"A candle that must melt away": Early Keats Scholarship in Japan

This essay explores the ethos of early Keats scholarship in Japan, focusing on three major scholars: Saito Takeshi, Sato Kiyoshi, and Hinatsu Kohnosuke. Japanese scholarly investigations into Keats were pioneered by a group of young scholars centered around the Imperial University of Tokyo. In the first place, Saito attempted to establish a humanistic understanding of the poet’s ideas, as exemplified by his Keats’ View of Poetry (1929). His love of Keats reflects his early reading, higher education, and Protestantism. His meeting with John Lawrence, a philologist, at the University perhaps opened the way for a modern methodology of Romantic study in Japan today. Secondly, unlike his fellow-scholar, Sato in The Art of Keats (1924) embraced Keats as an apostle and victim of beauty, while understanding English Romanticism as a catalyst for social modernization. Thirdly, Hinatsu, a scholar-poet from Waseda University, authored a massive study entitled The Priest of Beauty (1939) on the psychological process through which Keats composed the “Odes.” His account of Keats’s artistry owes something to his early background and reclusive character. The achievements of these scholars attest to their high-minded ambition in guiding the progress of national literature and literary scholarship in Japan.

“A candle that must melt away”: Early Keats Scholarship in Japan

Yoshikazu Suzuki
Japan Women’s University

1.        Keats criticism reached its first landmark in 1917. That year, a critic gave form to his long-term devotion to so short-lived a poet. His John Keats turned out to be the first full-scale account of Keats’s life and poetry, which would serve his readers for the next fifty years. The author was the illustrious fine-arts critic of the day, Sir Sidney Colvin, who had published a short biography of the poet (1887) as well as the authoritative edition of his letters (1891) and of his poems (1915), and would help, as treasurer, to raise a fund for purchasing the memorial site to be called Keats House. Crowning his academic efforts, the 1917 book made the poet’s fame secure, which it is easy to imagine encouraged the following book-length lives and criticisms of Keats in, especially, the afterglow of the centenary of his death. Indeed, Colvin’s latest achievement was revered cross-culturally, at least in Japan: a copy of the book was displayed at the venue of a ceremony held for commemorating Keats in 1921, occupying pride of place alongside that of the facsimile of the “Hyperion” manuscript by the poet himself. Perhaps, for the group of young scholars who organized this event, the exhaustive work of Colvin was symbolic of the spirit of ambition and dedication they sought to bring into the complacency of Japanese dilettantish academia. The 1921 celebration, in fact, became a prelude to the next phase in the reception of Keats. In literary circles, since first mentioned in the 1871 translation of Samuel Smiles’s Self-Help, the poet’s name had been increasingly familiar. Inviting enthusiastic or sympathetic comments, his poems and love letters had been partly translated, with his versification influencing the practice of rising poets. [1]  On the other hand, his genius had remained unexplored in academia, despite the fact that Keats was often discussed in lectures by foreign scholars in government employ or by Japanese teachers. [2]  This lengthy period of literary reception—lengthy, compared with other major Romantics like Byron and Shelley—was finally taken over by its scholarly counterpart in the 1920s. [3]  A brief account of the Keats memorial conference mentioned above, an event long buried in history, makes a good starting point from which to examine the ethos of early Keats scholarship in Japan through three important Keats scholars: Saito Takeshi (1887–1982), Sato Kiyoshi (1885–1960) and Hinatsu Konosuke (1890–1971).

2.        Late afternoon on the centenary day, some fifty people were found in a Japanese-style building of Conference Hall, alias Sanjo Goten (“Hilltop Mansion”), at Tokyo Imperial University, the predecessor of the present University of Tokyo. [4]  On the front wall of the room they entered was hung an oil portrait of Keats (after Joseph Severn’s). The gatherers were wearing violets on their jackets, an ornament inspired by Severn’s report to the dying poet that the flower was in bloom around the tomb awaiting him: the purport of the party was to delight Keats himself. The conference started at six o’clock with the reading of a sonnet dedicated to the poet by a Japanese scholar, Toyoda Minoru, a graduate of the Imperial University. [5]  This was followed by three lectures, the first and second by other graduates and the third by a foreign lecturer working at the University, E. E. Speight. After the session, some of the listeners moved on to a relaxed conversation over snacks and coffee, others to peeking at tens of Keats references on show. The lack of developed transportation necessitated an alternative, in Kobe, for those in the West part of the country. This ceremony was also a success, with over sixty people attending the lectures and over twenty the banquet. The hosts of these conferences were editors of the slim, small-format monthly magazine Bokushin (“Pan”), aimed at lovers of poetry; despite the brief notice given for the conference, they issued the February installment as a special number, using an illustration of the poet’s profile for the title page and carrying Speight’s sonnet, “John Keats,” the facsimile of both sides of a leaf from Keats’s autograph of “The Eve of St. Mark,” studies and translations of his work, as well as their usual run of original compositions. The limited readership of the periodical—albeit influential, considering that the group was headed by the major lyrist Miki Rofu—was complemented by a more academic and broadly-interested journal, The Rising Generation, and their commemoration ran for four issues—fortnightly at that time—reaching the wider group of English scholars and teachers. Behind this sudden outburst of academic interest in Keats was Saito Takeshi, in his mid-thirties, a graduate-lecturer at the Imperial University, a speaker at the Keats centenary in Tokyo, and a chief contributor of Keats studies to both periodicals. [6] 

3.        Where Okada rightly observes that Saito’s evaluation may have formed the basis of Keats’s subsequent popularity in Japan (85), it is notable that his attitude was not so much that of an evangelist as he might likely seem. In the editor’s postscript to an issue of Bokushin, reflecting on the memorial event in Tokyo, the writer, most probably Saito, reveals that he had expected fewer than half of those who had actually appeared. Even more surprising was the impact of their special number on literary and poetic circles, and the English academia, which he describes somewhat reservedly as “considerable” (Bokushin 24). [7]  His low expectation, it is explained, was because Keats was unlikely to draw many readers’ attention. Saito’s view is more evident in an essay he wrote for the morning issue of a leading newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, dated on Keats’s centenary. Like other early Keats lovers in Japan, Saito expresses great sympathy for the poet’s life of adversity, and sees his love affair in terms of Lycius’s downfall in “Lamia.” However, the tenor of the article opposes the prevailing view that Keats was an aesthete or decadent. As proof to the contrary, Saito quotes the lines defining a poet as “those to whom the miseries of the world / Are misery, and will not let them rest” (“The Fall of Hyperion” 1.148–49). It was in the continued suffering through which he attained this eminence, says Saito, that Keats’s greatness lay. His pursuit of “my demon Poesy” (“Ode on Indolence” 30) was too intense to be sustained, but was nonetheless inevitable. His work was “a living flame to illuminate the world,” and he himself “a candle that must melt away” to do so: poetry was his “lifeblood,” more so than in the case of Shelley. Despite addressing the general public, Saito declares that Keats’s poetry is not suited to them, and that it can only be understood by those who love beauty and “demon Poesy,” who can “see a higher beauty in pain and conflict.” Therefore, concludes Saito, his readers will remain a few, and the celebration should thus remain modest: “it should be the last thing to do to carry around a portable shrine” (“Keats Itte Hyakunen”).

4.        Saito’s outspoken elitism might be the result of the strong identification he had with Keats, a manifestation of his unlimited esteem for a dedicated and lofty spirit. His receptive but resolute nature is suggested by what happened to him as a schoolboy in Fukushima at the age of seventeen. He was enthralled with Wordsworth’s view of nature and human life, to an alarming degree. A precocious boy, he read “The Table Turned” with a strong sense of the futility of learning, thus handing in his notice. Back home he was persuaded by his father—the very farmer-father who would later attempt to stop Saito from going to Tokyo so that he, the eldest son, could take over the family’s trade—to resume schooling. As was typical of young intellectuals of the day, Saito read avidly, amongst other things, Imperial Literature, the journal issued by a literary circle at the Imperial University, and the works of Japanese Romantic poets such as Shimazaki Toson and a famous devotee of Keats, Susukida Kyukin, while practicing their new style of poetry himself. His arrival at the Imperial University in 1908 was too late to allow direct contact with either Lafcadio Hearn, a lecturer acclaimed for critical acumen, or Natsume Soseki, the replacement for Hearn, who remained at his post for only four years. Saito studied under the supervision of the philologist John Lawrence (1850–1916), the only tenured professor in the department. Lawrence approached literary works through formal disciplines such as prosody, stylistics, and phonetics, Romantic poets being a subject of his special concern, which meant much to Saito and other students.

5.        Lawrence’s dedication to teaching is worthy of mention at this point. In explaining why he was not more productive in writing—his lifetime output consists of, chiefly, the doctoral dissertation Chapters on Alliterative Verse (1893) and a monograph in Modern Language Review (1914)—his students point out that during his ten or so years in office Lawrence was responsible for, at most, twelve lectures, and gave seminars or tutorials that lasted from two to five hours everyday, voluntarily (Saito 1.473–74, Sup. 451–52; Ichikawa 268–71). [8]  Much later, Saito surmised that, although Lawrence’s commentary-based method, linguistic in focus, may have lacked critical depth, and disappointed those aspiring to a writer’s career, he was the father of Romantic studies in today’s form (Sup. 452, 166), while he is elsewhere reckoned as an epoch-maker in the study of English literature and linguistics (Tezuka 258). In truth, his teaching customs anticipate the proliferation of annotative practice in the Taisho era. The matchless project of “Kenkyusha English Classics,” the editions of English authors annotated in Japanese which extended to a hundred volumes (1921–32), was supervised by Lawrence’s follower, Ichikawa Sanki. [9]  As well as helping to measure the spread of English studies at that time, this historic undertaking echoes, and links to, a shift in approach that Lawrence initiated among his many students: the shift from the impressionistic, or Hearnean, to the scholarly, in its strict sense. There is no clear explanation as to why Lawrence often lectured on Romantic poetry, including Shelley’s Revolt of Islam or Prometheus Unbound, but one possibility is that he cherished their liberal inclination. This may reflect his political awareness, given that Japan was at the threshold of a democratic movement called in many quarters “Taisho Democracy.”

6.        Saito’s early career culminated in a doctoral dissertation in English, Keats’ View of Poetry. After a long lectureship, he wrote it in the autumn of 1924 while visiting Oxford, where he attended the “Discussion Class” offered by Merton Professor of English Literature, George S. Gordon. Gordon hosted the gathering of a few senior students selected from English department, following the custom of his predecessor, Sir Walter Raleigh. Upon request, Saito delivered a paper on the state of English studies in Japan. Back home, he adapted this extracurricular “Class” for his workplace (1: 130). When Saito’s thesis was published by Cobden-Sanderson in 1929, with the endorsement of his colleague Edmund Blunden, it was favorably reviewed in The Times Literary Supplement with a comment: “it is, within certain limits, a valuable addition to the growing body of criticism of that great poet” (1094). [10]  The study captured the attention of Clarence D. Thorpe, thus prompting his reviews, and was added to the reading list at the University of Michigan. Indeed, Saito’s focus and approach prefigures Thorpe’s work, The Mind of John Keats (1926). Saito presents Keats as a poet of humanistic conceptions, discussing his notions of beauty and truth, and of the function of poetry, and his axioms of poetry. In a section of the first chapter, Saito challenges the current interpretation of the Grecian Urn’s cryptic axiom—“Beauty is truth, truth beauty” —as being an announcement of the art-for-art’s sake doctrine. The word “truth” is used in a sense of reality, Saito argues, suggesting that “what is absolutely beautiful must be essential and real, and what is essential and real must be beautiful if adequately expressed” (42). This reading, coupled with a moral edge in the poet’s conception of beauty and art, suggests that, far from subscribing to hedonism, his view is rather, in Saito’s words, “art for life’s sake” (43). As shown in this transformation of the Victorian—or sensuous—Keats, one of Saito’s advantages lies in a careful analysis of the complex network of ideas formed in the poet’s mind. Another is his access to Keats’s artistry through a knowledge not only of Romantics but also of Japanese and Chinese poets. After bringing to light unique elements of Keats’s descriptive imagination in comparison with sumie, Japanese brush art, he describes the poet’s method of concentration and suggestion as akin to a haiku master’s condensed use of words. For example, he quotes from “Ode to a Nightingale,” “Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam / Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn” (69–70), arguing that “Twenty pages might be written in interpretation of this wonder-working couplet—interpretation which would vary, according to the mood and culture of the exponent” (109). He goes on to introduce some associations with the magic-casement scene traced by critics, then adds Wordsworth’s phrase: “Lady of the Mere, / Sole-sitting by the shores of old romance” (“A Narrow Girdle of Rough Stones and Crags” 37–38). His intention is not to exclude others:

Such is the extraordinary richness of the impression made by Keats on the reader, that each of these interpretations may be of help in approaching the poet, who very likely fused all those sources and concentrated them with his poetic alchemy into those miraculous lines. (110)

7.        A question may arise: how did Saito discover the humanistic Keats at all? This may be explained, oddly enough, with reference to his Christian background. Both in his religious and academic lives, Saito was inspired by Uemura Masahisa, a high-profile Calvinist thinker and preacher. His mind had undergone the transition from Nietzschean egocentrism to Christian submission, “the mental journey traced by all young people in the early nineteenth century” (Sup. 447), which led him to receive baptism at the age of nineteen. Uemura affected not only Saito’s outlook on life, puritanical as he was, but also the subject of his graduate work, Milton and Spenser. Apparently these poets’ Protestant ethics and epic self-empowerment enabled him to perceive a comparable cause in Keats’s humanitarian pursuit of “demon Poesy”: “Keats was not a religious poet,” says Saito, “but his humanitarianism is based on Christianity” (Sup. 438).

8.        Among several other scholars who contributed to the rise of Keats scholarship was Sato Kiyoshi, a graduate of the Imperial University with a background similar to Saito’s. Sato attended the same preparatory course in Sendai, and was taught by the same teacher, Doi Bansui, a poet as dominant as Shimazaki and translator of Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Carlyle’s essays. Although his baptism at the age of sixteen did not affect Sato so profoundly in terms of his reading, he was bent on Japanese Romantic poets, and felt the creative urge—in fact, two-thirds of the posthumous collection of his writing is devoted to his original poetry. After some years of teaching, and two years of unaided research in England, Sato began writing on Keats in the centenary year and administered the memorial conference in Kobe. In 1924, while Saito was writing his thesis abroad, Sato became the author of the first book on Keats in Japan—and in Japanese—entitled The Art of Keats. [11] 

9.        In contrast to Saito’s conceptually oriented thesis, The Art analyzes chronologically the poet’s major works, furnished with their entire translations or outlines in Japanese. The preface records the author’s repeated visits to Hampstead, expressing his strong sense of pity for the “unhappy genius” (1). The study may be less ambitious than Saito’s, introducing the outline of each poem together with others’ critical comments, but Sato’s chapter on “Lamia” is more independent from his predecessors, coming to a remarkable conclusion. Sato defended the narrative poem against the complaint made by critics such as Robert Bridges that, to the work’s disadvantage, the main characters lack nobility. Instead, Sato argues that the story points to a new axiom derived from the poet’s first-hand experience of love; that is, “beauty is supreme, though illusory” (220). This notion is of a radical aesthete who admits the frightful linkage between beauty and death, says Sato. Keats abandoned the moral life he was pursuing, so the poem forms a new category that can be called “the art of failure” (222). As if in reaction to Saito’s humanistic Keats, Sato holds to, and refines, the poet’s traditional image, observing that “Keats will ever remain among us an apostle of beauty, a creator of beauty, and a victim of beauty” (236). His later A Study of Keats: Psychology in Composition (1949) is a collection of the critical essays that prove his abiding commitment to the poet; the first Japanese edition of Keats’s letters (1952) is also his work.

10.        Sato’s real strength, however, may be shown in his criticism of Japanese modern poetry, and of poetry in general, considering that these spheres of writing could more directly interact with his identity as poet. As the years passed, Sato grew impatient with his contemporaries in poetic circles because of their soullessness or lack of sincerity; he felt similarly about his scholarly colleagues. He found in them a tendency to avoid Romanticism, and to be dilettantish and feudalistic in their choice of subject matter, as discussed in an essay written a few years after World War II. The Japanese, argues Sato, neglect a duty to strengthen the national character and literature by assimilating Romanticism, which he calls the “fearful stream of English literature” that seeks freedom, flowing from Milton through the Romantics down to Stephen Spender and Cecil Day-Lewis, and which is the nobler and more venerable for the absence of an equivalent in the Japanese tradition; Romanticism is “calcium to form the bones” (3.251–52). In his opinion, the Japanese mind is in need of further modernization; hence the understanding of the trends in European political life during the last two centuries (3.250).

11.        This view of Romanticism explains why Sato favored the political Keats. In The Art, discussing “Isabella,” he introduces George Bernard Shaw’s anti-capitalist reading of Stanza XIV–XVI and William Morris’s critique of commercialism, in tones of delighted approval (44–45). Importantly, Sato seems to have believed that, for Keats, politics was not incompatible with a pursuit of beauty, but rather a part of it. In one of his essays, Sato distances himself from the doctrine of “art for art’s sake” which critics found in his poetry, and shows sympathies with proletarianism and the masses of the world as well as those who in modern Japan were struggling for their political rights. “I make it my life principle to transmute all such distresses and struggles into art,” says Sato (3.8).

12.        Sato’s study of Romantics and other English authors was intended to serve the literature of his own country. Keats’s celebrated idea of the poetical character offered him a hint through which to strive for cultural success. At the conclusion of an article on Doi, with whom he formed a lasting friendship based on respect and affection, Sato articulates this point as follows:

The great poet is someone who identifies oneself with everything. In the case of a critic, brandishing a certain fixed principle and abusing others in various, cruel ways is not something laudable. Great literature does not emerge in a country with such a climate. Since authors vary in individuality, we must accept a type of literature that embraces all individuality. Japanese literary art must henceforth accept diversities. (3.136)
It is interesting in this context to note Sato’s engagement with a different culture overseas. Two years after the publication of The Art, at government request, he went across to Seoul to be installed as Professor of English at Keijo Imperial University—later a part of Seoul National University—when it was founded, allegedly, in an effort to modernize the Peninsula, which had been annexed to Japan in 1910. His twenty years’ service produced eighty-five graduates, including many Koreans. In a speech given on the occasion of his retirement, Sato mentioned his participation in a section of the local literary movement; it was based on his belief that “literature consists in practice” (3.258). His activity extended to the contribution of his poems and essays to National Literature, a Japanese journal edited by his Korean student, Choi Jae Seo (Choe Jae-seo), who believed in the wartime notion of “Greater East Asia” and promoted Japanese as its common language. Sato also prepared a collection of poems (unpublished), including his long works on the Korean priests who helped the establishment of a Buddhist culture called “Asukabunka” in ancient Japan (3.162). There is no doubt that the priests were the alter ego of the overseas teacher Sato. His nationalism may show the limitations of a government official of Imperial Japan, but it was free from chauvinistic arrogance: “I was moved to know how earnestly they [his Korean students] were seeking to discover in their study of English literature a way that might lead to the deliverance and freedom of their own race” (3.259).

13.         The third of the scholars who characterize early scholarship on Keats is Hinatsu Konosuke, who earned more fame as poet than as a scholar of English, producing only translations and a thesis on Keats, but whose contribution is nonetheless unique and suggestive. Immediately after the Keats commemorative year, the scholar-poet started lecturing at Waseda University, a stronghold of English scholarship rivaling the Imperial University in tradition and influence. Hinatsu’s doctoral thesis, published in 1939 under the title, The Priest of Beauty: A Study of Psychological Processes in the Composition of John Keats’s Odes, was his only noteworthy work in this field. However, this work was of symbolic relevance to his life, “a direct result of fourteen years of my lecturing life and a clue to one side of the thirty years of my poetic career,” as he calls it in the preface (3–4). As massive as any study on Keats published before or since, at home or abroad, it attempts to elucidate intentions and aims in the composition of the poet’s major odes through the method of close reading based on the author’s own experience, a thorough consideration of preceding scholarship, and the contexts of literary traditions, not only English and European but also Chinese and Japanese. His reading is as subtle—if not as lucid, due to his meandering discussion—as Earl R. Wasserman’s in The Finer Tone (1953), while the wide, cross-cultural learning it shows throughout its 918 pages is unparalleled, which makes it doubly regretful that the Japanese-language thesis remains unapproachable for most foreign scholars.

14.        The inaccessibility of Hinatsu’s language, in fact, is not limited to this respect. Whether scholarly or poetic, it forbids any Japanese scholar’s easy access due to its archaism. Hinatsu adhered to the classical style of writing; he objected to a growing trend to write poetry in colloquial style, an extension of the campaign set by novelists of the previous generation. His vocabulary is based on classical Chinese, a vital part of traditional education that had fallen from public favor. His symbolic, even mystic, style—as he calls it, “Gothic-Roman”—sometimes bars sympathetic understanding on account of the pedantic impression it might cause, even if it is intended to pursue the refined beauty of the language. Recalling Coleridge’s grudges against the reading public or Keats’s occasional bouts of irritability over the unthinking masses, Hinatsu is reported to have felt “no need to make himself understood to those who cannot understand” (Maihashi 123). When published, his thesis on Keats appeared in a limited edition of six hundred copies, which was the extension of his usual publishing custom as poet.

15.        Hinatsu’s uncompromisingly unfashionable attitudes may go some way toward explaining his attachment to Keats, perhaps deeply seated in his psyche. As a schoolboy Hinatsu was so weak-framed, bookish, and morbid in sensibility, and his lineage so distinguished in the locality (Iida, in Nagano), that he was an isolated character, even among his family; the only ally he could find was his mother. He chose Waseda, not the Imperial University, partly because it was his mother’s preference, and partly because he aspired to the liberal climate of the one and hated the bureaucratic atmosphere of the other, as recalled by his brother (Maihashi 43–44). This, somewhat ironically, resulted in his drifting away from mainstream English studies, as the Imperial University became the parent of English Literary Society of Japan in 1929, a society that, from the outset, boasted more than a thousand members across the nation. Meanwhile, Waseda tended to be a closed society. What follows is a regret expressed by an unidentified Tokyo University Professor Emeritus: “it is a loss to the academia to let such an erudite, genuine scholar as Hinatsu be retired in the unrewarding Waseda” (Maihashi 56).

16.        What Hinatsu saw in Keats echoes the solitariness of his artistic-scholarly self. In his thesis’s conclusion, Hinatsu characterizes Keats’s work as part of the retirement literature, by which he means more than escapism—that is, “part of the necessary and serious action produced by a poet’s unusual passion for human possibilities.” This type of literature is “not of a cowardly nature”; it represents “an unlimited attachment to the fragrance pertaining only to the literary effect of withdrawal,” he writes (555–56). Even if Hinatsu owed more to French symbolists such as Baudelaire and Mallarmé than to Keats in poetic practice, the Odes embodied a lyrical state to which he had aspired, the state in which “the existence of nature outflowing from images of the mind expresses the so-called aspect of thought in a unified whole,” not showing “the slightest shadow of the burden of ‘thought’” (560). Hinatsu regarded it as a manifestation of “the spirit of symbolist literature which had walked in English poetry since the eighteenth century,” a tradition which he says professors of English and critics rarely note, but which, as a French critic has pointed out, was passed down to French symbolists by Keats and Shelley (561). His prolonged, in-depth analysis of Keats thus provided Hinatsu with a symbolist’s conviction, furthering his own seclusion as, say, a priest of beauty himself.

17.        To conclude, the early Keats scholars discussed above accessed the poet with a zeal often approximating devotion, and their efforts proved to be extremely ambitious: as heir to an enthusiasm that had captured the Keats readers before their generation, they all accommodated it to the establishment of their scholarly or creative identity, or of both. Such an undertaking suggests the unique potential of Keats’s reception at a time when English scholarship was becoming specialized and author-based, but still allowed other disciplines or careers, in Japan. Saito, Sato, and Hinatsu were among the first to survey the existing criticisms of Keats, to discuss his poetics and works, and to be abundantly rewarded in their own ways. In the case of Sato and Hinatsu, whose principal aim was to serve the cause of national literature, a deep understanding of Keats helped to foster their sensibilities and poetic beliefs, thus contributing to their own poetry, on which, especially, Hinatsu’s fame seems to rest today. This kind of achievement, a result of English scholarship and Japanese creativity going hand-in-hand for mutual benefit, has long passed into history; their achievement is of a nature possible only in their time, when young intellectuals were often enthusiastic lovers of poetry. But, for this very reason, the two poet-scholars should deserve a page in the reception history of Romanticism, or rather, English literature, in Japan. Meanwhile, Saito’s achievement belongs to a different order. Although his writing covered the old Chinese poet Du Fu and Christian thought, he was more devoted to English scholarship than the other two, and became the editor of The Kenkyusha Dictionary of British and American Literature (1937), and the author of the long-selling, authoritative A History of British Literature (1957). With his Calvinistic self-discipline and awe-inspiring character, Saito influenced many scholars of the next generations, thus setting the tone for today’s English scholarship in Japan. “Scholars need only to contribute to the academia of their subject, not keeping in mind their works’ connections with the national culture,” Saito wrote in 1954; “if you achieve a result on a par with native scholars’, it proves to be a respectable work.” He then went on to predict a day when Japanese scholars would publish in English and serve other cultures (6.457–58). This disinterested, scholarly ambition presumably originated in his thesis on Keats, an isolated example of a published thesis in English before World War II, and a noble landmark for the future projects of Japanese scholars.

Works Cited

“Henshu Koki” [“Editor’s Postscript”]. Bokushin [Pan], Mar. 1921, pp. 24+.

Hinatsu, Konosuke. Bi no Shisai: John Keats ga Odes no Sosakushinrikatei no Kenkyu [The Priest of Beauty: A Study of Psychological Processes in John Keats’s Composition of Odes]. Sanseido, 1939.

Ichikawa, Sanki. “Lawrence-Sensei” [“Professor Lawrence”]. Nihon no Eigaku Hyakunen: Taisho Hen [A Hundred Years of English Studies in Japan: Volume Taisho]. Edited by Kochi Doi et al., Kenkyushashuppan, 1968, pp. 268–71.

“A Japanese View of Keats.” TLS, 26 Dec. 1929, pp. 1094+.

Keats, John. The Poems of John Keats. Edited by Jack Stillinger, Belknap P of Harvard UP, 1978.

“Keats Kai Kiji” [“The Article on Keats Ceremony”]. Bokushin [Pan], Mar. 1921, pp. 21–23.

Maihashi, Masaaki. Wakakihi no Hinatsu Konosuke [Hinatsu Konosuke in His Young Days]. Kobuninsatsu, 2001.

Matsuura, Tohru. “John Keats and His Influence on Modern Japanese Poetry.” Keats-Shelley Memorial Bulletin, no. 29, 1978, pp. 40–49.

Narita, Shigehisa. “(1) Igirisu Bungaku” [“(1) English Literature”]. Nihon no Eigaku Hyakunen: Taisho Hen [A Hundred Years of English Studies in Japan: Volume Taisho]. Edited by Kochi Doi et al., Kenkyushashuppan, 1968, pp. 47–75.

Okada, Akiko. Keats and English Romanticism in Japan. Peter-Lang, 2006.

Rin, F. Sei. “Bokushinkai Keats Ki” [“Bokushinkai Keats Anniversary”]. The Rising Generation, vol. 44, no. 12, 1921, pp. 379+.

Saito, Takeshi. “Keats Itte Hyakunen” [“A Hundred Years after the Death of Keats”]. Yomiuri Shimbun, 23 Feb. 1921, morn. ed., pp. 7+. Yomidasu Rekishikan. https://database.yomiuri.co.jp/rekishikan/. Accessed 4 Jun. 2014.

---. “Keats Kenkyushomoku (Jo)” [“A Catalogue of Keats Studies: Part One”]. The Rising Generation, vol. 44, no. 9, 1921, pp. 269+.

---. Keats’ View of Poetry. Cobden-Sanderson, 1929.

---. Saito Takeshi Chosaku Shuu [The Collection of Saito Takeshi’s Writings]. Edited by Yoshio Nakano, Natsuo Shumuta, and Masao Hirai, Kenkyusha, 1976. 7 vols. with sup. vol.

Sato, Kiyoshi. Keats no Geijutsu [The Art of Keats]. Kenkyusha, 1924.

---. Sato Kiyoshi Zenshuu [The Complete Works of Sato Kiyoshi]. Edited by Ichiro Ando et al., vol. 3, Shiseisha, 1964.

Sato Kiyoshi’s The Art of Keats. Advertisement. Yomiuri Shimbun, 10 Jul. 1924, morn. ed., pp. 7+. Yomidasu Rekishikan. https://database.yomiuri.co.jp/rekishikan/. Accessed 4 Jun. 2014.

Tezuka, Tatsumaro. Eigakushi no Shuhen [Peripheries in the History of English Studies]. Azumashobo, 1968.

Toyoda, Minoru. “To John Keats.” The Rising Generation, vol. 44, no. 10, 1921, pp. 309+.


[1] For the most comprehensive survey of the reception of Keats in Japan, see Okada, 79–102. BACK

[2] However, there seems to have been some studies on Keats in unpublished form: Aizu Yaichi, a poet and Oriental art historian, submitted a graduation thesis on Keats to Waseda University in 1906, having been inspired by Lafcadio Hearn’s lecture. See also Okada, 83. BACK

[3] Matsuura divides the early Keats reception in Japan into three stages: the introduction to Japanese readers (1871–1900), imitation and adaption (1901–25), translation and criticism (1926–). See Matsuura, 40. The division, not so clear-cut in practice, can be used only for convenience’s sake, as criticism was active at least as early as the Keats conference, as will be shown below. Also, the first translation of Keats’s poetry in book form—a disreputably inaccurate rendition by the novelist Tayama Katai—appeared in 1905. BACK

[4] This account of the party is based on the reports in Bokushin and The Rising Generation. BACK

[5] Calling the poet “Rapt devotee of Beauty, lover of Love, / Scion of Greece” (1-2), Toyoda yearns for his “final faith” (12) in the identification of beauty with truth. BACK

[6] In an annotated catalogue of studies of Keats written for a special number of The Rising Generation, Saito calls Colvin’s new biography “the best and authoritative biography of J. K. realized through assiduous research of thirty years and accomplished critical acumen” (309). BACK

[7] Here and below all the quotations from Japanese-language sources are translated by Suzuki. BACK

[8] Saito also admires what he calls gentlemanliness in his Quaker-teacher, a composite of a sense of duty, truthfulness, benignity, courtesy, diligence and regularity (1.475–79). See also Ichikawa, 270. BACK

[9] For an account of the Taisho era as the age of commentary, see Narita 58. Saito annotated Shelley’s poems, Keats’s Endymion, Tennyson’s In Memoriam, and others. This series led to biographies of a hundred English authors in Japanese (1933–39). BACK

[10] The review, entitled “A Japanese View of Keats,” praises Saito’s rare virtue of detachment as something lacking in English criticism; he, “the fortunate inheritor of a [Japanese] spiritual tradition,” can “look upon Keats with sympathy, but also with detachment,” in a way that is not possible for English critics (TLS 1094). BACK

[11] So was the study advertised in Yomiuri Shimbun, with Keats being “a martyr to love and poetry” and his life that of “a moth to a flame.” BACK