Drifting Flowers of the Sea, impressions from last century.

Geraldine Wojno Kiefer writes about Sadakichi Hartmann, an American Impressionist who was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a German father. His mother had passed away soon after his birth and Sadakichi was reared in Hamburg, Germany, home of his paternal uncle, a wealthy aesthete who encouraged his precociousness and early love of literature and the arts.

Through a series of colorful twists and turns, Sadakichi ended up in the United States, completing his education in libraries and museums and utilizing the income from printing and writing jobs to finance periodic trips back to Europe. There, particularly through his encounters with Jules Laforgue, Henri de Regnier, and other writers in Mallarme’s Paris circle (entree into which was provided by American poet Stuart Merrill in 1892), Hartmann absorbed a substantial dose of Symbolist literary theory and psychology.

Expanding sensate form to sensate experience, Hartmann defined his version of Impressionist sensibility:

It is not the glorification of classic form, but of an abstract idea… It produces instantaneously a tangled mass of sensations; this is the first impression, vague and vacillating but intense, and thereupon slowly, with the help of our intellect, do we arrive at a clear and distinct pleasure. We repeat the same process of soul activity which the statue represents.

On 1904 he wrote Drifting Flowers of the Sea

Across the dunes, in the waning light,

The rising moon pours her amber rays,

Through the slumbrous air of the dim, brown night

The pungent smell of the seaweed strays—

     From vast and trackless spaces

       Where wind and water meet,

         White flowers, that rise from the sleepless deep,

             Come drifting to my feet.

     They flutter the shore in a drowsy tune,

       Unfurl their bloom to the lightlorn sky,

         Allow a caress to the rising moon,

             Then fall to slumber, and fade, and die.

White flowers, a-bloom on the vagrant deep,

Like dreams of love, rising out of sleep,

You are the songs, I dreamt but never sung,

Pale hopes my thoughts alone have known,

Vain words ne’er uttered, though on the tongue,

That winds to the sibilant seas have blown.

      In you, I see the everlasting drift of years

        That will endure all sorrows, smiles and tears;

          For when the bell of time will ring the doom

            To all the follies of the human race,

               You still will rise in fugitive bloom

                  And garland the shores of ruined space.

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