BL. W. B. Yeats

52. Letters. In Oshima (124), 1965.


In addition to those noted the work includes other letters not directly pertinent here, among them six to Oshima (22 August 1925, 1 October 1926, 24 March 1929, 12 December 1930, 18 August 1933, and 19 July 1937), one to Sangû Makoto (30 March 1914), and one to Yano Hôjin (23 June 1927, see 76). Most of the letters to Oshima appeared earlier in publications in Japan. Published letters from Japanese correspondents to Yeats appear in 184 and D15e9.

a. To Oshima, 19 August 1927. Yeats writes of his interest in Japan and his recent reading: ‘Every year I find more beauty and wisdom in the art and literature of your country. I am at present reading with excitement [S]uzuki’s Essays in Zen Buddhism [see D28]. I have also read Toyohiko Kagawa’s Novel . . . translated into English under the title “Before the Dawn” [see 46c], and find it about the most moving account of a modern saint that I have met . . . and of course I have been reading Arthur Waley’s translation of “The Tale of Genji” [D26c], but that is one of the great classics of the world, and I have too much to say about it to say anything’. See also 131 and 228.

b. To Oshima, 2 January 1934. Oshima notes that he had sent Yeats a book of reproductions of ukiyoe with hand-written notes in English about the prints, which Yeats acknowledges in the letter: ‘I have received that delightful book and have already spent a couple of hours over it. I thank you not only for the book but for the trouble you have taken to tell me about the painter and what each picture represents’.

c. To Oshima, 22 September 1935. Oshima had sent ‘a few’ ukiyoe to Yeats, upon which Yeats comments: ‘Your noble present came today. I have been going through it with my daughter. . . . She is an art student now and as we turned over the pages I pointed out the powerful drawing, the dramatic energy in the pose of every figure. . . . We both took especial pleasure in the painting of some man seeing his mother’s ghost, where there is so much delicate colour. I shall read the book very carefully.’

d. To Yone Noguchi, 27 June 1921. Responds to the gift of Noguchi’s Hiroshige (D15e8) and draws contrasts between Japanese and European art: ‘Your Hiroshige has given me the greatest pleasure. I take more and more pleasure from Oriental art, find more and more that it accords with what I aim at in my own work. European painting of the last two or three hundred years grows strange to me as I grow older, begins to speak as with a foreign tongue. When a Japanese, or Mogul, or Chinese painter seems to say “Have I not drawn a beautiful scene?” one agrees at once, but when a modern European painter says so one does not agree so quickly, if at all. All your painters are simple, like the writers of Scottish ballads or the inventors of Irish stories, but one feels that [William] Orpen and [Augustus] John have relations in the patent office who are conscious of being at the forefront of time. . . . I would be simple myself but I do not know how. I am always turning over pages like those you have sent me, hoping that in my old age I may discover how. I wish some Japanese would tell us all about the lives—their talks, their loves, their religion, their friends,—of these painters. I would like to know these things minutely, and to know too what their houses looked like, if they still stand, to know all those things that we know about Blake, and about Turner, and about Rossetti. It might make it more easy to understand their simplicity. A form of beauty scarcely lasts a generation with us, but it lasts with you for centuries. You no more want to change it than a pious man wants to change the Lord’s Prayer, or the Crucifix on the wall—at least not unless we have infected you with our egotism.’ Yeats closes by wishing that he had ‘found [his] way’ to Japan ‘a year or so ago’ (see 48i) and had remained there, for his own country ‘remains uncomfortable’, as he ‘dreaded . . . it would’. The letter appears also in Atsumi (D15e9).

e. To Yano, January 1928. Expresses continued interest in travelling to Japan (see 48i): ‘I do not think my interest in your country will ever slacken, especially now that I have found this new interest—its philosophy. Whether I shall ever see Japan is another matter. I do not know to what extent I shall recover my old state of health. If the doctor here is right, I can hardly hope to do so. Since I have met you I have felt a door open into Japan; you have told me so much, and given to me the means of further knowledge’. The ‘philosophy’ Yeats mentions would be in reference to the work of Suzuki, introduced to him by Yano (see 67 and D28).

f. To Yano, 9 August 1929. Summarised by Oshima in a note. Yano had invited Yeats to lecture at Taihoku Imperial University, Taiwan, then under Japanese colonial rule, and Yeats’s response, according to Oshima, expressed ‘great temptation to visit Japan’, but his son Michael’s ill health prevented him from doing so; since ‘the best things . . . he wanted to see with his own eyes were all in Japan’, however, ‘when his children were grown . . . he would perhaps visit [the] country at his own expense’. Yeats had written to Olivia Shakespear of his temptation to accept the offer on 31 July (48s). See also 48i.





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