Witter Bynner was from his Harvard days a self-professed enthusiast of Eastern culture and philosophy and he shared with Arthur Davison Ficke a disdain for the Imagist and other modernist "new poetry." Together, Bynner and Ficke produced a hoax to mock the central characteristics of the modernist movement, including the predominance of what they saw as inane references to the Orient. As the hoax began to unravel in late 1917, Bynner and Ficke left the country for a tour of Japan. Bynner's later poems reflect his time in Japan, and when he did begin to write in the modernist vein, he claimed his work with Chinese poetry gave him "a newer, finer, and deeper education than ever came to me from the Hebrew or the Greek."
Photographs of Witter Bynner posing before a shrine in Japan. Hakone, 1917.
Witter Bynner with Kiang Kang-Hu, translator. The Jade Mountain; A Chinese Anthology, Being Three Hundred Poems of the T'ang Dynasty, 616-906. Presentation inscription to Arthur Davison Ficke from Witter Bynner. New York: Knopf, 1919.
Photograph of Witter Bynner in Japan.
Dressed as the perfect westerner, Bynner is seen with a Japanese monk standing to his right. The picture was probably taken by his fellow traveller, Arthur Ficke.
The Twentieth Century: American Modernists:
Eastern Themes and Modernist Theater; Eugene O'Neill
William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore
E.E. Cummings and Gertrude Stein