BG. Arthur Davison Ficke

8. Four Japanese Paintings. Poetry 9 (November 1916): 77-80.

Miner (A25) is perceptive in noting about the reprint of these poems in April Elegy (9) that they represent a transition from the overt sentimentality of Ficke’s earlier treatment of Japan toward a literary Impressionism that has antecedents in the nineteenth-century Japonisme of the visual arts. The shift to less rigid metrical counts surely owes something as well to Ficke’s encounter with Imagism, which he had parodied along with Bynner in Spectra (6), and which began to influence his work as early as 1915 (see 5g). Between the touches of Impressionism, the movement toward a freer verse, and a concision of detail learned from the Imagists, the poems are more readable today than most of Ficke’s earlier verse about Japan.

a. The Pine Branch. Based on a painting by Ogata Kenzan (1663-1743). Description of the pine branch that has ‘stretched out across the silence’ and brought the colours of life to a drab grey background.

b. Pines on a Mountain. Based on a screen by Kanô Eitoku (1543-90), here called ‘Yeitoku’. Description of the red trunks of old pines, which are like ‘an indominable procession / Of warriors, dark, green-crested, / . . .  / To whom the winds / Are the only battle’.

c. The Wave Symphony. Based on a screen by Nonomura Sôtatsu (fl. ca. 1625-43). Excited description of the waves depicted on the screen. Compare to other ‘symphonies’ by Ficke himself (9c), Aiken (BA3a, 9, and 17), and Fletcher (BH2b and BH4b).

d. Buddha Appearing from Behind Mountains. Based on the painting of the title, by Takuma Chôga (fl. ca. 1253-70). ‘Measureless peace’ may be seen in the face of the Buddha, and ‘measureless compassion’ in his eyes, but the speaker senses that ‘his terrible hidden hands / Even now are stirring / To rend apart the hills— / To divide the corrupt and cloven earth / For the triumphal entry of his burning form’..





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