|Gerasimova M. Certain Aspects of Kawabata Yasunaris Poetic System|
Certain Aspects of Kawabata Yasunari's Poetic System
Maya Gerasimova, Doctor of Philology, Senior Researcher, of the Centre of Japanese Studies, The Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences
It is generally expected, that Kawabata Yasunari is a writer, whose works demonstrate succession to the national aesthetic tradition. The majority of Kawabata's scholars, both in and outside Japan, point out the influence of Buddhism, especially Zen, or searching and expressing beauty Japanese perception. At the same time the traditionalism of Kawabata may be viewed from another point, which does not contradict the above mentioned, but offers a new nuance to the understanding of what we call Japanese aesthetic and poetic tradition and so the specificity of Kawabata's writing.
Generalising the specificity of Japanese art, as well as Kawabata Yasunari's works, it could be said, that the main features, forming their originality, are philosophical and poetic spirit (or poeticised philosophy) and "multilayer" content. Philosophical and poetic spirit is the result of expressing the beauty of Eternity, which permeates every instant. Hence two layers of the artistic work: the cosmic, which pertains to Eternity, and the other one - worldly, routine and realistic, pertaining to the realm of material objects, phenomena, human feelings and doings. This peculiarity is more evident than anywhere else in haiku, where the symbols of the eternal are in juxtaposition with the symbols of temporary. Kawabata also used to treat this method to make the reader feel the breathing of Eternity and show, how small is an event taken from life, however beautiful or significant it may be.
Besides, common to any kind of Japanese art the associative implication, which gives it another shade of charm, in Kawabata's novels is so evident and expressive, that can be regarded as an independent associative layer.
So it is possible to single out three layers, which the majority of Kawabata's works share. (It is necessary to make reservation here to point out that every generalisations on Kawabata's creative method should be made regarding the works, written over a long period of time, because among the others there are many written under a sudden impulse and because of it greatly differing from each other in the idea and spirit: for example "Elegy" and "Of Birds and Beasts", written almost simultaneously.)
The "proportion" of those layers may vary, as well as every work is characterised by the accentuation of a particular layer or a layer, which appears only in that work. But in all cases their blend in harmonious and graceful.
To demonstrate, how this "multilayer" works in Kawabata's novels it is reasonable to analyse Kawabata's "programme" works - the ones where the philosophical poetic spirit is the strongest and the associative mode of thinking is clearly expressed, namely the "Snow Country", "Thousand cranes" and "The Sound of Mountain".
For example, the illustration of that haiku like juxtaposition of the cosmic layer, correlated with Eternity, and the realistic, correlated with the phenomenal world, can be found in the final scene of "Snow country", when appalled people run to see the fire while passionless Milky way contemplates them from heaven.
"Was this the bright vastness Basho saw when he wrote of Milky Way, arched over a stormy sea" (131.380), thinks the protagonist as he admires the picture despite the tumult around.
This is not a chance poetic association. Basho has a haiku:
Stormy is the sea.
Majestic and unshakeable, Milky Way stretches above the stormy sea, and above Sado-shima, place of banishment, where hapless exiles from every corner of Japan are languishing, and above people overcome with horror. The implication is the same in both cases. With Basho and Kawabata alike, Milky Way stands for Eternity, in which this worldly event will disappear.
Something similar can be seen in "Thousand Cranes". Involved in worldly vanity and intricate human ties (which make up the realistic layer of the novel) the hero gets in touch with the genuine, the Eternal for a moment.
And it is the Nature, that turns to be the symbol of the genuine and the Eternal in this novel too.
At daybreak after a rendezvous of the day before, which further complicated the relations between heroes, the protagonist, looking for the fragments of a broken teacup in the garden, sees "a big star shining among the trees in the east and thinks, how sad it is to collect fragments when starlight is so pure and bright." He feels the vanity of the world and the beauty of Eternity. To strengthen the meaning of this scene and make sure that it is not just an episode, Kawabata calls the chapter, where it takes place "The Morning Star".
In other way, but in the same meaning the Nature appears in "Lake". Here a lake in the village, where the hero's mother lives, is a key to all associations and one of the basic characters. It is an embodiment of peace, quiet and beauty, the attributes of the Eternity, so it sets off ugliness and temporal nature of passing human contacts. In the "Sound of Mountain" the mountain stands for the Eternity, whose call the hero thinks he has heard once. So Kawabata echoes haiku poets, saying that whatever happens in the world, as well as human beings and their feelings are only a passing instant, which will disappear in the Eternity.
As to the associative layer, many devices serve to produce it in particular works. It may come out in imaginative, allusive, phonetic, thematic or any other associations. The associative layer not merely makes the plot more profound, but being read out produces a unique pleasure. Take "The Snow Country", where heroes names form an associative implication, supported by other characters.
The heroine's name, Komako, contains the hieroglyph koma, which means horse or colt. The Japanese associate horses with silkworms and so with weaving. This association takes root in an ancient Chinese legend about the goddess of silk-weaving, who revealed herself to mortals wearing a horseskin on her shoulders.
The associative chain of horse-silkworm-weaving is confirmed in the chapters where hero thinks that Komako is as "silky" as a silkworm, and where the author mentions that she lived in an abandoned cocoon-warehouse. In the final episode, of fire it is a cocoon-warehouse in flames under the shining Milky Way.
Milky Way is another link in the silkworm-weaving chain and brings to mind another a legend of two enamoured stars, Spinster and Shepherd (Vega and Altair), who meet once a year on a bridge above Milky Way. These are not chance associations also, as is shown in a scene before the final, where the hero visits a weavers' village. Last but not least, the hero's name, Shimamura, is consonant with mura, flock, and muragaru, tend the flock. All these are transparent allusions to the legend of Spinster, a heavenly fairy, who lived on the east bank of the Silver river (Milky Way) and made beautiful clouds, called heavenly raiment's. In the mortal world lived Shepherd. To the other side of Milky Way. They fall in love with each other and get married. This event enraged the heavenly emperor, who ordered Spinster to be back to her heavenly palace. Shepherd attempted to cross the Silver river, but the heavenly empress raised it to the sky, and Shepherd could not cross it, however hard he tried. The emperor took pity on the spouses at last, and allowed them to meet once a year, on the seventh night of the seventh moon, on a bridge which compassionate magpies made out of their tails above Milky Way.
"Milky Way" is the name of the final part of "Snow Country", whose heroes, too, meet once a year.
In "Thousand Cranes", associations are concealed in the names of the two parts of the novel. The first repeats the name of the whole, the second is "Sandpipers in the Waves". Chidori, the Japanese for sandpiper, consists in writing of two hieroglyphs chi, thousand, and tori, bird. The titles are associated by visual likeness, as chi is a part of the words, whose other parts mean crane and bird, and in contrast, as thousand cranes symbolise luck and fulfilled wishes, while the sandpiper is an established poetic symbol of loneliness.
The beginning of the novel is full protagonists' presentiment of happiness, but in the end of it the reader finds them suffering from the loneliness, inspite of being married, as both of them wished.
The content of the "Sound of Mountain" is "ciphered" in another form and demands reader's intellect, attention and erudition. Here, the protagonist recollects passages from a Noh play:
1. "If only we knew what was in the past life, if only we knew what was in the past life, there would be no parents evoking compassion, there would be no parents, and there would be no children breaking hearts."
2. "The former Buddha has gone, the later not yet come. I am born in a dream, what shall I think real? I had chance to receive this human flesh, so difficult of receiving."
3. "I have met with what is difficult of meeting, I have heard what is difficult of hearing."
4. "Let it be as a dead tree, but while it still has the flowers of the heart"...
and also the haiku of Buson and two anonymous authors:
"A trout in the autumn, abounding itself to the water";
"Trout swimming down the shallows, not knowing it must die."
Those poetic reminiscences create the image of a man who suddenly feels old and thinks of dying. Yet he cherishes a sweet remembrance of love long gone. He lives on, and works on and his feelings are deep. He is suffering from the immorality of his son and tenderly sympathises with his daughter-in-law.
The events in his life, his thoughts and emotions make the plot of the noveland so produce the realistic plane of "The Sound of Mountain". Inthat connection it is interesting to mention, that the German translation of the novel is titled "The Cherry in Winter", to repeat the head of the chapter, in which the hero sees a blossoming cherry in the middle of January and thinks, it is a spring of another world. The translator must have discerned in it an allegory of the hero's belated love for his daughter-in-law to bring it into the foreground as determining the message of the entire work.
But there are many reasons to say that the message lies elsewhere. The hero's dreams and reminiscences intermingle with the reality "like motion pictures superimposed one on the other," as the author puts it, removing the boundaries of space and time.
In other words, reality is presented here side by side with another world, whose call is the sounds of a mountain, the hero thinks he has once heard. This call is resounding throughout the novel, convincing that it is a contrast of the passing and vaguely felt eternal, that makes the essence of the novel. So German interpretation also proves the idea of several layer in Kawabata's novel. For allusions and reminiscences in Kawabata, there is every reason to say that ciphering the message and idea in the title, quotations and characters' names, that produces an associative implication is far from accidental but is among the principal devices of the author.
He used it in the 1930s, even before "Snow Country", in "The Tales of Asakusa", a cycle of novellas about disillusioned and embittered people who try to forget their problems in dubious entertainment in the restaurants and cabarets of Asakusa, a haunt of vice in Tokyo.
A glance at the titles strikes with the abundance of the hieroglyphs kurenai and akai, scarlet and red "Asakusa Kurenaidan" ("The Red Gangs of Asakusa"); "Asakusa Aka Obi Kai" ("The Red Belt Society of Asakusa"); "Asakusa Kuchi Beni", "The Rouge of Asakusa", etc. This looks far more than a mere coincidence.
In the olden times, when the "Manyoshu" tanka were composed, red colour was regarded as the colour of the brilliance, luxuryof metropolitan life and the same time the colour of impermanence and vanity. The explanation could be found in the fact, that dyes made of safflower? orbenibana flowers (the hieroglyph beni is also pronounced as kurenai, scarlet) were far less lasting than black, and red fabrics soon faded, which made red the symbol of the passing, transitory just as this world was perceived.
Here, red has the same meaning as uki, floating, also associated with this transitory world, - ukiyo, as it was referred to in the late mediaevality. The colourful world of jugglers, dancers and tramps of Asakusa reminded of ukiyoye prints and ukiyo dzoch' novellas.
There are also many other examples of Kawabata playing up idioms, homonymy, polysemy, homophony characteristic of the Japanese language, and much else, due to what an associative implication is produced. Likewise, when regarding Kawabata's succession to the national aesthetic tradition, the aspects linked to the characteristics of the traditional life perception can be discovered. However this communication aims to summarise the general characteristics of his manner as traditionalist writer.
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