Japanese Text Initiative
Cornell University East Asia Papers, number 17
Prepared for the University of Virginia Library Electronic Text Center.
Spacing in print source has been preserved. Natural line breaks have been removed, and the trailing part of a verse has been joined to the preceding line.
Komachi at Gateway Temple takes place on the seventh night of the seventh moon of the year. This is the night of Tanabata, a festival which is still celebrated in Japan. Nowadays Tanabata is on the night of July 7, in the height of summer. In the lunar calendar, however, the seventh day of the seventh moon falls several weeks later, at the start of fall. A month in the solar calendar is not the same as a 'moon.' Nor indeed was an 'hour' in pre-modern Japan the same as one of our hours. Day and night were divided into six periods each, no matter what the season, so that each period waxed and waned in length through the year.
On Tanabata, or Seventh Night, the two celestial lovers meet: the Herd-Boy star (Altair) crosses the River of Heaven (the Milky Way) to the Weaver star (Vega) over a bridge formed of the joyously-linked wings of magpies. In this play, a celebration is being offered at Gateway Temple for the occasion. There is to be music and dancing, and many bamboo wands tied with streamers of five colors. These wands are prayer sticks, to pray for various blessings including skill in poetry.
To hear more about poetry, some priests and children from the temple go to visit an old lady who lives nearby. She turns out to be Ono no Komachi, who in her youth was a peerless beauty and a great poet. Now she is only a year short of one hundred, the forgotten ruin of a woman.
The historical Ono no Komachi was active in the mid-ninth century,
Several passages of Komachi at Gateway Temple are taken from the preface to the Kokinshu, which was the canonical statement on poetry. It is this preface which singles out the 'Naniwa Harbor' and 'Mount Asaka' poems for special comment. Naniwa was a port on the site of modern Osaka, and the poem goes, 'At Naniwa Harbor it blooms! this flower winter-long shut in, now spring is here it blooms! this flower.' The 'Mount Asaka' poem can be roughly translated: 'Mount Asaka, reflecting you the rocky pool's shallow this heart is not in desire.' The ancient story goes that when the King of Kazuraki visited northern Japan, he felt poorly received and refused to eat or drink until a serving girl came up to him with a full wine cup, tapped him on the knee, and recited this verse; everything went smoothly from then on. It is also the Kokinshu preface that describes Komachi's poetry as 'affecting, but not strong.'
Komachi at Gateway Temple mentions 'cloud walkers,' meaning the nobles of the imperial court, for the Emperor's own palace is known as the 'cloud dwelling.' Figuratively speaking, all of Japan was one mountain, on top of which was the Imperial Seat -- this is the meaning of the word miyako which became the common name for the Capital. One always traveled 'up' to Miyako, and 'down' from it.
Komachi at Gateway Temple is held to be the loftiest play in the repertoire, and only a senior and distinguished actor would dare to perform its main role. Some say the role is so difficult and so lofty because Komachi does not move at all during the first hour or so of the play -- as though loftiness were measured by the obligation to tolerate, toward some esoteric end, intolerable boredom. There is some truth in this, but surely the real loftiness comes from the play's transparent simplicity of tone. There are masterpieces, but this is a past-masterpiece, beyond praise. Zeami, who may possibly have written it, says that an old actor who has truly mastered the 'flower' of the art will always be perfectly fresh even though he is long past the age for brilliance. His acting will be like blossoms on an old bough. In Komachi at Gateway Temple, this image is applied to Komachi herself, as she dances at last. The whole play, though, is actually like that. Beside an old, old woman whose age has brought her out of the world into a second innocence, one sees the children, dressed in their best, gravely dancing for the Stars.
The waiting ends now fall's rejoined the waiting ends now fall's rejoined the Stars: hasten their feast!
You have before you the head priest of Gateway Temple in the land of Omi. Today being the seventh day of the seventh month, we're all going into the garden of the Lecture Hall, to celebrate Seventh Night. But now, an old woman has put together a hut under this mountain, and I understand she's a master of the Way of Song; so I'm taking the young people with me to hear what she has to say.
[ face to face ]
'Hiss and sigh the chilling winds and wilting hairs converge at start of fall,' and evening of the seventh day so soon has come.
[ facing front ]
This Seventh Night we've offerings: strings, pipes tuned to modes and scales many-hued words urge we forth for Blessed Isles'
[ face to face ][ Sideman takes a few steps and returns to his place by start of next passage. ]
Way our prayer threads streaming bright Way our prayer threads streaming bright oh, weave brocade loom the flags of pampas grasses, flowers too and autumn weeds dew-spangled sing, so gently plays the pining wind,
itself perfect offering this wondrous night offering this wondrous night!
[ All go to sit near Sideman's spot. Stage hand removes cover from the hut, revealing Doer seated inside. She wears the rojo, or Old Woman, mask. ]
[ facing front ]
You wait here a moment, while I inquire within the hut.
[ Sideman stands, and has Child stand also. ]
Though mornings I get not one bowl, seek food I cannot; though grass wraps, nights, hide not my flesh I have nothing more. Flowers, as rains go by, lose their scarlet youth; willows, as breezes lure them, let the green fronds droop. Man is not young again: at last he's old, and though spring come with warblers' hundred carolings, no fall goes back to yesteryear. Oh the old days, I miss them so![ She gently checks tears. ]
Oh the old days, I miss them so!
sp Old lady, I beg your pardon, but I'd like to speak with you.
Who is it?
I'm from Gateway Temple. The children of the temple are studying poetry, and they've been asking about the old lady. So I've brought them along to ask you how to compose songs, and to listen to whatever you have to say.
You do astonish me! A buried stump disowned by men, that's what I am: no longer shall plumed pampas grass burst into fruit. Just make the heart your seed, and dip the flowers of your speech in hue and fragrance. If you do, then how should you fail to grasp true style? [ turning to Child ]
How lovely that all this should appeal to you young people!
One that everyone praises right off is the 'Naniwa Harbor' song, and I understand it's to be considered the first model for learners. Isn't that so?
Very definitely. Song, you see, began in the Age of Gods, but the count of letters then kept changing, and likely enough the heart of the matter was difficult to make out. Now we're in the Age of Men; and it's because the poem celebrates a happy Imperial accession that people make much of the 'Naniwa Harbor' song.
And the 'Mount Asaka' song is a very happy poem too, since it soothed the heart of a king!
Yes, you understand perfectly. With these two songs as mother and father
s and first model for all learners,
sp men high and low, of all degrees,
s town and country, rustic folk of furthest lands,
plain people even, like ourselves,
sweet delight do
Sea of Omi
ripples o! Sands of the shore may reach an end sands of the shore may reach an end; words of song, though, never shall. Greenwillow fronds flow on
always, pine needles do not fall and die. Know then that the seed's the heart! And though times change, though all things pass, so long as words of these songs last, so long shall the bird prints run so long shall the bird prints run.
Thank you. The old poets have left us many words, but songs by women are rare. There are few like you, old lady! 'My own love this night shall come: little spider with her web weaves me a sign!' Is that a woman's song?
That's a song by Princess Sotori, of the old days. She was the consort of Emperor Ingyo. In form, at least, it's her style I followed.
Well now, you say you followed Princess Sotori's style? Ono no Komachi herself, who's so much heard of in recent years,[ Doer lowers her head. ]
is said to work in Princess Sotori's style. 'So forlorn I grieve, pondweed root-cut and drifting; should some stream stir to woo me now I'd go, I know!' There's a song by Komachi!
[ lifting head ]
s Yes, Oe no Koreaki had had a change of heart, and I was very downcast. sp Then Fun'ya no Yasuhide, on his way down as Governor of Mikawa, suggested I come with him. 'Do please find solace in my country dwelling,' said he, [ turning to Sideman ]
and that was why I made the song.
[turning front again]
I'd forgotten through the years, but listening now, tears fall for old
sp How strange! I hear you say that it's you who made the song, 'So forlorn I grieve' and your statement that you followed Princess Sotori's style sounds like Komachi too. In fact, as I consider the age. . . You, old lady, say you're a hundred; then even if Komachi were much changed, she might well still be alive. No, there's no longer any doubt: you yourself are what is left of Komachi! s I tell you, hide it no longer!
No, hearing 'Komachi' I'm ashamed[ She lifts her head, turns to Sideman. ]
'Hues all unseen. . .' though then I sang,
[ Doer lifts her head once more. Sideman and Child go back to sit at Sideman's spot. ]
'. . . it shifts and fades, a worldly one's heart flower. . .' ah, now seen! I'm ashamed![ She lowers her head, turns front again. ]
'So forlorn I grieve, pondweed root-cut and drifting, should some stream stir to woo me: even now I'd go, I know!' I'm ashamed!
Indeed, 'screen them I do, yet from these sleeves spill shining drops, of eyes that see thee not the tears,' reigning memories sow seeds of passion grasses' bloom now wilted I, until the end, shall hold -- but why? -- with shining dews to days long since gone.
Yes, 'Absorbed in love I lie me down and he appears!'
sang I, though now it suits me ill; so long they've come, the moons and years I send off, greet, as spring and fall with dews trip in and pass with frost, for leaves of grass change, insect cries have died away.
Already life is at its term,
just like the rose of Sharon's one glorious day. 'The living die, the dead gain ever more in this my life alas, how long am I bound to mourn?' That too I sang, oh how long the ivy vine, flowers falling, leaves all dropping, lingers in dewdrop life![ She lowers her head, lost in memories. ]
Oh the old days, I miss them so! Each time I feel one with the past I so recall, old things capture me, till now, again,[ She lifts her head, checks tears. ]
I am in love with those first years of old age. Most piteous my plight! In the old days the very room I lodged in a single night was decked with tortoiseshell; the fence hung with golden blossoms; doorways dripped rock crystal; Imperial Car, court carriages in radiant silks of proudest hues smooth-spread pillows enhanced the lovers' chamber where, within, I took my ease on flower-brocaded cushions.[ She lowers her head. ]
Now, a mud-daub hut's my jeweled couch![ She lifts her head, listens to bell. ]
Gateway Temple's bell tolls
'All things must pass'; these old ears hear but learn nothing. Winds sweep down[ She looks into distance to her right. ]
Osaka Pass: 'All born must die,' they say; oh, if I knew! When petals fly and leaves fall, then, each time, for my delight, here at my wattled door[ She takes one of the poem slips in her left hand, then uses fan to mime dipping a writing brush in ink. She writes, dips brush again, writes some more as Chorus sings on. ]
the inkstone I make sing, stain the brush, and salt sea tangle trace out leaves of speech soon withered quite.[ She gazes at the slip she has been writing on. ]
'Most affecting, but not strong.' Not strong because a woman's songs . . .[ Weakly puts the poem slip down, and checks tears. ]
So terribly in my old age I've grown weak, till all that's left is sorrow.
[ to Sideman's Second ]
You know, it's getting late for the feast of Seventh Night. Do invite the old lady to come along with us.
By all means.[ Sideman's Second stands and moves a few steps toward Doer. ]
I beg your pardon, old lady, but what harm could it do? Do please come and have a look at the celebration we're offering for Seventh Night.
[ Sideman's Second goes back to his place and sits. Sideman stands. ]
Oh no, an old woman shouldn't impose that way. I wouldn't think of it.
[ Doer stands, aided by Sideman, and emerges from the hut. At 'Komachi,' she goes to main spot while Sideman retires to Sideman's spot. ]
No, no, old lady, we'll be glad to have you.[ He goes up to Doer and touches her. She picks up her staff. ]
Don't worry! Just come with us!
[ Sideman opens his fan, holds it like a sake ladle, and faces Child. As Chorus sings on, Child opens his fan and holds it like a cup. He receives the liquor from Sideman, then goes before Doer and pours for her. At 'streamer wands,' he stands and begins to dance: at 'round cups go,' moves to mark post, then sweeps left up to drums; at 'oh lovely,' comes to center, opens. ]
Seventh Night: weave streamer wands to offer up how many years gone shadow sere Ono no Komachi's touched one hundred, overhead Heaven's own congress of stars with cloud walkers quite at ease[ Now Doer gazes at her sleeves. At 'poor woman,' she sits wearily, leaning on her staff, and lowers her head. ]
did she brush sleeves, now hempen-clad, poor woman! Oh painful fate! A sight not to be borne!
Ah yes, this night for Seventh Night ah yes, this night for Seventh Night offerings we have
Fine bamboo wands with which we feast the Stars
[ Child returns to Sideman's spot, does a leftright, and sits. Doer, as though unconsciously, beats time with fan. ]
age to age jointed live on, headed hence
to what eternities, Ten Thousand Years!
[ With the aid of her staff she stands, then taps beat once. ]
sp Oh, lovely they were just now, the dancing children's sleeves! Long ago at Harvest Vigil the girls of the Five Measure Dance twirled their sleeves yes, five times it was; s sleeves offered now for Seventh Night should be turned seven times. sp When a madman runs, they say, the sane run after him. Now, lured by the dancing children's sleeves, s the madman's going to run.
One hundred years
One hundred years snug in a flower now dances the butterfly.[ Now she continues dancing, staff in hand. At 'touching sight,' she does a leftright; at 'skirts,' moves to mark post; at'wandering,' displays
Oh touching sight! Oh touching sight! The old tree bough blossoms
nod, swinging sleeves move how forgotten
skirts keep feeble step,
a wandering wave's
up and dancing scarves toss round but no sleeves these to turn back the old days!
[ She sits at center, staff held over left shoulder, and hides tears. At 'all the while,' she lifts her head; then gazes up to the eastern sky; then listens to temple bell and to cockcrow; at 'caught me,' lowers head. ]
off Oh the past, I miss it so!
All the while the short night of early fall begins to break, Gateway Temple's bell,
tell abroad dawn's caught me, ah,
[ While music is still playing, she comes out of hut and stands motionless. ]
the Forest of Vergogne[ She stands, leaning on her staff. ]
never will hide me now.[ She bows her head toward Sideman, then makes her way toward hut. ]
Farewell, I'm going back, says she, leans on her staff and totters home to the straw hut whence she came;[ She enters hut and sits facing front, with staff over her right shoulder. ]
a hundred-year-old crone is she called now, the ruin of Komachi[ She checks tears. ]
is she called now, the ruin of Komachi.