online: 11 december 2003
modified: 10,13 december 2003

9 december 2003 a noh play imagined

15:46: A little grove of fir or pine trees* round a clearing of short grass.

Whenever I come here I imagine a noh play being performed.

**(The stage assistant places a stand with a pine sapling set into it at the front of the stage. The Priest enters and stands at the naming-place. He carries a rosary.)

The setting for all noh plays is pine trees, some painted some actual.

Priest. I am a priest who travels from province to province.

sunny weather - the topmost branches sway no more than a centimetre in the still air.

Lately I have been in the Capital. I visited the famous sights and ancient ruins. Now I intend to make a pilgrimage to the western provinces.

- the crows are cawing and gathering as the light dims...

(He faces forward.) I have hurried, and here I am already at the Bay of Suma in Settsu province.

a few tall grasses from summer stand upright or lean a little amidst the decaying brambles and rushes.

(His attention is caught by a pine tree.) How strange! That pine on the beach has a curious look. There must be a story connected with it. I'll ask someone in the neighbourhood.

Three fast moving dogs run into the pine grove and run out again.

(He faces the bridgeway.) Do you live in Suma?

16:03 and now the crows have stopped cawing as the sun moves to the west.

(The villager comes down the bridgeway to the first pine. He wears a short sword.)

I go to look at the tree-stump shrine that I noted on earlier visits

VILLAGER. Perhaps I am from Suma; but first tell me what you want.

today it is decorated with pebbles, pine cones and short sticks - there is no piece of paper and no inscription

PRIEST. I am a priest and I travel through the provinces. Here on the beach I see a solitary pine tree with a wooden tablet fixed to it, and a poem slip hanging from the tablet. is there a story connected with the tree? Please tell me what you know.

I walk to Parliament Hill and see a red sunset on the western horizon and the moon, looking very large and pink, low on the eastern horizon above Highgate

VILLAGER. The pine is linked with the memory of two fisher girls, Matsukaze and Murasame. Please say a prayer for them as you pass.

I said to a man who was looking at the moon that I had never seen it looking like this, so pink and so large and so low and so misty

PRIEST. Thank you. I know nothing about them, but I will stop at the tree and say a prayer for them before I move on.

he thought the same and was glad that I confirmed his impression - he lives nearby and has seldom or never seen the view from Parliament Hill look like this - it is different every day

VILLAGER. If I can be of further service, don't hesitate to ask.

I suppose the difference comes of the variations in humidity, air temperature, wind speed and direction, clouds, the positions of sun moon and earth, the wetness or dryness of the ground, the temperature of the ground, and the heat and the gases emitted by buildings, vehicles, power plants, factories, etc. And having realised how many such influences there are, and how interconected they are, it is not so surprising that the city looks so different every day - or even every hour or every few minutes. This is a noh play in itself!

PRIEST. Thank you for your kindness.

*fir/pine. I am not sure if the trees in the grove are firs or pines - but they are certainly the kind that were called 'dippity trees' in a children's story book I remember. That's how I think of them now - with their downward sloping branches.

VILLAGER. At your command, sir.

**The inserted words are the beginning of a noh play, Matsukaze (Wind in the Pines), written in the 15th century, partly by Kanze Kiyotsugu Kan'ami, and largely by his son Zeami, the best known writer of noh plays. Nowadays the word is written No, with a line over the o, but, as I cannot expect everyone's computer to reproduce that, I still spell it as noh.

(The Villager exits. The Priest goes to stage center and turns toward the pine tree.)

The translation, by Royall Tyler, is from 20 Plays of the No Theatre, edited by Donald Keene, Columbia University Press, New York and London 1970, page 21. There is a later translation, also by Royall Tyler, in his book Japanese No Dramas, Penguin Books, London 1992.

To the spirit of Zeami, to the editor Donald Keene, to the translator Royall Tyler, and to the copyright holder, Columbia University Press:

I hope you are not offended by this fragmentation of the translation but see it as something done in the spirit of noh. If it is ever printed, or circulated widely, I hope to share the proceeds with you. For the present it appears (I hope with your approval) only on this website, not visited by many.

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