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MYTHS OF THE FLOWERY ISLES
THE FAERY ROBE
‘Tis dawn on lone Suruga’s pine-clad land
And, save the lap of wavelets on the strand,
All silence is, and, redolent of spring,
The pendant branches ‘neath the zephyrs sway,
And cloud of fragrant bloom endues the day
With weft of snowy flakes on filmy wing.
(A lone fisherman speaks:)
“But hark! methought I heard a far-off roar
Of rushing waters, midst the wailing pine.
Ethereal strains of melodies divine
Float to mine ear along the foam-fringed shore.
“But nay! no tempest frets the slumbrous seas,
Nor mars the cradle-song the waters sing.
‘Tis but the gentle voice of Mother Spring
That softly croons within the vibrant trees.”
Then from the crest of Fujiyama grand,
Fluttered to earth a cloudlet fleecy-fair,
Hovered a moment o’er the pine-clad strand,
Then melted in the silent azure air.
‘Tired in a stainless robe of feathers white,
A fairy stood beside the smiling sea,
Touching a dulcimer with fingers light,
The while she chanted most enchantingly.
Then laughingly laid down her idle lute,
Hung her bright robe upon a branch of pine,
And, while the fisher gazed with wonder mute,
Plunged like a mermaid in the silvery brine.
The fisher spied the robe upon the tree,
Light as the plumes of some celestial dove.
“A garment of the gods!” he laughed in glee,
“Twill bring me fortune, happiness and love.”
Then from the ocean swift the fairy came
And thus the fisher-lad she did implore:
“Pray, give me back my robe of winged flame,
Or ne’er again may I to cloudland soar.”
Whereat the crafty fisher made reply:
“Nay, that I will not, else, before you fly,
You trip for me upon the grassy ground
The dance that makes the very Moon go round.”
“First give me back my robe, and I will tread
That mystic measure of the days of yore.”
But still the cruel fisher shook his head,
“Dance first and I thy wings will straight restore.”
“Fie on thee, evil man!” exclaimed the fay,
“To doubt the promise of a heavenly sprite.
I cannot dance reft of my plumage bright.
Dear Fisher, give it back to me I pray!”
Then, moved by pity, love, and sudden shame,
The fisher plucked the plumage from the tree,
And gave unto the maid her robe of flame —
“Now take thy pinions, Fairy, and be free!”
And now the fairy dons her rainbow wings;
Touching again her lute with fingers light,
A merry madrigal she blithely sings
And trips a measure frolicsome and bright.
The fair celestial dance that moved to mirth
The myriad gods by sweet Uzume’s wile,
And lured their glorious goddess back to earth,
Fore’er to greet us with her wondrous smile.
The fisher gazed with love-entranced eyes,
Ravished with untold wonder and delight.
Beseemed a blossom born of Paradise
Was this frail fay, too fair for mortal sight.
Waving her rainbow raiment to the breeze,
She skims the surface of the slumbrous seas,
Then flutters from the mazèd fisher’s sight
Into the realms of air, with laughter light.
On pinions swift she circles, swoops, and veers,
Cloud-soaring to the sun, till suddenly,
O’er Fujiyama’s crest, she disappears,
Whence erst she came into the azure sky.
Again on lone Suruga’s pine-clad land
All silence is, upon the slumbrous seas,
Save lap of wavelets on the silver strand
And moan of voices in the vibrant trees.
(Ancient “NO Drama.”)
“Emperor Chiuai reclined in his summer pavilion, gazing over the jade-green sea”
Benten, the Dragon’s Daughter
THE JEWEL OF HEART’S DESIRE
I. The Land of Morning Calm
Emperor Chiuai reclined in his summer pavilion, gazing over the jade-green sea.
His slender fingers drew from a silver lute strains of heart-rending melody. In all the world he knew but two delights, the art of music and his high-hearted bride.
The Empress was an adept in manly sports, a fearless Amazon, a hardy huntress, and the clash of arms was as music in her ears.
Roundly she rated her spiritless spouse:
“Art thou indeed the son of valiant Yamato?” she scoffed contemptuously.
“Verily,” rejoined the Emperor placidly, “for that my father hath subdued the country there remaineth for me naught but my queen, my kingdom, and my lute.”
The brow of the Empress clouded:
“Unworthy son of a glorious sire, I would have thee bear the sword of Yamato beyond the sea. In a dream the Sun Goddess came to me, saying: ‘Westward lieth the Land of Morning Calm wherein is hidden the Crystal of Heart’s Desire; that jewel I now bestow upon thee.”
Put, not thy trust in dreams,” admonished the Emperor pointing toward the sea. “Look! Seest thou aught save the great water? Even those who ascend the mountain-tops discern no more. Think not to wield the sword, but content thyself with the distaff and needle. There is no land beyond the Western Sea!”
Of a sudden a blinding light flooded the chamber and, with a rustling of wings, Amaterasu descended, terrible in her anger.
Faithless craven!” she flashed, “for that thou doubtest my celestial prophecy thy Queen shall subdue this land, and thou shalt die!”
The Emperor went white; his eyeballs rolled in their sockets.
“My Heavenly Sovereign,” besought the Empress, “in pity look upon thy wife!”
Lifting his trembling fingers she placed them upon the lute.
“August Lord,” she pleaded, “be pleased to wake again thy silvery strains.”
“Let us set sail, set sail to the Land of Morning Calm,” he sang softly.
Slowly his lips froze to immobility. The lute fell from his nerveless fingers, the music lingering still upon the vibrant strings.
Seizing a taper from the shrine, the Empress tremblingly held it before his lips. But the flame did not flicker. The gentle monarch had passed to the Land of Morning Calm.
Now it was the custom in Yamato that no woman might rule save in the name of her consort. Therefore the Prime Minister, Takeuchi, adroitly concealed the death of his sovereign, asserting that he had delegated to the Empress the command of the expedition to the Western Land.
To this end he assembled munitions and builded a goodly fleet.
Empress Jingu, erstwhile so belligerent, timorously besought an omen of the gods:
“My departed lord was pleased to commend to me the distaff and needle. Vouchsafe a sign, gracious Sun Goddess. Grant that with a fragile thread I may draw to land a great fish.”
Ravelling from her obi a silken thread and bending her needle into a hook, she baited it with a cherry bloom and cast it into the sea. Scarce had the blossom sunk when the waters boiled in sudden fury and, with terrific lashing of its mighty tail, she drew to land a monstrous shark. Wherefore the spot is called to this day Matsura, the Wonderful.
Again the doubting Empress implored:
“Wide-shining Amaterasu, goddess of Ever-Glorious-Light! if I am destined to subdue the Land of Morning Calm vouchsafe, I pray, another omen. By thy miraculous might, arm thou my body for this enterprise.
Thus beseeching she plunged into the deep. Slowly the fateful moments lagged while the throng waited with bated breath.
Meanwhile, beneath the billows, unseen tire-maidens ministered unto the mazed woman. Uncoiling her jewelled headdress, they knotted her hair in manly guise. On her head they placed a dragon-crested helmet and upon her bosom a breastplate of golden-lacquered steel; in her hand a spear of eight arms length, and girded round her waist, the Sacred Sword.
A mighty shout greeted the Empress as she emerged (mom the sea transformed into a gleaming warrior.
“Sons of Yamato,” she cried triumphantly, “behold the sign! The Sun Goddess hath armed me for victory!”
Whereat their hearts were filled with joy and, gathering the fleet, they embarked upon the unknown adventure.
Escorting them upon their way all manner of sea-monsters issued from the depths. Tritons blew favourable winds, mermaids pushed the sterns, and sea-dragons seized the cables, flying onward until the prows leaped through the foam-flowered waves.
Sailing by the pavilion of the Emperor, they heard his voice still singing:
“Sail on Beloved, to the Land of Morning Calm!”
After days of fruitless questing at last they sighted land. Lofty mountains and emerald plains loomed through the sapphire haze. Rounding a rugged promontory they entered a tranquil bay, in whose shelter nestled a white-walled city; but a massive chain was stretched across its goodly harbour, forbidding entrance.
Standing at the prow of the foremost galley, the Empress held aloft the Tide-flowing Jewel of Prince Fire-Fade.
Suddenly the waters gathered in a mighty tidal-wave which swept over the flooded city and bore the fleet to the very temple gate.
Deeming this prodigy the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy,1 the panic-stricken King came forth waving a white banner and knelt before the Empress in token of subjection.
Far into the interior, inundating plains, villages, and cities, swept the tidal wave.
Believing that their country was being swallowed by the ocean, the Koreans swore:
“Until pines of the mountains descend in long procession, and stars of heaven rain upon the sea, so long shall we remain thy loyal subjects.”2
1 Of old an oracle had foretold: “When ships shall walk upon the dry land and a woman lead an army into the temple then shall Korea fall.”
2 This prophecy was recalled during the Russo-Japanese war, when the Russians set up in the valley of the Yalu telegraph poles, cut from mountain pines, and their rockets showered the sea with falling stars.
2. The Quest of the Jewel
In token of their submission the Koreans presented the Empress with the Jewel of Heart’s Desire, a wondrous crystal ball flawless in contour and of such exquisite limpidity that its presence could be discerned by touch alone.
In time of peril it emitted fires like the lightning bolt; in peace a radiance as the moon, conferring upon its possessor his heart’s desire.
The Empress entrusted the crystal to Takeuchi, who hung it at the masthead, that its kindly rays might guide the helmsman on their homeward course.
Scarce had the army set forth upon its voyage when the jewel flashed its warning flame, as Futen, the Wind God, unloosed a great typhoon and darkness covered the face of the deep.
Now Benten, the dragon’s daughter, longed with keen desire to possess the crystal ball. Mounting to the masthead, she tore the jewel from its fastenings and bore it to the depths of the sea.
Terrible was the wrath of the Empress at the loss of the precious treasure. Angrily she commanded that the Prime Minister be denied audience until he should restore the lost talisman.
The journey ended, ruined and disgraced, Takeuchi retired from court. Resolved on self-destruction, he climbed one night to the summit of a cliff.
A fisher-maid, the gentle Tamatori, followed him unseen as he wandered thus, deeming himself alone. Long and silently had she loved the great minister, locking the secret in her woeful heart for well she knew that only a princess might hope to wed the famous daimio.
Marking his distraught mien, her loving heart boded his fatal purpose:
“Stay, my Lord,” she screamed as he ungirded his swords, “relinquish thy resolve, I beseech thee.”
In vain he strove to unlock her clinging arms. “Let me die,” he commanded, “I am disgraced.” Then he told her of the lost crystal and the wrath of the Empress.
“Behold!” she cried, “yonder gleams a wondrous light. Can it be that some great star hath fallen into the sea?”
Thunderstruck Takeuchi gazed into the darkling water.
In its unfathomable depths loomed a coral pagoda of an hundred stories, and, upon its topmost pinnacle, like a lustrous star, glittered the Jewel of Heart’s Desire!
“Tis the palace of Benten” he exclaimed wonderingly.
“Be of good cheer,” laughed the fisher-maid. “Like a fish can I dive; wait thou here. I shall attain my heart’s desire for I shall give thee thine!”
Girding on his swords she leaped into the sea. Down through the emerald water she plunged, until she reached the spire where gleamed the wonder-jewel.
Strange, loathly fish leered at her with great round eyes, as she seized the magic crystal.
Then suddenly the waters were lashed into furious commotion and the vile sea-dragon crawled from his hidden lair. On every side sea-monsters hurried to his call: sharks opened their terrible jaws, swordfish darted at her, cuttlefish blinded her eyes with their inky spittle, and devilfish entangled her limbs with clinging tentacles; while the dragon stood apart and smiled upon her with his evil smile.
Then Tamatori feared that her hour had come. Knowing that a dragon will not touch a corpse, she plunged her sword into her bosom and thrust the jewel within the gaping wound.
Impotent with wrath the foiled monster slunk slowly away and the waters were calmed.
Long and anxiously had Takeuchi waited; and bitter was his remorse when the lifeless form of the maiden drifted to his feet. Her cold hands, crossed upon her breast, still guarded the coveted treasure, and the smile Upon her pallid face was wondrous to behold.
Takeuchi caused her to be placed upon a lordly catafalque and conveyed with all honour to the capital.
The fame of her noble deed outran the cortege. From every village came maidens bearing garlands; from the temples priests with incense, from the citadel samurai with drums and dirges, even as they would have honoured a general after a great victory.
As they passed through the city gates crowds swarmed about her in wonder. From the palace floated mystic strains of the Emperor’s lute.
The Empress knelt at the fisher-maiden’s bier. Reverently she placed within the maiden’s lifeless hand a patent of nobility, creating her, all too late, Princess of Heart’s Desire.
Overjoyed at the recovery of the crystal she elevated to the regency her devoted minister.
If it is true, as some contend, that they were secretly wedded, the ancient chronicles are discreetly silent as to this episode in the career of their militant Empress.
On a dreamy day in springtime I sailed forth to Suminoye,
O’er the hills of jade-green water to the strand of beaten gold;
And as there I lingered, musing on its ancient vanished glory,
I bethought me of the story by the hearthstone often told,
How the fisher Urashima, the bonito ever questing,
O’er the hills of jade-green water past the bounds of sea did roam,
And for seven long suns together, oaring onward, never resting,
Came not back to Suminoye, nor returned unto his home.
After long and fruitless questing, Urashima, melancholy,
Drew, from out the jade-green water, a great tortoise suddenly!
But the tortoise is a symbol of long life, you know, and holy,
So he spared the sacred creature and returned it to the sea.
Fanned by zephyrs, lulled by wavelets, Urashima fell a-dreaming,
When to him there came a vision of a maid surpassing fair,
Came the daughter of the dragon, on his face her radiance beaming,
With the glory of the sunset in the halo of her hair.
Urashima, Urashima,” whispered low the dragon’s daughter,
“For that thou didst spare the tortoise, little deeming it was I,
Come thou with me to my castle down beneath the jade-green water,
With thy flower-wife, Otohime, e’er to live and ne’er to die!”
Then in joy laughed Urashima and his heart leapt with elation,
For ne’er before had he beheld a maid so wondrous fair;
And right willingly he yielded to her winsome invitation,
So the daughter of the dragon led him to her elfin lair,
To the palace of the dragon, where the nixies guard his treasures,
In the land of ceaseless sunshine down beneath the jade-green sea,
Where they dwelt for generations in a round of endless pleasures,
Never ageing, never dying, ever young and ever free.
And he might have dwelt for ever, with his flower-wife enamoured,
Had not longing stirred within him home and kin once more to see.
“I would fain go to my father, to my mother,” thus he stammered,
“After one fond look upon them, I will come again to thee.”
Thus he spake, and, sorely troubled, Otohime answered sadly,
“If unto the Land Immortal to return thou e’er wouldst hope,
Here again to live forever, I thy wish do grant thee gladly.
Take this talismanic casket, but beware its lid to ope!”
Strongly did she thus enjoin him, loudly swore he to obey,
And at dawn they fondly parted and he journeyed on his way;
On his way to Suminoye, oared he on the ocean old
O’er the hills of jade-green water to the strand of beaten gold.
But when once he reached the harbour where his home was wont to be,
Naught he saw of Suminoye, not a hut did he behold;
Though he sought from dawn to sunset not a vestige could he see,
Naught but hills of jade-green water and the strand of beaten gold!
Then his heart was rife with wonder and in anguish he did wail:
“In the space of three short summers since I left my village here,
Can it utterly have vanished, leaving naught to tell the tale?
Were I now to ope the casket, would it not again appear?”
And forgetting, reckless fellow, every caution, in dismay
Loosed he then the silken cordage that the magic casket bound,
Whereupon a fleecy cloudlet issued forth into the day,
Talisman of life eternal mounting heavenward from the ground!
Urashima ran and shouted, waving wild his sleeves in air,
Of a sudden then he tottered and fell writhing to the earth,
Withered, wrinkled, old, enfeebled, spent of breath and white of hair!
Tie, who erst had been so youthful, comely, strong, and full of mirth,
Now from life fore’er departed on the strand of beaten gold,
By the hills of jade-green water where stood Suminoye old.
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