D. Sources of Influence and Transmission

9. Hearn, Lafcadio. Works 1894~1915.

    Hearn’s writing from Japan more than any other to this day has shaped Western perception of the country. Image: .  
    Hearn’s reputation rests largely on eleven books about Japan published in the United States between 1894 and 1904.  

Hearn’s writing from Japan more than any other to this day has shaped Western perception of the country, taking on such a life in the early years of the century that it returned to Japan by way of the looking glass of the West and became determinative in shaping even Japanese perceptions of Japan. This said, Hearn’s influence in English-language poetry has come more from the general aura of the exotic than from specific textual or intertextual forces. Surely hundreds of English-language poems of ‘old Japan’ have found their beginning in Hearn’s tales of the country’s quaint ways, but surprisingly little of his writing finds its way into the work of the poets under study here. Miner (A25) is convincing about Hearn’s Impressionism and points to manifestations of similar technique in the japonaiserie of early-century English-language verse, but these are more often traceable to ukiyoe than to Hearn. Likewise, Hearn along with Noguchi (see especially 15e6) may be credited with bringing free verse to the English translation of Japanese poetry, but it took Pound and Waley (26) to confirm the transformation and to carry its lessons to the mainstream of English-language verse, and no evidence exists that either looked to Hearn for guidance. Pound for all his interest in Japan does not mention Hearn in print. Finally, Hearn’s Buddhism, compelling in its own regard, is ignored by the poets here who turn to Japanese religion for direction. They look instead to Okakura (see 16), Fenollosa (see 10c), and Waley (see 26) until the thirties, and to Suzuki (28) and his student R. H. Blyth (Ap) afterwards. Not until Rexroth’s 1977 introduction to The Buddhist Writings of Lafcadio Hearn (Santa Barbara: Ross-Erikson) is the subject so much as mentioned by a prominent English-language poet. Still, few European or American writers who turned to Japan in the first half of the century discussed the country in print without reference to Hearn, and this is as true of the poets studied here as any. Aiken (see BA), Aldington (see BB), Bynner (BE14), Fletcher (BH22c), and Plomer (BJ10a) explicitly trace their early interest in Japan to Hearn. Aiken derives a verse passage from his work (BA9a), and Bynner authors a poem (BE3a) and a more moving letter (BE20b) about a 1917 ‘pilgrimage’ to the Hearn home in Matsue (and see also BE8). Aldington turns to Hearn in letters to a Japanese friend, Megata (BB15b, i), who later writes that he believes Aldington’s image of Japan throughout his life remained that fixed by Hearn early in the century (BB21). Fletcher discusses in general terms personal and general debts to Hearn (BH1, 15), Lowell once acknowledges and once does not her reliance on Hearn’s work (BI19 and 4k), and Yeats finds in Hearn’s writing from Japan ‘empirical evidence’ for the ‘re-birth of the soul’ (BL35b). Finally, Blunden and Plomer, like many later foreign writers in Tokyo, struggle with mixed feelings, admiring Hearn’s love of the Japanese and sometimes his prose, but finding it difficult to maintain identity among Japanese friends as the ‘first Edmund Blunden’ and the ‘first William Plomer’ rather than the ‘second Lafcadio Hearn’. For Blunden’s response to Hearn see BD8, 20, 27, 32, 36, 42a, 71c, 78, 89, 123, 133, 149, 152, and 156; for Plomer’s see BJ3a, 3i, and 27a2; and for related material see also A4, 9, 16-18, 20, 30, 31, 46, 48, 49a-b, 53, 55, 56, 60, 64, 65, 68, 73, BL242, CC2, 3, 4, 6, and 10.

A Hearn Miscellany. Dozens of other titles were published, many in beautiful small editions in Japan, and biographies and critical studies of Hearn make up their own sub-genre.

a. Tales, appreciations, and studies. Hearn’s reputation rests largely on eleven books about Japan published between 1894 and 1904, the year of his death in Tokyo. The range of the work is wider than generally is supposed, but its significance here is collective. The books in order of publication are Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (2 vols., Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1894), Out of the East (Houghton Mifflin, 1895), Kokoro (Houghton Mifflin, 1896), Gleanings in Buddha Fields (Houghton Mifflin, 1897), Exotics and Retrospectives (Boston: Little, Brown, 1898), In Ghostly Japan (Little, Brown, 1899), Shadowings (Little, Brown, 1900), A Japanese Miscellany (Little, Brown, 1901), Kotto (New York: Macmillan, 1902), Kwaidan (Houghton Mifflin, 1904), and the posthumous Japan, An Attempt at Interpretation (Macmillan, 1904). The last of these was written in preparation for a series of lectures to be presented at Columbia University, though Hearn’s sudden death cut short plans for the much-anticipated and much longed-for reunion with the United States.

b. Translations. Contrary to general belief, Hearn’s work published during his lifetime did not include a collection of translations from Japanese poetry, and so when writers discuss his verse translations they refer either to discrete poems scattered through the pages of the works noted above or to the posthumous Japanese Lyrics (Houghton Mifflin, 1915), which collects these. A publisher’s note in that collection suggests that inclusion of the work in Houghton Mifflin’s New Poetry Series is ‘peculiarly appropriate’, since the Japanese poets, in their ‘utmost vividness and . . . sternest economy of words’, are ‘strangely akin to the Imagists’. What neither the note nor any critic records is that Hearn’s versions, most of them done before the turn of the century, are the first in English to render the Japanese in free verse, a practice followed by Hartmann (see 12 and 12e) and Noguchi (see 15 and 15e) and confirmed by Pound (see especially BK15) and Waley (see 26 and 26a). Henderson’s 1915 review of Japanese Lyrics (A4) suggests that English-language poets have much to learn from the Japanese, but Weaver, writing in 1920 (A9), disagrees, finding that Hearn’s translations ‘degenerated . . . into a prose caricature of vers libre’, missing the point that the work precedes by years the most inflammatory of the European and American debate about vers libre, and is therefore a precursor and not a caricature.

c. Related materials. Biographies and critical studies of Hearn make up their own sub-genre. Elizabeth Bisland portrays Hearn as a ‘man of genius’ in The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn (2 vols., Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1906). George Gould, at one time a friend of Hearn, attempts to dismantle his reputation in Concerning Lafcadio Hearn (London: Unwin, 1908), arguing that Hearn was ‘deprived by nature, by the necessities of his life, or by conscious intention, of religion, morality, scholarship, magnanimity, loyalty, character, benevolence, and other constituents of personal greatness’. Noguchi’s Lafcadio Hearn in Japan (London: Mathews, 1910) is an ‘appreciation’ and ‘defence’ and essentially a response to Gould (see also Noguchi’s ‘Lafcadio Hearn: A Dreamer’ [Current Literature 38 (1905)], and ‘At the Funeral of Lafcadio Hearn’ [Atheneum, 29 April 1911]). The most balanced study remains Elizabeth Stevenson’s Lafcadio Hearn (New York: Macmillan, 1961), though this work may be usefully supplemented by Beongcheon Yu’s An Ape of the Gods: The Art and Thought of Lafcadio Hearn (Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1964), Sukehiro Hirakawa’s lucid defence of Hearn in ‘Who Was the Great Japan Interpreter, Chamberlain [D5] or Hearn?’ (in Cate’s Perspectives on Japonisme: The Japanese Influence on America [see CC11]), Jonathan Cott’s Wandering Ghost: The Odyssey of Lafcadio Hearn (New York: Knopf, 1991), and Carl Dawson’s Lafcadio Hearn and the Vision of Japan (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1992), the latter of which largely succeeds in its stated aim of demonstrating that Hearn ‘created Japan for audiences in Europe and America’. The fullest Hearn bibliography remains P. D. and Ione Perkins, Lafcadio Hearn: A Bibliography of His Writings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1934; reprint, 1968). See also The Japanese Letters of Lafcadio Hearn (Houghton Mifflin, 1910) and Letters (2 vols., New York: AMS, 1975).






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