D. Sources of Influence and Transmission

25. Mathers, E. Powys. Translations 1918~27.

  The most widely-influential English versions of Japanese poetry in the inter-war years, like much earlier japonaiserie, came by way of Paris, in E. Powys Mathers’s re-translations from Adolphe Thalasso, E. Steinilber-Oberlin, and others. Drawing of Mathers by an unknown artist. Image: .  
  The first edition of Coloured Stars and two recent revivals of Mathers’s work, Gay Tales of the Samurai (San Francisco: Alamo Square, 1995) and Black Marigolds & Coloured Stars (London: Anvil, 2004).  

Despite Waley’s 1919 Japanese Poetry (D26a), which for the first time brought both sound scholarship and modernist poetics to the English translation of Japanese verse, the poems in Mathers’s Coloured Stars and Garden of Bright Waters, published simultaneously by Blackwell and Houghton Mifflin in 1918 and 1920, were for years in Britain and America the most widely-read translations of Japanese verse. In 1921 Van Doren (A13) noted that Mathers’s translations were among those to which contemporary English poets were ‘going to school’, and even if Bynner found the work ‘inflate[d] . . . with too much pomp and color’ (BE5) and Yeats cut the pages of only one of the volumes (see BL228), another contemporary writer found that Mathers’s versions ‘so closely . . . realise Imagist ideals’ that they might be among those ‘Asian lyrics’ that will be ‘transplanted into the English garden’ (A17). Mathers’s work focused on the collection of pan-Asian ‘love poetry’, and culminated in the twelve volume Eastern Love (London: Rodker, 1927-30), volume 7 of which includes ‘Songs of the Geishas’ and ‘Comrade-Loves of the Samurai’. Notably, even though Waley had brought the art of Japanese translation to a new standard that transformed post-war work, Mathers demonstrates that before the war English students remained willing to reach Japan by way of Paris (see D1, 19, 21 and CC1): the Japanese poems in Coloured Stars and Garden of Bright Waters are re-translations from Adolphe Thalasso’s Anthologie de l’amour asiatique (Paris: Societe du Mercure de France, 1906), and the work from the Japanese in Eastern Love comes by way of Steinilber-Oberlin and Iwamura’s Chansons des geishas (Paris: Cres, 1926) and Sato’s Contes d’amour des samourais (Paris: Stendhal, 1927), a translation of Saikaku (Ap). See also A49b.





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