Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, GUNS AS KEYS: AND THE GREAT GATE SWINGS, by AMY LOWELL

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GUNS AS KEYS: AND THE GREAT GATE SWINGS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Due east, far west. Distant as the nests of the
Last Line: Through a wide gateway. Occident -- orient -- after fifty years.
Subject(s): Asia; Travel; Far East; East Asia; Orient; Journeys; Trips


Due East, far West. Distant as the nests of the opposite winds. Removed as
fire and water are, as the clouds and the roots of the hills, as the wills of
youth and age. Let the key-guns be mounted, make a brave show of waging war,
and pry off the lid of Pandora's box once more. Get in at any cost and let out
at little, so it seems, but wait -- wait -- there is much to follow through the
Great Gate!

They do not see things in quite that way, on this bright November day, with
sun flashing, and waves splashing, up and down Chesapeake Bay. On shore, all
the papers are running to press with huge headlines: "Commodore Perry Sails."
Dining-tables buzz with travellers' tales of old Japan culled from Dutch
writers. But we are not like the Dutch. No shutting the stars and stripes up
on an island. Pooh! We must trade wherever we have a mind. Naturally!

The wharves of Norfolk are falling behind, becoming smaller, confused with the
warehouses and the trees. On the impetus of the strong South breeze, the
paddle-wheel steam frigate Mississippi of the United States Navy, sails down
the flashing bay. Sails away, and steams away, for her furnaces are burning, and
her paddle-wheels turning, and all her sails are set and full. Pull, men, to
the old chorus:

"A Yankee ship sails down the river,
Blow, boys, blow;
Her masts and spars they shine like silver,
Blow, my bully boys, blow."

But what is the use? That plaguey brass band blares out with "The Star
Spangled Banner," and you cannot hear the men because of it. Which is a pity,
thinks the Commodore, in his cabin, studying the map, and marking stepping-
stones: Madeira, Cape Town, Mauritius, Singapore, nice firm stepping-places for
seven-league boots. Flag-stones up and down a hemisphere.
My! How she throws the water off from her bows, and how those paddle-wheels
churn her along at the rate of seven good knots! You are a proud lady, Mrs.
Mississippi, curtseying down Chesapeake Bay, all a-flutter with red, white and
blue ribbons.

At Mishiwa in the Province of Kai,
Three men are trying to measure a pine tree
By the length of their outstretched arms.
Trying to span the bole of a huge pine tree
By the spread of their lifted arms.
Attempting to compress its girth
Within the limit of their extended arms.
Beyond, Fuji,
Majestic, inevitable,
Wreathed over by wisps of cloud.
The clouds draw about the mountain,
But there are gaps.
The men reach about the pine tree,
But their hands break apart;
The rough bark escapes their hand-clasps;
The tree is unencircled.
Three men are trying to measure the stem of a gigantic pine tree,
With their arms,
At Mishiwa in the Province of Kai.

Furnaces are burning good Cumberland coal at the rate of twenty-six tons per
diem, and the paddle-wheels turn round and round in an iris of spray. She noses
her way through a wallowing sea; foots it, bit by bit, over the slanting wave
slopes; pants along, thrust forward by her breathing furnaces, urged ahead by
the wind draft flattening against her taut sails.
The Commodore, leaning over the taffrail, sees the peak of Madeira swept up
out of the haze. The Mississippi glides into smooth water, and anchors
under the lee of the "Desertas."
Ah! the purple bougainvillia! And the sweet smells of the heliotrope and
geranium hedges! Oxdrawn sledges clattering over cobbles -- what a fine pause
in an endless voyaging. Stars and stripes demanding five hundred tons of coal,
ten thousand gallons of water, resting for a moment on a round stepping-stone,
with the drying sails slatting about in the warm wind.

"Get out your accordion, Jim, and give us the 'Sewanee River' to show those
Dagos what a tune is. Pipe up with the chorus, boys. Let her go."
The green water flows past Madeira. Flows under the paddle-boards, making
them clip and clap. The green water washes along the sides of the Commodore's
steam flagship and passes away to leeward.
"Hitch up your trousers, Black Face, and do a hornpipe. It's a fine quiet
night for a double shuffle. Keep her going, Jim. Louder. That's the ticket.
Gosh, but you can spin, Blackey!"

The road is hilly
Outside the Tiger Gate,
And striped with shadows from a bow moon
Slowly sinking to the horizon.
The roadway twinkles with the bobbing of paper lanterns,
Melon-shaped, round, oblong,
Lighting the steps of those who pass along it;
And there is a sweet singing of many semi,
From the cages which an insect seller
Carries on his back.

Westward of the Canaries, in a wind-blazing sea. Engineers, there, extinguish
the furnaces; carpenters, quick, your screwdrivers and mallets, and unship the
paddle-boards. Break out her sails, quartermasters, the wind will carry her
faster than she can steam, for the trades have her now, and are whipping her
along in fine clipper style. Key-guns, your muzzles shine like basalt above the
tumbling waves. Polished basalt cameoed upon malachite. Yankee-doodle-dandy! A
fine upstanding ship, clouded with canvas, slipping along like a trotting filly
out of the Commodore's own stables. White sails and sailors, blue-coated
officers, and red in a star sparked through the claret decanter on the
Commodore's luncheon table.
The Commodore is writing to his wife, to be posted at the next stopping place.
Two years is a long time to be upon the sea.

Nigi-oi of Matsuba-ya
Celebrated oiran,
Courtesan of unrivalled beauty,
The great silk mercer, Mitsui,
Counts himself a fortunate man
As he watches her parade in front of him
In her robes of glazed blue silk
Embroidered with singing nightingales.
He puffs his little silver pipe
And arranges a fold of her dress.
He parts it at the neck
And laughs when the falling plum-blossoms
Tickle her naked breasts.
The next morning he makes out a bill
To the Director of the Dutch Factory at Nagasaki
For three times the amount of the goods
Forwarded that day in two small junks
In the care of a trusted clerk.

The North-east trades have smoothed away into hot, blue doldrums. Paddle-
wheels to the rescue. Thank God, we live in an age of invention. What air there
is, is dead ahead. The deck is a bed of cinders, we wear a smoke cloud like a
funeral plume. Funeral -- of whom? Of the little heathens inside the Gate?
Wait! Wait! These monkey-men have got to trade, Uncle Sam has laid his plans
with care, see those black guns sizzling there. "It's deuced hot," says a
lieutenant, "I wish I could look in at a hop in Newport this evening."

The one hundred and sixty streets in the Sanno quarter
Are honey-gold,
Honey-gold from the gold-foil screens in the houses,
Honey-gold from the fresh yellow mats;
The lintels are draped with bright colors,
And from eaves and poles
Red and white paper lanterns
Glitter and swing.
Through the one hundred and sixty decorated streets of the Sanno quarter,
Trails the procession,
With a bright slowness,
To the music of flutes and drums.
Great white sails of cotton
Belly out along the honey-gold streets.
Sword bearers,
Spear bearers,
Mask bearers,
Grinning masks of mountain genii,
And a white cock on a drum
Above a purple sheet.
Over the flower hats of the people,
Shines the sacred palanquin,
"Car of gentle motion,"
Upheld by fifty men,
Stalwart servants of the god,
Bending under the weight of mirror-black lacquer,
Of pillars and roof-tree
Wrapped in chased and gilded copper.
Portly silk tassels sway to the marching of feet,
Wreaths of gold and silver flowers
Shoot sudden scintillations at the gold-foil screens.
The golden phoenix on the roof of the palanquin
Spreads its wings,
And seems about to take flight
Over the one hundred and sixty streets
Straight into the white heart
Of the curved blue sky.
Six black oxen,
With white and red trappings,
Draw platforms on which are musicians, dancers, actors,
Who posture and sing,
Dance and parade,
Up and down the honey-gold streets,
To the sweet playing of flutes,
And the ever-repeating beat of heavy drums,
To the constant banging of heavily beaten drums,
To the insistent repeating rhythm of beautiful great drums.

Across the equator and panting down to Saint Helena, trailing smoke like a
mourning veil. Jamestown jetty, and all the officers in the ship making at once
for Longwood. Napoleon! Ah, tales -- tales -- with nobody to tell them. A
bronze eagle caged by floating wood-work. A heart burst with beating on a flat
drop-curtain of sea and sky. Nothing now but pigs in a sty. Pigs rooting in
the Emperor's bedroom. God be praised, we have a plumed smoking ship to take us
away from this desolation.

"Boney was a warrior
Boney was a warrior,
John Francois."

"Oh, shut up, Jack, you make me sick. Those pigs are like worms eating a
corpse. Bah!"

The ladies,
Wistaria Blossom, Cloth-of-Silk, and Deep Snow,
With their ten attendants,
Are come to Asakusa
To gaze at peonies.
To admire crimson-carmine peonies,
To stare in admiration at bomb-shaped, white and sulphur peonies,
To caress with a soft finger
Single, rose-flat peonies,
Tight, incurved, red-edged peonies,
Spin-wheel circle, amaranth peonies.
To smell the acrid pungence of peony blooms,
And dream for months afterwards
Of the temple garden at Asakusa,
Where they walked together
Looking at peonies.

The Gate! The Gate! The far-shining Gate! Pat your guns and thank your stars
you have not come too late. The Orient's a sleepy place, as all globe-trotters
say. We'll get there soon enough, my lads, and carry it away. That's a good
enough song to round the Cape with, and there's the Table Cloth on Table
Mountain and we've drawn a bead over half the curving world. Three cheers for
Old Glory, fellows.

A Daimino's procession
Winds between two green hills,
A line of thin, sharp, shining, pointed spears
Above red coats
And yellow mushroom hats.
A man leading an ox
Has cast himself upon the ground,
He rubs his forehead in the dust,
While his ox gazes with wide, moon eyes
At the glittering spears
Majestically parading
Between two green hills.

Down, down, down, to the bottom of the map; but we must up again, high on the
other side. America, sailing the seas of a planet to stock the shop counters at
home. Commerce-raiding a nation; pulling apart the curtains of a temple and
calling it trade. Magnificent mission! Every shop-till in every by-street will
bless you. Force the shut gate with the muzzles of your black cannon. Then
wait -- wait for fifty years -- and see who has conquered.
But now the Mississippi must brave the Cape, in a crashing of bitter seas.
The wind blows East, the wind blows West, there is no rest under these clashing
clouds. Petrel whirl by like torn newspapers along a street. Albatrosses fly
close to the mastheads. Dread purrs over this stormy ocean, and the smell of the
water is the dead, oozing dampness of tombs.

Tiger rain on the temple bridge of carved greenstone,
Slanting tiger lines of rain on the lichened lanterns of the gateway,
On the stone statues of mythical warriors.
Striped rain making the bells of the pagoda roofs flutter,
Tiger-footing on the bluish stones of the courtyard,
Beating, snapping, on the cheese-rounds of open umbrellas,
Licking, tiger-tongued, over the straw mat which a pilgrim wears upon his
Gnawing, tiger-toothed, into the paper mask
Which he carries on his back.
Tiger-clawed rain scattering the peach-blossoms,
Tiger tails of rain lashing furiously among the cryptomerias.

"Land -- O." Mauritius. Stepping-stone four. The coaling ships have arrived,
and the shore is a hive of Negroes, and Malays, and Lascars, and Chinese. The
clip and clatter of tongues is unceasing. "What awful brutes!" "Obviously, but
the fruits they sell are good." "Food, fellows, bully good food." Yankee money
for pine-apples, shaddocks, mangoes. "Who were Paul and Virginia?" "Oh, a
couple of spooneys who died here, in a shipwreck, because the lady wouldn't take
off her smock." "I say, Fred, that's a shabby way to put it. You've no
sentiment." "Maybe, I don't read much myself, and when I do, I prefer United
States, something like old Artemus Ward, for instance." "Oh, dry up, and let's
get some donkeys and go for a gallop. We've got to begin coaling tomorrow,

The beautiful dresses,
Blue, Green, Mauve, Yellow;
And the beautiful green pointed hats
Like Chinese porcelains!
See, a band of geisha
Is imitating the state procession of a Corean Ambassador,
Under painted streamers,
On an early afternoon.

The hot sun burns the tar up out of the deck. The paddle-wheels turn,
flinging the cupped water over their shoulders. Heat smoulders along the
horizon. The shadow of the ship floats off the starboard quarter, floats like a
dark cloth on the sea. The watch is pulling on the topsail halliards:

"O Sally Brown of New York City,
Ay, ay, roll and go."

Like a tired beetle, the Mississippi creeps over the flat, glass water,
creeps on, breathing heavily. Creeps -- creeps -- and sighs and settles at
Pointe de Galle, Ceylon.
Spice islands speckling the Spanish Main. Fairy tales and stolen readings.
Saint John's Eve! Midsummer Madness! Here it is all true. But the smell of
the spice-trees is not so nice as the smell of new-mown hay on the Commodore's
field at Tarrytown. But what can one say to forests of rose-wood, satin-wood,
ebony! To the talipot tree, one leaf of which can cover several people with its
single shade. Trade! Trade! Trade in spices for an earlier generation. We
dream of lacquers and precious stones. Of spinning telegraph wires across
painted fans. Ceylon is an old story, ours will be the glory of more important
But wait -- wait. No one is likely to force the Gate. The smoke of golden
Virginia tobacco floats through the blue palms. "You say you killed forty
elephants with this rifle!" "Indeed, yes, and a trifling bag, too."

Down the ninety mile rapias
Of the Heaven Dragon River,
He came,
With his bowmen,
And his spearmen,
Borne in a gilded palanquin,
To pass the Winter in Yedo
By the Shogun's decree.
To pass the Winter idling in the Yoshiwara,
While his bowmen and spearmen
Gamble away their rusted weapons
Every evening
At the Hour of the Cock.

Her Britannic Majesty's frigate Cleopatra salutes the Mississippi as
she sails into the harbor of Singapore. Vessels galore choke the wharves. From
China, Siam, Malaya; Sumatra, Europe, America. This is the bargain counter of
the East. Goods -- Goods, dumped ashore to change boats and sail on again.
Oaths and cupidity; greasy clothes and greasy dollars wound into turbans. Opium
and birds'-nests exchanged for teas, casia, nankeens; gold thread bartered for
Brummagem buttons. Pocket knives told off against teapots. Lots and lots of
cheap damaged porcelains, and trains of silken bales awaiting advantageous sales
to Yankee merchantmen. The figurehead of the Mississippi should be a
beneficent angel. With her guns to persuade, she should lay the foundation of
such a market on the shores of Japan. "We will do what we can," writes the
Commodore, in his cabin.

Outside the drapery shop of Taketani Sabai,
Strips of dried cloth are hanging out to dry.
Fine Arimitsu cloth,
Fine blue and white cloth,
Falling from a high staging,
Falling like falling water,
Like blue and white unbroken water
Sliding over a high cliff,
Like the Ono Fall on the Kisokaido Road.
Outside the shop of Taketani Sabai,
They have hung the fine dyed cloth
In strips out to dry.

Romance and heroism; and all to make one dollar two. Through grey fog and
fresh blue breezes, through heat, and sleet, and sheeted rain. For centuries
men have pursued the will-o'-the-wisp -- trade. And they have got -- what? All
civilization weighed in twopenny scales and fastened with string. A sailing
planet packed in a dry-goods box. Knocks, and shocks, and blocks of extended
knowledge, contended for and won. Cloves and nutmegs, and science stowed among
the grains. Your gains are not in silver, mariners, but in the songs of
violins, and the thin voices whispering through printed books.
"It looks like a dinner-plate," thinks the officer of the watch, as the
Mississippi sails up the muddy river to Canton, with the Dragon's Cave Fort
on one side, and the Girl's Shoe Fort on the other.
The Great Gate looms in a distant mist, and the anchored squadron waits and
rests, but its coming is as certain as the equinoxes, and the lightning bolts of
its guns are ready to tear off centuries like husks of corn.
The Commodore sips bottled water from Saratoga, and makes out a report for the
State Department. The men play pitch-and-toss, and the officers poker, and the
betting gives heavy odds against the little monkey-men.

On the floor of the reception room of the Palace
They have laid a white quilt,
And on the quilt, two red rugs;
And they have set up two screens of white paper
To hide that which should not be seen.
At the four corners, they have placed lanterns,
And now they come.
Six attendants,
Three to sit on either side of the condemned man,
Walking slowly.
Three to the right,
Three to the left,
And he between them
In his dress of ceremony
With the great wings.
Shadow wings, thrown by the lantern light,
Trail over the red rugs to the polished floor,
Trail away unnoticed,
For there is a sharp glitter from a dagger
Borne past the lanterns on a silver tray,
"O my Master,
I would borrow your sword,
For it may be a consolation to you
To perish by a sword to which you are accustomed."
Stone, the face of the condemned man,
Stone, the face of the executioner,
And yet before this moment
These were master and pupil,
Honored and according homage,
And this is an act of honorable devotion.
Each face is passive,
Hewed as out of strong stone,
Cold as a statue above a temple porch.
Down slips the dress of ceremony to the girdle.
Plunge the dagger to its hilt.
A trickle of blood runs along the white flesh
And soaks into the girdle silk.
Slowly across from left to right,
Slowly, upcutting at the end,
But the executioner leaps to his feet,
Poises the sword --
Did it flash, hover, descend?
There is a thud, a horrible rolling,
And the heavy sound of a loosened, falling body,
Then only the throbbing of blood
Spurting into the red rugs.
For he who was a man is that thing
Crumpled up on the floor,
Broken, and crushed into the red rugs.
The friend wipes the sword,
And his face is calm and frozen
As a stone statue on a Winter night
Above a temple gateway.


Four vessels giving easily to the low running waves and catspaw breezes of a
Summer sea. July, 1853, Mid-Century, but just on the turn. Mid-Century, with
the vanishing half fluttering behind on a foam-bubbled wake. Four war ships
steering for the "Land of Great Peace," caparisoned in state, cleaving a
jewelled ocean to a Dragon Gate. Behind it, the quiet of afternoon. Golden
light reflecting from the inner sides of shut portals. War is an old wives'
tale, a frail beautiful embroidery of other ages. The panoply of battle fades.
Arrows rust in arsenals, spears stand useless on their butts in vestibules.
Cannon lie unmounted in castle yards, and rats and snakes make nests in them and
rear their young in unmolested satisfaction.
The sun of midsummer lies over the "Land of Great Peace," and behind the shut
gate they do not hear the paddle-wheels of distant vessels unceasingly turning
and advancing, through the jewelled scintillations of the encircling sea.

Susquehanna and Mississippi, steamers, towing Saratoga and
Plymouth, sloops of war. Moving on in the very eye of the wind, with not a
snip of canvas upon their slim yards. Fugi! -- a point above nothing, for there
is a haze. Stop gazing, that is the bugle to clear decks and shot guns. We
must be prepared, as we run up the coast straight to the Bay of Yedo. "I say,
fellows, those boats think they can catch us, they don't know that this is
Yankee steam." Bang! The shore guns are at work. And that smoke-ball would be
a rocket at night, but we cannot see the gleam in this sunshine.
Black with people are the bluffs of Uraga, watching the "fire-ships" lipping
windless up the bay. Say all the prayers you know, priests of Shinto and Buddha.
Ah! The great splashing of the wheels stops, a chain rattles. The anchor drops
at the hour of the ape.
A clock on the Commodore's chest of drawers strikes five with a silvery

Boats are coming from all directions. Beautiful boats of unpainted wood,
broad of beam, with tapering sterns, and clean runs. Swiftly they come, with
shouting rowers standing to their oars. The shore glitters with spears and
lacquered hats. Compactly the boats advance, and each carries a flag -- white-
black-white -- and the stripes break and blow. But the tow-lines are cast loose
when the rowers would make them fast to the "black ships," and those who would
climb the chains slip back dismayed, checked by a show of cutlasses, pistols,
pikes. "Naru Hodo!" This is amazing, unprecedented! Even the Vice
Governor, though he boards the Susquehanna, cannot see the Commodore. "His
High Mighty Mysteriousness, Lord of the Forbidden Interior," remains in his
cabin. Extraordinary! Horrible!
Rockets rise from the forts, and their trails of sparks glitter faintly now,
and their bombs break in faded colors as the sun goes down.
Bolt the gate, monkey-men, but it is late to begin turning locks so rusty and
Darkness over rice-fields and hills. The Gold Gate hides in shadow. Upon the
indigo-dark water, millions of white jelly-fish drift, like lotus-petals over an
inland lake. The land buzzes with prayer, low, dim smoke hanging in air; and
every hill gashes and glares with shooting fires. The fire-bells are ringing in
double time, and a heavy swinging boom clashes from the great bells of temples.
Couriers lash their horses, riding furiously to Yedo; junks and scull-boats
arrive hourly at Shinagawa with news; runners, bearing dispatches, pant in
government offices. The hollow doors of the Great Gate beat with alarms. The
charmed Dragon country shakes and trembles. Iyeyoshi, twelfth Shogun of the
Tokugawa line, sits in his city. Sits in the midst of one million, two hundred
thousand trembling souls, and his mind rolls forward and back like a ball on a
circular runway, and finds no goal. Roll, poor distracted mind of a sick man.
What can you do but wait, trusting in your Dragon Gate, for how should you know
that it is rusted.
But there is a sign over the "black ships." A wedge-shaped tail of blue
sparklets, edged with red, trails above them as though a Dragon were pouring
violet sulphurous spume from steaming nostrils, and the hulls and rigging are
pale, quivering, bright as Taira ghosts on the sea of Nagato.
Up and down, walk sentinels, fore and aft, and at the side gangways. There is
a pile of round shot and four stands of grape beside each gun; and carbines, and
pistols, and cutlasses, are laid in the boats. Floating arsenals -- floating
sample-rooms for the wares of a continent, shop-counters, flanked with weapons,
adrift among the jelly-fishes.
Eight bells, and the meteor washes away before the wet, white wisps of dawn.
Through the countrysides of the "Land of Great Peace," flowers are blooming.
The greenish-white, sterile blossoms of hydrangeas boom faintly like distant
inaudible bombs of color exploding in the woods. Weigelias prick the pink of
their slender trumpets against green backgrounds. The fan-shaped leaves of
ladies' slippers rustle under cryptomerias.
Midsummer heat curls about the cinnamon-red tree-boles along the Tokaido. The
road ripples and glints with the passing to and fro, and beyond, in the
roadstead, the "black ships" swing at their anchors and wait.
All up and down the Eastern shore of the bay is a feverish digging, patting,
plastering. Forts to be built in an hour to resist the barbarians, if,
peradventure, they can. Japan turned to, what will it not do! Fishermen and
palanquin-bearers, packhorse-leaders and farm-laborers, even women and children,
pat and plaster. Disaster batters at the Dragon Gate. Batters at the doors of
Yedo, where Samurai unpack their armour, and whet and feather their arrows.
Daimios smoke innumerable pipes, and drink unnumbered cups of tea, discussing
-- discussing -- "What is to be done?" The Shogun is no Emperor. What shall
they do if the "hairy devils" take a notion to go to Kioto! Then indeed would
the Tokugawa fall. The prisons are crammed with those who advise opening the
Gate. Open the Gate, and let the State scatter like dust to the wind! Absurd!
Unthinkable! Suppress the "brocade pictures" of the floating monsters with which
book-sellers and picture-shop keepers are delighting and affrighting the
populace. Place a ban on speech. Preach, inert Daimios -- the Commodore will
not go to Nagasaki, and the roar of his guns will drown the clattering fall
of your Dragon Doors if you do not open them in time. East and West, and trade
shaded by heroism. Hokusai is dead, but his pupils are lampooning your carpet
soldiers. Spare the dynasty -- parley, procrastinate. Appoint two Princes to
receive the Commodore, at once, since he will not wait over long. At Kurihama,
for he must not come to Yedo.

Flip -- flap -- flutter -- flags in front of the Conference House. Built over
night, it seems, with unpainted peaked summits of roofs gleaming like ricks of
grain. Flip -- flutter -- flap -- variously-tinted flags, in a crescent about
nine tall standards whose long scarlet pennons brush the ground. Beat -- tap --
fill and relapse -- the wind pushing against taut white cloth screens, bellying
out the Shogun's crest of heart-shaped Asarum leaves in the panels, crumpling
them to indefinite figures of scarlet spotting white. Flip -- ripple -- brighten
-- over serried ranks of soldiers on the beach. Sword-bearers, spear-bearers,
archers, lancers, and those who carry heavy, antiquated match-locks. The block
of them five thousand armed men, drawn up in front of a cracking golden door.
But behind their bristling spears, the cracks are hidden.
Braying, blasting blares from two brass bands, approaching in glittering boats
over glittering water. One is playing the "Overture" from "William Tell," the
other, "The Last Rose of Summer," and the way the notes clash, and shock, and
shatter, and dissolve, is wonderful to hear. Queer barbarian music, and the
monkey-soldiers stand stock still, listening to its reverberation humming in the
folded doors of the Great Gate.
Stuff your ears, monkey-soldiers, screw your faces, shudder up and down your
spines. Cannon! Cannon! from one of the "black ships." Thirteen thudding
explosions, thirteen red dragon tongues, thirteen clouds of smoke like the
breath of the mountain gods. Thirteen hammer strokes shaking the Great Gate, and
the seams in the metal widen. Open Sesame, shotless guns; and "The Only, High,
Grand and Mighty, Invisible Mysteriousness, Chief Barbarian" reveals himself,
and steps into his barge.
Up, oars, down; drip -- sun-spray -- rowlock-rattle. To shore! To shore! Set
foot upon the sacred soil of the "Land of Great Peace," with its five thousand
armed men doing nothing with their spears and match-locks, because of the genii
in the black guns aboard the "black ships."

One hundred marines in a line up the wharf. One hundred sailors, man to man,
opposite them. Officers, two deep; and, up the centre -- the Procession. Bands
together now: "Hail Columbia." Marines in file, sailors after, a staff with
the American flag borne by seamen, another with the Commodore's broad pennant.
Two boys, dressed for ceremony, carrying the President's letter and credentials
in golden boxes. Tall, blue-black negroes on either side of -- THE COMMODORE!
Walking slowly, gold, blue, steel-glitter, up to the Conference House, walking
in state up to an ancient tottering Gate, lately closed securely, but now
gaping. Bands, rain your music against this golden barrier, harry the ears of
the monkey-men. The doors are ajar, and the Commodore has entered.

Prince of Idzu -- Prince of Iwami -- in winged dresses of gold brocade, at the
end of a red carpet, under violet, silken hangings, under crests of scarlet
heart-shaped Asarum leaves, guardians of a scarlet lacquered box, guardians of
golden doors, worn thin and bending.
In silence the blue-black negroes advance, and take the golden boxes from the
page boys; in silence they open them and unwrap blue velvet coverings. Silently
they display the documents to the Prince of Idzu -- the Prince of Iwami --
motionless, inscrutable -- beyond the red carpet.
The vellum crackles as it is unfolded, and the long silk-gold cords of the
seals drop their gold tassels to straight glistening inches and swing slowly --
gold tassels clock-ticking before a doomed, burnished gate.
The negroes lay the vellum documents upon the scarlet lacquered box; bow, and
"I am desirous that our two countries should trade with each other." Careful
letters, carefully traced on rich parchment, and the low sun casts the shadow of
the Gate far inland over high hills.
"The letter of the President of the United States will be delivered to the
Emperor. Therefore you can now go."
The Commodore, rising: "I will return for the answer during the coming
But ships are frail, and seas are fickle, one can nail fresh plating over the
thin gate before Spring. Prince of Idzu -- Prince of Iwami -- inscrutable
statesmen, insensate idiots, trusting blithely to a lock when the key-guns are
trained even now upon it.
Withdraw, Procession. Dip oars back to the "black ships." Slip cables and
depart, for day after day will lapse and nothing can retard a coming Spring.

Panic Winter throughout the "Land of Great Peace." Panic, and haste, wasting
energies and accomplishing nothing. Kioto has heard, and prays, trembling.
Priests at the shrine of Ise whine long slow supplications from dawn to dawn,
and through days dropping down again from morning. Iyeyoshi is dead, and
Iyesada rules in Yedo; thirteenth Shogun of the Tokugawa. Rules and struggles,
rescinds laws, urges reforms; breathless, agitated endeavors to patch and polish
where is only corroding and puffed particles of dust.
It is Winter still in the Bay of Yedo, though the plum-trees of Kamata and
Kinagawa are white and fluttering.
Winter, with green, high, angular seas. But over the water, far toward China,
are burning the furnaces of three great steamers, and four sailing vessels heel
over, with decks slanted and sails full and pulling.
"There's a bit of a lop, this morning. Mr. Jones, you'd better take in those
"Ay, ay, Sir. Tumble up here, men! Tumble up! Lay aloft and stow royals.
Haul out to leeward."

"To my,
And we'll furl
And pay Paddy Doyle for his boots."

"Taught band -- knot away."
Chug! Chug! go the wheels of the consorts, salting smokestacks with whirled
The Commodore lights a cigar, and paces up and down the quarter-deck of the
Powhatan. "I wonder what the old yellow devils will do," he muses.

Forty feet high, the camellia trees, with hard, green buds unburst. It is
early yet for camellias, and the green buds and the glazed green leaves toss
frantically in a blustering March wind. Sheltered behind the forty feet high
camellia trees, on the hills of Idzu, stand watchmen straining their eyes over a
broken dazzle of sea.
Just at the edge of moonlight and sunlight -- moon setting; sun rising -- they
come. Seven war ships heeled over and flashing, dashing through heaped waves,
sleeping a moment in hollows leaping over ridges, sweeping forward in a strain
of canvas and a train of red-black smoke.
"The fire-ships! The fire-ships!"
Slip the bridles of your horses, messengers, and clatter down the Tokaido;
scatter pedestrians, palanquins, slow moving cattle, right and left into the
cryptomerias; rattle over bridges, spatter dust into shop-windows. To Yedo! To
Yedo! For Spring is here, and the fire-ships have come!

Seven vessels, flying the stars and stripes, three more shortly to join them,
with ripe, fruit-bearing guns pointed inland.
Princes evince doubt, distrust. Learning must beat learning. Appoint a
Professor of the University. Delay, prevaricate. How long can the play
continue? Hayashi, learned scholar of Confucius and Mencius -- he shall confer
with the Barbarians at Uraga. Shall he! Word comes that the Mighty Chief of
Ships will not go to Uraga. Steam is up, and -- Horror! Consternation! The
squadron moves toward Yedo! Sailors, midshipmen, lieutenants pack yards and
crosstrees, seeing temple gates, castle towers, flowered pagodas, and look-outs
looming distantly clear, and the Commodore on deck can hear the slow booming of
the bells from the temples of Shiba and Asakusa.
You must capitulate, great Princes of a quivering Gate. Say Yokohama, and the
Commodore will agree, for they must not come to Yedo.
Rows of japonicas in full bloom outside the Conference House. Flags and
streamers, and musicians and pikemen. Five hundred officers, seamen, marines,
and the Commodore following in his white-painted gig. A jig of fortune indeed,
with a sailor and a professor manoeuvring for terms, chess-playing each other in
a game of future centuries.
The Americans bring presents. Presents now, to be bought hereafter.
Goodwill, to head long bills of imports. Occidental mechanisms to push the
Orient into limbo. Fox-moves of interpreters, and Pandora's box with a contents
rated far too low.
Round and round goes the little train on its circular railroad, at twenty
miles an hour, with grave dignitaries seated on its roof. Smiles, gestures, at
messages running over wire, a mile away. Touch the harrows, the plows, the
flails, and shudder at the "spirit pictures" of the daguerreotype machine. These
Barbarians have harnessed gods and dragons. They build boats which will not
sink, and tinker little gold wheels till they follow the swinging of the sun.
Run to the Conference House. See, feel, listen. And shrug deprecating
shoulders at the glisten of silk and lacquer given in return. What are cups cut
out of conch-shells, and red-dyed figured crepe, to railroads, and burning
Go on board the "black ships" and drink mint juleps and brandy smashes, and
click your tongues over sweet puddings. Offer the strangers pickled plums,
sugared fruits, candied walnuts. Bruit the news far inland through the mouths
of countrymen. Who thinks of the Great Gate! Its portals are pushed so far back
that the shining edges of them can scarcely be observed. The Commodore has
never swerved a moment from his purpose, and the dragon mouths of his guns have
conquered without the need of a single powder-horn.
The Commodore writes in his cabin. Writes an account of what he has done.
The sands of centuries run fast, one slides, and another, each falling into a
smother of dust.
A locomotive in pay for a Whistler; telegraph wires buying a revolution;
weights and measures and Audubon's birds in exchange for fear. Yellow monkey-
men leaping out of Pandora's box, shaking the rocks of the Western coastline.
Golden California bartering panic for prints. The dressing-gowns of a continent
won at the cost of security. Artists and philosophers lost in the hour-glass
and pouring through an open Gate.

Ten ships sailing for China on a fair May wind. Ten ships sailing from one
world into another, but never again into the one they left. Two years and a
tip-turn is accomplished. Over the globe and back, Rip Van Winkle ships. Slip
into your docks in Newport, in Norfolk, in Charlestown. You have blown off the
locks of the East, and what is coming will come.


In the Castle moat, lotus flowers are blooming,
They shine with the light of an early moon
Brightening above the Castle towers.
They shine in the dark circles of their unreflecting leaves.
Pale blossoms,
Pale towers,
Pale moon,
Deserted ancient moat
About an ancient stronghold,
Your bowmen are departed,
Your strong walls are silent,
Their only echo
A croaking of frogs.
Frogs croaking at the moon
In the ancient moat
Of an ancient, crumbling Castle.

1903. JAPAN

The high cliff of the Kegon waterfall, and a young man carving words on the
trunk of a tree. He finishes, pauses an instant, and then leaps into the foam-
cloud rising from below. But, on the tree-trunk, the newly-cut words blaze
white and hard as though set with diamonds:
"How mightily and steadily go Heaven and Earth! How infinite the duration of
Past and Present! Try to measure this vastness with five feet. A word explains
the Truth of the whole Universe -- unknowable. To cure my agony I have
decided to die. Now, as I stand on the crest of this rock, no uneasiness is left
in me. For the first time I know that extreme pessimism and extreme optimism
are one."


"Nocturne -- Blue and silver -- Battersea Bridge.
Nocturne -- Grey and Silver -- Chelsea Embankment.
Variations in Violet and Green."
Pictures in a glass-roofed gallery, and all day long the throng of people is
so great that one can scarcely see them. Debits -- credits? Flux and flow
through a wide gateway. Occident -- Orient -- after fifty years.

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