Sacred Texts  Shinto  Buddhism  Index  Previous  Next 

p. 229



THE priest Shunkwan, together with Naritsune and Yasuyori, had plotted the overthrow of the Tairas. They were arrested and banished to Devil's Island on the shore of Satsuma.

Naritsune and Yasuyori were worshippers of the Gods of Kumano. They brought this worship with them to the place of their exile, constructing on the island an imitation of the road from Kyōto to Kumano with its ninety-nine roadside shrines. This "holy way" they decked with nusa, "paper-festoons," and carried out, as best they might, the Shintō ceremonies of the three shrines of Kumano.

When the play begins the two exiles are carrying out these rites. Having no albs  1 to wear, they put on the tattered hemp-smocks which they wore on their journey; having no rice to offer, they pour out a libation of sand.

Shunkwan, who had been abbot of the Zen 2 temple Hosshōji, holds aloof from these ceremonies. But when the worshippers return he comes to meet them carrying a bucket of water, which he tells them is the wine for their final libation. They look into the bucket and cry in disgust: Ya! Kore wa mizu nari! "Why, it is water!"

In a long lyrical dialogue which follows, Shunkwan, with the aid of many classical allusions, justifies the identification of chrysanthemum-water and wine.

CHORUS (speaking for SHUNKWAN.)

Oh, endless days of banishment!
How long shall I languish in this place,
Where the time while a mountain dewdrop dries
Seems longer than a thousand years?
A spring has gone; summer grown to age;
An autumn closed; a winter come again,
Marked only by the changing forms
Of flowers and trees. p. 230
Oh, longed-for time of old!
Oh, recollection sweet whithersoever
The mind travels; City streets and cloisters now
Seem Edens 1 garlanded
With every flower of Spring.

Suddenly a boat appears carrying a stranger to the shore. This is represented on the stage by an attendant carrying the conventionalized Nō play "boat" on to the hashi gakari. The envoy, whose departure from the Capital forms the opening scene of the play--I have omitted it is my summary--has been standing by the "Waki's pillar." He now steps into the boat and announces that a following wind is carrying him swiftly over the sea. He leaves the boat, carrying a Proclamation in his hand.


I bring an Act of Amnesty from the City.

Here, read it for yourselves.

SHUNKWAN (snatching the scroll).

Look, Yasuyori! Look! At last!

YASUYORI (reading the scroll).

What is this? What is this?

"Because of the pregnancy of Her Majesty the Empress, an amnesty is proclaimed throughout the land. All exiles are recalled from banishment, and, of those exiled on Devil's Island, to these two Naritsune, Lieutenant of Tamba and Yasuyori of the Taira clan, free pardon is granted,"


Why, you have forgotten to read Shunkwan's name!


Your name, alas, is not there. Read the scroll.

SHUNKWAN (scanning the scroll).

This must be some scribe's mistake.


No; they told me at the Capital to bring back Yasuyori and Naritsune, but to leave Shunkwan upon the island.

p. 231


How can that be?
One crime, one banishment;
Yet I alone, when pardon
Like a mighty net is spread
To catch the drowning multitude, slip back
Into the vengeful deep!
When three dwelt here together,
How terrible the loneliness of these wild rocks!
Now one is left, to wither
Like a flower dropped on the shore.
Like a broken sea-weed branch
That no wave carries home.

Is not this island named
The Realm of Fiends, where I,
Damned but not dead walk the Black Road of Death?
Yet shall the foulest fiend of Hell
Now weep for me whose wrong
Must needs move heaven and earth,
Wake angels' pity, rend
The hearts of men, turn even the hungry cries
Of the wild beasts and birds that haunt these rocks
To tender lamentation.

(He buries his face in his hands; then after a while begins reading the scroll again.)


He took the scroll that he had read before.
He opened it and looked.
His eyes, like a shuttle, travelled
To and fro, to and fro.
Yet, though he looked and looked,
No other names he saw
But Yasuyori's name and Naritsune's name
Then thinking "There is a codicil, perhaps,"
Again he opens the scroll and looks.
Nowhere is the word Sōzu, 1 nowhere the word Shunkwan.

(The ENVOY then calls upon NARITSUNE and YASUYORI to board the boat. SHUNKWAN clutches at YASUYORI'S p. 232 sleeve and tries to follow him on board. The ENVOY pushes him back, calling to him to keep clear of the boat.)


Wretch, have you not heard the saying:
"Be law, but not her servants, pitiless."
Bring me at least to the mainland. Have so much charity!


But the sailor 1 knew no pity;
He took his oar and struck. . .

SHUNKWAN (retreating a step).

Nevertheless, leave me my life. . . .
Then he stood back and caught in both his hands
The anchor-rope and dragged . . .


But the sailor cut the rope and pushed the boat to sea.


He clasped his hands. He called, besought them-


But though they heard him calling, they would not carry him.


It was over; he struggled no more.


But left upon the beach, wildly he waved his sleeves,
Stricken as she 2 who on the shore
Of Matsura waved till she froze to stone.


Unhappy man, our hearts are not cold. When we reach the City, we will plead unceasingly for your recall. In a little while you shall return. Wait with a good heart.

(Their voices grow fainter and fainter, as though the ship were moving away from the shore.)

p. 233


"Wait, wait," they cried, "Hope, wait!"
But distance dimmed their cry,
And hope with their faint voices faded.
He checked his sobs, stood still and listened, listened--

(SHUNKWAN puts his hand to his ear and bends forward in the attitude of one straining to catch a distant sound.)


Shunkwan, Shunkwan, do you hear us?


You will plead for me?


Yes, yes. And then surely you will be summoned. . . .


Back to the City? Can you mean it?


Why, surely!


I hope; yet while I hope.


"Wait, wait, wait!"
Dimmer grow the voices; dimmer the ship, the wide waves
Pile up behind it.
The voices stop. The ship, the men
Have vanished. All is gone

There is an ancient Kōwaka dance called Iō go Shima, "Sulphur Island," another name for Devil's Island. It represents the piety of Naritsune and Yasuyori, and the amoral mysticism of the Zen abbot Shunkwan. Part of the text is as follows:


This is the vow of the Holy One,
The God of Kumano: p. 234
"Whosoever of all mortal men
Shall turn his heart to m%
Though he be come to the utmost end of the desert,
To the furthest fold of the hills,
I will send a light to lead him;
I will guide him on his way."
And we exiled on this far rock,
By daily honour to the Triple Shrine,
By supplication to Kumano's God,
Shall compass our return.
Shunkwan, how think you?


Were it the Hill King of Hiyei, 1 I would not say no. But as for this God of Kumano, I have no faith in him. (Describing the actions of NARITSUNE and YASUYORI.)

Then lonely, lonely these two to worship went;
On the wide sea they gazed,
Roamed on the rugged shore;
Searching ever for a semblance
Of the Three Holy Hills.
Now, where between high rocks
A long, clear river flowed;
Now where tree-tops soar
Summit on summit upward to the sky.
And there they planned to set
The Mother-Temple, Hall of Proven Truth;
And here the Daughter-Shrine,
The Treasury of Kan.
Then far to northward aiming
To a white cliff they came, where from the clouds
Swift waters tumbled down.
Then straightway they remembered
The Hill of Nachi, where the Dragon God,
Winged water-spirit, pants with stormy breath
And fills the woods with awe.
Here reverently they their Nachi set.

The Bonze Shunkwan mounted to a high place;
His eye wandered north, south, east and west.




p. 235

A thousand, thousand concepts filled his heart.
Suddenly a black cloud rose before him,
A heavy cloak of cloud;
And a great rock crashed and fell into the sea.
Then the great Bonze in his meditation remembered
An ancient song:
"The wind scattered a flower at Buddha's feet;
A boulder fell and crushed the fish of the pool.
Neither has the wind merit, nor the boulder blame;
They know not what they do."
"The Five Limbs are a loan," he cried, "that must be repaid;
A mess of earth, water, air, fire.
And the heart--void, as the sky; shapeless, substanceless!
Being and non-being
Are but twin aspects of all component things.
And that which seem to be, soon is not.
But only contemplation is eternal."
So the priest: proudly pillowed
On unrepentance and commandments broke.



229:1 Ceremonial white vestments, hakuye.

229:2 For "Zen" see Introduction, p. 32.

230:1 Lit, Kikenjō, one of the Buddhist paradises.

231:1 Priest.

232:1 Acted by a kyōgen or farce-character.

232:2 Sayohime who, when her husband sailed to Korea, stood waving on the cliff till she turned into stone.

234:1 The headquarters of the Tendai sect of Buddhism

Next: Ama (The Fisher-Girl)