Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Archaic Writings
Japanese Literature
700–900 A.D.

Why Universal Darkness Once Reigned
  [From the ‘Kojiki,’ compiled in 711–12 by Yasumaro, a high official of the Imperial Court. The ‘Kojiki’ (Records of Ancient Matters) is the sacred book of Shintōism, and thus practically the Bible of Japan. Translated by Basil Hall Chamberlain.]

AS the Great and Grand Goddess Amaterasu [Sun goddess] sat in her sacred work-room, seeing to the weaving of the Grand Garments of the Gods, her brother Haya-Susano-ō made a hole in the roof, and dropped down through it a Heavenly Piebald Horse which he had flayed backwards; at whose aspect the maidens weaving the Heavenly Garments were so much alarmed that they died…. At this sight was the Great and Grand Goddess Amaterasu so much terrified that, closing behind her the door of the Rocky Abode of Heaven, she made it fast and disappeared. Then was the whole High Plain of Heaven darkened, and darkened was the Middle Land of Reed-Plains [i.e., Japan], in such wise that perpetual night prevailed. And the clamor of the myriad evil spirits was like unto the buzzing of flies in the fifth moon, and all manner of calamities did everywhere arise. Therefore did the eight myriad Gods assemble in a Divine Assembly on the banks of the river Amenoyasu, and bid the God Omoikane devise a plan. And Her Grandeur Ame-no-Uzume, binding up her sleeve with the Heavenly Moss from Mount Ame-no-Kagu, and braiding the Heavenly Masaki in her hair, and bearing in her hands the leaves of the bamboo-grass from Mount Ame-no-Kagu, did set a platform before the door of the Heavenly Abode, and stamp on it until it resounded. Then did the High Plain of Heaven tremble, and the eight myriad Gods did laugh in chorus. Then the Great and Grand Goddess Amaterasu was filled with amazement, and setting ajar the door of the Rocky Abode of Heaven, spake thus from the inside: “Methought that my retirement would darken the Plain of Heaven, and that darkened would be the whole Middle Land of Reed-Plains. How then cometh it to pass that Ame-no-Uzume thus frolics, and that all the eight myriad Gods do laugh?” To which Ame-no-Uzume replied: “If we laugh and rejoice, ’tis because there is here a Goddess more illustrious than thou.” And as she spake, their Grandeurs Ame-no-Koyane and Futotama brought out the mirror, and respectfully showed the same to the Great and Grand Goddess Amaterasu, who, ever more and more amazed, gradually came forth from the door to gaze upon it; whereupon the God Ame-no-Tajikarao, who had been lying in ambush, took her by the hand and drew her out…. And so when the Great and Grand Goddess Amaterasu had come forth, light was restored both to the High Plain of Heaven and to the Middle Land of Reed-Plains.  1
Why the Sun and the Moon do not Shine Together
  [From the ‘Nihongi’ (Chronicles of Japan): a rendering and amplification in Chinese of the ‘Kojiki,’ completed under the direction of Prince Toneri and Ono Yasumaro in 720. The ‘Nihongi’ is the popular embodiment of ancient tradition. This extract was translated by Basil Hall Chamberlain.]

ONE account says that the Great Heaven-Shining Deity, being in heaven, said, “I hear that in the Central Land of Reed-Plains [Japan] there is a Food-Possessing Deity. Do thou thine Augustness Moon-Night-Possessor go and see.” His Augustness the Moon-Night-Possessor, having received these orders, descended and arrived at the place where the Food-Possessing Deity was. The Food-Possessing Deity forthwith, on turning her head towards the land, produced rice from her mouth; again on turning to the sea, she also produced from her mouth things broad of fin and things narrow of fin; again on turning to the mountains, she also produced from her mouth things rough of hair and things soft of hair. Having collected together all these things, she offered them to the Moon-God as a feast on a hundred tables. At this time his Augustness the Moon-Night-Possessor, being angry and coloring up, said, “How filthy! how vulgar! What! shalt thou dare to feed me with things spat out from thy mouth?” and with these words he drew his sabre and slew her. Afterwards he made his report to the Sun-Goddess. When he told her all the particulars, the Heaven-Shining Great Deity was very angry, and said, “Thou art a wicked Deity, whom it is not right for me to see;” and forthwith she and his Augustness the Moon-Night-Possessor dwelt separately day and night.
Urashima Taro
  [From the ‘Manyōshū,’ a collection of ancient verse compiled about 760, by Prince Moroe and the poet Yakamochi. This poem, relating the adventures of “the Japanese Rip Van Winkle,” is supposed to be much older than the eighth century. Translation of William George Aston.]

  WHEN the days of spring were hazy,
I went forth upon the beach of Suminoe;
And as I watched the fishing-boats rock to and fro
I bethought me of the tale of old:
[How] the son of Urashima of Midzunoe,
Proud of his skill in catching the katsuwo and tai,
For seven days not even coming home,
Rowed on beyond the bounds of the ocean,
Where with a daughter of the god of the sea
He chanced to meet as he rowed onwards.
When with mutual endearments their love had been crowned,
They plighted their troths, and went to the immortal land,
Where hand in hand both entered
Into a stately mansion, within the precinct
Of the palace of the god of the sea,
There to remain for everlasting,
Never growing old, nor ever dying.
But this was the speech which was addressed to his spouse
By the foolish man of this world:—
“For a little while I would return home,
And speak to my father and my mother;
To-morrow I will come back.”
When he had said so, this was the speech of his spouse:
“If thou art to return again to the immortal land
And live with me as now,
Open not this casket at all.”
Much did she impress this on him;
But he, having returned to Suminoe,
Though he looked for his house,
No house could he see:
Though he looked for his native village,
No village could he see.
“This is strange,” said he; thereupon this was his thought:
“In the space of three years since I came forth from my home,
Can the house have vanished without even the fence being left?
If I opened this casket and saw the result,
Should my house exist as before?”
Opening a little the jewel-casket,
A white cloud came forth from it
And spread away towards the immortal land.
He ran, he shouted, he waved his sleeves,
He rolled upon the earth, and ground his feet together.
Meanwhile, of a sudden, his vigor decayed and departed:
His body that had been young grew wrinkled;
His hair, too, that had been black grew white;
Also his breath became feebler night by night;
Afterwards, at last his life departed:
And of the son of Urashima of Midzunoe,
The dwelling-place I can see.
    In the immortal land
    He might have continued to dwell,
    But of his own natural disposition:
    How foolish was he, this wight!
A Maiden’s Lament
  [From the ‘Manyōshū’: written by Lady Sakanōe, 700–750, daughter of a prime minister and wife of the Viceroy of the Island of Shikoku. Her writings are much praised. This poem, together with the five poems following, all from the ‘Manyōshū,’ are translations by Basil Hall Chamberlain—parts of his admirable work ‘The Classical Poetry of the Japanese.’]

  FULL oft he sware with accents true and tender,
  “Though years roll by, my love shall ne’er wax old!”
And so to him my heart I did surrender,
  Clear as a mirror of pure burnished gold;
And from that day, unlike the seaweed bending
  To every wave raised by the autumn gust,
Firm stood my heart, on him alone depending,
  As the bold seaman in his ship doth trust.
Is it some cruel god that hath bereft me?
  Or hath some mortal stolen away his heart?
No word, no letter since the day he left me;
  Nor more he cometh, ne’er again to part!
In vain I weep, in helpless, hopeless sorrow,
  From earliest morn until the close of day;
In vain, till radiant dawn brings back the morrow,
  I sigh the weary, weary nights away.
No need to tell how young I am, and slender—
  A little maid that in thy palm could lie:
Still for some message comforting and tender
  I pace the room in sad expectancy.
Husband and Wife

[Author unknown.]

WHILE other women’s husbands ride
  Along the road in proud array,
My husband up the rough hillside
  On foot must wend his weary way.
The grievous sight with bitter pain
  My bosom fills, and many a tear
Steals down my cheek, and I would fain
  Do aught to help my husband dear.
Come! take the mirror and the veil,
  My mother’s parting gifts to me;
In barter they must sure avail
  To buy a horse to carry thee!
An I should purchase me a horse,
  Must not my wife still sadly walk?
No, no! though stony is our course,
  We’ll trudge along and sweetly talk.
My Children
  [Written by Yamagami no Okura, governor of the province of Chikuzen,—700–750.]

  WHAT use to me the gold and silver hoard?
What use to me the gems most rich and rare?
Brighter by far—ay! bright beyond compare—
The joys my children to my heart afford!
  [Written by a poet named Nibi, of whom nothing is known.]

  THE GULLS that twitter on the rush-grown shore
      When fall the shades of night,
That o’er the waves in loving pairs do soar
      When shines the morning light,—
    ’Tis said e’en these poor birds delight
To nestle each beneath his darling’s wing
      That, gently fluttering,
Through the dark hours wards off the hoar-frost’s might.
      Like to the stream that finds
The downward path it never may retrace,
      Like to the shapeless winds,
Poor mortals pass away without a trace:
    So she I love has left her place,
And in a corner of my widowed couch,
Wrapped in the robe she wove me, I must crouch
    Far from her fond embrace.
To a Friend
  [Written by Hitomaru, probably without a peer among Japan’s ancient poets. Hitomaru was not of high rank among nobles, though of imperial descent. He became a provincial officer, and died in the year 737.]

  JAPAN is not a land where men need pray,
        For ’tis itself divine:
Yet do I lift my voice in prayer, and say,
        “May every joy be thine!
“And may I too, if thou those joys attain,
        Live on to see thee blest!”
Such the fond prayer that, like the restless main,
        Will rise within my breast.
Ode to Fuji-Yama
  [The name of the writer of this ode is not known.]

  THERE on the border, where the land of Kai
  Doth touch the frontier of Suruga’s land,
  A beauteous province stretched on either hand,
See Fuji-yama rear his head on high!
The clouds of heaven in reverent wonder pause;
  Nor may the birds those giddy heights essay
  Where melt thy snows amid thy fires away,
Or thy fierce fires lie quenched beneath thy snows.
What name might fitly tell, what accents sing,
  Thine awful, godlike grandeur? ’Tis thy breast
  That holdeth Narusawa’s flood at rest,
Thy side whence Fujikawa’s waters spring.
Great Fuji-yama, towering to the sky!
  A treasure art thou given to mortal man,
  A god-protector watching o’er Japan;
On thee forever let me feast mine eye!
  [These verses and the three following stanzas are taken from the ‘Kokinshū,’ Basil Hall Chamberlain’s translation. The ‘Kokinshū’ (Collection of Songs Ancient and Modern) was compiled 905–922, by Kino Tsurayuki and others. Sosei, the writer of these verses on Spring, was a Buddhist abbot living in the latter part of the ninth century.]

  AMID the branches of the silvery bowers
The nightingale doth sing: perchance he knows
That spring hath come, and takes the later snows
For the white petals of the plum’s sweet flowers.
  [Written by Henjō, who was a Buddhist bishop and one of the leading men of his time, 830–890. Prior to his taking the vows of religion Henjō was prominent in court circles, and was married. The poet Sosei was his son.]

  O LOTOS-LEAF! I dreamt that the wide earth
Held naught more pure than thee,—held naught more true:
Why then, when on thee rolls a drop of dew,
Pretend that ’tis a gem of priceless worth?
  [By Chisato, Vice-governor of Iyo, etc.; a prolific writer,—850–900.]

  A THOUSAND thoughts of tender vague regret
  Crowd on my soul, what time I stand and gaze
On the soft-shining autumn moon; and yet
  Not to me only speaks her silvery haze.
  [Tsurayuki, the writer of these lines, was probably the leading poet of his day,—880–950. He compiled the ‘Kokinshū.’ He was also the first master of Japanese written prose. His preface to the ‘Kokinshū,’ and his diary the ‘Tosa Nikki,’ marked the beginning of a new age in Japanese literature.]

  WHEN falls the snow, lo! every herb and tree,
That in seclusion through the wintry hours
Long time had been held fast, breaks forth in flowers
That ne’er in spring were known upon the lea.

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