“The Classical Stage of Japan. Ernest Fenollosa’s Work on Japanese Noh. Edited by Ezra Pound.” Drama V.18 (May 1915); P&P II: 57-58. Republished with changes in Noh, Or Accomplishment. Macmillan 1917, 44-46. 

[Pound’s commentary to Suma Genji and his note. Text below reproduced from Drama]


           I dare say the play, Suma Genji, will seem undramatic to some people the first time they read it. The suspense is the suspense of waiting for a supernatural manifestation — which comes. Some will be annoyed at a form of psychology which is, in the West, relegated to spiritistic séances. There is, however, no doubt that such psychology exists. All last winter I watched Mr. Yeats correlating folk-lore (which Lady Gregory had collected in Irish cottages) and data of the occult writers, with the habits of charlatans of Bond Street. If the Japanese authors had not combined the psychology of such matters with what is to me a very fine sort of poetry, I would not bother about it.

            The reader will miss the feel of suspense if he is unable to put himself in sympathy with the priest eager to see “even in a vision” the beauty lost in the years, “the shadow of the past in bright form.” I do not say that this sympathy is easily acquired. It is too unusual a frame of mind for us to fall into it without conscious effort. But if one can once get over the feeling of hostility, if one can once let oneself into the world of the Noh, there is undoubtedly a new beauty before one. I have found it well worth the trial, and can hope that others will do so.     

            This last play of Genji shows us the Noh very near to the original, or early form of the God-dance. The first legendary dance took place when the light-goddess hid herself in a cave and the other gods danced on a tub or something of that sort to attract her attention and lure her out of her cave. The parallels with the religious origins of Greek and mediaeval drama are so obvious that I will not delay the reader by pointing them out. There are various differences: in Greece the chorus danced, in Japan the hero dances, and so on.

            The arrangement of five or six Noh into one performance explains, in part, what may seem like a lack of construction in some of the pieces; the plays have, however, a very severe construction of their own, a sort of musical construction which I shall present in a future article in connection with the text of the Takasago play, when I get that latter ready for the public.

           When a text seems to “go off into nothing'” at the end the reader must remember (as before said) “that the vagueness or paleness of words is made good by the emotion of the final dance,” for the Noh has its unity in emotion. It has also what we may call Unity of Image. At least, the better plays are all built into the intensification of a single Image:* the red maple leaves and the snow flurry in Nishikigi, the pines in Takasago, the blue-grey waves and wave pattern in Suma Genji, the mantle of feathers in the play of that name, Hagoromo.

Pound’s note:

* This intensification of the Image, this manner of construction, is very interesting to me personally, as an Imagiste, for we Imagistes knew nothing of these plays when we set out in our own manner. These plays are also an answer to a question that has several times been put to me: “Could one do a long Imagiste poem, or even a long poem in vers libre?”


Note: Pound's commentary on Suma Genji is relevant for the way he reduces the Shojo play to a single image and reformulates it to fit with the other images and symbols in Canto II. RP.


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