Thursday, October 3, 2013

OSHIDORI: By Lafcadio Hearn

There was a falconer and hunter, named Sonjo, who lived in the district called Tamura-no-Go, of the province of Mutsu. One day he went out hunting, and could not find any game. But on his way home, at a place called Akanuma, he spotted a pair of oshidori[1] (mandarin ducks), swimming together in a river that he was about to cross.  To kill oshidori is not good; but Sonjo happened to be very hungry, and he shot at the pair. His arrow pierced the male: the female escaped into the rushes of the further shore, and disappeared. Sonjo took the dead bird home, and cooked it.
That night he dreamed a dismal dream. It seemed to him that a beautiful woman came into his room, stood by his pillow, and began to weep. So bitterly she wept that Sonjo felt as if his heart were being torn out as he listened.

The woman cried to him, "Why…oh!  Why did you kill him?  Of what wrong was he guilty?  At Akanuma we were so happy together…and you killed him!  What harm did he ever do you? Do you even know what you have done?  Oh!  Do you know what a cruel, what a wicked thing you have done?  Me too you have killed, for I will not live without my husband!  Only to tell you this I came."  Then again she wept aloud, so bitterly that the voice of her crying pierced into the marrow of the listener's bones.  And she sobbed out the words of this poem:

Hi kurureba
Sasoeshi mono wo
Akanuma no
Makomo no kure no
Hitori-ne zo uki!

("At the coming of twilight
I invited him to return with me!
Now to sleep alone
In the shadow of the rushes of Akanuma –
Ah!  What misery unspeakable!")[2]

      After having spoken these verses she exclaimed, "Ah, you do not know!  You cannot know what you have done!  But tomorrow, when you go to Akanuma, you will see, you will see..." So saying, and weeping very heartbreakingly, she went away.
      When Sonjo awoke in the morning, the dream remained so vivid in his mind that he was greatly troubled. He remembered the words:  "But tomorrow, when you go to Akanuma, you will see.  You will see!"  And he decided to go there immediately, so that he could learn whether his dream was anything more than a dream.
      He went to Akanuma; and there, when he came to the riverbank, he saw the female oshidori swimming alone. In the same moment, the bird saw Sonjo, but instead of trying to escape, she swam straight towards him, looking at him all the while in a strange fixed way. Then, with her beak, she suddenly tore open her own body, and died before the hunter's eyes.        
      Sonjo shaved his head, and became a priest.

[1] Author’s Footnote:  From ancient time, in the Far East, these birds have been regarded as emblems of conjugal affection.
[2] Author’s Footnote:  There is a pathetic double meaning in the third verse; for the syllables composing the proper name Akanuma ("Red Marsh") may also be read as akanu-ma, signifying "the time of our inseparable (or delightful) relation." So the poem can also be thus rendered:   "When the day began to fail, I had invited him to accompany me! Now, after the time of that happy relation, what misery for the one who must slumber alone in the shadow of the rushes!"  The makomo is a short of large rush, used for making baskets.

From The Annotated Kwaidan By Lafcadio Hearn, Edited and Illustrated By Hayato Tokugawa, Copyright 2009 by Shisdei-Do Publications. All rights reserved.

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