Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Lafcadio Hearn and the Milky Way: The Tanabata Festival

June 27th was the 160th anniversary of Lafcadio Hearn's birth, and I have been thinking about his life and work over the last days. He was born on the then British-ruled Ionian Island of Lefkcada in 1850 of a Greek mother and an Anglo-Irish father, and abandoned essentially by both at the age of seven and overseen by a paternal Great Aunt, a Mrs. Brenane, in Wales. He never did see his younger brother or his parents ever again. He was sent to a Jesuit school in Northern France, and also to a Catholic school in Durham where he lost the sight of an eye in a school-yard game gone awry. At the age of 16, he left this school and made his way to London where for a number of obscure years he managed to survive poverty and isolation, years so painful to memory that he never did elaborate on them. At age 19 he made his way to New York, one of many penniless emigrants, and though a wanderer in the United States and in the Caribbean, he did finally discover a place where he felt at home, Japan. [I have written briefly about how he first came to visit the country here.]

He died there in September 1904 with a fine reputation as a teacher and writer. The first book published posthumously was his The Milky Way and Other Studies and Stories (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1905). It was published in October of 1905, and is made up of essays and stories, many of them having been published in the Atlantic Monthly over the last year. The title story first saw print in that periodical in August 1905 (vol. 96, p. 238) and concerned the subject of the Japanese festival of Tanabata.

The seventh day of the seventh month is the Tanabata Festival, and although in Japan it is now the wee hours of the following day, and many Japanese are perhaps dreaming of the previous day and evening festivities, I thought I would make a link to the essay by Lafcadio Hearn. It is an excellent essay with a good selection of poetry and he ends it with his characteristic style of writing and a mild example of his idiosyncratic use of punctuation which was so often a challenge to his editors--and their typesetters.

The Romance of the Milky Way by Lafcadio Hearn.

No comments: