BH. John Gould Fletcher
15. ‘The Orient and Contemporary Poetry’. In The Asian Legacy in American Life, edited by Arthur Christy. New York: Day, 1945.
A central document in the description and evaluation of
the influence of East-Asian poetry and art on the work of the Imagists,
useful both for its biographical and chronological detail and for its
first-hand analysis of the nature of the influence, which Fletcher argues
came more from Chinese than Japanese tradition. He outlines his own debts
to ukiyoe in Japanese Prints (7) and notes the Japanese interests of Lowell, Crapsey
and Stevens (see CA7), finding it ‘obvious’ that ‘something
in the conciseness of Japanese poetry, as well as its pictorial quality,
early attracted the Imagist group’. Translations by Hearn (D9b) and Chamberlain (D5a), he believes, were particularly important in spreading
awareness of the Japanese forms. But after Japanese Prints Fletcher ‘soon lost interest’ in the ‘Japanese
manner’, and he no longer believes it of value ‘except as
an exercise’. Tanka and hokku are like ‘rather small and temporarily
attractive children’ compared to the ‘mature human figures’
found in the Chinese, capable of ‘nothing more than a sketch’
while the Chinese ‘presents a full picture’. Japanese poetry
is limited by ‘the exigencies of . . . form’
so that in the end ‘every Japanese poet is forced . . .
to resemble every other Japanese poet’. It was Chinese poetry, then,
Fletcher insists here, that led the way in the development of the ‘new
poetry’ in English (though see 22d for a reversal of this position five years later),
and the ‘pivotal moment’ arrived with Pound’s publication
of Cathay (BK15).
Fletcher saw a draft of that work in the winter of 1913-14, and understood
immediately that it represented such ‘an enormous revolution in
English poetic technique’ that he ‘threw overboard’
his own ‘scruples’ and proclaimed himself ‘truly an
Imagist’. Even Waley (see D26), Fletcher contends, ‘freely acknowledged’ to him in conversation
‘the metrical debt’ his own Chinese translations ‘owed’
to Pound. Several further points of chronology are pertinent. Fletcher
writes that during his years at Harvard (1902-07) he often visited the
East-Asian collection at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and ‘avidly
read’ Hearn (see D9); as early as 1912 he was aware of Noguchi’s
work (see D15)
and it had ‘had . . . some effect on’ his own
(see also 18), and by 1913 he had read Fenollosa’s Epochs (D10c).
The absence here of any reference to Zen Buddhism undercuts Stephens’s
more extravagant claims (in 27
and 28). Includes reference to Flint’s account of the
early days of Imagism (A3).
Reprinted in 21.
See BE12 for Bynner’s criticism of the work, and 17 for evidence that within two years Fletcher had returned
to a more hospitable understanding of Japanese poetry.