs,
And strewed the leafy ground with acorn cups.
Dark midnight storms had roared and crashed among
Its branches, breaking here and there a limb;
But every now and then abroad sunlit days
Lovingly lingered, caught among the leaves.
Yes, it had known all this, and yet to us
It does not speak of mossy forest ways,
Of whispering pine trees or the shimmering birch;
But of quick winds, and the salt, stinging sea!
An artist once, with patient, careful knife,
Had fashioned it like to the untamed sea.
Here waves uprear themselves, their tops blown back
By the gay, sunny wind, which whips the blue
And beaks it into gleams and sparks of light.
Among the flashing waves are two white birds
Which swoop, and soar, and scream for very joy
At the wild sport. Now diving quickly in,
Questing some glistening fish. Now flying up,
Their dripping feathers shining in the sun,
the wet drops like little glints of light,
Fall pattering backward to the parent sea.
Gliding along the green and foam-flecked hollows,
Or skimming some white crest about to break,
The spirits of the sky deigning to stoop
And play with ocean in a summer mood.
Hanging above the high, wide open door,
It brings to us in quiet, firelit room,
The freedom of the earth’s vast solitudes,
Where heaping, sunny waves tumble and roll,
And seabirds scream in wanton happiness.
For an overview of Lowell’s
Japanese interests see Amy Lowell
and Japan in the Bibliography. ‘A Japanese Wood-Carving’
(BI1a) appeared first in Atlantic
Monthly, February 1911, and was reprinted in Lowell’s first
book, A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass (BI1).
Several Lowell titles are in print, but of those only two
contain poems related to her understanding of Japan, A Dome of Many
Coloured Glass (available in the US here)
and a 2002 Rutgers UP edition of Selected Poems of Amy Lowell,
edited by Melissa Bradshaw and Adrienne Munich (available in the US here,
the UK here).
A new reprint edition of Diaries of Court Ladies of Old Japan,
introduced by Lowell, will soon be available here