Society in Japan (1867)

All lustres fade, all types decay,
That Time has strength to touch or tarnish;
Japan itself receives to-day
A novel kind of varnish.
All Asia moves; in far Thibet
A fear of change perturbs the Lama;
You’ll hear the railway whistle yet
Arousing Yokohama!

Methinks it were a theme for song,
This spread of European knowledge;
Gasometers adorn Hong-Kong,
Calcutta keeps a college.
Pale ale and cavendish maintain
Our hold among the opium smokers;
Through Java jungles run the train,
With Dutchmen for the stokers.

The East is doomed—Romance is dead,
Or surely on the point of dying;
The travellers’ books our boyhood read
Would now be reckoned lying.
Our young illusions vanish fast;
They’re obsolete—effete—archaic;
The hour has come that sees, at last,
The Orient prosaic!

The East is dying; live the East!
With hope we watch its transformation;
Our European life at last
Is better than stagnation.
The cycles of Cathay are run;
Begins the new, the nobler movement—
I’m half ashamed of making fun
Of Japanese improvement!

‘Society in Japan’ appeared in Littell’s Living Age, May 11, 1867.

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