The Noh plays of Japan have been compared to the greatest of Greek tragedies for their suggestive and powerful poetry and splendor of emotional intensity. The influence of the Noh in the West dates from the first publication in 1916 of this book, under the title Noh, or Accomplishment. It was a fortunate collaboration of the authority on Far Eastern art and culture, Ernest Fenollosa, who made a study of the Noh at a time when it was scarcely honored in Japan, and the young Ezra Pound, who organized Fenollosa's prose notes and gave the translations of the dramas a new vitality and beauty. As William Butler Yeats wrote, one discovers in these translations "the most subtle discrimination of sense and the invention of images more subtle than sense."
Fifteen of the most celebrated plays of the Noh theatre repertory are here given in their entirety, and five more are presented in synopsis. These translations are embedded in a critical discussion of the Noh theatre, its history and place in the court life of Japan, a description of the stage on which it is played, its music, costumes, and masks, and the dance, which usually is the emotional high point in the performance. Both Pound an Fenollosa discuss the special elements of Noh poetry, its purified and elevated passion, which sees divine purpose under all violence."
The result is a volume through which the reader can visualize the Noh performance and savor a rich literature in a translation that coveys "the marvelously complete grasp of spiritual being" of the Noh.