Tuesday, October 26, 2004

"Ten Nights' Dreams" Soseki Natsume 6

[This is my translation of the seventh story in "Ten Nights' Dreams" by Soseki Natsume. As careful readers may have noticed, I haven't translated the sixth story about a renowned sculptor of images of Buddha from the 12th century, because it is so saturated with specific Japanese artifacts, both mundane and cultural, that I have hard time explicating and translating them in a way that is not distracting and understandable at the same time. As usual, for more informaiton about the book and the author, please refer to my biased coment. Also I'm looking forward to your feedback!]

The Seventh Night

It seemed that I was on a huge vessel.

This vessel cut through the waves, day and night, without cease, emitting black smoke. It roars terribly. But I didn’t know where it was heading. From the bottom of the waves would the sun rise like red, hot, burning tongs. Not long after I saw it rise up to the top of the high mast and rest there for a while, and not before I realized it, would the sun overtake the huge vessel, and move ahead. Then at last it would sink under the waves, giving out sizzling sounds like red, hot, burning tongs. Every time the sun sank, distant indigo waves would boil and bubble, carmine. Then the vessel would roar terribly and chase after it, never ever catching up.

One time I caught a crew of the ship and asked.

“Is this vessel going West?”

For a while the crew studied my face perplexedly, and asked back why.

“Because it is apparently chasing the falling sun.”

The crew gave a loud laugh and went away.

“Is the East the end of the sun going West? Is that so? Is the West the origin of the sun emerging from the East? Is that so, too? Waves below me, rudder as my pillow. Float it, float it!” he jeers. I strolled to the bow to see many crews buckle to round in a thick halyard.

I grew extremely anxious. Nobody knows when it would be the day I disembark on the firm land. And nobody knows where the ship was taking me. The only thing unquestionable is that the vessel was cutting through the waves and emitting black smoke. The waves were the very vast ones, looking infinitely blue. At times it turned purple. But only around the proceeding ship were invariably pure white with bubbles forming and collapsing. I was very anxious. I suspected it might be better to throw myself into the sea and die, rather than staying on this damned ship.

I had many passengers on board. Most looked like étrangers. But each had a different complexion from others. When the clouds gathered in the sky and the vessel rolled, there was a woman, leaning on the handrail, crying inconsolably. The handkerchief which she used to dry her eyes stood out white. She covered her body with a calico-like clothes, however. As I saw this woman, I realized that I was not the only one in sorrow.

One night I was gazing up at the stars on the deck by myself. An étranger came up to me and asked if I was familiar with astrology. When I even thought of killing myself because of sheer boredom, why should I bother to study astrology? I remained silent. The foreigner told me about the seven stars of the Plow on the crest of the Taurus. And said the sea, the stars, and everything else are all creation of the God. Finally he asked me if I believed in God. I remained silent, looking at the sky.

One time I stepped into the salon to find a young woman in a flashy attire playing the piano with her back toward me. Beside her was a tall magnificent man on his foot, singing. His mouth looked disproportionately large. The two, however, seemed to be indifferent to everyone else beside the two themselves. They even seemed to be oblivious of their being on board a ship.

The boredom intensified further more. I finally made up my mind to die. Thus one night, when nobody was around, I resolutely leaped into the ocean. However---at the very moment when my feet lost touch of the deck and the connection with the vessel was broken, my life suddenly came dear to me. From the bottom of my heart I wished I had not leaped. But it was too late. I had to dive into the water, whether I liked it or not. The vessel being made extremely high, my feet did not reach the water long after my body had left the ship. But without anything to hold on to, the water came closer, inch by inch. However hard I contracted my legs, it came closer. The water was black.

Soon the vessel overtook me and was gone, emitting black fumes as usual. Having realized that it was better to stay on board, even on a ship with an obscure destination, but not being able to utilize the realization, I silently kept falling down toward the black waves, bearing infinite regret and dread.


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