CA. Other Poets and Works

8. S. Foster Damon (1893-1971). Kiri no Meijiyama: A Noh-Drama in Japanese Syllabics. Dial 68 (February 1920): 205-13.

  S. Foster Damon, biographer of William Blake and Amy Lowell, aesthete, and author of a ‘noh drama’ like no other ().

Damon’s work is among the curiosities of this study, an original play with Japanese dramatis personae, written mainly in lines of five and seven syllables (like classical Japanese poetry), which self-consciously attempts to recreate the nô in English, complete with chorus, ghosts, and a closing prayer to Kannon for the redemption of souls ‘bound to the wheel of anguish, / [and] caught in the nets of heaven, earth, and hell’. The result is a text that incorporates features of the nô that Pound had popularised in his adaptation of Fenollosa’s manuscripts (see especially BK24), but that are curiously mixed with melodramatic goblins and headless bodies like those in Japanese tales popularised by Hearn. (Miner [A25] in passing reference to the play suggests that the plot is derived from ‘Rokurokobi’ in Hearn’s Kwaidan [see D9a]). However much Damon believed he was writing a ‘Noh-Drama’, the work is remarkably unlike the nô. Kabuki and bunraku rely on melodrama and the chronological unfolding of a plot. The nô does not. Alice Hall Perry writing of Damon in American Poets, 1880-1945 (1st ser., Dictionary of Literary Biography 45, 1986) suggests that the work was a ‘literary hoax’ and ‘identified by Arthur Waley as an authentic Japanese Nô drama of the sixteenth century’, but this is nonsense. In the Dial publication the work is clearly identified as Damon’s, and in any case by 1920 Waley knew the Japanese form well enough to recognise the work as the very odd hybrid that it is (see 26 and 26b). The title might be translated in several ways, but the most obvious reading would be Kiri (family name) of shining-peace mountain.





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