Copyright, 1916, by Sadakichi Hartmann
INSTEAD OF A PREFACE:
I will drop the mask and tell you the secret of my verses.You say they impress you as being uneven and unfinished. Iheartily agree with you. As I have stated in my announcementto the public, a poem of the scope and range of “My Rubaiyat”is never complete. No doubt, it will undergo many changeswithin the next ten years. I say ten years deliberately. Yousee, I possess the arrogance of conviction. I believe it willsurvive, simply because it strikes a popular chord, and attempts,no matter how vaguely, to reproduce a broken melody that humsin every mind. Somebody else may venture forth on similarpaths and succeed to please even the fastidious in rhyme. “MyRubaiyat” may be put on the back shelves. Well, we will see.I look at my work with objective eyes. It is a mere youngsternow. It will grow and nobody will watch its growth with keenerappreciation than I myself. The number of verses will not increase,but I sincerely hope that they will gain in clarity andstrength as well as in musical and pictorial wealth of expression.
As for versification, let me make this explanation. I chose theeight syllable stanza on account of its terseness of expression. Itis least pliable to any rush and swing of rhythm, but most conduciveto the conveyance of fragmentary moods and thoughts.The omission of rhyme I essayed for no other reason than itstechnical difficulty. To make rhymeless lines read like a poemis the most laborious task a songsmith can set himself. It is thevanity of the alien to show his mastery over a language that wasneither his father’s nor his mother’s tongue. But I object toyour statement that I disdain rhythm. I have a vague suspicionthat you really mean meter. My meter is rough and wilful andsubject to impurities, as for instance counting the last two syllablesin words like “happier” and “sunnier” either as one or two,just as my fancy, or rather my appreciation of rhythm, dictates.My rhythm changes constantly but it is palpable, underneath asit were, at all times. I have some experience as a reader (thoughelocutionists may shrug their shoulders at my style of interpretation—letthem shrug) and I have, whenever I write, the habit ofreading aloud the words as I put them down. Reading means toget a certain sense and swing, color and sound in the words asone utters them. If my verses contain this possibility of auralgratification they cannot be utterly devoid of rhythm. No doubtmy sense of sound alliteration is foreign, unconsciously Oriental.I feel a sound relation, no, even a rhyme suggestion inwords like “chance” and “spring,” “herd” and “feet” at the endof succeeding stanzas. The alliteration of Japanese poetsis much subtler (due to the peculiarities of the language) thanthe word music of our Laniers and Whitmans, although it isnever conducted with the elaborate precision of a Poe or Swinburne.It always remains fragmentary, it rarely resembles fullorchestration. Also my lines lack the merit of contrapuntalstructure. Yet they have one quality which is generally overlooked.They possess pictorial harmony. My long and persistentassociation with art makes me not only see but think things inpictures. Pictures abound throughout “My Rubaiyat” for allwho have the mental pictorial vision to see them. Lines like “turnphantoms with the colder morn” and “in a hilltown amongroses” are as concentrated as any image that can be found in atanka (i.e. Japanese short poem).
Critics may contend that pictorial suggestion per se, as themain characteristic of a poem, does not conform to the acceptedforms of poetry. This objection is meaningless to me. Withoutthe spirit of innovation there would have been no incentive towrite the poem. Like the composers of the day I believe inthe old ideals but in new methods of expression.
My ambition was to write a simple poem which would appealto all; to chambermaids as well as cognoscenti, ordinary businessmen as well as solitary artistic souls. Who will decidewhether I have succeeded or failed? Only the public at large.The poem, no doubt, is too didactic for fragile aesthetics whoglorify naught but evanescent words, but it is surely no shortcomingto try to express thought. Even exponents of the modernschools attempt this—occasionally. The way of expressionis a different matter. It is open to criticism. But excuses thata critic knows nothing about a certain subject, and yet at thesame time deliberate pricks at this very thorn in the flesh of hisignorance are sad to contemplate. Rhyme is surely out of date.And the supposed lack of rhythm is merely imaginary. Wouldyou enjoy Japanese or Chinese music? Very likely not and yetthey contain as fine a rhythm and as musical a quality as anymodern composition. Only they are vaguer, subtle, different.
And on this difference hinges all logical and evasive argument.The practical philosophy contained in “My Rubaiyat,” ofcourse, can be attacked for being non-moral or non-religious,but the technique of the poem can be discussed only from oneviewpoint.