Tuesday, October 26, 2004

"Ten Nights' Dreams" Soseki Natsume 5

[This is my translation of the fifth story in "Ten Nights' Dreams" by Soseki Natsume, a renowned Japanese author. For a brief (and biased) information about the book and the author, please go to my comment. Also, I'd appreciate feedbacks from you!]

The Fifth Night

The dream went like this.

In what seemed to be quite an ancient time, almost the days of mythical gods, I fought a war and had an misfortune of defeat, and was caught alive to be dragged to the foot of the enemy general.

People back then were invariably tall. And all had long beard. From their tightly fastened leather belts dangled their swords that looked nothing more than a stick. Their bows appeared to be made of crude wisteria vine. Neither lacquered, nor polished, just plain primitive.

The enemy general had a bow gripped at the middle with his right hand, with its end on the grass, and sat on something like an upturned Sake pot. I looked at his face and found his thick eyebrows connected with each other above his nose. Of course there was no such thing a razor back then.

A hostage, there was no way I could have something to sit down on. I squatted down on the grass, cross-legged. I had huge straw shoes on my feet. The straw shoes in those days were deep. They came all the way up to my kneecap when I stood up. The straws were left unwoven at the ends, for decoration, dangling in tassels so that they swung as I carried my legs around.

The general lit up my face with fire, and asked death or life. Being the custom of the time, everyone asked his hostage this question, just as a formality. Life meant surrender, death meant resistance. I said only one word, death. The general threw away the bow that he had propped on the grass and reached for the stick-like sword hung at his waist. A gust blew the flame towards him. I opened my right hand like a maple leaf, and popped it above my eyes, with the palm facing the general. A sign for “wait.” The general clicked back the heavy sword into its sheath.

Even back then there was romance. I said I wanted to have one last look at the girl of my heart before I die. The general said he could wait until the dawn, until the crow of a rooster. I have to call her over here before a rooster crows. If it crows and she doesn’t come, I’ll be killed without seeing her.

The general is looking at the fire, still settled on the pot. With the huge straw shoe rested upon the other, I’m waiting for the girl on the grass. Minute by minute the night wears on.

Every once in a while the firewoods gave collapsing sounds. Everytime they collapsed, they made avalanches of flame toward the general, as if in panic. Under his thick black eyebrows his eyes glared. Someone came and threw an armful of new firewoods into the fire. After a while the fire crackled. A valiant, stirring sound as if it were repelling the darkness.

At the very moment the girl untied the white stallion from an oak tree in the back. Stroking its mane three times, she flung herself up on its high back. The horse wasn’t harnessed, not a saddle nor irons. Receiving a kick in its abdomen with her fair lean leg, the horse bursted into a full gallop. Someone had raked the fire, which faintly illuminated the distant sky. The horse flies, slashing the darkness, toward this faing illumination. Giving out its breath like pillars of flames from its nostrils, it flies. All the same, the girl incessantly spurrs the horse on with her lean leg. The horse flies so fast that its hooves click in the air. The girl’s hair trails in the darkness like a streamer. Nevertheless they still can’t reach where the fire is glowing.

Then suddenly, somewhere along the dark path, shrieked a cock-a-doodle-doo. The girl jumped back , pulling on the rein clasped in her both hands. The horse engraved its front hooves into the firm rock with a sharp bang.

The rooster gave a cock-a-doodle-doo once again.

The girl gave a shriek of startle, and at once loosened the tightened rein. The horse collapsed on its both knees. Together with its rider, it stumbled forward with all its momentum. Ahead of the rock was the profound deep.

The inscription of the hooves are still on the rock. The one who imitated the rooster is an imp. As long as the inscription stays on the rock, the imp will remain the one whom I avenge my girl on.


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