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THE Chinese poet Po Chü-i, whom the Japanese call Haku Rakuten, was horn in 772 A. D. and died in 847. His works enjoyed immense contemporary popularity in China, Korea and Japan. In the second half of the ninth century the composition of Chinese verse became fashionable at the Japanese Court, and native forms of poetry were for a time threatened with extinction.

The Nō play Haku Rakuten deals with this literary peril. It was written at the end of the fourteenth century, a time when Japanese art and literature were again becoming subject to Chinese influence. Painting and prose ultimately succumbed, but poetry was saved.

Historically, Haku Rakuten never came to Japan. But the danger of his influence was real and actual, as may be deduced from reading the works of Sugawara no Michizane, the greatest Japanese poet of the ninth century. Michizane's slavish imitations of Po Chü-i show an unparalleled example of literary prostration. The plot of the play is as follows:

Rakuten is sent by the Emperor of China to "subdue" Japan with his art. On arriving at the coast of Bizen, he meets with two Japanese fishermen. One of them is in reality the god of Japanese poetry, Sumiyoshi no Kami. In the second act his identity is revealed. He summons other gods, and a great dancing-scene ensues. Finally the wind from their dancing-sleeves blows the Chinese poet's ship back to his own country.

Seami, in his plays, frequently quotes Po Chü-i's poems; and in his lament for the death of his son, Zemparu Motomasa, who died in 1432, he refers to the death of Po Chü-i's son, A-ts'ui.


RAKUTEN (a Chinese poet).
AN OLD FISHERMAN, SUMIYOSHI NO KAMI, who in Act II becomes the God of Japanese Poetry.

p. 208

SCENE: The coast of Bizen in Japan.


I am Haku Rakuten, a courtier of the Prince of China. There is a land in the East called Nippon. 1 Now, at my master's bidding, I am sent to that land to make proof of the wisdom of its people. I must travel over the paths of the sea.

I will row my boat towards the rising sun,
    The rising sun;
And seek the country that lies to the far side
Over the wave-paths of the Eastern Sea.
    Far my boat shall go,
    My boat shall go,--
With the light of the setting sun in the waves of its wake
And a cloud like a banner shaking the void of the sky.
Now the moon rises, and on the margin of the sea
                      A mountain I discern.
I am come to the land of Nippon,
                      The land of Nippon.

So swiftly have I passed over the ways of the ocean that I am come already to the shores of Nippon. I will cast anchor here a little while. I would know what manner of land this may be.


Dawn over the Sea of Tsukushi,
                      Place of the Unknown Fire.
Only the moonlight--nothing else left!


The great waters toss and toss;
The grey waves soak the sky.


So was it when Han Rei 2 left the land of Etsu p. 209
And rowed in a little boat
Over the misty waves of the Five Lakes.

How pleasant the sea looks!
From the beach of Matsura
Westward we watch the hill -less dawn.
A cloud, where the moon is setting,
Floats like a boat at sea,
                       A boat at sea
That would anchor near us in the dawn.
Over the sea from the far side,
From China the journey of a ship's travel
Is a single night's sailing, they say.
And lo! the moon has vanished!


I have borne with the billows of a thousand miles of sea and come at last to the land of Nippon. Here is a little ship anchored near me. An old fisherman is in it. Can this be indeed an inhabitant of Nippon?


Aye, so it is. I am an old fisher of Nihon. And your Honour, I think, is Haku Rakuten of China.


How strange! No sooner am I come to this land than they call me by my name! How can this be?


Although your Honour is a man of China, your name and fame have come before you.


Even though my name be known, yet that you should know my face is strange surely!


It was said everywhere in the Land of Sunrise that your Honour, Rakuten, would come to make trial of the wisdom of Nihon. And when, as we gazed westwards, we saw a boat coming in from the open sea, the hearts of us all thought in a twinkling, "This is he."

p. 210


"He has come, he has come."
So we cried when the boat came in
To the shore of Matsura,
The shore of Matsura.
Sailing in from the sea
Openly before us--
A Chinese ship
And a man from China,--
How could we fail to know you,
     Haku Rakuten?
But your halting words tire us.
Listen as we will, we cannot understand
     Your foreign talk.
Come, our fishing-time is precious.
     Let us cast our hooks,
     Let us cast our hooks!


Stay! Answer me one question. 1 Bring your boat closer and tell me, Fisherman, what is your pastime now in Nippon?


And in the land of China, pray how do your Honours disport yourselves?


In China we play at making poetry.


And in Nihon, may it please you, we venture on the sport of making "uta." 2


And what are "uta"?


You in China make your poems and odes out of the Scriptures of p. 211 India; and we have made our "uta" out of the poems and odes of China. Since then our poetry is a blend of three lands, we have named it Yamato, the great Blend, and all our songs "Yamato Uta." But I think you question me only to mock an old man's simplicity.


No, truly; that was not my purpose. But come, I will sing a Chinese poem about the scene before us.

"Green moss donned like a cloak
Lies on the shoulders of the rocks;
White clouds drawn like a belt
Surround the flanks of the mountains."

How does that song please you?


It is indeed a pleasant verse. In our tongue we should say the poem thus:

Kitaru iwao wa
Kinu kinu yama no
Obi wo, suru kana


How strange that a poor fisherman should put my verse into a sweet native measure! Who can he be?


A poor man and unknown. But as for the making of "uta," it is not only men that make them. "For among things that live there is none that has not the gift of song." 1

HAKU (taking up the other's words as if hypnotized).

"Among things that have life,--yes, and birds and insects--"


They have sung Yamato songs.

p. 212


In the land of Yamato ...


... many such have been sung.


"The nightingale singing on the bush,
Even the frog that dwells in the pond
I know not if it be in your Honour's land,
But in Nihon they sing the stanzas of the "uta."
And so it comes that an old man
Can sing the song you have heard,
A song of great Yamato.

CHORUS (changing the chant).

And as for the nightingale and the poem it made,-
They say that in the royal reign
Of the Emperor Kōren
In the land of Yamato, in the temple of High Heaven
A priest was dwelling. 1
Each year at the season of Spring
There came a nightingale
To the plum-tree at his window.
And when he listened to its song
He heard it singing a verse:

"Sho-yō mei-chō rai
Fu-sō gem-bon sei

And when he wrote down the characters,
Behold, it was an "uta"-song
Of thirty letters and one.
And the words of the song--


Hatsu-haru no
Ashita goto ni wa

Of Spring's beginning
At each dawn
Though I come,



Awade zo kaeru
Moto no sumika ni

Unmet I return
To my old nest.


p. 213

Thus first the nightingale,
And many birds and beasts thereto,
Sing "uta," like the songs of men.
And instances are many;
Many as the myriad pebbles that lie
On the shore of the sea of Ariso.
"For among things that live
There is none that has not the gift of song."

Truly the fisherman has the ways of Yamato in his heart. Truly, this custom is excellent.


If we speak of the sports of Yamato and sing its songs, we should show too what dances we use; for there are many kinds.


Yes, there are the dances; but there is no one to dance.


Though there be no dancer, yet even I--


For drums-the beating of the waves.
For flutes--the song of the sea-dragon.
For dancer--this ancient man
Despite his furrowed brow
Standing on the furrowed sea
Floating on the green waves
Shall dance the Sea Green Dance.


And the land of Reeds and Rushes . . .


Ten thousand years our land inviolate!

[The rest of the play is a kind of "ballet"; the words are merely a commentary on the dances.]

p. 214


FISHERMAN (transformed into SUMIYOSHI NO KAMI, the God of Poetry).

Sea that is green with the shadow of the hills in the water!
Sea Green Dance, danced to the beating of the waves.

(He dances the Sea Green Dance.)

Out of the wave-lands,
Out of the fields of the Western Sea


He rises before us,
The God of Sumiyoshi,
The God of Sumiyoshi!


I rise before you
The god--


The God of Sumiyoshi whose strength is such
That he will not let you subdue us, O Rakuten!
So we bid you return to your home,
Swiftly over the waves of the shore!
First the God of Sumiyoshi came.
Now other gods 1 have come--
     Of Isé and Iwa-shimizu,
     Of Kamo and Kasuga,
     Of Ka-shima and Mi-shima,
     Of Suwa and Atsuta.
And the goddess of the Beautiful Island,
The daughter of Shakāra
King of the Dragons of the Sea--
Skimming the face of the waves
They have danced the Sea Green Dance.
And the King of the Eight Dragons--
With his Symphony of Eight Musics.
As they hovered over the void of the sea,
Moved in the dance, the sleeves of their dancing-dress p. 215
Stirred up a wind, a magic wind
That blew on the Chinese boat
And filled its sails
And sent it back again to the land of Han.
Truly, the God is wondrous;
The God is wondrous, and thou, our Prince,
Mayest thou rule for many, many years
     Our Land Inviolate!



208:1 The fact that Haku is a foreigner is conventionally emphasized by his pronunciation of this word. The fishermen, when using the same word later on, called it "Nihon."

208:2 The Chinese call him Fan Li. He lived in China in the fifth century B. C. Having rendered important services to the country of Yüeh (Etsu), he went off with his mistress in a skiff, knowing that if he remained in public life his popularity was bound to decline. The Fishermen are vaguely groping towards the idea of "a Chinaman" and a "boat." They are not yet consciously aware of the arrival of Rakuten.

210:1 Haku throughout omits the honorific turns of speech which civility demands. The Fishermen speak in elaborately deferential and honorific language. The writer wishes to portray Haku as an ill-bred foreigner.

210:2 "Uta," i.e. the thirty-one syllable Japanese stanza.

211:1 Quotation from the Preface to the Kokinshū ("Collection of Songs Ancient and Modern"). The fact that Haku continues the quotation shows that he is under a sort of spell and makes it clear for the first time that his interlocutor is not an ordinary mortal. From this point onwards, in fact, the Fisherman gradually becomes a God.

212:1 The priest's acolyte had died. The nightingale was the boy's soul.

214:1 They do not appear on the stage.

Next: Chapter VII: Summaries