Tag Archives: Sadakichi Hartmann

Amusing Monday: Poet Sadakichi Hartmann and images on the sea

I was captivated by a brief but richly infused poem, “Why I Love Thee,” which arrived last week in my email, thanks to a free subscription to “Poem-a-Day” from the Academy of American Poets.

It’s been several months since I posted poetry in “Amusing Monday.” I believe the last time followed an enjoyable struggle through the long and symbolically laden poem “To Brooklyn Bridge” by Hart Crane. See Water Ways, Nov. 26, 2018.

Why I Love Thee?

By Sadakichi Hartmann (1867-1944)

Why I love thee?
Ask why the seawind wanders,
Why the shore is aflush with the tide,
Why the moon through heaven meanders
Like seafaring ships that ride
On a sullen, motionless deep;
Why the seabirds are fluttering the strand
Where the waves sing themselves to sleep
And starshine lives in the curves of the sand!

Sadakichi Hartmann, poet and art critic, was born in Japan and grew up in Germany with lifelong cultural influences from both his German father and Japanese mother. He came to the U.S. at age 15, and at age 17 introduced himself to Walt Whitman, and they became lifelong friends.

Sadakichi Hartmann

Juliana Chang, who has explored the history of Asian American poetry, described Hartmann as “one of the most intriguing and overlooked figures in the history of American poetry.”

Hartmann popularized Japanese forms, including haiku and tanka, which are based on strict syllabic structure. But he playfully crossed the boundaries of form to focus on imagery and what he called “pictorial suggestion.” That’s what I see in the poem, “Why I Love Thee?” It really needs no further analysis.

Edward Moran, a literary historian, wrote in “The Massachusetts Review” that Hartmann lived in a liminal era between Victorianism and Modernism, where he “held court as the quintessential jack-of-all-trades: a poet, a playwright, an art critic, a pioneering photography critic, a newspaper reporter, a proto-beatnik/hippie (he was crowned King of the Bohemians in Greenwich Village exactly a century ago), silent-film extra (he appeared as the court magician in The Thief of Baghdad), and self-styled court jester to a Hollywood rat pack of the 1920s (John Barrymore described him as ‘a living freak. . . sired by Mephistopheles out of Madame Butterfly’).”

Additional academic discussion of Hartmann’s influence can be found in a piece, “Missing Link,” by Floyd Cheung, professor of English Language and Literature at Smith College in Massachusetts. In 2017, Cheung edited a book of Hartmann’s poems and letters.

Here’s another poem by Hartmann

Tanka

By Sadakichi Hartmann

I.
Winter? Spring? Who knows?
White buds from the plumtrees wing
And mingle with the snows.
No blue skies these flowers bring,
Yet their fragrance augurs Spring.

II.
Oh, were the white waves,
Far on the glimmering sea
That the moonshine laves,
Dream flowers drifting to me,—
I would cull them, love, for thee.

III.
Moon, somnolent, white,
Mirrored in a waveless sea,
What fickle mood of night
Urged thee from heaven to flee
And live in the dawnlit sea?

IV.
Like mist on the leas,
Fall gently, oh rain of Spring
On the orange trees
That to Ume’s casement cling—
Perchance, she’ll hear the love-bird sing.

V.
Though love has grown cold
The woods are bright with flowers,
Why not as of old
Go to the wildwood bowers
And dream of–bygone hours!

VI.
Tell, what name beseems
These vain and wandering days!
Like the bark of dreams
That from souls at daybreak strays
They are lost on trackless ways.