Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
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CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
 
Nishikigi
By Ernest Fenollosa
 
Translated from the Japanese of Motokiyo

I
    [The Noh stage has one set scene for all plays. A conventional form of plot is that the Waki or subsidiary character shall go a journey and meet with some genius loci or some returning spirit. In NISHIKIGI (Love-wands, or Charm-sticks) the Waki is journeying near Mount Shinobu and meets the ghosts of two lovers.]

PART FIRST

    Waki, a Priest.  There never was anybody heard of Mt. Shinobu but had a kindly feeling for it; so I, like any other priest that might want to know a little bit about each one of the provinces, may as well be walking up here, along the much travelled road.
    I have not yet been about the east country, but now I have set my mind to go as far as the earth goes, and why shouldn’t I, after all?—seeing that I go about with my heart set upon no particular place whatsoever, and with no other man’s flag in my hand, no more than a cloud has! It is a flag of the night I see coming down upon me. I wonder now, would the sea be that way, or the little place Kefu that they say is stuck down against it.
    Shite and Tsure.  [The ghosts of two lovers long dead, and not yet really united.]  Times out of mind am I here setting up this bright branch, this silky wood with the charms painted in it as fine as the weave you’d get in the grass-cloth of Shinobu, that they’d be still selling you in this mountain.
    Shite.  [To Tsure.]  Tangled, we are entangled. Whose fault was it, dear? Tangled up as the grass patterns are tangled up in this coarse cloth, or as the little Mushi that lives on and chirrups in dried sea-weed. We do not know where are today our tears in the undergrowth of this eternal wilderness. We neither wake nor sleep, and passing our nights in a sorrow, which is in the end a vision, what are these scenes of spring to us? This thinking in sleep of someone who has no thought of you, is it more than a dream? And yet surely it is the natural way of love. In our hearts there is much and in our bodies nothing, and we do nothing at all, and only the waters of the river of tears flow quickly.
 
Chorus.
    Narrow is the cloth of Kefu, but wild is that river, that torrent of the hills, between the beloved and the bride.
        5
    The cloth she had woven is faded, the thousand one hundred nights were night-trysts watched out in vain.
 
    Waki.  [Not recognizing the nature of the speakers.]  Strange indeed, seeing these town-people here.
They seem like man and wife,
And the lady seems to be holding something
Like a cloth woven of feathers,        10
While he has a staff or a wooden sceptre
Beautifully ornate.
Both of these things are strange;
In any case, I wonder what they call them.
    Tsure.  [The woman.].  As for this, it is but a narrow cloth called hosonuno;        15
It is just the breadth of the loom.
    Shite.  [The man.]  As for this, it is merely wood painted,
And for both of these things this place is famous.
Would you be wishing to buy them?
    Waki.  Indeed, indeed, as for the cloths of this place and the lacquers, they are famous things that I have already had opportunity to hear about, and yet I still wonder why they have such great reputation.        20
    Tsure.  Ah, well now, that’s a disappointment. Here they say perfectly for the wood “Nishikigi” and “Hosonuno” for the woven stuff, and yet you come saying that you have never heard why, and never heard the story. Is it reasonable?
    Shite.  No, no, that is reasonable enough. What can people be expected to know of these affairs when it is more than they can do to keep abreast of their own?
    Both.  [To the Priest.]  Ah well, you look like a person who has abandoned the world; it is reasonable enough that you should not know the worth of wands and cloths, with love’s signs painted upon them, with love’s marks painted and dyed.
    Waki.  That is a fine answer. So you would tell me that Nishikigi and Hosonuno are names bound over with love?
    Shite.  They are names in love’s list surely. Every day for a year—for three years come to their full—were wands, Nishikigi, set up, until there were a thousand in all. And they are in song in your time, and will be. “Chidzuka” they call them.        25
    Tsure.  These names are surely a by-word.
As the cloth Hosonuno is narrow of weft,
More narrow than the breast,
We say it of any love
Whose breasts are hard to come nigh to.        30
It is a name in books of love.
    Shite.  ’Tis a sad name to look back on.
    Tsure.  A thousand wands were in vain.
A sad name, set in a story!
    Shite.  A seed pod void of the seed,        35
We had no meeting together.
    Tsure.  Let him read out the story.
 
Chorus.
I
At last they forget, they forget.
The wands are no longer offered,
                The custom is faded away.        40
The narrow cloth of Kefu
Will not meet over the breast.
’Tis the story of Hosonuno,
This is the tale:
These bodies, having no weft,        45
Even now are not come together.
                Truly a shameful story!
                A tale to bring shame on the gods.
 
II
Ah names of love,
Now for a little spell,        50
For a faint charm only,
For a charm as slight as the binding together
Of pine-flakes in Iwashiro,
And wishing over them toward the sunset,
We return, and return to our lodging.        55
 
The evening sun leaves a shadow.
 
    Waki.  Ah, go on, tell out all of the story.
    Shite.  It is an old custom of this country that we make wands of mediation, and deck them with symbols, and set them before a gate, when we are suitors.
    Tsure.  And we take up a wand of one we would meet with, and let the others lie, for a hundred nights it may be, or for a thousand nights in three years, till there are a thousand wands here in the shade of this mountain.
    And here is the funeral cave of such a man, who had watched out the thousand nights—a bright cave, for they have buried him with all his wands. The wand-cave they call it.        60
    Waki.  I will go to that love-cave;
It will be a tale to take back to my village.
Will you show me my way there?
    Shite.  So be it, I will teach you the path.
    Tsure.  Tell him to come to this side.        65
    Both.  Here are the pair of them
Going along before the traveller.
 
Chorus.
We have spent the whole day until dusk
Pushing aside the grass
From the over-grown way at Kefu.        70
Where, indeed, is the love-cave?
 
O you man, cutting grass on the hill,
Please set your mind on this matter.
 
“You’d be asking where the dew is
“While the frost’s lying here on the road.        75
“Who’d tell you that now?”
 
Be that as you will, yet we are in earnest.
 
    Shite.  There’s a cold feel in the autumn.
Night comes.
 
Chorus.
        And storms; trees, giving up their leaf,
        80
Spotted with sudden showers!
Autumn! Our feet are clogged
In the dew-drenched, entangled leaves.
The perpetual shadow is lonely,
The mountain shadow is lying alone.        85
The owl cries out from the ivies
That drag their weight on the pine.
 
Among the orchids and chrysanthemum flowers
The hiding fox is now lord of that love-cave,
Nishidzuka,        90
That is dyed like the maple’s leaf.
 
They have left us this thing for a saying.
That pair have gone into the cave.
    [Sign for the exit of Shite and Tsure.]
 
PART SECOND

    [The Waki has taken the posture of sleep. His respectful visit to the cave is beginning to have its effect.]
    Waki.  [Restless.]  It seems that I can not sleep
For the length of a cricket’s horn—        95
Under October wind, under pines, under night!
I will perform voice-service to Butsu.
    Tsure.  Aïe! honored priest,
You do not dip in one river
Beneath the same tree’s shadow        100
Without bonds in some other life.
 
Hear sooth-say,
                Now is there meeting between us,
Between us who were until now
In life and in after-life kept apart.
 
A dream-bridge over wild grass,        105
Over the grass I dwell in.
O honored, do not awake me by force.
I see that the law is perfect.
    Shite.  [Supposedly invisible.]  It is a good service you have done, sir,
A service that spreads in two worlds,        110
And binds up an ancient love
That was stretched out between them.
 
I had watched for a thousand days.
I give you largess,
For this meeting is under a difficult law.        115
And now I will show myself, in the form of Nishikigi.
I will come out now for the first time in color.

    [The characters announce or explain their acts, as these are mostly symbolical. From now on comes the final dance which both chorus and the two chief actors are explaining.]
 
    Chorus.  The three years are over and past—
All that is but an old story.
    Shite.  To dream under dream we return.        120
Three years!… And the meeting comes now!
This night has happened over and over,
And only now comes the tryst.
    Chorus.  Look there to the cave
Beneath the stems of the Suzuki!        125
From under the shadows of the love-grass—
See! see how they come forth and appear—
For an instant!… Illusion!
    Shite.  There is at the root of hell
No distinction between princes and commons!        130
Wretched for me! ’Tis the saying.
    Waki.  Strange! what seemed so very old a cave
Is all glittering-bright within,
Like the flicker of fire.
It is like the inside of a house.        135
They are setting up a loom
And heaping up charm-sticks. No!
The hangings are out of old time.
Is it illusion? Illusion!
    Tsure.  Our hearts have been in the dark of the falling snow,        140
We have been astray in the flurry,
You should tell better than we
How much is illusion—
You who are in the world!
We have been in the whirl of
                those who are fading.
        145
    Shite.  Indeed in old times Narihira said—
And as he vanished with the years—
“Let a man who is in the world tell the fact.”
                It is for you, traveller,
                To say how much is illusion.        150
    Waki.  Let it be a dream, or a vision,
                Or what you will, I care not.
Only show me the old times over-past and snowed under!
Now! Soon! While the night lasts!
    Shite.  Look sharp then, for old times are shown.        155
Faint as the shadow-flower shows in the grass that bears it,
And you’ve but a moon for lanthorn.
    Tsure.  The woman has gone into the cave.
She sets up her loom there
For the weaving of Hosonuno,        160
Thin as the heart of Autumn.
    Shite.  The suitor for his part, holding his charm-sticks,
Knocks on a gate which was barred.
    Tsure.  In old time he got back no answer,
No secret sound at all        165
Save ….
    Shite.  The sound of the loom.
    Tsure.  It was a sweet sound like katydids and crickets—
A thin sound, like the Autumn.
    Shite.  It was what you would hear any night.        170
    Tsure.  Kiri.
                Shite.  Hatari.
                            Tsure.  Cho.
                                        Shite.  Cho.
    Chorus.  [Mimicking the sound of crickets.]
Kiri, hatari, cho, cho,
        175
Kiri, hatari, cho, cho,
The cricket sews on at his old rags
With all the new grass in the field—sho,
Churr, isho, like the whir of a loom: churr.
    Chorus.  [Antistrophe.]
Let be, they make grass-cloth in Kefu,
        180
Kefu, the land’s end, matchless in the world.
    Shite.  That is an old custom, truly,
But this priest would look on the past.
    Chorus.  The good priest himself would be saying:
Even if we weave the cloth, Hosonuno,        185
And set up the charm-sticks
For a thousand, a hundred nights,
Even then our beautiful desire will not pass—
                Nor fade nor die out.
    Shite.  Even today the difficulty of our meeting is remembered,        190
                Is remembered in song.
 
Chorus.
That we may acquire power,
                Even in our faith substance,
We will show forth even now.
                And though it be but in a dream—        195
Our form of repentance.
    [Explaining the action.]
There he is carrying wands
And she has no need to be asked.
See her within the cave,
With a cricket-like noise of weaving.        200
The grass-gates and the hedge are between them,—
That is a symbol.
Night has already come on.
    [Now explaining the thoughts of the man’s spirit.]
Love’s thoughts are heaped high within him,
As high as the charm-sticks,        205
As high as the charm-sticks, once colored,
Now fading, lie heaped in this cave.
And he knows of their fading, he says:
I lie a body, unknown to any other man,
Like old wood buried in moss.        210
It were a fit thing
That I should stop thinking the love-thoughts.
The charm-sticks fade and decay,
And yet
The rumor of our love        215
Takes foot and moves through the world.
We had no meeting
But tears have, it seems, brought out a bright blossom
Upon the dyed tree of love.
    Shite.  Tell me, could I have foreseen,        220
Or known what a heap of my writings
Should lie at the end of her shaft-bench?
 
Chorus.
A hundred nights and more
Of twisting, encumbered sleep
                And now they make it a ballad,        225
Not for one year or for two only
But until the days lie deep
As the sand’s depth at Kefu.
 
Until the year’s end is red with autumn,
                Red like these love-wands,        230
A thousand nights are in vain.
I too stand at this gate-side—
You grant no admission, you do not show yourself,
Until I and my sleeves are faded.
By the dew-like gemming of tears upon my sleeve,        235
Why will you grant no admission?
And we all are doomed to pass,
You, and my sleeves and my tears.
And you did not even know when three years had come to an end.
Cruel, ah cruel!        240
The charm-sticks …
    Shite.            Were set up a thousand times.
Then, now, and for always.
    Chorus.  Shall I ever at last see into that room of hers
        which no other sight has traversed?
    Shite.  Happy at last and well-starred!        245
Now comes the eve of betrothal—
We meet for the wine-cup.
    Chorus.  How glorious the sleeves of the dance
That are like snow-whirls!
    Shite.  Tread out the dance.        250
    Chorus.  Tread out the dance and bring music.
This dance is for Nishikigi.
    Shite.  This dance is for the evening plays
                And for the weaving.
    Chorus.   For the tokens between lover and lover!        255
It is a reflecting in the wine-cup.
 
Chorus.
Ari-aki—
The dawn!
Come! we are out of our place—
Let us go ere the light comes!
    [To the Waki.]
        260
We ask you, do not awake.
We all will wither away,
The wands and this cloth of a dream.
Now you will come out of sleep,
You tread the border and nothing        265
Awaits you—no, all this will wither away.
There is nothing here but this cave in the field’s midst.
Today’s wind moves in the pines.
A wild place, unlit, and unfilled!
 
 
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