Cover Calligraphy by Kyoko Gasper Mishima Portrayed by John Hines
The Woodley Memorial Press
Topeka, Kansas 66621
To Bob Woodley
who knew no Noh
MISHIMA A Modern Noh Play
Robert N. Lawson
As Performed During the Hutchinson Repertory
Company's First Festival of New Plays
Dillon Park, Hutchinson, Kansas, June 28, 1981
Cast: Mishima John Hines
Student Robbie Caudillo
Saigo Takemori Gary Witt
Chorus Claudia Leonesio
Director: Repha Buckman
Time: November 25th, Dawn
Place: The Kinkakuji
(The Temple of the Golden Pavilion)
[Enters along the hashigakari.]
How sad I've become, traveling in my native land,
A land of junk yards, the decay of the angel,
Materialistic madness/ costing us our soul.
[At the naming place.]
I am a college student, in my senior year,
Struggling up a man-made hill, to reach a degree.
My academic progress/ seems secure enough;
I'll graduate with honors, quite high in my class.
Like breathing at Station 9/ climbing Fuji-san,
I know I'll get there. My success is guaranteed.
Then why should I be depressed? The future seem bleak?
The patterns of a lifetime/ come to seem perverse?
And why this strong compulsion/ to run here and there?
And now this late fall journey, autumn pilgrimage,
To Kinkakuji, where the tourists always go.
I think I am a Buddhist, when I give it thought,
But don't come to this temple/ seeking hallowed ground.
A human spirit draws me . . . a man . . . Mishima . . .
On this anniversary/ of his seppuku,
As if his ghost had lured me/ to this famous place.
Like one in a dream, I now see myself in him.
An honor student, he rejected a career--
He might have run a bureau, managed a cartel--
He chose instead to write books. I think I could write.
But do I have the courage/ to go where he led . . .
Not to fame alone, through fame to trauma and death?
I won't go that far . . . but to the Kinkakuji.
[As he crosses the stage.]
The autumn wind blows his name, the wind in the pines.
[Arriving at the waki pillar, looking out past the audience.]
And now I see it, famous Golden Pavilion!
Well, as for Mizoguchi, so it is for me,
A disappointment/ to look on ideal beauty,
To come with an idea/ firmly fixed in mind,
And find the actual building/ gaudy in its gold.
How much must its beauty be/ an ad-man's product,
Conjured up in calendars, souvenir postcards,
The publicity/ of all the tourist agents?
Walking through these trees, breathing sharp November air,
My mind projected grandeur, not this mundane scene.
Still, the dreary morning mist/ may obscure the view,
Half hide a gilded building/ in a muddy pool . . .
Not much like the picture cards/ sent you by your friends;
Turn them and you cannot tell/ which side is the top,
Which side shows reality, which mere reflection.
I stand before you, most honored national treasure!
I take you as symbolic, in November light,
Symbol of Japan, of all that I inherit . . .
Decadent glory, reflected in a puddle!
But what is that sound? [Turning.] Do I imagine a flute?
It is the wind in the pines . . . making sad music.
Echoes of Mizoguchi . . . the Mishima film . . .
I can almost see his ghost, walking over there.
There is someone there, and he is playing a flute.
[Two figures in priests' robes enter from the tiring room, the
one in advance playing a mournful melody on a flute.]
I'll stop him and inquire . . . about this temple.
The beauty of this ancient place
Is not a function of the eye,
The eye that sees, but sees the flaws,
The gloomy sky, the muddy pool,
The candy wrapper in the path.
For beauty, honor, noble dreams,
Are all creations of the soul.
A man must close his eyes to see,
Must conjure up a pristine thought
Its magic image . . . to possess.
Idea holds the power, not the form it takes,
For matter fails idea--temple, sword, or man.
Yet those are airy nothings all,
Ideas without shape or form,
While beauty in a temple seen
Inhabits, comes to have a name.
The cherished values of the past,
A temple stands so they may live;
This setting in a natural wood,
These simple patterns of design,
The Zen that shaped the Bushido
Informs this golden harmony,
Its image in a forest pool,
Its image in a tranquil mind.
I'm sorry to disturb you, with foolish questions.
Do you speak to me? I find no questions foolish.
That melancholy music/ I heard you playing . . .
Its strange haunting quality/ echoes and echoes.
Is such flute playing/ a religious exercise?
And should a flute not echo/ on these temple grounds?
But no, it is not, no part of priestly duty--
A personal thing, perhaps, something from the past.
Gazing through a reflection, deep into a pool,
Can take a troubled spirit/ to another world;
So may this sad flute music/ echo from afar,
When he who plays can journey/ to such distant realms.
If Zen may write a tanka, Zen may play a flute.
No doubt you are right. A priest is like an artist;
Both traffic with the spirit, things which can't be seen.
To play a flute is nothing, fills the empty hours.
To me it was enchanting. It brought to my mind . . .
The sorcery of music . . .
You are a student . . . student of literature?
I am a student . . . but not of literature,
Though I came to this temple/ drawn by its power.
The many ways to see the light,
A facet here, a facet there,
To break through pride, and place, and time,
The garments of the floating world . . .
The ceremony of the tea,
A flower in a simple vase,
Some rocks set in a sea of sand,
A lyric poem, this temple's pool,
A warrior's feeling for his sword,
The mournful music of a flute.
I didn't expect/ to meet a priest this morning,
Though why I came here, what I did expect to find . . .
I wear a priest's robe. I wish to serve this temple,
But on a priestly mission/ of a special sort.
Perhaps I come seeking you. It may be our fate.
Shall I invoke the spirit/ of this sacred place?
I'm not religious. Don't trouble yourself for me.
Traditional religion . . . I mean no offense . . .
Seems far too hollow/ to offer any substance
My field is economics; I claim that my faith,
Believe I believe/ in the social sciences.
But don't I recognize you? Have we met before?
I have known many young men. But you must decide.
What relationship/ do you think you remember?
Not dressed as a priest. But I cannot remember.
When first I heard your flute sound . . . movies haunting me.
I might be called a student . . . of literature . . .
Who believed in its power, when he was your age.
Then came loss of faith, in all things traditional . . .
Fragments retained in defeat. But the faith still lives.
Let me invoke tradition, here, and in your name.
[The student does not respond. The priest strikes the pose
Mishima struck on the Tokyo SDFHQ balcony.]
Young men of Japan, I appeal to your honor,
The honor of this nation--its identity.
Amaterasu, goddess, I call upon you,
From Genji, from the Shining Prince,
Incarnate through the ages, in our emperors,
The legend of the nation grew;
From Jimmu to the present, a line unbroken;
The hero Yoshitsune's name
I invoke the Heian/ sensibility,
Began to weave through play and poem.
The Kamakura honor, Genroku glory.
And thus the warrior took his stand.
And now I recognize him . . . Mishima, of course!
But how could he appear here? Who, or what, are you?
Thus the warrior spoke, endorsed his words with action;
Thus the warrior spoke, then disappeared in legend.
[The priest leaves the stage. The second priest remains seated at the rear of the stage.]
Standing on the balcony, left his image there.
But did he stand prophetic then,
A voice from out the wilderness
Of automobile wrecking yards,
Or was he, as they said, insane?
He faced the laughter and the jeers
To call for deeds . . . for sacrifice.
But I don't believe in ghosts, images, or myths.
I believe in statistics, in dialectics,
Experimental science, factual data,
Sony, Toyota . . . in foreign exchange, of course . . .
But I don't believe in ghosts. This must be a dream.
[The priest returns, now costumed to suggest Mishima on the day of his death, headband and military (or kendo) uniform.]
A dream . . . in the floating world . . . what else but a dream.
Fabricator of fictions, I know about dreams,
How much closer to the truth, those far-fetched fictions,
Than all you can catch/ in your net of statistics,
Or experiments/ in sterile laboratories.
It is my karma, and yours, I come as your dream.
Long before this pilgrimage/ we knew each other;
Our spirits had met. My ghost touched you through my books.
The fictive image borne away,
And sharpened by the inner eye,
Beyond the image in the pool,
Becomes a form to conjure with.
Your books brought me here, but what did I come to see?
You stand there immersed/ in foreign education,
Right up to your neck/ in values we've imported,
Caught by telephone, by newspaper, by billboard--
By that magic box. These signals, in vast networks,
Move you like a pawn, homogenize existence,
Powerful patterns of force, swirling destruction.
I offer you this temple, steeped in irony,
Its golden image/ reflecting past in future,
The Sea of Fertility/ flooding from its pool.
To comprehend that special truth,
As object of the classic Zen,
The master Kashiwagi drew.
To comprehend the warrior's code,
And make it live for city men,
Reductio ad absurdum was
The modern way to tell the truth.
Your books are pessimistic, picture our decay,
In recapitulation/ of this century.
The one stands for the many, all our history--
The world of the Shining Prince, seen in its spring snow . . .
Becomes that of the warrior, seeking seppuku . . .
Then hedonistic merchants/ trade in vagrant sex,
Pursuing shallow pleasures/ through a floating world . . .
Up to this wasteland, where nothing holds its value.
The Latter Day of the Law--affirm the Buddha!
The angel now in decay--affirm the Buddha!
In Bushido, or drinking tea,
Pursue the mystery of Zen.
The ancient masters knew the Way--
It cannot be the Way that's lost.
But the temple can distract, can frustrate action.
Hypnotized by its image/ one may lose the way.
If the Buddha blocks the Way, then kill the Buddha.
To reaffirm the temple/ must one burn it down?
You have read the book. You stand before the object.
Your book brought me here. I read it after Plato--
Mental exercise, embracing an Idea.
A friend reread it for me, took it into Zen,
A novel, sharp Zen lesson, like your seppuku,
Destruction of the temple, Mizoguchi's act . . .
Killing the kitten . . . to prevent a fall from grace.
If the Buddha blocks the Way, then kill the Buddha.
But the temple stands again. And the Buddha lives.
And you stand there before me--because of your act.
I don't understand . . . much too paradoxical . . .
Mizoguchi's state of mind/ as the temple burns.
But the temple stands. And how do you perceive it?
I, too, am disappointed. For my idea . . .
And you are Japan, the future of the nation,
Its major resource, as your economists say.
I'm not the one to ask you/ what you think of me,
How you see my seppuku . . . when you were a child . . .
But ask for your opinion/ of another man--
The great Saigo?
Yes, I think of him . . . noble anachronism.
He died for an idea/ itself long since dead,
Posed as a samurai/ in the cannon's mouth,
Holding up his warrior's sword/ to modern Japan . . .
Ironically modern, since he made it so.
The statue of Saigo/ stands in Ueno Park.
Posed as a samurai? Has it come to that?
And what do you think/ of Kamikaze pilots?
Anachronistic? Was their sacrifice foolish?
Just as with your final act, quite ambiguous.
Half of my mind says, "noble," half says, "just insane."
The gesture is medieval, charging guns with swords;
Still there's some logic/ in a suicidal dive,
An airplane for a warship, military gain.
Who counts the gains and losses? Quite irrelevant.
But even more vain your death, planned futility,
Jeering rejection/ surely anticipated.
I knew they could not join me . . . yet would have no choice.
It's not the present instance, gaudy in its blood . . .
The power of idea/ must have time to work.
When all these modern options/ that they think they see
Whirl to relentless chaos, they'll revive the myth . . .
Those who refused to listen . . . yes, I knew it then.
But myth was not the purpose . . . cannot be to myth . . .
The state of my own spirit--my identity--
And all the young men with me, testing our temper
Against Saigo, the last true samurai.
I venerate his legend, shall invoke it now.
Sa-i-go Ta-ka-mo-ri . . . can you see him there?
[The second priest rises, as Mishima chants the name and raises his arm to shoulder level, palm up. His priest's robe is removed and he stands forth as the ghost of Saigo Takamori, in simulated samurai armor. He formally offers Mishima a kendo sword. From this point on, Mishima's lines are delivered by one part of the chorus, Saigo's by another, that character never speaking.]
The warrior's code, the Bushido,
Provides the myth to shape the past;
The future's shape is yet to see,
A poet's task to find the form.
[Mishima is now dressed in kendo practice costume, as Saigo waits. They bow.]
The warrior's soul the warrior's sword,
Its discipline controls his life.
To seek in kendo exercise
The temper of another man,
A moment's insight, touching death,
If just in form, informs the man.
[Mishima and Saigo engage in highly stylized kendo ritual dance, counterpointed by choral chant, Saigo falling into an echo of Mishima's movements as their speeches begin.]
But then the land was ruled by guns,
Perverted by new strains of lust;
And then the guns were ruled by yen . . .
The values of the Bushido
Betrayed to conquest's appetites.
The spirit of the warrior dies,
Its temper lost in modern war.
And after, darkness! Ah wretched the life of men!
Polluting the land, violating Shinto shrines.
A spiritual wasteland, mirrored in the pool.
For your honor's sake, put away a wicked friend.
Summon to your side/ a virtuous enemy.
The Meiji Restoration/ rose on warrior's swords.
And if we had the swordsmen, what might they do now?
I led the remnant/ against Imperial guns.
The wild Kamikaze blew . . . then it was over.
Victory went to the gun, but the sword still lives.
[The sound of the flute rises.]
They heard the echo of the flute,
The bamboo flute across the plain,
The night before, the battle lost,
The fallen warrior took his life.
[Saigo assists Mishima in stylized preparation for seppuku.]
The echo of the flute heard--then the temple burns.
But the sound survives, the lonely sound of the flute.
And the temple stands. The student sees the temple.
And hears the flute . . . reads the book . . .
will now touch the sword.
The great Saigo/ appears to him, speaks to him.
The many voices sing the song
Of victory in the battle lost.
[Mishima begins to mime the seppuku ritual.]
The temple burns, the warrior falls,
The flute is heard upon the wind.
[Saigo mimes the coup de grace with the kendo sword, as Mishima draws his sword upward. Mishima drops his head to his knees, and holds the position. Saigo leaves the stage.]
They die to live, in memory.
The temple burns, and yet it stands;
Its phoenix rises from the ash.
Saigo stands in Ueno still
The honor that was once Japan.
So here beside this murky pool,
Aesthetic symbol linked to Zen . . .
[Mishima rises and again assumes his balcony pose.]
And who is now the enemy,
The enemy of bushido,
The enemy of young Japan?
It does not come from foreign shores,
Or from the shame of war's defeat.
It comes from wanting things in life,
A shiny car, a bank account,
A candy bar upon the path.
The temper of the warrior's soul,
That looks on death, discovers life.
[Resuming his speeches.]
The Kinkakuji, the image of the warrior,
Both call your restless spirit/ to follow the Way,
The Way of their traditions--so that they may live,
[Mishima bows to the student, offers the kendo sword, then lays it on the stage.]
So the spirit of honor, and that of beauty,
May continue to exist/ in our native land.
[He stamps twice, then leaves the stage. The student watches him go, then moves behind the kendo sword, pauses, faces forward.]
Look! The reflection! The reflection in the pool!
Suddenly clear as crystal. The light must have changed.
The idea of beauty, caught in the water . . .
On a late fall day . . . the image I came to see.
[He bends to pick up the kendo sword, then slowly leaves the stage.]
The world is at peace
Calm lies over the four seas
Happy now to live
The soft wind scarcely moving
In such a reign so tranquil.