The poems used in Lacquer Prints first struck me for their powerful brevity. I love how short poems capture so much emotion in very little and limited material. In the poems I selected for this cycle, my attention was drawn to the appearance of fireflies in all the poems. Upon researching the portrayal of fireflies in Japanese culture, from which Lowell was inspired, I found a rich history (Lowell, 1919).
In the deep past and present, fireflies have been a symbol of love, summer, and wartime in Japanese literature, music, and visual art, commonly as a decorative design for lacquer furnishings (Bird, 2010). In other visual mediums there exist several sublime uses of fireflies, particularly the color woodblock print The Fireflies of Uji River by Tokuriki Tomikichirō, and the photography of Tsuneaki Hiramatsu and Ohara Rei.
But as I composed these songs, my focus migrated from the firefly to the transformative elements I felt were present in the order I arranged Lowell’s poems. A motion from a state of closed, blindness to that of an open, warming, transparent vision, like the experience of gradually opening one’s eyes while watching a sunset to relax on an overwhelming day. Following in Lowell’s footsteps, I have chosen to not directly imitate Japanese music in writing these songs. “I have made no attempt to observe the syllabic rules which are a integral part of all Japanese poetry. I have endeavored only to keep the brevity and
suggestion” (Lowell, 1919).
Bird, Winifred. “Fireflies.” Kyoto Journal. Issue 75. 10 Sept. 2010. Web. 25 March 2016.
Lowell, Amy. Pictures of the Floating World. New York: Macmillian Company, 1919.
All poems are used from Amy Lowell’s Pictures of the Floating World (1919). The first two
poems are found on page eight and the third on page thirteen. All poems first appeared in the
March 1917 issue of Poetry magazine.
I. A Lover
If I could catch the green lantern of the firefly
I could see to write you a letter.
II. To a Husband
Brighter than fireflies upon the Uji River
Are your words in the dark, Beloved.
A wise man,
Watching the stars pass across the sky,
In the upper air, the fireflies move more slowly.