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 




IT has become my habit on way to college once a week, where my weakness betrays itself under the quite respectable name of interpreter of English poets, ancient or modern, to invite my own soul even for awhile where the shadows of pine-trees thicken along the path of breezes in Shiba Park; it makes my wandering in the holy houses of sleep of the great feudal princes the most natural thing. I clearly remember how afraid I was in my boyhood days, whenever I happened to pass by them, of being hailed by the dark, undiscerning voice of Death. Oh, my friends and philosophers in all lands, is it a matter of thankfulness as to-day even to fall in love with its sweetness, and to reflect on its golden-hearted generosity and accidentally to despise Life? I say here at either the sacred house of the Sixth Prince or that of the Second Prince that one cannot help loving Death when he sees right before himself such an inspiring house of sleep of green, red, yellow, of the gold and lacquer, of the colours unmixed and simple, soaring out of this and that wealth of life, the [21] colours that have reached the final essence, and power of Nature. Although it might be a modern fashion to speak of symbolism, I flatly refuse to look through its looking-glass of confused quality, on the phoenixes, paradise-birds, lotuses, peonies, lions, and ocean waves which decorate the inside of the temple, where the years of incense and prayer have darkened and mystified the general atmosphere. Our old artists had a strength in their jealous guarding of beauty for beauty's sake; they felt but not theorised; therefore, in such a beauty of confusion as I see in these holy temples, there is the most clear simplicity, the beauty of the last judgment. Indeed, I wish to know if there is any house better fitting for sleep and rest than the temples of spirit in my beloved Shiba Park.
    The beauty of Death is in its utter rejection of profusion; it is the desire of intensity itself which only belongs to the steadfastness and silence of a star; oh, what a determination it declares! It is perfect; its epical perfection arises from the point that it wiil never return towards. Life; its grandeur is in the pride that it [22] shall never associate itself with life's clatter. Oh, Death is triumph! It is the great aspect of Japanese romance of the fighting age to make the moment of death as beautiful as possible; I can count a hundred names of heroes and fighters whom we remember only from the account of their beautiful death, not of their beautiful lives, on whom stories and dramas have been gorgeously written. And it was the civilisation of the Tokugawa feudalism, the age of peace, to make us look upon Death with artistic adoration and poetical respect. We read so much in our Japanese history of the powers and works of that Tokugawa family, which lasted with untired energy until only forty years ago; oh, where to-day can the strong proof of its existence be traced? Is it not, I wonder, only a "name written on water"? But the great reverence towards Death that it encouraged will be still observed like the sun or moon in the holy temples at Nikko or Shiba Park, the creations of art it realised during the long three hundred years. True to say, art lives longer than life and the world. [23]
    I often think how poor our Japanese life might have been if we had not developed, by accident or wisdom, this great reverence towards Death, without whose auspices many beautiful shapes of art, I am sure, would never have existed; the stone lantern for instance, to mention a thing particularly near my mind when I loiter alone in the sacred ground of the Second Shogun, in the wide open yard perfectly covered by pebbles in the first entrance-gate, where hundreds of large stone lanterns stand most respectfully in rows; quite proper for the feudal age, those lone sentinels. When the toro or stone lantern leaves the holy place of spirit for the garden, matter-of-fact and plebeian, it soon assumes the front of pure art; but how can it forget the place where it was born? We at once read its religious aloofness under the democratic mask. To see it squatting solemn and sad with the pine-trees makes me imagine an ancient monk in meditation, crosslegged, not yet awakened to the holy understanding of truth and light; is there not the attitude of a prophet crying in the wilderness in its straight, tall shape upon the large moss- [24] carpeted lawn? I myself bave never been able to take it merely as a creation of art since my tender age when my boy's imagination took its flicker of light under the depth of darkness to be a guiding lamp for my sister's dead soul hastening towards Hades in her little steps; it was a rainy night when she died in her ninth year. I cannot separate my memory of her from the stone lantern; again, I cannot disassociate the stone lantern with the black night and autumnal rain under whose silence the lantern sadly burned, indeed, like a spirit eternal and divine.
    In the first place, whenever I think of the general effect of the reverence of Death upon our national life, I deem the love of cleanliness the greatest of it; when I say that it really grew in the Tokugawa age, I have in my mind the thought that the reverence towards Death reached its full development then. When the custom of keeping the household shrine came strictly to be observed, the love of cleanliness soon promulgated itself as an important duty; and the thought of sharing the same roof with the spirit or ghost makes you, as the next thing, [25] wiser, not to act foolishly or talk scandalously. The appreciation of greyness and silence is born from that reverence of Death; as you live with the dead souls in one house, Death ceases to be fearful and menacing, and becomes beautiful and suggestive like the whisper of a breeze or the stir of incense. Death is then more real than life, like that incense or breeze; again so is silence more real than voice. [<26]

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