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p. 128






I am a priest from Kiyosumi in Awa. I have never yet seen the country of Kai, so now I am minded to go there on pilgrimage.

(Describing the journey.)

On the foam of white waves
From Kiyosumi in the land of Awa riding
To Mutsura I come; to the Hill of Kamakura,
Lamentably tattered, yet because the World
Is mine no longer, unashamed on borrowed bed,
Mattress of straw, to lie till the bell swings
Above my pillow. Away, away! For dawn
Is on the hemp-fields of Tsuru. Now the noonday sun
Hangs high above us as we cross the hills.
Now to the village of Isawa we come.
Let us lie down and rest awhile in the shelter of this shrine.

(The FISHER comes along the hashigakari towards the stage carrying a lighted torch.)


When the fisher's torch is quenched
What lamp shall guide him on the dark road that lies before?
Truly, if the World had tasked me hardly
I might be minded to leave it, but this bird-fishing,
Cruel though it be in the wanton taking of life away, p. 129
Is a pleasant trade to ply
Afloat on summer streams.

I have heard it told that Yūshi and Hakuyō vowed their love-vows
by the moon, and were changed to wedded stars of heaven. And
even to-day the high ones of the earth are grieved by moonless nights.
Only 1 grow weary of her shining and welcome nights of darkness.
But when the torches on the boats burn low,

Then, in the dreadful darkness comes repentance
Of the crime that is my trade,
My sinful sustenance; and life thus lived
Is loathsome then.
Yet I would live, and soon
Bent on my oar I push between the waves
To ply my hateful trade.

I will go up to the chapel as I am wont to do, and give my cormorants
rest. (Seeing the PRIESTS.) What, have travellers entered here?


We are pilgrim-priests. We asked for lodging in the village. But they told us that it was not lawful for them to receive us, so we lay down in the shelter of this shrine.


Truly, truly: I know of none in the village that could give you lodging.


Pray tell me, sir, what brings you here?


Gladly. I am a cormorant-fisher. While the moon is shining I rest at this shrine; but when the moon sinks, I go to ply my trade.


Then you will not mind our lodging here. But, sir, this work of slaughter ill becomes you; for I see that the years lie heavy on you. Pray leave this trade and find yourself another means of sustenance.


You say well. But this trade has kept me since I was a child. I cannot leave it now.


p. 130


Listen. The sight of this man. has brought back something to my mind. Down this river there is a place they call Rock-tumble. And there, when I passed that way three years ago, I met just such a fisherman as this. And when I told him this cormorant-fishing was reckoned a sin against life, I think he listened; for he brought me back to his house and lodged me! with uncommon care.


And you are the priest that came then?


Yes, I am he.


That cormorant-fisher died.


How came he to die?


Following his trade, more shame to him. Listen to his story and give his soul your prayers.


Gladly we will.

FISHER (seats himself facing the audience and puts down his torch).

You must know that on this river of Isawa, for a stretch of three leagues up stream and down, the killing of any living creature is forbidden. Now at that Rock-tumble you spoke of there were many cormorant-fishers who every night went secretly to their fishing. And the people of the place, hating the vile trade, made plans to catch them at their task. But he knew nothing of this; and one night he went there secretly and let his cormorants loose.

There was an ambush set for him; in a moment they were upon him. "Kill him!" they cried; "one life for many," was their plea. Then he pressed palm to palm. "Is the taking of life forbidden in this place? Had I but known it! But now, never again . . ." So with clasped hands he prayed and wept; but none helped him; and as fishers set their stakes they planted him deep in the stream. He cried, but no p. 131 sound came. (Turning to the PRIEST suddenly.) I am the ghost of that fisherman.


Oh strange! If that be so, act out before me the tale of your repentance. Show me your sin and I will pray for you tenderly.


I will act before your eyes the sin that binds me, the cormorant-fishing of those days. Oh give my soul your prayer!


I will.

FISHER (rising and taking up his torch).

The night is passing. It is fishing-time.
I must rehearse the sin that binds me.


I have read in tales of a foreign land 1
How sin-laden the souls of the dead
Have toiled at bitter tasks;
But strange, before my eyes
To see such penance done!

FISHER (describing his own action).

He waved the smeared torches.

PRIEST (describing the FISHER'S action).

Girt up his coarse-spun skirts.

FISHER (going to the "flute-pillar" and bending over as if opening a basket).

Then he opened the basket,


And those fierce island-birds


Over the river-waves suddenly he loosed . . .


p. 132


See them, see them clear in the torches' light
Hither and thither darting,
Those frightened fishes. 1
Swift pounce the diving birds,
Plunging, scooping,
Ceaselessly clutch their prey:
In the joy of capture
Forgotten sin and forfeit
Of the life hereafter!
Oh if these boiling waters would be still,
Then would the carp rise thick
As goldfinch in a bowl.
Look how the little ayu leap 2
Playing in the shallow stream.
Hem them in: give them no rest!
Oh strange!
The torches burn still, but their light grows dim;
And I remember suddenly and am sad.
It is the hated moon!

(He throws down the torch.)

The lights of the fishing-boat are quenched;
Homeward on the Way of Darkness 3
In anguish I depart.

(He leaves the stage.)

PRIEST (sings his "machi-utai" or waiting-song, while the actor who has taken the part of the FISHER changes into the mask and costume of the KING OF HELL.)

I dip my hand in the shallows,
I gather pebbles in the stream.
I write Scripture upon them,
Upon each stone a letter of the Holy Law.p. 133
Now I cast them back into the waves and their drowned spell
Shall raise from its abyss a foundered soul.

(Enter YAMA, KING OF HELL; he remains on the hashigakari.)


Hell is not far away:
All that your eyes look out on in the world
Is the Fiend's home.

I am come to proclaim that the sins of this man, who from the days of his boyhood long ago has fished in rivers and streams, were grown so many that they filled the pages of the Iron Book; 1 while on the Golden Leaves there was not a mark to his name. And he was like to have been thrown down into the Deepest Pit; but now, because he once gave lodging to a priest, I am commanded to carry him quickly to Buddha's Place.

The Demon's rage is stilled,
The fisher's boat is changed
To the ship of Buddha's Vow, 2
Lifeboat of the Lotus Law. 3



131:1 Or, according to another reading, "tales of Hell."

132:1 The Fisher holds up his torch and looks down as though peering into the water.

132:2 I have omitted the line "Though this be not the river of Tamashima," a reference to the Empress Jingō, who caught an ayu at Tamashima when on her way to fight the Coreans.

132:3 A name for Hades.

133:1 Good deeds were recorded in a golden book, evil deeds in an iron one.

133:2 He vowed that he would come as a ship to those drowning in the Sea of Delusion.

133:3 Here follow the twelve concluding lines, too full of Buddhist technicalities to interest a general reader.

Next: Aya no Tsuzumi (The Damask Drum)