W. E. Henley

Ballade of a Toyokuni Colour Print (1888)

Was I a Samurai renowned,
Two-sworded, fierce, immense of bow?
A histrion angular and profound?
A priest? a porter?—Child, although
I have forgotten clean, I know
That in the shade of Fujisan,
What time the cherry-orchards blow,
I loved you once in old Japan.

As here you loiter, flowing-gowned
And hugely sashed, with pins a-row
Your quaint head as with flamelets crowned,
Demure, inviting—even so,
When merry maids in Miyako
To feel the sweet o’ the year began,
And green gardens to overflow,
I loved you once in old Japan.

Clear shine the hills; the rice-fields round
Two cranes are circling; sleepy and slow,
A blue canal the lake’s blue bound
Breaks at the bamboo bridge; and lo!
Touched with the sundown’s spirit and glow,
I see you turn, with flirted fan,
Against the plum-tree’s bloomy snow. . . .
I loved you once in old Japan!


Dear, ’twas a dozen lives ago;
But that I was a lucky man
The Toyokuni here will show:
I loved you—once—in old Japan.


William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) was a noted editor, critic, and poet, and promoter of early work by Kipling and Yeats. He collaborated on four plays with Robert Louis Stevenson, and authored highly-regarded collections of verse, including The Song of the Sword (1892) and For England’s Sake (1900). ‘Ballade of a Toyokuni Colour Print’ appeared in A Book of Verses (London: Nutt, 1888). Commentary on the poem may be found in the Introduction to the Bibliography, particularly in The Legacy of Seclusion.

Henley’s Poems are in print and available in the UK here.






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