Wednesday, June 25, 2008

son of the wish

Lafcadio Hearn to Basil Hall Chamberlain

Dear Chamberlain,
What do you think about the idea of getting up a new "Japanese Fairy Tale Series"? I have quite a number of tales splendidly adapted to weird illustrations. Is there money in such a thing? Do you know this poem?

I am the mote in the sunbeam; and I am
the burning sun: "Rest here," I whisper the atom;
I say to the orb, "Roll on!"

I am the blush of the morning, and I am
the evening breeze: I am the leaf's low murmur,
the swell of the terrible seas.

I am the vine and the vineyard,--grapes,
winepress, and must, and wine,
The guest, the host, the traveller,--the goblet
of crystal fine;--

I am the net, the fowler, the bird and its
frightened cry;--
The mirror, the form reflected, the sound
and its echo, I;--

I am the breath of the flute;--I am
the mind of man,--
Gold's glitter, the light of sunrise,--and the
sea-pearl's lustre wan,--

The Rose, her poet-nightingale,--the songs
from his throat that rise,
The flint, the spark, the taper,--the moth
that about it flies;--

The lover's passionate pleading,--the maiden's
whispered fear,--
The warrior, the blade that smites him,--his
mother's heart-wrung tear;

I am both Good and Evil,--the deed, and
the deed's intent,--
Temptation, victim, sinner, crime, pardon
and punishment;--

I am what was, is, will be,--creation's
ascent and fall,--
The link, the chain of existence,--beginning
and end of all!

-(Ritter, from Djellalleddin Rumi.)

I have studied this poem for years, and every time I read it,--the grander it seems. To-day I found the old copy I made of it in 1879 among some loose papers.

There isn't anything new to tell you that you could care about.
Lafcadio Hearn.
25th May, 1894.

I wish it were 1994,--don't you? (OVER) I forgot to tell you:--

To-day I spent an hour in reading over part of the notes taken on my first arrival, and during the first six months of 1890. Result, I asked myself: "How came you to go mad?--absolutely mad?" It was the same kind of madness as the first love of a boy.

I find I described horrible places as gardens of paradise, and horrid people as angels and divinities. How happy I must have been without knowing it! There are all my illusions facing me,--on faded yellow paper. I feel my face tingle as I study some of them. Happily I had the judgment not to print many lines from them.

But--I ask myself--am I the only fool in the world? Or was I a fool at all? Or is everybody, however wise, at first deluded more or less by unfamiliar conditions when these are agreeable, the idea always being the son of the wish?

Perhaps I was right in one way. For that moment Japan was really for me what I thought it. To the child the world is blue and green; to the old man grey--both are right.

So with all things. Relations alone exist. The writer's danger is that of describing his own, as if they were common or permanent. Perhaps the man who comes to Japan full of hate for all things Oriental may get nearer to truth at once--though, of course, he will also make a kindred mistake.
Lafcadio Hearn

-from The Japanese Letters of Lafcadio Hearn edited with an introduction by Elizabeth Bisland (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1910) p. 311-13.

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