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Old Japan

Alfred Noyes 1880 (Wolverhampton) – 1958 (Isle of Wight)

In old Japan, by creek and bay,
The blue plum-blossoms blow,
Where birds with sea-blue plumage gay
Through sea-blue branches go:
Dragons are coiling down below
Like dragons on a fan;
And pig-tailed sailors lurching slow
Through streets of old Japan.

There, in the dim blue death of day
Where white tea roses grow,
Petals and scents are strewn astray
Till night be sweet enow;
Then lovers wander whispering low
As lovers only can,
Where rosy paper lanterns glow
Through streets of old Japan.

From Wonderland to Yea-or-Nay
The junks with painted prow
Dream on the purple water-way
Nor ever meet a foe;
Though still, with stiff mustachio
And crooked ataghan,
Their pirates guard with pomp and show
The ships of old Japan.

How far beyond the dawning day
The glories ebb and flow,
Where still the wonder-children play,
The witches mop and mow;
How far, how far, no chart may show,
The heart of mortal man,
The light, the splendour, and the glow
That once were old Japan!

That land is very far away
We lost it long ago!
In old Japan the grass is grey,
The trees are white with snow;
The sea-blue bird became a crow,
The lizards leapt and ran,
No dragon mourned that overthrow,
The dream of old Japan.

In old Japan, at windows grey,
Where scents of opium flow,
Strange smiling faces, white as clay,
Nod idly to and fro;
There life and death may come and go,
With blessing or with ban,
And still no better gift bestow
Than this, in old Japan.

And now the wistful years delay
To wonder why and how
The blue fantastic twisted day,
When Emperor Hwang or Chow
Dreamed in the colour and the glow
That light the heart of man,
Could e’er such hours of flowers bestrow
Through streets of old Japan.

In old Japan they used to play
A game forgotten now;
They filled a nacre-coloured tray
With perfumes in a row,
Breathing of all the flowers that blow
Where dark-blue rivers ran,
Like those upon the plates, you know,
Through fields of old Japan;

Then with silver spatula
The mandarins would go
To test the scented dust and say,
With many a hum and ho,
What flower of all the flowers that grow
For joy of maid or man,
Conceived the scents that puzzled so
The brains of old Japan.

In old Japan, where poets pray
With white uplifted brow,
What mystic floating scents delay
Below the purple bough,
O’er plains no scythe of death may mow,
Nor power of reason scan?
What mandarin musicians know
The flower of old Japan?

There, in the dim blue death of day
Where white tea-roses grow,
Petals and scents are strewn astray
Till night be sweet enow,
Then lovers wander, whispering low
As lovers only can,
Where rosy paper lanterns glow
Through streets of old Japan.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

2:24 min read
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Alfred Noyes

Alfred Noyes was an English poet best known for his ballads The Highwayman 1906 and The Barrel Organ more…

All Alfred Noyes poems | Alfred Noyes Books

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