Edwin Arnold

Fuji-yama (1892)

To the fairest of his friends
This her faithful poet sends.

On the top of Fuji-San
Now we stand; and half Japan
Like a mighty map unrolled
Spreads beneath us, green and gold:
Southward, pale and bright, the sea
Shines, from distant Misaki,
Round Atami’s broken coast,
Till the silvery gleam is lost,
Mingling with the silvery sky,
Far away toward Narumi:
Northward, yonder line of blue—
Over Mino and Bi-shû—

(Say the guides) is Biwa Lake,
Forty ri removed, to take
The stork’s road through the azure air.
Oh, if I had his painted pair
Of wings, I’d fly with them, and lend
Those strong plumes to my gentle friend
That she might come, without one soil
Of dust on her dear feet, or toil
Of weary walking, up this steep
To gaze on the Pacific deep,
Fuji’s vast slope—a mountain-world—
With, half-way down, the soft clouds curled
Around her waist, an obi fair,
Scarlet and gold, like what you wear.

The rivers, running far below,
Like white threads on a green cloth show;
The towns are little purple spots,
The villages faint greyish dots;
Over the tallest mountains round
We gaze, from Fuji’s monstrous mound,
And see far past them, just as you
Spy Mita clear from Azabu,
O-Yama to a mole-hill shrinks,
Bukôzan, now, one hardly thinks
As high as Kompira, that hill
You climbed, with such good heart and will
At Ikao, in the pelting rain:
We spy those Ikao ranges plain
Beyond Koshiû, and near to view
Karuizawa’s green tops, too.
What sunny hours, what lightsome times
We had there, in our walks and climbs!
I like the mountains of Japan
Best, at your side, O Yoshi San!

Gotemba to Subashiri
The road was rough, yet fair to see;
Red lilies glittered in the grass,
Green waved the rice, as we did pass
Nearer to this majestic Hill,
Which stately grew, and statelier still
In ever-shifting clouded dress
As we drew close; its loveliness
Most perfect when at sunset-time
The mists rolled from its brow sublime
And showed—o’erhanging the long street
(Busy with many a pilgrim’s feet
And fluttering with ten thousand flags)—
Proud Fuji to her topmost crags
Steel-blue against a saffron sky—
A Queen! A World! A Mystery!

At daybreak, from Subashiri
We started forth, with horses three,
To thread the woodland path, which leads
By groves and streams and shrines and meads,
Nigher and higher, till we find
Umagaeshi, and leave behind
Our steeds. Henceforward every ri
With sturdy foot must traversed be:
And Fuji, lifting rosy red
Beyond the pines her peerless head,
Seems still as far, as when, last night,
We watched her in the sunset’s light.

While yet we paced the forest road
Where green woods made a garment broad
For Fuji’s knees, and dappled shade
Upon the speckled pumice played,
I wished you by, that you might share
That sweetness of the upland air
And glow of the glad sunburst, now
Crowning with gold Queen Fuji’s brow;
But when we came where snow-slips tear
The flanks of the red mountain bare,
And thence to climb the cone began,
’Mid dykes and crags, O Yoshi San!
At each hard step I did rejoice
Not to be hearing your soft voice,
And not to see your zori tread
That rugged way, which still o’erhead
Zigzagged the shoulder of the crag,
All shifting lava-dust and slag;
Almost for men too steep and rough
Winds the wild path! We had enough
Of breathless, toilsome tramp all day
Before our long line made its way
To ‘Station Eight’—Hachi-go-me,
Glad was I, ’mid such mist and rain
To know you safe in the warm plain.

Clambering from ‘Station Eight’s’ black rock
We topped the cone at nine o’clock,
Where this I write, to keep my word,
And prove that, wholly undeterred
By distance, high up in the sky
My thoughts back to my sweet Friend fly
Down from the crest of green Japan
To chat with you, O Yoshi San!




Edwin Arnold (1832-1904) was among the most highly-regarded poets of his day, and the first British poet of note to live in Japan. Insofar as he is remembered now it is for The Light of Asia (1879), a blank verse epic about the life and teaching of Buddha, which by the turn of the century had been through 60 British and 80 American editions. Among Arnold’s many books are several that record impressions of Japan, including the verse collections Potiphar’s Wife (London: Longmans, Green, 1892, in which ‘Fuji-yama’ first appeared) and The Tenth Muse (1895), the travelogues Seas and Lands (1891) and Japonica (1892), and the play Adzuma, or, The Japanese Wife (1893).

Few details exist in the published record about Arnold’s residence in Japan. He seems first to have visited the country in 1888, the year in which he was knighted by Queen Victoria. Several sources mention that his third wife was Japanese, but beyond this not so much as her name is ascertainable from published sources.

The only modern critical note taken of Arnold’s Japan is in Dominika Ferens’s Edith and Winnifred Eaton: Chinatown Missions and Japanese Romances (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2002; U of Illinois P e-book), which notes Arnold’s role in ‘feminizing’ the country for British and American audiences. Ferens notes that Seas and Lands and Japonica ‘fuse Japan and Japanese women’ so completely that it became for a time in Britain and the United States ‘difficult to think of Japan in any other way’, and

[i]f others before Arnold began to describe the Japanese as “little,” “dainty,” and “gentle,” his texts are certainly the most densely studded with such adjectives. The first Japanese subject represented in Seas and Lands is a woman. “Little” and “small” appear fourteen times in that first descriptive passage; “pretty,” “demure,” “soft,” and “white” fill out the picture. The photograph of a girl that accompanies this passage is one of thirty-three studio photographs of girls and women, singly, in pairs, threesomes, and foursomes, doing things Japanese. Three of the pictures show women naked to the waist, bathing or breast-feeding. By contrast, there are only seven pictures of men, all of them laborers (e-book, chapter 1).

Ferens is correct that the most striking example of this sort of thing in Arnold’s work is the purple prose and nearly pathological emphasis of the photographs in Seas and Lands, but similar points might be made about Arnold’s poems of Japan. See The Musmee, for example.

Several volumes of Arnold’s verse are in print, but none that include his work from or about Japan.