Ah! count the chimes -
Seven to mark the dawn
And six have tolled;
The one that remains,
The last fading echo in this life,
The bell that echoes
Coming joy beyond extinction.
Not to the bell alone,
To grass, to trees,
To the sky, too, farewell.
They look up for the last time -
The clouds, too are heedless;
On the water's surface
The Plough star reflected bright,
The Wife and Husband stars
In the River of Heaven.


a bunraku play in three acts
by Chikamatsu Monzaemon


Tokubei, a clerk at a soy sauce dealer in Osaka
Ohatsu, a courtesan, Tokubei's lover
Kuheiji, a merchant


Tokubei is making his daily rounds when, by chance, he meets Ohatsu at Ikutama Shrine. Ohatsu is saddened, saying (in effect) "You never call, you never write," to which Tokubei replies that he's been having some problems, eventually explaining that his uncle, who owns the soy dealership, wants him to marry someone else. Even though Tokubei refused, his evil stepmother grabbed the dowry and fled off into the countryside, and his uncle had to chase her off to get the dowry back. Of course, this isn't the end of the story: the crazy uncle proceeded to lend the money to Kuheiji, and Kuheiji hasn't paid it back.

As if on cue, Kuheiji suddenly appears, fresh from the izakaya and totally sloshed. Tokubei asks for the money back, and, as you might expect, Kuheiji proceeds to beat the living daylights out of Tokubei. The scene closes as Tokubei proclaims his innocence, and hints at his final fate.


Ohatsu is back at her brothel in Temma that evening, and happens to see Tokubei outside. Slipping out, they have a brief pity party together and agree that Tokubei's only option is to kill himself.

Then, yet again on time, Kuheiji shows up, and Ohatsu quickly steals away under the porch of the brothel. Kuheiji gets mad at Tokubei again, and says that if Tokubei actually does kill himself, that Ohatsu will get hers as well. Ohatsu, in an aside, asks if Tokubei really intends to kill himself: Tokubei, also in an aside, responds by taking her foot and drawing it across his neck (an exceptionally cool part of the play, as female bunraku puppets don't usually have legs). Then, Ohatsu comes out of hiding, lashing out at Kuheiji with all the verbal violence to be expected of a woman scorned, and says that she will die with Tokubei in the ultimate display of love. Tokubei closes the scene by touching her foot to his forehead.


Says Tokubei:

The Bridge of Umeda...
Let us vow it be
The Bridge of Magpies
And for ever let us be,
You and I, Wife and Husband, stars.

As he and Ohatsu voyage through the woods, she replies, "It shall be so." To which Tokubei says:

The heart sorrows to hear it.
But man's fortune is mysterious;
Until yesterday, until today,
We spoke as if of others' grief.
But from the dawn we too
Shall enter the list of gossip
Our song sung by the world -
Let them sing then, if they must.

They come to a wood at Sonezaki: Ohatsu takes off her obi and uses it to tie them together. She says:

Sad indeed that this year
Is thus for both ill-starred -
Twenty-five for you, for me nineteen;
A token of our close-linked fates,
That loves and stars should be as one.
My vows to Spirits and the Buddha,
Said for this life to come -
That in the world beyond
We may share a single lotus.

And they fall to their deaths, as the narrator intones:

Nine twelves the beads
Of her rosary, rubbed and told;
And at their side a greater score
Of her jewel tear-drops.
Nine twelves the worldly lusts,
Passions, sorrows never spent,
But this world's journey done.
From their hearts, a black shade
In the sky; the wind dies out.
They come to their goal
In Sonezaki Grove.
There or here? They clear the grass,
Damp with the dew already fallen,
Dew that dies sooner than they.

Passages taken from the translation by Anthony Thwaite and Geoffrey Bownas.

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