Reginald Horace Blyth


Reginald Horace Blyth

Reginald Horace Blyth (3 December 1898 - 28 October 1964), was an English author and devotee of Japanese culture.

Early life

Born in Essex, England, the son of a railway clerk, Reginald Horace Blyth grew up to be an idealistic young man. In 1916, at the height of World War I, he was imprisoned at Wormwood Scrubs as a conscientious objector and a pacifist. After the war, he attended the University of London, from which he graduated in 1923, with honours.

Blyth played the flute, made musical instruments, and taught himself several European languages. In 1924, he received a teaching certificate from London Day Training College. The same year, he married Annie Bercovitch, a university friend. Some accounts say they moved to India, where he taught for a while until he became unhappy with British colonial rule. Other scholars dismiss this episode, claiming it to have been invented by Blyth's mentor Suzuki Daisetsu. (Pinnington, 1997).

Korea (1925-1935)

In 1925, the Blyths moved to Korea (then under Japanese rule), where Blyth became Assistant Professor of English at Keijo University in Seoul. While in Korea, Blyth began to learn Japanese and Chinese, and studied Zen under Kayama Taizi Roshi of Myoshinji Betsuin. In 1933, he informally adopted a Korean student, paying for his studies in Korea and London. (Pinnington, 1997). His wife returned to England alone in 1934. He later followed her and they were divorced shortly thereafter, in 1935.

Japan (1936-1964)

Having returned to Seoul in 1936, Blyth remarried in 1937, to Japanese Kishima Tomiko (Pinnington, 1997), with whom he later had two daughters, Nana Blyth and Harumi Blyth. He moved to Kanazawa in Japan, and took a job as English teacher at a local high school.

When World War II broke out, Blyth was interned as a British enemy alien. Although he expressed his sympathy for Japan and sought Japanese citizenship, this was denied. During his internment his extensive library was destroyed in a bombing raid.

After the war, Blyth worked diligently with the authorities, both Japanese and American, to ease the transition to peace. Blyth functioned as to the Japanese Imperial Household, and his close friend, Harold G. Henderson, was on General Douglas MacArthur's staff. Together, they helped draft the declarationFact|date=October 2008 "Ningen Sengen", by which Emperor Hirohito declared himself to be a human being, and not divine.

By 1946, Blyth had become Professor of English at Gakushuin University, and tutored Crown Prince (later emperor) Akihito in English. He did much to popularise Zen philosophy and Japanese poetry (particularly "haiku") in the West. In 1956, he was awarded a doctorate in literature from Tokyo University, and, in 1957, he received the "Zuihosho" (Order of Merit) Fourth Grade.

Reginald Horace Blyth died in 1964, of a brain tumour and complications from pneumonia, in the Seiroka Hospital in Tokyo. He was buried in the cemetery of the Shokozan Tokeiji Soji temple in Kamakura, next to his old friend, D. T. Suzuki.

Blyth and haiku

After early imagist interest in haiku the genre drew less attention in English, until after World War II with the appearance of a number of influential volumes about Japanese haiku.

In 1949, with the publication in Japan of the first volume of "Haiku", the four-volume work by R.H. Blyth, haiku was introduced to the post-war western world. He produced a series of works on Zen, haiku, senryū, and on other forms of Japanese and Asian literature, the most significant being his "Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics" (1942); his four-volume "Haiku" series (1949-52) dealing mostly with pre-modern haiku, though including Shiki; and his two-volume "History of Haiku" (1964). Today he is best known as a major interpreter of haiku to English speakers.

Present-day attitudes to Blyth's work vary: on the one hand, he is appreciated as a populariser of Japanese culture; on the other, his portrayals of haiku and Zen are sometimes criticised as one-dimensional. Many contemporary writers of haiku were introduced to the genre through his works. These include the San Francisco and Beat Generation writers, such as Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, and Allen Ginsberg. [Suiter 2002, pg. 47] Many members of the international "haiku community" also got their first views of haiku from Blyth's books, including James W. Hackett, Eric Amann, William J. Higginson, Anita Virgil, Jane Reichhold, and Lee Gurga. In the late twentieth century, members of that community with direct knowledge of modern Japanese haikuFact|date=October 2008 often noted Blyth's distaste for haiku on more modern themes and his strong bias regarding a direct connection between haiku and Zen, a "connection" largely ignored by Japanese poets. (Bashō, in fact, felt that his devotion to haiku prevented him from realizing enlightenment [As documented in Makoto Ueda's "Literary and Art Theories in Japan" (Press of Western Reserve U., 1967).] ) Blyth also did not view haiku by Japanese women favourably, downplaying their substantial contributions to the genre, especially during the Bashō era and the twentieth century.Fact|date=October 2008

Although Blyth did not foresee the appearance of original haiku in languages other than Japanese when he began writing on the topic, and although he founded no school of verse, his works stimulated the writing of haiku in English. At the end of the second volume of his "History of Haiku" (1964), he remarked that "The latest development in the history of haiku is one which nobody foresaw, ... the writing of haiku outside Japan, not in the Japanese language." He followed that comment with several original verses in English by the American James W. Hackett (b. 1929), with whom Blyth corresponded.

References

Selected works by R.H. Blyth:
*"Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics", The Hokuseido Press, 1942. ISBN 0-9647040-1-3 ( [http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=30475595 Online copy(with paid subscription)] )
*"Haiku", 1949-1952, in four volumes, Volume 1: Eastern Culture. Volume 2: Spring. Volume 3:Summer-Autumn. Volume 4: Autumn-Winter. The Hokuseido Press, ISBN 0-89346-184-9
* "Senryu: Japanese Satirical Verses", The Hokuseido Press, 1949 ISBN 0-8371-2958-3
*"Japanese Life and Character in Senryu", 1959.
*"Oriental Humor", 1959.
*"Zen and Zen Classics", in five volumes, Volume 1: General Introduction,from the Upanishads to Huineng.1960.ISBN 0-89346-204-7. Volume 2: History of Zen,1964. ISBN 0-89346-205-5. Volume 3: History of Zen. 1970. Volume 4: Mumonkan.1966. Volume 5: Twenty-Five Zen Essays.1962. ISBN 0-89346-052-4. The Hokuseido Press.
*"Edo Satirical Verse Anthologies", 1961. The Hokuseido Press.
*"A History of Haiku" in two volumes. Volume 1: From the Beginnings up to Issa.ISBN 0-9647040-2-1. Volume 2: From Issa up to the Present.ISBN 0-9647040-3-X.1963.The Hokuseido Press.In the USA Hokuseido Press publications are/were sold through Heian International, South San Francisco. They are also distributed by Book East,P.O.Box 11387,Portland, OR 97211.
*"Games Zen Masters Play : writings of R. H. Blyth", 1976.
*"Other writings by R.H.Blyth: Unfortunately the following books are now out of print.
*"A Survey of English Literature".
*"Humour in English Literature: A Chronological Anthology".
*"Easy Poems. Vol 1 and 2".
*"How to Read English Poetry".
*"Dorothy Wordsworth's Journals (With Introduction and Footnotes).
*"A Week on the Concord and Merrimack River (Shortened,with Introduction and Notes).

About R.H. Blyth:
*Ikuyo Yoshimura, "The Life of R. H. Blyth", 1996
*Robert Aitken, "Original Dwelling Place", 1996
* Pinnington, A. "Ch. 19, R.H. Blyth" in "Britain & Japan: Biographical Portraits"; Japan Society; 1994; ISBN 1-873410-27-1

External links

* [http://www.gardendigest.com/zen/blyth.htm Chronology, bibliography, links, quotes] by Michael P. Garofalo. Accessed 2008-10-10.
* [http://www.fureai-ch.ne.jp/~haiku/enintro.htm Self-introduction by Yasuhiko Shigemoto,] making brief mention of Blyth. Accessed 2008-10-10.


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