S. Foster Damon

Kiri no Meijiyama: A Noh-Drama in Japanese Syllabics (1920)

A noble enters, fanning himself, talking as he crosses the path to the stage:

I am Kiri no Meijiyama, who was travelling to Senako when in a useless storm my boat was lost, buried in wave-flowers. The storm has vanished, the evening is pleasant, and I have sauntered out, accompanied only by my ancestral swords, to savour the delicious melancholy of the autumn moon.

He pauses, and holds his fan in an attitude.

In the field of heaven the clouds bow their heads,
having fallen asleep, cropping the stars.

CHORUS (waving their fans):
The sky is freckled with shapeless moons,
but over the earth
rises a luminous mist
that is tangled in the branches.

KIRI: The mist is troublesome. I cannot find the path.

CHORUS: My head is confused with the thick brightness.
Are these ghosts, mingled with the thrill of insect cries?
Are there golden eyes peering?

KIRI: Strange! to see fireflies in the mist!

Over the bridge to the stage have approached an old man, an old woman, and a young girl. They are slightly smaller than one would expect. They move curiously. They now stand motionless, the man and the woman together, the girl behind them. Kiri approaches them as through a mist.

CHORUS: What is this, all surrounded
by fronds of bamboo?
Surely not a hut?
What great fortune for the night!

KIRI: I was not sure, but it seems to be a small hut. The moon—

CHORUS: —silhouettes the bamboo leaves
like shadows on the shoji.

KIRI: But here, where I saw the fireflies, is a little old man. Kind sir, I am lost in the mist, and seek a lodging for the night.

THE OLD MAN (suddenly moves and bows): Our miserable hut is unworthy a guest with two swords.

CHORUS: Mist is deepening
until wave-flowers
bury the whole world
Has winter come already?

KIRI: Surely you can find space.

THE OLD MAN: Old woman! Prepare saki, for we have a guest.

CHORUS: Is it a winter snow-drift
that breathes on us all?

THE OLD WOMAN (suddenly moves and bows): May the guest be welcome! I will prepare.

KIRI: Pray do not trouble yourself.

THE OLD MAN: Pray be pleased to step over our miserable threshold.

CHORUS: The autumn leaves
immovable with terror.
The mist still thickens.
Why do I not hear
the stag bellowing for his mate?

KIRI: How dark the hut is! I can see nothing. But what is that? Are there fireflies in the hut? No, for they do not move . . . My hand is on my sword.

THE OLD MAN (holding an imaginary lamp): Pray please to be lighted.

KIRI: What a beautiful girl!

CHORUS (softly): Outside, the trees exhibit
brocades of yellow and red;
but within the hut,
snow drips from cherry blossoms.

KIRI: —unexpected delight! Pray pardon my rudeness. (He stumbles) The sun has blinded me. What is your name?

THE GIRL: Peach-flower is my over-worthy name. Pray be welcome.

She moves away, her face hidden by her fan.

KIRI: Surely her eyes flared at me, like pale gold. Shoki, protect me, if there be need! But she is too lovely.

The little old woman approaches. She skips queerly; but Kiri sees nothing of it, gazing at the girl.

THE OLD WOMAN: Honourable sir, pray to taste of our miserable rice-wine. (He drinks a small cupful.)

KIRI: Hot wine is pleasant on an autumn evening.

KIRI (to the girl): Is not the science of flowers known to one dwelling here in the midst of nature?

THE GIRL: Autumn flowers are miserable; spring is the time to study flowers.

CHORUS: The mist vanishes.
Warriors of ancient times rein in their horses
to drink the mists of the marsh.
Under the awful silence of the moving moon
the faces of the soldiers are the colour of rain.

KIRI: Should the humming bird
taste not, behold! in three days
the blossoms of the peach-tree
have gone for ever.

THE GIRL: The petals vanish
that under the leaves
fruit may timidly mature.

KIRI: But the humming bird
awaiting the fruit,
would starve miserably.

THE OLD WOMAN (approaching): This final cup of special wine will make the night warm and full of dreams.

CHORUS (fluttering their fans):
—eyes of beaten gold!

KIRI: If the girl drinks, then I also dare drink.

The girl pretends to drink, but empties her cup behind her back. Kiri hides his wine under the mat.

THE OLD WOMAN (singing outside):
From out of the five cups
I have drunk five moons; yet still
but one moon above!

The old man and the old woman retire. The girl arranges her toilet with her hand-mirror.

KIRI: The moon-flower is mute, gazing at itself in the pool; the twin flowers are thrice beautiful.

CHORUS: Eyes winged with delight
behold not past the threshold
the needles of the pine-tree
clear against the moon.
The night bubbles with faint ghosts;
but his eyes and words and thoughts
are entangled in her hair.

THE GIRL (faintly): When the flower has fallen
then are all flowers
equal in oblivion.

CHORUS: Her folded bosom bears an aureole
woven of ferns and thin dreams.

THE GIRL: Since I have known you,
henceforth the moonlight will be
a cold companion.

CHORUS (two waving their fans with slow movements, the other two holding their fans closed):
The peach-flower faints with thirst,
but the moth arrives.
Pulsing wings glisten with dew.
Ah! mingled honey and dew!
The moon has entered the pool.
Is it the pool that shines? Is it the moon?


KIRI: The saki was strong; I slept against my will. How fair the moonlight falls across her body! Ah, moulded bosom! now unmoving . . . Her arm is chilled that was my pillow!— Peach-flower!—Aah! . . .

CHORUS (rapidly): Serpents of ice embrace him!
Speech is frozen in his throat!
Who has done this thing?
Alas! the bride of a night
lies headless in his embrace.
Was the old man drunk?
Alas, the bride of the night
lies bloodless upon his sleeve.
Ah! Horror, horror!

KIRI: But I, whose ancestors carried steel fans into battle, I will avenge this insult. My swords ate here, safe beside me. Where is the old man? Her kiss is not yet cold! Where is the old woman?

CHORUS: His hungry strides shake the house,
his fists beat through the shoji.
But what does he see?
Horror, horror! the bodies
headless and bloodless
of the old man and woman!

KIRI: If it be robbers—

CHORUS: the flame of my sword
will burn them alive;
one stroke from head to navel!
but hark!

KIRI: There is surely noise of voices outside the door.

CHORUS: He steels to the door.
O bat in the willow-tree,
stir not more softly!
Is it a leaf that flutters?

The goblins enter, holding out their masks in a row.

KIRI: I see no one. But no! There—

CHORUS: There on the pine branch
stretched across the moon,
three heads in a row,
Chattering to each other;
pendant from each one
a bowel-cluster!

KIRI: Horrible! horrible! These are goblins, these are angry ghosts, that suck the blood of the innocent guest! How fortunate that I did not drink the last cup of wine. I will go destroy their bodies, for then they must die.

CHORUS: Eyes of hollow gleam against the moon
while he takes the light bodies of the man and the woman
down to the bread-stove. What a flight of sparks!
They were consumed instantly, being quite bloodless.
When the morning comes, they think to slip in
their bodies, screw their heads on
nicely, that none can guess it,
and prey again on humans.
Haha, they are lost!
But see they are flying here.
Silence! Kiri, speed!
for he yet must destroy the body of the young girl.

THE OLD MAN: No, no! Now is the time. My bowels are thirsty and dry. They must be swollen with good rich blood.

THE OLD WOMAN: You fasten on his neck and I on his belly.

THE GIRL: I beg you, give me but one night more. To-morrow he will stay, for he is enamoured.

THE OLD MAN: No, no! Now is the time!

THE OLD WOMAN: You fasten on his arm.

THE GIRL: He will stay, he will stay, I tell you!

CHORUS: He stands above her body.
Quick, Kiri, hasten!
He stands above her body,
picks it up, runs through the house;
thrust it in, Kiri,
and destroy the brood!
They are approaching!
They fly in through the window!

THE THREE: Aie! Aie! Our bodies are moved; the man is gone! Seek him in the house, seek him in the forest!

KIRI: Beautiful body, even to save your soul, I must destroy you. But I, Kiri no Meijiyama, I, flourisher of two swords, have I the strength?

THE THREE: Kill! Kill him! Kill! Aah!!

CHORUS: Quick, quick! They seek you!
Quick, lest golden eyes
strike the strength from your muscles!
At last! It is done! Now their souls may be saved.
But Kiri must flee.

KIRI: Hark! Their cries rouse me from a delicate torpor. I must seek shelter in the wood, and then gain the nearest town.
The dawn stirs behind the hills,
the very moon is pallid.
Ah, desolation!

CHORUS: What are they weaving
through the tall forest?
Are they bats searching for mates?
No! no! you will not find them.
No, they are lost for ever,
and your souls must now dissolve.
like frost on the ferns.
Why must you be so angry
when you are released at last
from the long karma of blood?

exeunt goblins. Re-enter Kiri.

KIRI: They are deep in the forest now; I will venture out. I follow the path to the nearest town.

THE GIRL (re-entering): Kiri, where is my body?

CHORUS: What is this sound in the dawn?
Has a withered bunch of grapes
grown a head; and can it speak?
O monstrous! strike it, Kiri!

THE GIRL: Kiri! What have you done with my body? For I shall die without it . . .

KIRI: I cannot give you your body. The peach-flower’s petals are shrivelled.

THE GIRL: Kiri, last night you loved me.

KIRI: The moon vanished with the coming of day. Leave me, Peach-flower. Your body is destroyed. Leave me, let me pass.

CHORUS:    Ah! What a wail! She sinks down
weeping, on a chestnut bough.
Truly it is sad.
But see, she flies after him.

THE GIRL: Kiri, last night I loved you; and I even dared my parents’ wrath when I tried to save you. You have destroyed me. Kiri, embrace me.

KIRI: My blood is too precious.

THE GIRL: Kiri, embrace me in your arms. A last time, that I may have a memory for eternity. . . . Kiri, embrace me!

KIRI: I have a sword.

CHORUS:   Fly, fly! you have angered her.
The flower shows yellow teeth,
the forest-fern growls, wolf-like!

Kiri stands motionless, his hand over his face, while she darts her mask over and about him.

But no, Kiri stands firmly.
She darts about him
like an angry bee;
he protects his face
from her fatal lips
with the sleeve of his left arm
not wishing to use his sword.
What can she desire?
Does she thirst for blood?
Beat her off, Kiri!
And what has she done?
Finding her efforts useless,
in a last rage of despair, in the last thirst of passion
she has caught his sleeve with desperate teeth,
and hangs exhausted—dead maybe—who knows?

The girl remains on the stage, entirely hidden in her gauze, the mask being in Kiri’s sleeve.

KIRI: I cannot loosen her from my sleeve. What will people think, seeing this? Ah, golden eyes, closed at last! Why did you not remain, my mistress in the moonlight? The night opened a hundred dawns in my eyes, the autumn unfolded a thousand springs in my breast.
Alas! Until now
never have I felt truly
the sadness of things.

A priest enters and addresses him.
The girl, unnoticed, moves to the other side of the stage from the priest.

THE PRIEST: Who are you, young man, that sits weeping by the roadside, holding a girl’s head in your sleeve? I fear there has been a misdeed!

KIRI: Sir, this was an angry spirit, that attacked me, and I cannot rid myself of her. I beg you to say a prayer or so over her, that she may rest without suffering.

THE PRIEST: Gladly, gladly, young sir, if your words be true.

CHORUS (The girl, at first expressing anger and amazement, leaves the stage, with the last words of the chorus, in ecstasy):
O marvel, at the first sound
of the green beads’ click,
the head has dropped from the sleeve!
O wonder, at the first sound
of the priest’s chanting,
the deadly passion must melt
frozen in her jaw!
The flesh falls in flakes,
resolves into a small mist
flowing on the moss,
Only an old toothless skull remains on the moss!

THE PRIEST: Your words, sir, were true. But cannot I be of more assistance? For there have been strange tales around here recently of strong men shrivelled in a night; and it seems that you might possess knowledge to open the mystery.

KIRI: There were three that invited me to their hut in last night’s mist; and they planned to suck my blood, but I escaped. Here is the spot, but I do not see the hut.

THE PRIEST: There was no mist last night, but a clear moon. There is nothing here but an old tomb fallen in ruins. O marvel! for the inscription says that two centuries ago were buried here a father, mother, and daughter, all executed . . .

CHORUS: The father loved the daughter;
the father loved the mother,
and they became angry ghosts.

THE PRIEST: Let us say prayers for the peaceful progress of their unfortunate souls. For their passions survived their bodies; they were incarnated as shushin. And now, at last, they have escaped by you surely the torments of this monstrous existence.

CHORUS: Let us pray for those bound to the wheel of anguish,
caught in the nets of heaven, earth, and hell.
May Kwannon lead us to the realms of the Bodai!
May Amida gather us to the west!
May our redemption be wholly perfect
when heaven, with its lotus-throned angels,
and earth, with its very trees and mountains,
and the seven hells of the three great sins
be folded and drawn into endless Nibbana.




After teaching at Harvard University and Radcliffe College S(amuel) Foster Damon (1892-1971) settled into a long career as professor of English Literature at Brown University. He was a frequent contributor of poems and essays to journals such as the New York Bookman, Century, Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s and Dial, in which ‘Kiri no Meijiyama’ appeared, but is best remembered as a biographer, particularly for William Blake: His Philosophy and Symbols (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1924) and Amy Lowell: A Chronicle with Extracts from Her Correspondence (BI29, Houghton Mifflin, 1935). For notes about ‘Kiri no Meijiyama’ see the Bibliography CA8.

The only Damon title in print is A Blake Dictionary, available in the US here, the UK here.

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