Monday, October 29, 2007

The Second Night, by Natsume Soseki

A while back on Chomu I posted 'The Tenth Night', from Natsume Soseki's Ten Nights of Dream. I mentioned that it had been published in the now defunct magazine Dream Zone. I also had two other pieces translated from Ten Nights of Dream published in the same magazine. Below I shall post another of them. Perhaps this will even encourage me to translate the rest of the pieces.

Thanks to Heather Marsden for some suggestions used in this translation.

The Second Night, by Natsume Soseki

I had this dream.

When I withdrew from the abbot’s room and returned to my own along the corridor the lantern there was burning dimly. Supporting one knee upon the cushion I adjusted the lantern’s wick and a lump of wax, like a flower, spattered upon the red lacquer stand. In the same instant the room suddenly brightened.

The painting on the sliding door was from the brush of Buson. Black willows were traced darkly then faintly, dotted far and near, and a fisherman hunched against the cold, his straw hat tilted at an angle, was passing along the top of an embankment. In the alcove hung a scroll painting depicting the god Manjusri crossing the ocean above clouds, mounted on a lion. From the gloom there still came wafts of half-burnt incense. The temple building was extensive, and so all was as still as a forest, without sign of another living soul. I glanced up and in that instant, the round shadow thrown on the dark ceiling by the lantern seemed to be alive.

Still on one knee, I turned over the cushion with my left hand, and with my right reached in to find… Yes! It was still there where I had left it. Its presence made me feel safe, so I put the cushion back as it had been and sat down upon it heavily.

You are a samurai! As a samurai you must be able to attain enlightenment! So had spoken the abbot. If you stay forever as you are, unenlightened, you are no samurai at all. You are human excrement! Then he had laughed. Ah, I see I’ve rattled you, haven’t I? If it troubles you so, bring me proof of your enlightenment. So saying he had turned sharply away.

This was not to be borne!

Before the clock in the alcove of the next room strikes the hour, without fail, I will show him enlightenment! I thought. I shall attain enlightenment, and then, this evening, I shall enter the abbot’s room once more. I shall go before the abbot and present my answer. And then I shall exchange my enlightenment for his head! Unless I achieve enlightenment, I cannot take his life. I must, at all costs, achieve enlightenment. I am a samurai!

If I fail to attain enlightenment I shall slay myself. A samurai cannot be disgraced and live. I shall die neatly, without fuss.

As I thought this, my hand went automatically into the cushion. I drew out the short sword in its vermilion scabbard. Grasping the hilt firmly, I tore away the red scabbard. The chill blade gave a single flash in the dark room. It was as if some terrible entity were rushing ceaselessly away from my hand and gathering in a single concentrated point of murderous intent at the sword’s tip. Looking at the way the sharp blade tapered, inexorable and needle-like, almost resentfully, to that dagger-point, I suddenly felt like plunging it hard into someone’s guts. All the blood in my body ran to my right wrist and the hilt I grasped became sticky. My lips trembled.

I sheathed the sword in its scabbard and slung it beneath my right arm. Then I took up the lotus position. I began to chant a sutra. I came to ‘Nothingness’ and stopped. What was ‘Nothingness’? Damned stinking priest! I ground my teeth.

I clenched my back teeth together tightly so that hot breath escaped fiercely from my nostrils. My temples were cramped. I forced my eyes open to twice their normal size.

I could see the hanging scroll, the lamp, the tatami mat. I could see the abbot’s bold pate as if it were before me. That crocodile mouth opened and I could even hear that sneering laughter.

Damned priest!

Somehow or other I had to take that bald head! I would give him enlightenment!

“No-thing-ness… No-thing-ness,” I chanted under my breath. In my ears the chant sounded like, “It’s useless. It’s useless.”

I chanted ‘Nothingness’, but still the smell of incense distracted me. Incense, of all things!

Suddenly I clenched my fists and pummelled my head until I could not bear it. I gnashed my teeth. Sweat poured from both armpits. My back was as straight as a pole. Pain lanced through my knee joints. What would it matter even if I broke my knees? I thought to myself. And yet, it hurt. It ached. Nothingness remained out of reach. Just as I thought it was within my grasp I would feel pain once more. I became angry and resentful. I felt a desperate frustration. Tears sprang, drop by drop, from my eyes. I felt like flinging my body, without further ado, onto a great boulder, to smash my bones to smithereens and my flesh to pulp.

However, I simply bore it, sitting as still as a rock. I held firm while unendurable anguish coiled up inside my chest. This anguish seemed to lift my muscles up from beneath, racing through my body - searching, searching - trying to escape through the pores of my skin. However, it was as if the surface of my body was completely sealed. There was no escape for the anguish. I was pushed to the outer limits of cruelty.

Before long my mind began to play tricks on me. It appeared to me as if the lamp, the painting by Buson, the tatami and the alcove were instantaneously there and not there, not there and there. Even so, Nothingness did not manifest itself in the least. I simply sat there vacantly. Then, suddenly, there came the sound of the clock chiming from the next room.

I was startled. My right hand fell immediately to the sword. The clock struck a second time.

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