Houses of Sleep
Willow Woman
East West
Decline of Taste
Note on Yeats
Oscar Wilde
Again on Hokku
On Poetry
Again on Poetry
Morning Fancy
Ink Slab 




THE incense, an old vibration of the Japanese heart, quite peculiar, naturally fastidious, gesticulated, while stealing up from a two-horned dragon's mouth, for my friend (who returned home from America by the last steamer) to stop his talk on automobiles and sky-scrapers. It was only a little while since the new moon, looking so attractive after a shower-bath of rain, had left the pine branches of my garden. I begged my friend to change his Western sack-coat for one of my yukatas, the cotton summer dress with somewhat demonstrative design thank heaven, it is in the summer time all free, when we are allowed to act even fantastically), as it was, I told him informally, out of place in my Japanese house; I confess that the poetical balance of my mind has grown to be easily ruined by a single harsh note of the too real West. When I, with my friend new-made in Japanese robe, most comfortably stretched my body upon the mats, I felt the night lovely, the dusk so blessed; my friend said he wished, if possible, to cry heartily while listening to some [<39] old Japanese songs of tragedy whose pain he had almost forgotten. The words reminded me at once that Madam Kosei, the well-known singer of gidayu or lyrical drama, was appearing in some entertainment-house close by; with much glee he received my suggestion to take him there. When we left the house the moon was seen nowhere.
    "Dzden, den, den"—the sound of the three-stringed samisen trying for the right note was already heard when we sat ourselves down in the hall, where my artistic mind began soon to revolt against the electric-light, which only serves to diffuse the music deep or low, the song tragic or simple; I thought if we only could hear them in a small room, perhaps of eight mats, with candles lighted, where the voice reaches the ecstasy when it suffocates! The husky cough, quite natural for the professional singer who has forced her voice too severely, made us understand that we were going to hear Kosei in the tragic death of O Ryu, that poor willow-tree woman who grew under the blessing of dews and suns.
    The audience hushed like water when the [<40] singer's voice rose "The leaves fall, the tree cracks, the axe flashes. O Ryu, the willow-tree woman, shivers, trembles in pain as her last days are reached ; she cries over her sleeping child, Midori, whom she got by Heitaro, her husband, and she says: "The child will grow even without the mother's milk. If he should become great and wise and live up to his father's reputation with arrow and bow! Oh, must his poor mother go away? The Voice, sad voice, calls me back to the tree. Oh, voice calling me back. . . ."
    Once she had no human form, but was only the willow-tree on whose high branch Suyetaka's hawk alighted when he was hunting, which was almost doomed, then, to be cut down, as he saw no other way to get the hawk; it was Heitaro, the clever archer, who shot the branches to pieces and rescued the bird, of course, and also saved the tree from its ruin. The inhuman tree grew human at once in feeling the sense of gratitude towards Heitaro, whom she decided to serve in the role of woman: the days, the years that passed made her forget that she was tree; her love [<41] for her temporary husband was seated in Midori.
    The scene changes from night to day. The fallen willow-tree never moves when people try to pull it to its destination. Who in the world could know its secret heart ? Who could hear its inner voice, except Heitaro and Midori? When they hasten to the place, the tree, not wholly dead, seems to stir as if in joy; why should it not, as its husband and child have come to bid farewell at the moment it is taken over the dark and death? The tree moves when Midori and Heitaro lead the people in singing, because they pull with the strength of humanity and love.
    We, I and my friend, were silent when we returned home from the entertainment-hall; I fancied that he was impressed as much as I was. We all take the same step in the matter of humanity without any discussion. I left my friend in his room, I myself retiring into the mosquito-net of my compartment, whence I could see the paper lantern still burning in the darkness, swinging as if a lost spirit of the willow-tree, perhaps, of my garden; what [<42] would it speak to me? I could not sleep for some long while, being absorbed in my own reflection.
    It was Buddhism which encouraged and endorsed the superstition, even with added reasonings; it would only need a little light of circumstances to make it shine like a pearl which quickens itself, to speak figuratively, with the golden faith within. The humanising of a tree, whether it be a willow or a pine, has its origin in the general Nature-worship which is as old as the sun and the moon; I think it is one of the prides we can fairly well claim that we never laugh, jeer at, or wound Nature, and never 'Invade her domain with cold hearts; it is, in truth, the Western intellect that has taught us of the scheme and secret how to force the battle against Nature. Must we thank the West for our disillusionment? It was the romance of trees-like that of the willow, for instance-that saved at least old Japan from natural ruin; how such an allegorical story impressed our Japanese mind!
    I used to hear, when I was young, of the lovely maiden ever so young and sad, who [<43] disappeared, like a star into the morning mist, into the cherry-tree, when the evening bell sent the sun down across the West, and the flower-petals fell fast to the ground ; I began to dream of the luminous moment of meeting with that lady of apparition, when my boyhood grew to ripen into youth, and of the ecstasy of shock and deathless joy in her single touch. I confess I was ever so haunted by the woman of the cherry-tree. The pain I earned from realising the fact that I should never get her, although she was within my hand's grasp, became healed only lately.
    Where I lost my idealism I got humanity; to-day, when my days of youth have begun to fade into the colour of grey, I am married, and have children crawling by my side. The story of the willow-tree appeals to my mind more intensely than the lady of the cherry-blossom. I think that the worship of the tree belongs to an age ten years later than the flower adoration. [<44]

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