It seems altogether appropriate to include in this larger project of classical Japanese literature Noh on the Web, a series of texts of thirteen Noh dramas from the medieval period. While it is true that the written Noh text represents only one aspect of this remarkable art of total theatre, the words chanted, sung, and spoken by the actors in these elegant and high-minded dramas of the soul contain some of the most beautiful and evocative poetic achievements in the history of the Japanese theatre. Noh reached its artistic peak with the work of Kan'ami (1333-1384) and his son Zeami (1363-1443), and so it is not surprising that among the texts included (chosen in consultation with Dr. Mae Smethurst and myself) are several of their masterpieces.
Those who prepare themselves to read the text of a Noh play for the first time will find that these spare and suggestive phrases and sentences, when read and studied with care, yield a high level of beauty and suggestiveness, both of which qualities Zeami searched out when he spoke of his artistic goal of yugen, that sense of "mystery and depth" which surely derives from the Buddhist world view in which Zeami and his contemporaries were immersed.
It is often said that while classical texts in any language always remain the same, new translations are needed every few generations, a fact that can be seen by the ever increasing number of translations of the Bible, or Dante's Divine Comedy. The same principle holds true of the texts of Noh, and the inclusion here of multiple translations of the same play is of the greatest use, not only to help explicate the meaning of any particular passage, but to show the variety of styles in which translators have attempted to secure their particular sense of the beauty of each play. The range of translations moves from those first striking and enthusiastic (if not wholly accurate) versions of Ezra Pound, based on the notes of Ernest Fenollosa, through the eloquent, poetic renderings by Arthur Waley, and in the postwar period, from those of Donald Keene and his talented students in the volume Twenty Plays of the No Theatre, to, most recently, versions by Royall Tyler, one of Donald Keene's most gifted students. For those texts with two, or sometimes more, translations, the comparisons that can be made are always enlightening, illuminating both the original text and the shifting nature, possibilities, and uses of poetic language in our century.
|University of Pittsburgh|