japonisme: 3/29/09 - 4/5/09

02 April 2009

Out of the cradle endlessly rocking,

by Edward Hirsch

The poem would address an unseen listener, an unseen audience. It does so through the rhetoric of address since the message in the bottle seems to be speaking to the poet alone, or to a muse, a friend, a lover, an abstraction, an object in nature. . . . It seems to be speaking to God or to no one. Rhetoric comes into play here, the radi- cal of presentation, the rhythm of words crea- ting a deep sensation in the reader. Rhythm would lift the poem off the page, it would bewitch the sounds of language, hypnotize the words into memorable phrases. Rhythm creates a pattern of yearning and expectation, of recurrence and difference. It is related to the pulse, the heartbeat, the way we breathe. It takes us into ourselves; it takes us out of ourselves. It differentiates us; it unites us to the cosmos.

Rhythm is a form cut into time, as Ezra Pound said in ABC of Reading. It is the combination in English of stressed and unstressed syllables that creates a feeling of fixity and flux, of surprise and inevitability. Rhythm is all about recurrence and change. It is poetry’s way of charging the depths, hitting the fathomless. It is oceanic. I would say with Robert Graves that there is a rhythm of emotions that conditions the musical rhythms, that mental bracing and relaxing which comes to us through our sensuous impressions. It is the emotion — the very rhythm of the emotion — that determines the texture of the sounds.

I like to feel the sea drift, the liturgical cadence of the first stanza of Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking.” It is one sentence and twenty-two lines long. It always carries me away.

Out of the cradle endlessly rocking,
Out of the mocking-bird’s throat, the musical shuttle,
Out of the Ninth-month midnight,
Over the sterile sands the fields beyond, where the child leaving his bed wander’d alone, bareheaded, barefoot,

Down from the shower’d halo,
Up from the mystic play of shadows twining and twisting
as if they were alive,

Out from the patches of
briers and blackberries,

From the memories of the bird that chanted to me,

From your memories sad brother, from the fitful risings and fallings I heard,
From under that yellow half-moon late-risen and swollen as if with tears,

From those beginning notes of yearning and love
there in the mist,
From the thousand responses of my heart never to cease,
From the myriad thence-arous’d words,

From the word stronger and
more delicious than any,
From such as now
they start the scene revisiting,
As a flock, twittering, rising,
or overhead passing,
Borne hither, ere all eludes me, hurriedly,
A man, yet by these tears
a little boy again,

Throwing myself on the sand,
confronting the waves,

I, chanter of pains and joys,
uniter of here and hereafter,
Taking all hints to use them, but swiftly leaping beyond them,
A reminiscence sing.

The incantatory power of this is tremendous as the repetitions loosen the intellect for reverie. It seems to me that Whitman creates here the very rhythm of a singular reminiscence emerging out of the depths of mind, out of the sea waves and the rocking cradle, out of all the undifferentiated sensations of infancy, out of the myriad memories of childhood, out of all possible experiences the formative event of a boy leaving the safety of his bed and walking the seashore alone, moving “Out,” “Over,” “Down,” “Up,” “From,” exchanging the safety of the indoors for the peril of the outdoors, facing his own vague yearnings and the misty void, mixing his own tears and the salt spray of the ocean, listening to the birds, understanding the language — the calling — of one bird.

He walks the shore on the edge of the world, the edge of the unknown. He has entered the space that Emerson calls “I and the Abyss,” the space of the American sublime.

In this region: out of all potential words, these words alone; out of all potential memories, this memory alone. It is the emerging rhythm itself that creates the Proustian sensation of being in two places at once, “A man, yet by these tears a little boy again, / Throwing myself on the sand, confronting the waves.”

Whitman creates through the rhetorical rhythm of these lines the very urgency of fundamental memory triggered and issuing forth. He splits himself off and moves seamlessly between the third person and the first person. And as the bird chanted to him (“From the memories of the bird that chanted to me”) so he chants to us (“I, chanter of pains and joys”). This is a poem of poetic vocation.

It is telling that Whitman builds to the self-command, “A reminiscence sing.” He memorializes the memory in song. There is an element of lullaby in this poem, the lulling motion of the waves, the consoling sound of the sea. But this is a lullaby that wounds (as García Lorca said about Spanish lullabies), a lullaby of sadness that permeates the very universe itself, a lullaby that moves from chanting to singing. Paul Valary calls the passage from prose to verse, from speech to song, from walking to dancing, “a moment that is at once action and dream.” Whitman creates such a moment here. He would spin an enchantment beyond pain and joy, he would become the poetic shaman who authors that reminiscence for us, who magically summons up the experience in us.

this glorious essay is from here.
the poster at the top is for this.
the image from which that poster was taken is on the other side, and really does not seem to exist outside of the bnf's copy. the bnf, who has also brought us this.

japan, a water-draped nation.
is it any wonder so much art is about fish? and so much rhythm.

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01 April 2009

all fish all the time!

i have gotten so into this subject that i will be changing the blog to fishology. watch for the news to unroll!
doverbooks has really done an amazing job of reprinting most of the collections of japanese stencils, katagami, published in the late 1800s, that were probabable sources of inspiration for candace wheeler and the associated artists, and so many others.

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30 March 2009

carpe diem

speaking of fish....

Throughout Japan May 5 has a peculiar significance. This is indicated by the strange baglike fish banners seen floating from the flagstaffs, distended to their full size by the wind. The banners proclaim that some time during the preceding 12 months the stork has made a visit and left a small boy, and the friends of the family have greeted him with carp flags instead of flowers.

Judging from the numerous homes displaying these emblems, his storkship must have worked overtime. Various reasons are given why the carp, of which our goldfish is a variety, was chosen for this- purpose. On the occasions of large dinners, as an especial feature, a live carp is served on a board, each guest cutting a piece, which is afterwards eaten raw. The fish is said to endure the carving without a flinch, which makes him an emblem of bravery. His other qualification lies in his ability to swim a stream against the current, even to ascending a waterfall, symbolizing that he overcomes every obstacle. (national geographic 1911)

In Chinese legend, it was said that if a carp were to successfully surmount the Dragon Gate waterfall in the upper reaches of the Yellow River, it would be transformed into a dragon and ascend to heaven. In addition, the carp was always considered a dignified fish and from olden times it was proverbial that “a carp ascends waterfalls.” 2


Age saw two quiet children
Go loving by at twilight,
He knew not whether homeward,
Or outward from the village,
Or (chimes were ringing) churchward,
He waited (they were strangers)
Till they were out of hearing
To bid them both be happy.
"Be happy, happy, happy,
And seize the day of pleasure."

The age-long theme is Age's.
'Twas Age imposed on poems
Their gather-roses burden
To warn against the danger
That overtaken lovers
From being overflooded
With happiness should have it.
And yet not know they have it.
But bid life seize the present?
It lives less in the present
Than in the future always,
And less in both together
Than in the past. The present
Is too much for the senses,
Too crowding, too confusing—
Too present to imagine.

Robert Frost

From The Poetry of Robert Frost edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright © 1923, 1947, 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, copyright © 1942, 1951 by Robert Frost, copyright © 1970, 1975 by Lesley Frost Ballantine.

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29 March 2009

no fish swims a straight line

so i am sitting minding my own business reading my email, and suddenly an announcement brings this: a rug. i study the website where it's featured. i know this print. it's by candace wheeler. candace wheeler is, however, mentioned nowhere.

so my first thought is of jr burrows & company, where i have seen the gorgeous lace curtain of this design for many years. i was fortunate enough to find mr burrows himself, a most fascinating fellow. with his help i was able to pinpoint his source: a portier (curtain hung over a doorway) designed by wheeler, and currently in the collection of the incredible mark twain house.

he further pointed me to a photo of the textile itself, reverse-printed on denim (a very common practice) and embroidered with silk, in a book i already had (the art that is life). as you can see, it's quite amazing. though it's not known the original place- ment of the piece, we do know that candace whee- ler, as part of the assoc- iated artists, an interior decorating firm assembled by louis comfort tiffany, is credited with its design.

to my eyes, however, it looks enough japanese to have been at the very least inspired but more likely directly copied from a japanese design.

i asked mr burrows if he had any idea of the source and he didn't. i then called the rug company; they had the attribution of the associated artists but not wheeler, and they had no idea of any japanese source.

so i started hunting. i thought first katagami -- it easily looks like something that began as a stencil, and in fact it did start as a stencil in candace wheeler's hands. i also thought maybe lacquer, with its intricate inlays. but i came up zero on all accounts.

i could find nothing that was exact, though many many samples of things that were obviously from the same culture.

maybe candace wheeler was just that astonishing.

p.s. mr burrows told me some things that just blew my ears out of the water (or something). in wholly unexpected ways (to me) he has added a surprising new development to the fenollosa/dow story. stay tuned.

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