This a Noh
play featuring Saigyo
, the great poet. It is believed to have been composed by Komparu Zenchiku (1405-1470?).
Like most Noh plays, it is a bit silly to read, just as the libretto of a Western opera is. It must be seen, it must be heard. And like most Noh plays, it contains a revelation of the uncanny, the strange, the supernatural.
Rather than presenting a translation, I have decided to do a synopsis and then a scene by scene breakdown.
It is set in the autumn, the 12th century, at Sumiyoshi in Settsu Province, (present day Sumiyoshi Ward of Osaka City). The play is in two acts.
The monk Saigyo travels to Sumiyoshi to worship at the Sumiyoshi Shinto Shrine. He stops at the small house of an old couple and asks for overnight lodging. The old couple are engaged in an argument over whether they should leave a plank in the roof closed, the better to hear the sounds of the autumn rain, or slide it open, the better to gaze at the moon. (Quite the couple, neh?) They ask Saigyo to finish a waka poem to pay for his lodging. His answer includes both the moonlight and the sound of rain and this moves the old couple to invite him to please stay. Together they view the moon, listen to the rain, and recall ancient scenes of autumn. As the night grows deeper, the old couple encourage Saigyo to go to sleep, then themselves vanish.
A protective kami deity of a subsidiary shrine of Sumiyoshi in Saigyo’s dream and reveals the old couple are actually the deities of Sumiyoshi. The deity Sumiyoshi Myojin now appears in the form a Shinto priest. He praises Saigyo, speaks of the rarity of great poets, and then says that he has transformed into a shrine priest to express his gratitude. He dances a shin-no-jo-no-mai (slow, elegant god dance) accompanied by a taiko drum in praise of the virtue of poetry.
Scene by Scene
(A framework hut representing the home of the couple is carried onto the stage.)
1. Saigyo enters to music and sings of being drawn by the mist. He says he is on pilgrimage from his home in Sagano to the Sumiyoshi Shrine and sings a travel song describing the journey. On his arrival at Sumiyoshi, he sees the small house and decides to ask for lodging.
(Stage attendants lower the curtains around the open framework hut to reveal an old man and woman.)
2. The old man and woman chant a verse about the autumn wind rustling through the dry branches and how it sounds like rain, and how moonlight on sand looks like frost on a spring night.
3. Saigyo calls out to ask for lodging. He is told to go away. The old couple chant together and reveal an argument they are having. The wife wants to leave the roof plank off to see the moon and the husband wants to cover the roof to hear the sound of the rain. The husband turns to Saigyo and recites the last couplet of a poem, challenges him to complete it as a new poem if he wants to be able to stay. Saigyo chants:
"Wavering back and forth:
will the rain stop?
will the moon shine?
the poor are troubled
over the thatch of the roof."
The chorus describes how the couple welcome the priest to their home.
(The stage now represents the interior of the couple's hut.)
4. The couple sing of listening to the autumn rain and of the wind rustling through the pines. The chorus sings of seeing the moon as if it were in a dream. The old man sings of striking a block and the chorus sings of a poor woman who strikes a block to release her anger under the autumn moon, of the old man's tears as he thinks of the emotions of this scene, and then of the moonlight on autumn leaves as if they were sleeves.
5. The old man comments on the deepening night and encourages the monk to sleep. The chorus chants of returning to the past in dream and of falling asleep. The couple exit to music.
6. A subordinate shrine deity enters to music, speaks about what happened earlier and tells us that the old couple and their hut have vanished and that Saigyo is actually asleep beneath the boughs of a pine. He tells Saigyo in his dream that the old man was actually the deity Sumiyoshi Myojin who will now possess a Shinto priest and reveal to Saigyo the secrets of poetry. He exits.
(Stage attendants remove the framework hut and replace it with a dais having a shrine decorated with Shinto knotted paper ropes.)
7. The foretold Shinto priest enters to music and sings of waka being based on the paths of yin and yang, structured in five lines as the five elements, and having an upper and lower section as there is heaven and earth. He sings of being grateful for prayers which call forth the oracles of the deity.
8. Accompanied by music, the priest sings of Saigyo's skill as a poet and, then dances a long and elegant shin-no-jo-no-mai or "god dance."
9. The Big Finish: The chorus sings of the deity's gratitude, of the sound of the waves and of the wind sweeping through the pines along the shore of Sumiyoshi, of bells ringing and poetry being recited, and of the deity now departing the body of the priest who then returns to his normal self.