Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kanjincho - Shamisen - and Hoka Priests

So what does Kanjincho, a Kabuki play, have to do with poetry and why am I writing about it today?

Two reasons - Kanjincho is based on a much older Noh play (Ataka) which includes much beautiful poetry (see here and here) and I am learning to play musical excerpts for Kanjincho on my shamisen!

After many hours practicing my shamisen I became curious about the story behind the music, especially since I was already (trying to) learning the music behind the story! Here is the story behind the play's title "Kanjincho" as I understand it in my own words:

The Story of Kanjincho
Set in mid 12th century, a Noble (Togashi) is charged with guarding a barrier gate; he must prevent the great warrior Yoshitune from passing - Yoshitune is rumored to be traveling disguised as a simple porter.

Of course Yoshitune IS disguised as a porter and his traveling companion Benkei pretends to be a Buddhist priest traveling the countryside asking for donations.

When they approach the gate, Togashi is immediately suspicious - he asks for their Kanjincho, a scroll listing the names of those who have donated so far.

Benkei, clever one that he is, produces a blank scroll and pretends to read from it. Of course, Togashi isn't fooled by these antics, but is amused and lets these guys slide.

In the picture, Benkei is in front and Togashi is in back.

There is of course far more to the story, I have really only described why the play was titled "Kanjincho".

There is an Akira Kurosawa film loosely based on this play; it is titled "The Men who Tread on the Tiger's Tail" - very fun movie to see!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dark Passage - Saigyo

Poet-monk Saigyo wrote this mystical, and I feel very moving, thought-provoking poem:

"Passage into dark
mountains over which the moon
presides so brilliantly....

Not seeing it i'd have missed
this passage into my own past."

Autumn Storm

"Autumn, by eyes unseen,
Is heard in the wind's anger;

And the clash of river-reeds, the clamorous descent
Of wild-geese searching
The home-field's face,

Clouds shaped like leaves of rice,—all these
To watchful eyes foretell the evening storm."

From Noh Play "The Hoka Priests" (15th Century)

A River of Tears - TOG

"I was snagged upon a shoal
of a river of tears.
Was that the start of this drift
to deeper waters?"

From: Suma chapter of The Tale of Genji by Shikibu Murasaki
Trans: E. G. Seidensticker

Where shall I go - Kokinshu 952

"Where shall I go,
to what cave among the rocks,
to be free of tidings
of this gloomy world?"

Ref: Kokinshu 952
Trans: E. G. Seidensticker???

I envy the waves - by Ariwara Narihira

"Strong my yearning
for what I have left behind.

I envy the waves
that go back
whence they came."

Tales of Ise 7,
attributed to Ariwara Narihira

The sorrow of parting - by Murasaki Shikibu

"The sorrow of parting
brings such floods of tears
that the waters of this river
must surely rise."

Passage from Genji Monogatari
by Murasaki Shikibu, trans Seidensticker

Upon a mountain-side - by Zenchiku Ujinobu

Spoken by Hoka priest to a traveler:

"He who has seen upon a mountain-side,
stock still beneath the moon
the young deer stand in longing for his mate;

That man may read the writing,
and forget the finger on the page."

Written by Zenchiku Ujinobu (1414 - 1499)
trans: Arthur Waley

Imagery of Change

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.

From “Shunkwan”, by Seami Motokiyo (1363 – 1384 A. D.)
Transl: Arthur Waley

I really enjoy this particular prose. You too? I feel such a powerful rhythm as I read this passage; maybe due to the moving imagery (seasons)?

The Bell of Gion Temple

From the opening lines of a medieval Buddhist story:
"The sound of the bell of the Gion Temple echoes the impermanence of all things.
The pale hue of the flowers of the teak tree show the truth that they who prosper must fall.
The proud do not last long, but vanish like a spring night's dream.
And the mighty too will perish in the end, like dust before the wind.”