Yone Noguchi Criticism

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The Bookman (essay date 1913)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of 'The American Diary of a Japanese Girl ', in The Bookman, January, 1913, p. 240.

[In the following essay, a review of The American Diary of a Japanese Girl, a critic observes that the book's supposedly naive narrator possesses a knowledge of western culture on a level with Noguchi's own.]

Mr. Noguchi, the poet, we have long admired; he is one of the two Japanese authors who have captivated us in the net of their imperfect, very skilfully imperfect, English. He seemed to us before to be a Japanese butterfly which had strayed somehow into a Hebridean sunset and had grown deliciously intoxicated. At the same time he strayed no more out of himself than did Shelley, and we apprehended that in attempting to depict a Japanese girl on whose untutored mind America thrusts itself [in The American Diary of a Japanese Girl], Mr. Noguchi would bring too much of himself into the sketch. He is indeed far too profound for his heroine, and in some places he goes so far in the direction of naïvité that we look askance at the performance. In other words, it seems to us that the requisite sense of European humour there is no humour worth dignifying with the title American is not easily to be acquired, even by a most gifted Japanese. As an example of observation not unworthy of Tolstoi we have this:

"It is astonishing to notice what a condescending manner the white gentlemen display towards ladies. They take off their hats in the elevator some showing such a great bald head, like a funny O Binzuru, that is as common as spectacled children if any woman is present. They stand humbly as Japs to the august 'Son of Heaven.' They crawl out like lambs after the woman steps away. It puzzles me to solve how women can be deserving of such honour.

"What a goody-goody act!

"But I wonder how they behave themselves before God!"

Again, is it not rather Noguchi than this Miss Morning Glory, the book's heroine, who says:

"Snake, one of my greatest foes! (The others being cheese and mathematics.) I turned pale. But I bravely faced it, hoping that it would speak a word or two, as one did to Eve. I placed my eyes on it, though in fear. Perhaps it wasn't as intelligent as the one in the Garden of Eden. Maybe it thought it nothing but a waste of time to address a Jap poorly stored in English. It crept away. I ran down the hill."

And, on second thoughts, even if Mr. Noguchi does not give us surely he does not! the simple soul of this Miss Morning Glory, yet we have reason to be thankful for what he does give.

Yoshinobu Hakutani (essay date 1985)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Yone Noguchi's Poetry: From Whitman to Zen," in Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 22, No. 1, Spring, 1985, pp. 67-79.

[In the following essay, Hakutani examines critical influences, both eastern and western, on Noguchi's poetry.]

I

Despite recent interest in American ethnic poetry, particularly that of black poets such as Paul Laurence Dunbar and Langston Hughes, very little has been said about Yone Noguchi, perhaps the most gifted Japanese American poet. It is not difficult to find some of the reasons for this neglect. He was not a native American writer; born in Japan in 1875, he came to America as a young immigrant. With little money in his pocket he struggled to live among the early Japanese immigrants in California for two years, but with some prior knowledge of English he swiftly learned the language. Already an aspiring poet, the young Noguchi paid homage to the Western poet Joaquin Miller by leading a hermit's life for three years.

In 1896 he published some of his earliest poems in three ephemeral journals of the day, the Lark, the Chap Book, and the Philistine. These poems attracted attention from some critics, and he brought out in the following year his first collections of poetry, Seen and Unseen or, Monologues of a Homeless Snail and The Voice of the Valley.1 Although he received praise from established writers,2 his literary production became erratic and his fragile reputation was not sustained for long. Like the wandering bard traditional in Japan,...

(The entire section is 49,493 words.)