BD. Edmund Blunden

42. The Mind’s Eye. London: Cape, 1934. Reprint, Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries, 1977.

Ten essays in a ‘Japan’ section include more references to Japanese art and religion than appear in all Blunden’s poems combined. An author’s note suggests that ‘many other essays of [this] sort . . .  might have been recovered’ from periodicals, ‘but . . . once mislaid’ old journals are difficult to ‘recapture’, an ‘indolence’, Blunden adds, that ‘may prove to have been as good as a virtue’. Unless otherwise noted the works are dated 1926. Reprints ‘Buddhist Paintings’ (5), ‘Ghosts-Grotesques’ (11), ‘A Tokyo Secret’ (13), ‘On Some Humorous Prints of Hiroshige’ (formerly ‘Hiroshige as Humorist’, 10), and ‘Japanese Moments’ (31). See also 174.

a. ‘Winter Comes to Tokyo’. The winter cold drives Blunden from his draughty wooden house and into the streets of the city. Includes a rare allusion to Buddhism, though derived from a simile characteristic of Blunden’s writing of Japan in its comparison of time present in Tokyo with an imagined present in England: ‘Of eight aspects of Buddha, one is easy enough. I sit in the calm of ages, while the windows . . . rattle in as glacial a breeze as curls now round the gateway of Gray’s Inn’. Includes deprecating remarks about the ‘circuitous noise’ of a shamisen, and allusion to Hearn (D9). The house would be the first Blunden inhabited in Tokyo, next door to Ichikawa Sanki (Ap) and family (see 1). Dated 1925. Reprinted in 69.

b. ‘Line Upon Line’. Blunden begins by offering favourable comparison of ukiyoe to British art of the same period, then turns to studied and striking description of a particular print, by Utagawa Toyohiro (Ap). By 1926 poems deriving from ukiyoe had become something of a sub-genre in British and American literary journals (see BH6 for the most notable collection of these), but Blunden resolutely resists the impulse in verse. Five of seven pages here are in close description of the Toyohiro, but not once in verse does Blunden turn to Japanese visual art either for subject or accoutrement. Reprinted in 69.

c. ‘Atami of the Past’. Returning from a trip to the onsen at Atami, Blunden’s companion, ‘N.’, translates from an 1830 pamphlet about the town, and Blunden, ‘hoping that ancient metaphors would worthily express our modern response to its serenity’, presents this essay derived from the translation and informing of the observations of 1830. Includes allusion to a Toyokuni print of ships on Sagano Bay.

d. ‘The Beauty of Vagueness’. Having been informed by a Japanese student that a European cannot possibly comprehend the excellence of a particular kind of Japanese painting, Blunden notes the ‘cherished formula’ in Japan that holds that the country ‘has a spiritual secret so . . . rare as to be quite incommunicable to people of any other blood’. From this he focuses on the darker implications of the Japanese cult of ‘vagueness’. The work is more cognisant of nationalist sentiment than other Blunden writing on the country, and includes one of his few published references to the early stirrings of the militarists: the ‘convention of mysteries and secrets’ is given ‘frequent exercise’ by the government, police, army, and navy; foreigners are suspected of photographing ‘secret areas’, and ‘extraordinary precautions against espionage’ surround ‘poison-gas experiments’ and other ‘manoeuvres’. Closes with lines eerily prophetic for 1926: ‘Taboo operates here. Nippon once more closes her gates.’ See also 34, 46, and 48.

e. ‘“Not Only Beautifull”’ [sic]. Blunden’s tribute to ‘an unconsciously entertaining writer . . . employed by a Tokyo firm . . . to supply the English explanations accompanying their very charming reproductions’ of ukiyoe: ‘He is what he says a certain picture is, “not only beautifull but also washable”’.





Home | Top | Previous | Next

Previous | Next


Creative Commons License