BG. Arthur Davison Ficke


5. Chats on Japanese Prints. New York: Stokes, 1915. Reprint, New York: British Book Company, 1975.

A chronological prose survey of the history of ukiyoe, with poems inspired by the prints interspersed. The work reveals an impressive depth of knowledge, and places Ficke among the foremost Western scholars of ukiyoe in 1915. It remains useful and in print, though surely for its prose rather its poetry, which is conventional and tedious, its image of Japan sentimental and nostalgic. Ficke’s knowledge of the country insures that the poems are more grounded than most earlier verse inspired by ukiyoe, but the difference does not save the poems. Lowell’s letter to Ficke thanking him for his gift of the work (BI20) demonstrates that it was a source for her Lacquer Prints (BI4; and see BI7 for notes about Lowell’s other, unacknowledged, borrowing from Ficke). Ficke’s own acknowledged sources include Fenollosa (see D10) and Okakura (D16). Ochiai Naonori’s Japanese translation of Chats, Ukiyoe hangashi, appeared in Tokyo in 1919 and was reprinted in 1933. Reprints, from Twelve Japanese Painters (4), Figure of a Girl (formerly Figure of a Girl by Harunobu), Koriusai Speaks, Portrait of an Actor in Tragic Role (formerly Portrait of an Actor in Tragic Role by Shunsho), Festival Scene (formerly FESTIVAL Scene by Kiyonaga), Shuncho (formerly Group of Women by Shuncho), Two Women (formerly Two Women by Kitao Masanobu), Portrait of a Woman (formerly Portrait of a Woman by Utamaro), Portrait of a Woman (formerly Portrait of a Woman by Yeishi), Dramatic Portrait (formerly Dramatic Portrait by Sharaku), The Pupil of Toyokuni, A Group of Ladies (formerly A Group of Ladies by Toyohiro), Hokusai (formerly Landscape by Hokusai), Hiroshige (formerly The Landscapes of Hiroshige), The Bow-Moon (formerly Landscape by Hiroshige), and Alilt against the emerald sky (formerly The Birds and Flowers of Hiroshige). See also 16b and 17.

a. Kiyonobu Speaks. The voice of Kiyonobu Torii (Ap) compares a print of an actor to the real actor, and finds that the art of the print is superior because in it ‘passion in his form will tower from age to age’. Durnell (A55) suggests that the thirty-one-syllable first stanza places the poem ‘in the tanka tradition’, but stanzas two and three have fewer syllables, and Ficke does not elsewhere experiment with tanka or haikai syllabics, and so the number is probably coincidental.

b. A Figure. Description of an ethereal figure in a print by Okumura Masanobu (1686-1764).

c. A Pillar Print. Description of a woman ‘in garments pale and ghostly’ in a hashirae by Ishikawa Toyonobu (1711-85).

d. Pillar Print of a Woman. Description of a hashirae by Kiyomitsu. ‘A place for giant heads to take their rest / Seems her pale breast’, and her footsteps ‘be / Like strides of Destiny!’

e. Pillar Print of a Man. Based on another hashirae by Kiyomitsu Torii (Ap). The man of the title appears ‘Out of spaces hazed with greyness, out of years whose veils / are grey’.

f. Pillar Print by Harunobu (Ap). More spare and imagistic than most poems here. A flute player passes by as ‘stars are broidered on the veil of evening’.

g. A Silver Print. By the time Chats was published Ficke and Bynner would have been at work on Spectra (6), their parody of Imagist verse that appeared the following year, and some of the techniques of that work seem to have been transferred to some of the verse here. Poems reprinted from Twelve Japanese Painters—published in 1913 and written before the work on Spectra would have begun—lack concise imagery and concrete diction, and in general could serve as case studies for Pound’s ‘Don’ts for an Imagist’ (see BK2), but compare opening lines here: ‘The sky, a plate of darkened steel, / Weighs on the far rim of the sea, / Save where the lifted glooms reveal / The last edge of the sun burned free’. Ficke cannot bring himself to dispose of rhyme, and has not quite arrived at the technique of super-position (see BK12), but otherwise the work of the parodist has had happy results in the work of the poet. The print described is by Momokawa Chôki (fl. 1785-1810).





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