Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Seventh Night, by Natsume Soseki

Chomu's mysterious editor-in-chief, Mr. Jorkins, apologises for the slight delay in new stories. In the meantime, he asks you to enjoy the translation below of Natsume Soseki's 'The Seventh Night', from Yume Juuya, or Ten Nights of Dream. Night the Second and the Tenth may be found here and here respectively. New stories will follow when the current existential turbulence has passed. Should you experience any cosmic nausea in the meantime, remember your sick-bags are in your imagination.

The Seventh Night

(With thanks to Hayashi-san of Kyoto Univerity Bungakubu)

For some reason, I found myself aboard a gargantuan ship.

Day and night, without a moment’s pause, the ship spewed black smoke and pressed forward, cutting through the waves. The noise was terrific. However, I had no idea where the ship was bound. From the depths of the ocean the sun would rise up like a red hot poker. It would climb until it stood just above the main mast, and just as it seemed to be suspended there it would overtake the great ship, and, before I knew it, disappear into the distance. Finally, sizzling like a red hot poker, it would sink again beneath the waves. Every time it did so the blue waves would boil up in a deep maroon colour. Then the ship would make its terrible din and follow in the sun’s wake. It never caught up.

Once I accosted one of the crew and questioned him.

“Is this ship going west?”

He gave me a suspicious look and, after sizing me up for a while, finally he questioned me in return.

“Why do you ask?”

“It’s just that we seem to be following the setting sun.”

The man cackled. Then he disappeared off in the other direction.

From somewhere there came the sound of jeering voices.

“Is the east the journey’s end for the west-travelling sun? Is that true? Is the west the home of the east-rising sun? Is that also true? Our life is on the waves! An oar for a pillow! Onward! Onward!”

I went to the bow and found a great number of sailors gathered there, hauling in the thick halyard.

I felt exceedingly lonely. I had no idea when I would next set foot on land, and I had no idea where we were going. The only thing that was certain was that the ship went on spewing its black smoke and cutting through the waves. Those waves were a vast expanse, an endless blue with an occasional touch of purple. Only the immediate proximity of the moving ship was any different, being always a perfect white with the spray of churning water. I was terribly lonely. Rather than remain on this terrible ship, it would be better, perhaps, to cast myself overboard.

There were a multitude of passengers, most of whom seemed to be foreign. Their features were not as we typically imagine, but were various. When the sky darkened with clouds and the boat rocked on the waves, a woman would draw up to the handrail and weep continuously. The kerchief with which she dried her eyes flashed white in the gloom. She was wearing a western-style cotton print dress. When I saw this woman I realised I was not the only one who suffered.

One evening I went out on deck to gaze at the stars when one of the foreigners approached me and asked if I knew anything of astronomy. I was so weary that I wished even for death. What use was astronomy to me? I said nothing. Then the foreigner spoke of the Seven Stars that hung above Taurus. He said that the stars and the ocean were all the work of God. Finally, he asked if I had faith in the Lord above. I looked at the sky and said nothing.

On another occasion I entered the bar to find a young woman in a florid dress playing a piano with her back to me. Next to her stood a tall and splendid gentleman singing to her accompaniment. His open mouth appeared cavernously wide. But the two of them seemed utterly indifferent to the world around them. It was as if they had even forgotten they were on this ship.

I grew ever more weary. At last I determined on self-destruction. And so, one evening, at an hour when no one else was around, I leapt wildly over the edge of the ship. However, the instant my feet left the deck and my connection with the ship was broken, my life suddenly became precious to me. At the bottom of my heart I wished that I had changed my mind about jumping. But it was too late. Whether I willed it or no, I was to plunge into the bosom of the ocean. However, it seemed that the hull of the ship was built to a fantastic height, and even though my body had broken contact with the ship, my feet did not soon connect with the water. But there was nothing for me to grasp hold of, and slowly, slowly, I fell towards the waves. However much I drew in my legs, the water still loomed nearer. The colour of the water was black.

Before long, the ship spewed out its usual black smoke and passed on. I realised for the first time that even if I did not know where the ship was bound, it was still better to be on it – realised for the first time only now such knowledge was useless to me. Filled with infinite regret and infinite terror, I continued to fall silently towards the black waves.

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