japonisme: the angel & the fisherman

20 September 2007

the angel & the fisherman

[A]lthough all the visible and audible elements of nō are aimed at creating this other-worldly atmosphere, and this is the element that everybody who ever witnessed a nō performance always is excited about, nō is really a literary art form. The texts are written in an archaic and poetic Japanese full of references to older Japanese and Chinese literature, making it very hard to understand fully by a modern audience. To give you some idea about the texts, here follows an excerpt from the play Hagoromo, about a fisherman who finds the feathered robe of an angel, and is only willing to give it back to her after she danced for him. The place where this is supposed to have happened, the beach at Mio, is still visited by tourists today.

David van Ooijen

Fisherman: Now I have landed at the pine-wood of Mio and am viewing the beauty of the shore. Suddenly there is music in the sky, a rain of flowers, unearthly fragrance wafted from all sides. These are no common things; nor is this beautiful cloak that hangs upon the pine-tree. I come near to it. It is marvellous in form and fragrance. This surely is no common dress. I will take it back with me and show it to the people of my home. It shall be a treasure in my house.

: Stop! That cloak is mine. Where are you going with it?

Fisherman: This is a cloak I found here. I am taking it home.

: It is an angle’s robe of feathers, a cloak no mortal man may wear. Put it back where you found it.

: How? Is the owner of this cloak an angel of the sky? Why, then, I will put it in safe keeping. It shall be a treasure in the land, a marvel to men unborn. I will not give back your cloak.

Angel: Oh pitiful! How shall I cloakless tread the wingways of the air, how climb the sky, my home? Oh, give it back, in charity give it back.

Fisherman: No charity is in me, and your moan makes my heart resolute. Look, I take your robe, hide it, and will not give back.

Angel: Like a bird without wings, I would rise, but robeless

Fisherman: To the low earth you sink, an angel dwelling in the dingy world.

: This way, that way. Despair only.

: But when she saw he was resolved to keep it …

: Strength failing.

: Help none …

: Then on her coronet, jewelled as with the dew of tears, the bright flowers drooped and faded. O piteous to see before the eyes, fivefold the signs of sickness corrupt an angel’s from.

Angel: I look into the plains of heaven, the cloud-ways are hid in mist, the path is lost.

: Oh, enviable clouds, at your will wandering for ever idle in the empty sky that was my home! Now fades and fades upon my ear the voice of Kalavink [bird of heaven], daily accustomed song. And you, oh you I envy, wild-geese clamorous down the sky-paths returning; and you, O seaward circling, shoreward sweeping swift seagulls of the bay: even the wind, because in heaven it blows, the wind of Spring I envy.

Translation: Arthur Waley 1

(the two images of the angel are by hiroshige. the pine tree upon which the feathered robe hung was near one of the stations on the tokaido road, and he created many images of each station on that road. in the hokusai manga selection, you can see the robe on the tree, but the fisherman has been distracted by the reflection of fuji in his wine.

this legend has been translated into english by many poets, including ezra pound who was long feuding with whaley over who was the most accurate translator.

the interesting thing is that what started this all off was my noticing how rarely women in images from either culture seemed to exhibit strength, confidence, self-possession. artists in both cultures featured women who were coy, or hesitant, or timid. perhaps humble.
i wondered about images of women who were their own people, women who could stand their own ground without wholly deriving a sense of their own worth through their sexual appeal. i could only find it in fairy tales.)

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Blogger David Apatoff said...

Man, that fisherman was one cold dude.

25 September, 2007 16:15  

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