Literary Background: A Hawaiian of Chinese and Korean ancestry, Cathy Song centers her verse on island themes and activities and understated pastoral settings. Her language is Standard English inset with words and phrases from Pacific and Asian sources. She has gained credence for lifting the mundane from homely backgrounds to produce a lyric strangeness offset by teasing and, at times, startling analogies. The poem “Beauty and Sadness” is one of the poems in Cathy Song’s collection “Picture Bride” (1983).
It illustriously paints a picture of how Kitagawa Utamaro, a painter of the Edo period in Japan’s history, perceived, and was able to achieve, the fragility of that period’s women in his paintings. Song expresses her own interpretations of his artworks, of the elegant yet often despondent female subjects of his paintings in her poem. By making use of poetic form and metaphorical language, she lays an emphasis on both the attractiveness and the misery of these women. Summary:
The poem starts with the “nimble man” who is unseen and observing the women around him. The poet describes the women in their loveliness and fragility around the society in the eyes of this man who is painting them with such mysterious aura and beauty. Song describes the women in the era with melancholic feeling along with their physical beauty and even their quiet, meekness and elegancy. Highlights: A . as though they were bathing in a mountain pool with irises growing in the silken sunlit water. Or poised like porcelain vases, lender, erect and tall In this line, we can see how the poet depict women as a creature who looks lovely and strong as if they were no vulnerability in their soul.
B. They resembled beautiful iridescent insects, creatures from a floating world. In this stanza, Song uses a metaphor that women are like insects that are exotic but has the power to make you caught your attention whether they may be small and meek. C. Like the dusty ash-winged moths that cling to the screens in summer and that the Japanese venerate as ancestors reincarnated; In this stanza, we see that the author again uses a metaphor of an insect that women are like ash-winged moth and different from what people may depict us. They are creatures from an alien-world and we cannot fully understand them. Reactions: Women despite of their beauty, all have an air of helplessness about them. The subject of Cathy Song Is the issues raised, about the women’s vulnerability, it is evident that she considered their unhappiness stemmed-out from the life of subservience that they were habitually subjected to.
Although dedicated to Utamaro, Song’s “Beauty and Sadness” does not focus only on him and his achievements, but explores the multiple facets of his character, his subjects and his prints. Utamaro’s prints, with their power and ability to “grace these women with immortality”, is depicted by Song as also being fragile, and the conflict of these two ideas is essentially what “Beauty and Sadness” is all about. It’s study of femininity and vulnerability as a reciprocal relationship.
It’s the women’s vulnerability that makes them so beautiful their delicate nature makes us appreciate them but they are inherently sad. They realise that their beauty is the only aspect that matters to the outside world and inside they are left to be nothing, haunted by the fear that one day their beauty, and thus their being, will be lost. They are fully defined by what they seem to be, not what they are.