137 Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness)
Trs. Kenneth L. Richard
Should we only be interested to view the cherry blossoms at their peak, or the moon when it is full? To yearn for the moon when it is raining, or to be closed up in ones room, failing to notice the passing of Spring, is far more moving. Treetops just before they break into blossom, or gardens strewn with fallen flowers are just as worthy of notice. There is much to see in them. Is it any less wonderful to say, in the preface to a poem, that it was written on viewing the cherry blossoms just after they had peaked, or that something had prevented one from seeing them altogether, than to say ‘on seeing the cherry blossoms’? Of course not. Flowers fall and the moon sets, these are the cyclic things of the world, but still there are brutish people who mutter that there is nothing left worth seeing, and fail to appreciate.
In all things, it is the beginnings and the endings that are the most interesting. Is the love between a man a woman to be understood only in terms of the times they are together? Feel the pain of a relationship that has ended, decry the futility of a brief encounter, spend a long night awake and alone, think fondly of a life beyond one, out of reach, beyond the clouds, remember a moment long ago shared in a thatched hut; that is LOVE.
There is a much deeper appreciation in waiting for the moon to appear just before dawn than in seeing it full and unobstructed for as far as the eye can see. There can be no finer or more poignant moment than to see it appear among the newly budding branches of a mountain cedar, or its light falling between trees, or to see it when it slides in an out of clouds laden with rain. I shiver when I see the moonlight glimmering on the dew laden leaves of the pasania and the oak, so beautiful that I yearn for a friend fromKyoto who would feel the same.
Above all else, are we to see the moon and the cherry blossoms with our eyes alone? It is indeed amusing, even marvelous, to stay at home in the Spring, thinking about a moonlit night from the confines of ones room. People of class never seem totally absorbed in their loves, nor in their pastimes. Country people think only of the gaudiest of pleasures. They sidle up to blossoming cherry trees, hoarding their vantage point, drinking sake, writing linked poetry until, at the end, they viciously break big branches. They have no feelings. They stick their hands and feet into natural springs, leave their footprints in the snow, leave nothing sacred and untouched in this world.
And these people! When they come to see the Kamo Festival in Kyoto, they claim there is not enough to see from the viewing stands, and so they take themselves off to the stalls behind to drink sake, stuff themselves, play Go and Sugoroku, leaving a guard on their seats. When the call is made, they proceed to rush back to the stands, seeing who can be first to see this or that in the parade, and when again there is a lull, they all rush out of their seats. Why the struggle, just to see what there is to see? The cognoscenti from the capital grow drowsy and make no attempt to catch everything. The younger people who serve them make their way in and out, never attempting to push through from behind, or brazenly trying to get a view of what is passing by.
In all this fine splendor of carriages decorated in Hollyhock boughs that have secretly nestled together in the hours just before dawn, I become curious about the high-born occupants of certain of them. Later I see that I know some of the cattle grooms and other servants. Ah, there is much that is splendid, much that is gay, much that is as varied as life. I am never bored. Along toward evening the throngs of wagons, so thick there had been no passage between them, mysteriously vanish until the din of the festival subsides. The curtains and mats are rolled up and all becomes a lonely sight. In these moments, I think I understand the vagaries of the world. The great avenues of Kyoto are made for such festivals.
Many, many people have passed in front of these stands, and many of them I know, which goes to prove that there are not as many souls in the world as I had thought. When all of them are gone, and when my time comes as well to die, it shall not be such a long wait. Fill a huge vessel with water, and one will see that even though it has small pinholes and the dripping seems minor, still it leaks inexorably and finally it is empty. Though there are many souls in Kyoto, not a day goes by without dying. Is it really only a few each day? Many are the days when the dead are seen off to Toribeno, or to Mt. Funaoka, or to some other unnamed crematory hill, and the process never stops. Caskets are made. There is no end of buyers. It never ceases. One never knows when death will come. The young and the strong are not spared. It is a strange sense of gratitude to know that one has escaped today. Can one afford to think of the world in easy terms? It is like a game of checkers with all the pieces arranged on a Suguroku board. Eventually, no matter what the count or the direction of the game, all of the pieces will be removed until only one is left. And this one cannot escape. It too will go. A warrior off to battle knows he is near to death; he forgets his home, his position. A man who chooses a grass hut and lives in retirement, in harmony with the stream and the stones of his garden, thinking that it happens elsewhere, is deluded. Even in a quiet mountain seclusion, the evil enemy, the brevity of life, will catch up with one. To look into the face of death is similar to a warrior entering the enemy camp.