Japanese Text Initiative
Cornell University East Asia Papers, number 17
Prepared for the University of Virginia Library Electronic Text Center.
Spacing in print text has been preserved. Natural line breaks have been removed, and the trailing part of a line has been joined to the preceding line.
Underlining for emphasis has been rendered as italics.
This play begins on a perfect spring day: sweeping blue sky, mild air, pines along the beach, and sunlit sea. The world we know appeared, they say, when sky and earth split apart; now, though, heaven and earth seem still conjoined at ease, one lightly-breathing vastness. As on such a day the earthbound heart rises of itself into free space, so an angel, too, may, as in The Feather Mantle, descend.
No one knows for certain who wrote The Feather Mantle, or when, but it makes a fine introduction to the whole no repertoire. Many of the marks of a god play can be found in it, and one of these is thanks given for our Sovereign's reign. This thanks is rendered for all harmony and delight, to the Lord who shall reign for ever and ever; whose reign endures, indeed, even through the trials enacted in the plays that follow. (If his reign did not so endure, then return to communion and illumination would hardly be possible.) This Sovereign is not only secular and historical; he is also the focal point and power center of the world.
It is the angel's warm, feminine charm that puts The Feather Mantle in the class of woman plays, for true god plays avoid such coloring. This very charm, though, makes The Feather Mantle more perfectly representative, for love is the heart of Japanese poetry -- especially if to love between man and woman, one joins love for the fleeting graces of nature herself.
And who indeed is this charming celestial maiden? She proves to be the laurel tree that grows in the moon, and the very moon itself,
In no, mention of the full moon is likely to be coupled, as here, with the Buddhist term True Semblance (shinnyo). True Semblance can loosely be said to mean Reality, but this reality is no absolute to be grasped at and held. True Semblance can be owned or defined no more than the angel's loveliness.
As the moon, the angel invokes her own 'true ground,' the Bodhisattva Seishi. This is because Shinto deities, the natural powers of the world, were widely held to be local manifestations of the universal Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Such a local manifestation is the projected image, and the name of this mode of understanding is honji suijaku, true ground and projected image. Seishi stands to the right of the Buddha Amida, Lord of Infinite Light, and is Amida's all-illuminating wisdom. Thus the angel, with all her graces, is actually wisdom manifest.
Versions of the story of The Feather Mantle are to be found all over the world. The pattern is that a band of celestial maidens (in ancient Japanese accounts the number is eight) come down to earth to enjoy some particularly wholesome pleasure, such as bathing in a spring or drinking fresh milk. There, a man surprises them. All escape back to heaven but the last one, who is detained by the man and often has to marry him. Much later, though, she does fly home again, and the man, who by some failing has let her escape, can never follow.
What the angel does during her visit to earth is to transmit certain music called the Suruga Dance from East Country Pleasures. East Country Pleasures is Azuma-asobi, a body of songs and dances from the region far to the east of Miyako, the capital. There is a tradition that an angel did indeed give the Suruga Dance to mankind on a beach in the province of Suruga. From the standpoint of no, however, one might imagine that it is music itself that she teaches, and that the whole repertoire is an unfolding of this music.
Swift winds blow by Mio down the curving shore small craft row and fishermen call o'er the sea lanes!
I'm a fisherman known on the pine barrens of Mio as Hakuryo.
'Boundless leagues of lovely hills, and clouds suddenly rise; one lone tower's bright moon marks first the rain's clearing.' Yes, a time it is of mild calm! Spring again has touched pine barrens wave on lingering wave the morning mists, moon loitering in sky meadows endless the gaze roves on: a scene to quiet, to absorb the heart!
I'll not forget how mountain trails we took to Clearview Cove, and spied afar Mio's pine barrens: come now, friends, there's where we'll go come now, friends, there's where we'll go!
Wind-billowed, the clouds float high waves then to you the clouds float high waves then to you are they, men, no fishing done, will you hurry home? Wait! It's spring a while, and mild blows the morning breeze, yes, the pines' song everlasting, waves are silent in the morning calm and fishermen crowd forth in teeming craft fishermen crowd forth in teeming craft!
[ Carrying the mantle in both hands, he starts toward Sideman's spot. But Doer calls to him as she comes through curtain, and starts down bridgeway. She wears the zo-onna mask and an angel's glittering crown. ]
I've just come up to the pine barrens of Mio, and I'm gazing at the view of the shore, when from the void blossoms fall, music resounds, and wondrous fragrances pervade all space. This can hardly be common. And in fact I see here, hung on this pine tree, a beautiful mantle. A closer look now: color and scent are marvelous indeed. This is no ordinary mantle. I'll take it home with me to show my friends, and to keep as an heirloom in my house.
[ Sideman is now at Sideman's spot.) ]
I'm sorry, but that mantle's mine! Why have you taken it?
I just happen to have run across it, so I'm taking it home with me.
But it's an angel's feather mantle! It isn't supposed to be given to a human being! Do please leave it where it was!
As I understand it, then, this is an angel's mantle. Why, in that case, it's obviously a wonder in these latter days, and I ought to have it as a treasure for the whole land! I'm not going to give it back.
Oh no! Without the feather mantle, flying is over for me; I'll never be able to return to Heaven! Please, please give it back!
Hakuryo will not heed this gracious plea, but grows stubborn: heartless I've always been, I, a fisherman. The celestial feather mantle he hides from her.[ He turns front, away from Doer, who is by now at main spot. ]
No indeed, says he, and turns to go.
In her plight now the angel, like a wingless bird,
moving to rise, has no mantle;
on earth, is caught in the nether world.
Either way, alas! . . . she laments,
but as Hakuryo will keep the mantle,
[ She gazes up to her right into the sky. ]
tears run, shining jewel headdress, flowers in her hair droop and wilt: the five signs of an angel's fall are here before my very eyes -- oh pitiful!
To the fields of Heaven backward I gaze, but mists rise, cloudways blur, the path is lost!'
My home so dear, the sky, oh when shall I pass yonder move the clouds and enviously I look on!
The kalavinka's voice I loved the kalavinka's voice I loved to hear, now fades and wild geese cry down the skyways, going home -- and oh, this
I can see now you're suffering terribly. I'll give you back your mantle.
[ She presses toward Sideman. ]
Oh, I'm so happy! Then do bring it to me!
A moment, though.[ He retreats an equal distance. ]
I'll return your mantle if you'll be kind enough to do right here and now the angel dance I've heard tell of.
I'm so happy! Yes, I will get home to Heaven! And for joy I'll indeed dance, right here and now. You shall pass my dance on to the downcast folk of your world. But I can't do anything without my mantle. Please give it back to me first.
Oh no, if I return your mantle you won't dance, you'll head straight up to Heaven.
No, suspicion's for the human realm; in Heaven there's no falsehood.
[ Side gives mantle to Doer, then goes to sit at Sideman's spot. ]
I'm so ashamed! Why then, says he, by all means; and gives her back the mantle.
The maiden, in mantle clothed, does Rainbow Skirts and Cloak of Wings;
the celestial feather mantle moves to the winds,
moist with rain the blossom sleeves,
as music plays
and she dances on!
The Suruga Dance from East Country Pleasures the Suruga Dance from East Country Pleasures: Sparely, this is how it began!
Now, to speak of the long-faring sky: ages past, in the Twin Gods' time, when they laid out the world in each one of its ten directions, the sky had no end, and that it why they dubbed it long-faring.
As for the Palace of the Moon, with glittering ax hewn for all eternity:
robed in white or black the angel throng made two bands, each of thrice five, and all moon long, night by night, a celestial maid with task assigned carries out her role.
Of these I am one: celestial maiden
of the moon laurel tree, I've split in two, to visit and myself pass on to your world here the Suruga Dance of the East Country!
Mists of spring trail on long-faring moon laurel flowers bloom! Yes, crown of blossoms in full hue surely means spring! Oh lovely! Though no Heaven, here too we've sweet grace. Winds of the skies,
In this our Sovereign's reign celestial feather mantles seldom descend:
[ Pausing in her dance movements, Doer sits at main spot and joins palms in reverence. ]
caressed, the rock yet wears not away, oh happy news! Songs of the East: with voices join in sweet concert drone-pipes, flutes, harps and zitherns swelling out past the Lone Cloud; red sinks the sun, so mirroring Mount Sumeru; green in the waves Float Isle Moor gale-swept, where blossoms fall, yes, whirling snow the white cloud sleeves are lovely indeed!
Hail to thee, Seishi, oh thou True Ground of the Moon, daughter of Heaven!
A dance, then, from the East Country Pleasures.
Now, the mantle blue that's Heaven's lofty sky,
now, the mantling mist that rises in spring,
hue and fragrance both delight! The maiden's train
sweeps and sways, all rustling, flowers nod in her hair; celestial feather sleeves billow, coil and turn, the dancing sleeves!
As on and on the dances go as on and on the dances go, she who's named moon palace lady high in the dark sky this thrice fifth night becomes again face of True Semblance, the full moon, and rains riches: prayers fulfilled, the realm replete, the seven treasures overflowing, these on our land bestows; and so time runs, the celestial feather mantle wind-borne billows down the shore; pine barrens of Mio, Float Isle's clouds, Mount Ashitaka, yes, and Fuji's towering peak fade out, mist-veiled into high Heaven she is lost from view.