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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII. 1876–79.

Introductory to Japan

Ode to the Mikado of Japan

By Richard Hengist Horne (1802–1884)

FIRST of thy race,—first of thy nation’s Kings!

Who see’st and weigh’st the world by reason’s light,

Not judging by old Custom’s sight,

But by the rolling tide of men and things,—

Thou mayst sow broadcast o’er thy brilliant land

New thoughts and hopes as glowing as thy own,

Burying grim Idols in thy deep sea-sand,

That men may kneel at shrines from slavery won.

Those slaveries of soul, designed

By the close-veiled mysterious power

Which priestcraft bred for thee, and all,

By thine own sceptre fall!

Their depths thy piercing brain hath countermined,

The fabric sinks in one black thunder-shower,

And Life’s expanding wings flame up behind!

The mind of man,

Once opened, claims a boundless span;

Thou canst no more

Contract its shore

Than make a flood-tide ebb at thy command.

Take then thy stand

On Nature’s constant love and youth,

Her heart and truth,

And thy resolve to search and weigh

All creeds that ferment ’neath this pregnant day,

Then choose the loftiest,—hold thou fast,

And thy rare-flowered crown shall ever last

In star-like record when its bloom hath passed!

There was a Dome, like midnight

Lit up by blood-red lightning!

And deep within

A demon din,

With many a sight

Of ghastly horror whitening

Faces and forms, e’en while the flames were brightening!

The screams of those wild massacres

Long echoed down the shuddering years;

And yet we know the selfsame creed

For which those proselyting martyrs died,

Hath caused unnumbered victims thus to bleed

Before its symbols deified!

O, Great Creative Spirit!

Can man inherit

Thine image, yet disgrace it,—

Distort and half erase it,

Till Nature scarce can trace it,

While to such night-dreams, crowd on crowd,

Sheep, swine, and sages

Pray secretly, or fierce and loud,

Blasting a land for ages!

Heaped clouds at noon!

Night’s high festoon!

The piled-up books of the Tycoon

Were like the mountains of the Moon!

Glorious to dream of,—but to climb

Impossible, or to divine,

Grow grapes on, olives, or to mine,

Or put to any use of human time;

But thou, Mikado, thou hast spoken

A new word,—and all locks are broken!

The gates gape wide,

The rising tide

Brings minds of every nation side by side;

And secrets deep as Southern skies,

In chronicles, porcelain, metals, woods, silks, dyes,

Steel, ivory, garden-beds, and lies

Of mortal Pagods, meet all eyes!

Deal with us, and believe that we

Deal honestly;

Be friendly, as you find us friends,—

Each having his own ends,

Frankly and openly!

Beware of Hell-born War!

Earth’s branding scar

Through History!

Degrading man the beast beneath,

Who wars but from necessity,

And builds no Glory on his fellows’ death!

Wise Sovereign! who hath sent from dazzling seas

Thy Envoys to far-distant shores,

Be thou not dazzled by the swarming bees,

Their human hives and stores,—

Their armies, ships, magnificence,—

Nor by each fine court-eloquence

But note what hath been won

Midst a few sands, called years,

From Earth’s inexhaustible wonders! from the Sun!

From man’s soul-swaddling fears!

To know what can be known, while yearning still,

By Intellect and Science and the Will,

Up towards the visioned footstool of God’s throne!

Mikado! be not sudden to conceive

Love, hatred, or indifference,

But each illuminated tome receive,

Which Europe old, or young America,

Before thee proudly may lay bare,—

Cross-questioning each by generous Common-sense;

As one who searching many a beach

Selects and stores the best from each.

Thus act, and in futurity

Thy country’s rational idol thou wilt be;

The ancient splendors of Japan

Will dwindle to a painted fan,

And the rich flowers of all her Kings,

Beside thy fruits, be childish things!