BH. John Gould Fletcher

25. Reviews of Japanese Prints (7), 1918-19.


In addition to work noted below, see also the disparaging review by Aiken (BA4).

a. †B., W. S. Boston Evening Transcript, 25 September 1918, pt. II, p. 6. According to Morton (30, II-C-viii-2) this ‘generally favorable review’ focuses on Fletcher’s prefatory discussion of Japanese poetry, and suggests that the poems themselves ‘share . . . with Japanese poetry the tendency to exalt the trivial into the realm of art’.

b. D[amon]., S. F[oster]. ‘In the Mode of Japan’. New Republic 16 (1918): 235, 238. Damon likes the poems but finds them ‘not . . . truly Japanese’; they are rather closer in spirit to Symbolism than to ukiyoe, and more reminiscent of Verlaine than Bashô.

c. Outlook 120 (1918): 382. Finds the poems ‘exquisite and appealing in their terseness’, for like the Japanese prints that ‘inspire’ them, they succeed in ‘express[ing] emotion in the fewest possible terms’.

d. Firkins, O. W. ‘Literature: Pathfinders in America’. Nation (New York) 108 (1919): 20-21. Firkins wonders in regard to Fletcher’s preface if the ‘universal [can] reach America only by way of Japan’, and suggests that not all lessons from Japan are beneficial, for while he admires conciseness, ‘the hatchet will not solve our difficulties’.

e. H[enderson], A[lice] C[orbin]. Poetry 13 (1919): 340-41. Henderson believes ‘the only points of similarity’ between Fletcher’s poems and Japanese poems are brevity and subject matter, for in their ‘decorative . . . phrasing’ Fletcher’s verses ‘escape that union of spiritual delicacy and profundity . . . characteristic of even the slightest Japanese verse’. She blames this on the tendency of ‘Westerners’ in general to ‘overlook the underlying humanism of Japanese . . . art and to get only the outward appearance’. The ‘outward mask’ may in itself be ‘wonderful . . . and “decorative”’, but if a poet seeks to ‘create another mask’ based on it, he ‘must not forget that there should be a face underneath it’. If he does, ‘the mask will be empty’, for ‘masks that only imitate other masks eventually become lifeless’.

f. Mencken, H. L. ‘Notes of a Poetry Hater’. Smart Set 58 (1919): 143-44. Mencken uses Fletcher’s work as a platform from which to launch an attack on Japan itself. He finds Imagism ‘the only intelligible art theory in the . . . free verse movement’, but is troubled that it ‘now confesses its origin by appearing frankly as an idea borrowed from the orient’. In spite of Fletcher’s proclamations to the contrary, Mencken insists that ‘the Japanese have contributed absolutely nothing to the arts’, but ‘are, and always have been mere imitators’, chiefly of ‘service’ for their ability ‘to convert the delicate and highly characteristic arts of the Chinese into crafts or trades and so reduce them to the uses of a sordid and vulgar people’. Amusing as this might be, Mencken is simply wrong in asserting that ‘even the Japanese hokku . . . is no more than a copy from a Chinese model’, though one finds it difficult to disagree with his judgement that the form ‘may, in the hands of a sound poet, yield beauty, but . . . invites the mere trickster and tends to become hollow’.

g. Untermeyer, Louis. ‘Pegasus Redivivius’. Yale Review 8 (1919): 858-67. Fletcher’s work is ‘provocative’ in its attempt to ‘render the spirit of the Japanese printers and poets’, but ‘disappointing’ in its failure to live up to its ‘promise’. Untermeyer goes on to demonstrate that famous American critics in 1919 were no more likely than famous American poets to understand the distinctions between Japanese and Chinese verse, suggesting, oddly, that Fletcher’s work offers ‘reminder[s] of Fenollosa-Pound’s “Cathay” [BK15]’ and is ‘far more suggestive of Chinese than . . . Japanese originals’.





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