The Ghost-Plays of Japan


A DAY in Kyōto — the ancient and most beautiful City-Royal; an autumn day, the splendor of the maples dying down as if the lights were extinguished one by one before the quiet coming of the night of the world; the Kamo River flowing silently through its broad banks, and a mild gray sky leaning tenderly over the great hill of Hiei: that was the day when I saw my first Nō play in Japan, and received the gift of a beauty so strange and insubstantial that it can hold words but as lightly as the cobweb holds its strung diamonds before the sun vaporizes them into nothingness.

I had accepted an invitation from a society in Kyōto which exists for the purpose of producing these austerely beautiful plays. They are one of the great arts of the world; no past dramatic experience can in the least prepare the mind for them, and there can be no place so good for initiation as Kyōto, because Kyōto is the home of faithful tradition, of dignified reverence for the noble gifts of the past. CityRoyal is a precious casket wherein many jewels lie in safe-keeping; and of these, many and glorious, not the least is the ghost-play of Japan.

So I went into the quiet dark hall, where the stage was stiffly set forth with minutest attention to traditional law. In ancient times the audience surrounded it; but, since the day of the great Shogun Ievasu, it has faced it as in the West; and it is said that beneath it are fixed large hoIIow vessels of earthenware, that the movements and the singing may have a deep resonant quality.

A small bridge — the famous ‘Flowerpath’ — is placed that the actors may thus approach it; and on this are set three small pine trees in pots, the symbols of heaven, earth, and humanity. At the back of the stage is painted a pine tree — here symbolizing faithful endurance. This is all the scenery, and everything done is in full sight of the audience, which sits in the low enclosures that are the stalls of Japan, quiet, attentive, many of them studying the play in books brought from the treasured libraries of noble houses: each one an acolyte at a beloved ritual; and not only this, but a keen critic of any variation from a standard that the centuries have made immutable.

No atmosphere can be more favorable. There is nothing to distract eye or thought from the drama to be presented. Before us were only the symbols which represent the eternal verities of God and man; and the priest, spirits, and the young men who take the parts of women, are all masked in the historic masks designed by great artists for the parts they fill.

I am very certain that it is impossible to comprehend the deepest meaning of these ghostly Nō plays, and therefore to enjoy them to the full, unless the spectator has a real knowledge of the spirit and literature of Buddhism; and it is my object to give a hint of this in what I write now. For I cannot recall, in anything that has been written of these plays by those Occidentals who have studied them, more than a very passing reference to what really is the soul of the play. That there is a beauty which must appeal to any who can feel deeply, I do not at all deny. There is the strangest intellectual charm also elusive, exquisite, a faint rainbow, smiling, weeping, fading on gray skies; but there is more than this — a theory of life and death. While it is true that the inception of this unique drama was probably the god-dance of the Shintō temples, the Nō play, as it has come down to us, owes all to Buddhism; and the better the Buddhist attitude to life and death is understood, the more certainly will this be felt.

This perhaps is the reason why the Nō plays, like all Far Eastern art, appear so strange to us at first. The belief at the base of them is alien — we do not know what they are driving at. We depict life in the studio, or on the stage, in relation to ourselves. To our minds all beauty exists for man. It pleads at his judgment bar — it is his lovely slave. But to the artist influenced by Buddhist teaching, man himself is but a small part of nature — a part of it only in the same sense as a tree or a flower; animated by the same spirit, no more, no less; passing to the same goal; subordinate, subjected to Law, as is a bough waving in the wind; a mountain-peak lost in drowning vapors. This belief has, of course, made the Far Eastern artists the greatest landscape and flower artists of the world, for they have recognized that the essence of nature differs in no kind from their own, and have therefore painted as they knew.

But all this will be clearer as I describe some of the plays. I will choose some of the less-known ones, using the beautiful renderings of Professor Fenollosa, Mr. Pound, and Mr. Waley, and premising that the ghosts are not the somewhat solid spirits to be found in Elizabethan drama and elsewhere in the West: they are emanations of memory, of sorrow, of fear. They rise like a ghostly perfume, intangible, illusive; they are dead persons, but living passions, visualized for a moment before passing away into union with the Eternal. Their influence on earth, or on men, is no more than the fall of a dead leaf in a frost.


Let me take first the Nishikigi — little known in the West. The characters are. few — that, is almost always the case in a Nō play, and in this they are but three: a wandering Buddhist priest and two ghosts; not armorplated ghosts, like him who walked at Elsinore, but dim wistful voices, wandering unsatisfied in lonely air; two lives which, having never reached fruition on earth, have now become a sick craving for what life and death alike withheld. It is a story of love that never reached its earthly close.

Picture the deep, deep quiet of the listening audience, in an old hall in Kyōto, the shadows about it, the dimly lit stage, the wailing music of the orchestra, the rigid Chorus — for there is a Chorus, as in the Greek plays, but more quiescent and, at the same time, more personal, taking up the actual words of the speaker and continuing them as if thinking aloud on his behalf; becoming as it were an orchestral representation of his thought picture that setting — and this: —

A priest is wandering about the country that lies around Mount Shinobu; and now he is not far from little Kefu near the sea, and the evening is coming down upon him. He has been traveling long — perhaps his feet are a little weary. It seems that, when the body is weary, the defenses that guard it from the unseen are weakened. The spirit-lore of all the world testifies to this. At all events, he sees a man and woman coming toward him, apparently together, but, in truth, worlds apart. They speak to each other, but he does not hear. If he did, how could he understand that melancholy music?

The man speaks: ‘Tangled — we are tangled. Whose fault was it, dear? We neither wake nor sleep. In our hearts there is much, and in our bodies nothing, and we do nothing at all, and only the waters of the river of tears flow quickly.’

And now the Chorus supplies the story.

Long, long ago these two were lovers. Nightly, according to the custom of Kefu, he brought to the door of the beloved the lacquered wands with lovesigns painted upon them (nishikigi), the love-charm which, it was believed, no woman could resist. Every night, for three years, the passionate lover brought his wand and laid it by the rest, hoping, hoping — at last, despairing. And every night the maiden sat weaving the narrow cloth known as hosonuno. Her door was shut against, him. Was it fear, or modesty, or the tremulous holding-back from delight? Perhaps she herself did not know.

But he died, and they buried him in a cave with all his vain love-charms about him; and as for her — her weaving was all done, and the loom set aside, and her thwarted passion also drifted out into the void.

It was so long ago that now even the old custom of Kefu is forgotten; and death stepped tacitly and blotted them out like water spilt from a broken jar. Into the sand? No — for man is desire, limitless desire; and, when the brain no longer bounds it, it flows abroad and grows stronger: a crying in the wind, a moaning in the sea.

But now they draw nearer to the priest, and he wonders to see them in these lonely ways. It bewilders the old man a little. He says: —

‘ It is strange, seeing these two people here. I might suppose them two married people. The lady carries what might be a piece of cloth woven from bird’s feathers, and the man a wand painted red. Strange merchandise!’

Stranger than he knows, for these are the symbols of their pain, the merchandise of broken lives.

So, pausing in the dusk, they tell him their story — not as if it were their own; only a sad old tale that haunts the countryside.

‘We know the funeral cave of such a man,’ breathes the woman; ‘one who watched out the thousand nights; a bright cave, for they buried him with all his wands.’

The priest is interested. He would like t o see that cave. It would be a tale to tell his village when he returns. Will they show it?

So they wander on together — he himself becoming somewhat changed and ghostly under their weird influence, as they go. Night is coming; the air is cold with more than frost. Oh, bitter cold of the lonely heart wandering in desolate places! The Chorus, the thought of the play, cries aloud: —

‘ Autumn. Our feet are clogged
In the dew-drenched matted leaves.
The perpetual shadow is lonely.
The owl cries out from the ivy
That drags its weight on the pine.
The hiding fox is now lord of that love-cave.’

The wanderers stand at last before it — the place the two must haunt, the focus of their spiritual being. And now they have vanished. The force that materialized them for vision is very slender: it can sustain them no longer: and the priest stands bewildered and alone. The place is strange; he knows not where to turn. He would sleep beside it, and cannot, for the cry unsatisfied is heard in his heart also— il stirs, it calls him.

’It seems that I cannot sleep
Under October wind, under pines, under night.
I will do service to the Blessed One.’

And, rising, he performs the peacegiving rit ual of the Lord Buddha.

But what is this — a cry of joy from a woman’s voice, she herself invisible.

‘Aïe, honored priest,
Hear soothsay !
Now there is meeting between us,
Between us who were until now
In life and in after-life kept apart —
A dream-bridge over wild grass.
O Honored, do not awake me by force;
I see that the Law is perfect.’

Perfect. This they had not known before — the Law had seemed a thwarting, a binding. Now the cravings of broken desire are stilled; and because they are stilled, the two are united with the Whole, and therefore with each other, and melt into perfect union — according to the Great Teaching. It is a Far Eastern rendering of ‘In his Will is our peace.’

The Law is perfect. The quiet of the Blessed One submerges them like an ocean. And now the man’s voice is heard:—

‘It is a good service you have done, Sir —
A service that spreads in two worlds
And binds up an ancient love.’

And she: —

’The meeting comes now.
This night has happened over and over;
Now only comes the tryst.'

But what is happening? Slowly a warm light fills the funeral cave; shadows pass before it, as they might before a household fire seen from the cold without. It seems to become a happy home in the waste.

’Strange! [cries the priest] what seemed so very
old a cave
Is all glittering bright within
Like the flicker of fire.
It is like the inside of a house.
They are setting up a loom,
And heaping up charm-sticks. No!
The hangings are of old time —
Is it illusion — illusion? ’

He is not able to tell. It shifts and changes, dreamlike. The spirits themselves cannot tell. The man’s voice says slowly: —

‘Our hearts have becu in the dusk of the falling
We have been astray in the flurry.
You should tell better than we
How much is illusion.
We have been in the whirl of those who are

But the priest cries aloud, passionately aroused now; —

‘ Let it be a dream or a vision —
I care not!
Only show me the old times past and snowed
Now — soon — while the night lasts!’

And so he sees.

The loom is set up in the cave, as it might be by their fireside. The lover knocks with his wand upon a door whence, in the dead past, he had no answer. But now — now — the Chorus chants softly: —

‘There he is carrying wands,
And she has no need to be asked.
See her within the cave.
With a cricket-like noise of weaving.
Churr, isho, like the whirr of a loom; churr!'

The lover, speaking through the Chorus: —

‘I lie, a body unknown to any other man,
Like old wood buried in moss.
We had no meeting;
But tears have, it seems, brought out a bright blossom
Upon the dyed tree of love.’

At last the priest may see into that strange secret bride-chamber of the tomb, where the joy that lies at the heart of the world’s pain has conquered. And the man’s voice comes again from a great distance: —

‘Happy at last and well-starred,
Now comes the eve of betrothal.’

And the Chorus: —

‘How glorious the sleeves of the dance
That are like snow-whirls!’

And the man: —

‘Tread out the dance,’

And so it proceeds, with music and light and rejoicing; and suddenly — suddenly all stops. What is this? Darkness — faint light in the east; and now the Chorus, a wind shrilling in a waste place: —

‘The dawn!
Come, we are out of place.
Let us go ere the light comes.
We ask you — Do not awake.
We all will wither away,
The wands and this cloth of a dream.
There is nothing here but this cave in the field’s midst;
To-day’s wind moves in the pines;
A wild place, unlit and unfilled.’

That is all. Were they happy? Did it all come right? Or was that, too, dream within dream? We cannot tell. The audience goes silently away, and the hall is left to the ghosts.

You see? For, says the Scripture of the Good Law, just as a man adds oil to a lamp and so renews the flame, so grows craving in the man who sets his heart on the things of this world. He cannot die, in the true and lovely sense. He can only live to mortal and immortal pain. But the desire relaxing its clutch, the oil emptying in the lamp — there is the peace of the Nirvana, whether in life or death.


In the Kakitsubata, the cast is even smaller—a traveling priest, the ghost of a girl, and the Chorus. This is a very beautiful and colored play. You are to remember Narihira, a great man in the ancient Japan — noble, splendid, a great courtier, musician, and poet, and, later, wise among the wise; the light and love of many women; beloved, indeed, by the august Empress Takago

— wife of the Emperor Seiwa — a thousand years ago. He has passed through so many women’s lives, carelessly, lightly, as a man may gather an iris in a stream and cast it aside.

But there is one who remembers him — whose whole being has become a fixed passionate memory. She does not remember — she is memory, and nothing more. How then should she pass into the Peace?

So the priest — he might be the priest of Nishikigi — wanders through Mikawa to see the flowers of the iris in all their glory; for it is the season. They stand in noble ranks, and he muses beside them, he too not exempt from ‘the old urge of sorrow’ within him. And as he stands, ho becomes aware of a young girl in the simple dress of the country. She asks what he is doing in that swamp — just as any girl might ask in passing. He is looking at the iris — what else? Where has he come to?

She tells him — to Yatsubashi of Mikawa, and adds: ‘You have the best flowers before you there, those of the deepest color, as you would see if you had any power of feeling.’

Yes, the priest can see that. He believes these are the iris of an ancient legend. Who wrote the words? She knows. She replies: —

‘ By Yatsubashi, by the web of crossing waters, the iris scatters its petals. It was Narihira who said: “These flowers brought their court dress from China”’

The priest ponders: ‘Then Narihira came here?’ That is of interest — he was so great a man. ‘What place was nearest to his heart?’

‘This place,’the girl replies, and then: —

‘The man who bound himself to me
Returned times out of mind in his thought
To me and this cobweb of waters.’

So you see — because he had remembered the iris and loved them a little for her sake; because she remembers nothing but that passion and loss, she is now a part of the flowers. They are the clothing of her spirit, and she can manifest herself only beside them; and this will be until she has rent the veil of illusion and is absorbed in the reality that lies behind it.

She bids the priest spend the night in her poor cottage — a very lowly place, but still a shelter. He accepts, little knowing what he is to see, and that he is stepping through the broken shell of one world into another. For the lady returns, no longer deceiving his eyes as a country maiden, but dressed in splendor, now her true self and the greatest lady of all that Narihira had loved in the vanished days. Her dress is symbolical, as dress in the Nō is, more or less, always. She wears an overdress of gauze, purple with golden flowers, an underdress of glaring orange, with green and gold pattern. She is now the spirit of the iris and also the love of Narihira — about her is the perfume of his memory of her.

The priest says in amazement: —

’How strange — in this tumbledown cottage, a lady in bright robes! What can this mean?’

He shall know. The spirit speaks: —

’This is the very dress brought from China
(The court dress of the iris also!)
The gown of the Empress Takago.
She was Narihira’s beloved.
At eighteen she won him.
She was the light of his youth.
I come, clothed in a memory.’

And the priest: ‘You had better put i his aside. Who are you?’

I am the spirit of the iris. The spirit of remembrance. And Narihira was the incarnation of music. Holy magic ran through his words, and even the grass and the flowers pray to him for the blessings of dew.’

And then the Chorus recites the glories of Narihira, in the old days that are dead: the Emperor’s favor, his pomp and splendor. They speak for the man himself: —

’The waves, the billows return,
But my glory comes not again.’

They proceed: —

‘lie was pledged with many a lady.
The fireflies drift away,
Scattering their little lights,
And then flying, flying,
Souls of fine ladies,
Going up into heaven.
And here in the underworld
The autumn winds come blowing — blowing,
And the void ducks cry, Ivari — Kari! ’

So one sees it, like an illusive Chinese landscape: whirls of ghostly snow over the white plain; ghostly torn peaks showing here and there through clouds, and a sense of loss irreparable, weeping and crying in the wind. Is it a spirit, a form impermanent, drifting, or only a flurry of rain in the night?

And now the Chorus chants a song of Narihira’s own: —

‘No moon!
The Spring is not the Spring of the old days.
My body
Is not my body,
But only a body grown old.
Narihira, Narihira,
My glory comes not again.’

But from the Chorus, from the priest, from the power of the memories thus evoked, the spirit of the lady has gathered power. He made these verses for the Empress. She will dance the dance he loved.

‘ Narihira knew me in old days.
Doubt it not, stranger.
And now I begin my dance,
Wearing the ancient bright mantle.’

And the stalely dance begins, holding all the past for her. She and the Chorus describe it alternately. And gradually, slowly, while you watch, the grayand olive-robed Chorus obscures the bright dancer — the passion is dying down, the memory is fading, the essential falls out of the apparition, saying: ‘It is only the cracked husk of the locust.’ And the Chorus closes the play: —

‘Day comes; the purple flower
Opens its heart of wisdom;
It fades out of sight by its thought —
The flower soul melts into Buddha.’

Even the perfume of the iris dies on the air; it is absorbed into the Passionless.


Of course, by no means all the Nō plays are the habitations of ghosts; but many are the haunt of strange intuitions, of fallings from us, vanishings, worlds not realized; the moving within us of spirits who have moulded our being and whom we have never known. It is a twilight world, lit by waning moons. The ghosts who dwell there have been given over into the prison of their own Selfhood; their passions and memories have made their cage; and they have no escape, in life or death, until they accept the law of self-annihilation.

This is the Teaching. No doubt we have an echo of this in the West, where the miserable spirit lurks forever amid the pain it inflicted or received, bound on the wheel of its own torment; but in the Orient they understand, they have unraveled cause and effect; and it is a hard task for us to learn who, as the Buddhist Scriptures say, ‘belong to another sect, to another faith, to another discipline, and sit at the feet of another Teacher.’ Yet it is surely a true teaching of the binding of the spirit, whether in life or death.

There is one very touching Nō where the brilliant Prince Genji, the Don Juan of the most famous ancient romance of Japan, adored of many women, returns, an empty ghost, to the seashore at Suma. He is there because it was to Suma that he fled from the Emperor’s anger at a gross intrigue, knowing that banishment awaited him. There he had known sorrow for the first time in his shining life, and the shadow of sorrow is a sickness, an insanity that holds the soul captive, apart from the processional joy of the universe. He is dressed in poor garments, he who went so splendid in life; he manifests as a woodcutter of Suma. Suddenly, in the second scene, blooms out the old glory; the beauty of the rushing billows flows like wine in his veins; for a moment he forgets his grief and recalls the old splendor of the Court when before the Emperor he trod the measure of ‘The Blue Sea Waves’ crowned with maple leaves, himself ‘a bright flower’ as the ancient story of his loves describes him.

‘How beautiful this sea is! When I trod the grass here I was called “Genji the Gleaming.” I will dance the blue dance of the sea waves!’

And he dances, that the priest may see even in a vision the beauty lost in the years.

There is a strange and horrible Nō about the wife of Prince Genji, the most unhappy Lady Awoi — one of the heroines of the thousand-year-old novel which records the loves of the Prince and is a classic in Japan. With a heart for so many, he had none for his wife, and she died forsaken. Such a disease of the soul as hers could not escape the Nō, for it gives the woman chained to her misery, as Prometheus to his rock. What is very singular is that she never appears in the play. She is represented by a red-flowered kimono, folded and laid at the front of the stage. You are to consider that her very garment is saturated and infected with the poison that is destroying her body as she dies.

What is seen is the spirit Princess Rokujō, whose liaison with Prince Genji is driving his wife to death; and yet, — most strange, — this is no fetich of the Princess herself: it is Awoi’s jealous agony taking the shape of the woman who is killing her. That thought possesses her mind — it materializes in the loathed shape.

The scene is opened by a great Court official, the Daijin, who relates that the priest and exorcists have been called to aid the great lady and drive forth her disease; and immediately upon this appears the visible Jealousy — which yet will not speak the truth, but declares that she is the spirit of the Princess. She is splendidly costumed — the under kimono of black satin, embroidered with small, irregular, infrequent circles of flowers; the upper part of stiff gold brocade, shot through with purples, greens, and reds.

She speaks of her glories: —

‘I had the moon for a mirror. I was drunk with color and perfume.’

Suddenly she sees the dying woman and rushes to attack her.

‘This woman is hateful. I cannot keep back my blows.’ And she strikes.

It is Awoi’s own jealousy wounding her; she is her own destroyer.

‘The flame of jealousy,’says the apparition, ‘will turn on one’s own hand and burn.’

And the exorcist advances, clashing and striking his wooden beads; and now the passion leaves the shape of the Princess and takes a more horrible shape. It is a hannya, a demon, a terrible mask with golden eyes, clothed in scarlet and white, faced by the exorcist, who thus describes himself: —

‘Then he hung about his shoulders a cloak that had swept the dew of the seven jewels in climbing the peaks of Tai Kou and of Kori in Riobu. He wore the cassock of forbearance, to keep out unholy things. He took the beads of red wood, the square beads with hard corners, and, whirling and striking, said prayer.’

The hannya threatens him with worse than death. Awoi is possessed, indeed! But still he persists, he cries out the sonorous spells, the strong clashing names of the protecting spirits; and at last the horrible possession relaxes — the hannya totters, overcome.

‘O terrible names of the spirits! this is my last time. I return here no more.’

And now Awoi nō Uye is sinking — sinking gently into the quiet of death; and the Chorus concludes the play: —

‘By hearing the Scripture, the evil spirit is melted. The Blessed One came hither; his face was full of forbearance and pity. Pity has melted her soul, and she has passed into the Buddha. Thanksgiving!’

She will not dream of Genji any more in that translucent calm. She has outsoared the shadow of her hate.

There is another fearful Nō mentioned by Professor Fenollosa and Lafcadio Hearn. It is the story of a woman who inordinately desires the love of a young priest . He rejects her, flics from her, and hides under a great bronze temple-bell, such as may be seen at the Chion-in in Kyōto. She pursues, her fierce desire sweeping the woman out of her. It expresses itself as a raging dragon, glowing and spuming fire. As a dragon, she coils about the bell, biting the metal savagely in her madness, and the bell glows incandescent from the fire that is in her; and the wretch beneath is calcined into ash. For, in the No, thought is a creative thing, and therefore the dragon soul animates a dragon body.

But not all the spirit No plays are like this. There is hagoromo — pure delicate beauty, and rendered into accessible loveliness by Mr. Waley. A moon-maiden has been dancing in lonely delight, on the beach by the pine woods of Mio — scarcely less lovely than her own aerial world. Like the swan-princess of Morris’s ‘East of the Sun, west of the Moon,’ she has a magic robe of feathers, and this she has hung on a pine tree. The fisherman Hakuryō enters and sees it — wafting immortal fragrance. He seizes it, and the moonmaiden cries for her cloak — the wings by which alone she can climb the blue heights.

‘How shall I tread
The wing-ways of the air? ’

But he hardens his heart against her pleading; and before his very eyes she droops like a dying flower. At last he softens: if she will dance for him the dance that mortal eyes have never seen, he will restore the cloak. Life radiant and shining flows in her veins again.

‘ I am happy, happy!
And for thanksgiving I bequeath
A dance of remembrance to the world.
Give back my cloak.’

He refuses. The bird of heaven may fly away without the longed-for dance. She rebukes him with gentle dignity,

‘Doubt is for mortals.
There is no deceit in heaven’ —

and he restores it. Then she begins the stately dance, and the Chorus accompanies it with a chant as lovely — recounting the ritual of the moon’s changes: —

‘ In white dress, in black dress,
Thrice ten angels,
In two ranks divided,
Thrice five for the waning,
Thrice five for nights of the waxing moon.
One heavenly lady, on each night of the moon,
Does service and fulfills
Her ritual task assigned.’

The Chorus calls on the wind to build cloud-walls about the sky, lest the vision leave the world to empty day. Can thought or words be more beautiful ? I can never see the waxing or waning of the moon consciously, without recalling the gladness of these fair spirits who direct it. Every word of this Nō is exquisite music, and should be read, either in Mr. Waley’s, or in Mr. Pound’s and Professor Fenollosa’s, translation.

‘She is robed in a garment of mist, of spring mist,’says the Chorus; and now she rises, rises into the blue of the air, faintly seen over the pines of Mio, past the floating islands, through the lower clouds; then higher still, over the mountain of Ashitaka, the silver peak of Fuji; and again, but very faint, her form as heaven resumes its own — the mists receive her. And now — she is a lost star. It is over.

These Japanese ghosts are the most insubstantial in all the world. They can hold human shape with difficulty. Homer’s ghosts, blown like dead leaves in hell, drinking the blood of beasts, are tangible in comparison. Dante’s, suffering in singing flames and glacial hells, are solid beside them; for these are the tortures that conquerors inflict and the reason of man denies; but the Nō ghosts, inexpressible as an odor, — a faint dream gone with the daw n, — are to me the most real and terrible ghosts I know. For we have all felt them; we carry them, each of us, in our own bosom.

Who that has known the gnawing possession of jealousy, cruel as the grave, but must understand when the Lady Awoi’s hate and agony take the visible shape of her rival, and so hunt her to death? What pangs of love denied but repeat themselves in the lonely wandering ghosts of Nishikigi? Is this wretchedness to be prolonged beyond death? Yes, the Nō replies, unless this knowledge is gained: —

As the fiery sparks from a forge are one by one
And no one knows where they have gone;
So is it with those who have attained to complete
Who have crossed the flood of desire,
Who have entered upon the calm delight —
Of these no truce remains.

Theirs is the untracked path of the bird in pure air. Otherwise— there is no fever of longing and memory and sorrow that does not confront us in the Nō, and, as we look, they are the ghosts of our own hearts that meet us. There is much to think of in the Nō I have given, and in the many more of which I might write. Some noble, ringing with gallant courage and high instinct; some wistful and strangely beautiful, the flower of a faith that has moulded great nations, and must do it to the end of time.

These plays demand as much as they give: the audience must bring its gifts of imagination, intellect, knowledge, and poetic insight, and lay them before the stage, or the actors can do nothing for them. Tt is not so in other parts of the world, so far as I know. I see a Western audience; the glaring obvious stage, tricked out with decoration that overpowers the story; the players; the very thought (if there should be such an irrelevance!); every shade of leeling expressed in black and white before it can be absorbed by the heads that crowd the place. What does that audience bring? It has paid its money to be amused, thought for, taken in, and done for.

But why dwell upon what, all know — the theatre of a commercial civilization throned in the midst of its dying arts. It may be said that the Nō was and is the pleasure of aristocrats of birth and intellect. Possibly. Our aristocrats, at all events, seek nothing like it; and in Japan true art in any of its branches has never been the monopoly of the great.

I think it was Mr. Gladstone who once drew the pitiful comparison between what pleased an average audience of ancient Athens — the mighty Æschylean or Sophoclean drama, the clash and glitter of Aristophanic wit — and what pleases a modern audience. He made it his t hesis that in the higher intellectual qualities man has degenerated since those great days; that the race then touched its high-water mark, and that ever since the tide has slowly ebbed. I should not say this myself. Knowing a little of thought that as yet is slightly considered among us, — the thought of the Orient, — I should rather say that the weeds of a gross civilization have choked the beauty which will grow only in conditions we no longer fulfill — no longer think even desirable.

‘Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.’ It remains to be seen whether we have lost the power as well as the will to learn.

So in memory I hold a quiet hall in old Kyōto, a little stage, grave and archaic in its setting, a few strange figures, and a stilled, waiting audience, some, book in hand, following spellbound a drama of the soul of man in life and death.

The night comes, soft-footed, outside; the lamps are lit; the Kamo River ripples softly beside the palaces and temples of the mighty dead who have made Japan’s great present. She is great by reason of the faith that was in them. If the people relinquish this, and take for their god the golden idol of our market place — But the future is unknown to us. It is only the Great Gods who see it as one with the past and the present.