I shall await you with a sprig of blossoming chrysanthemum and poor saké

From Ueda Akinari’s The Chrysanthemum Vow in his Tales of Moonlight and Rain.  Mine is the Anthony Chambers translation from Columbia Univ. Press in 2007.  I cried like a man at this story and tested a new cocktail to settle the spirits.

During this time, thinking what a good friend he had found, Samon spent his days and nights with Akana. As they talked together, Akana began to speak hesitantly of various Chinese thinkers, regarding whom his questions and understanding were exceptional, and on military theory he spoke with authority. Finding that their thoughts and feelings were in harmony on every subject, the two were filled with mutual admiration and joy, and finally they pledged their brotherhood. Being the elder by five years, Akana, in the role of older brother, accepted Samon’s expressions of respect and said to him, “Many years have passed since I lost my father and mother. Your aged mother is now my mother, and I should like to pay my respects to her anew. I wonder if she will take pity on me and agree to my childish wish.” Samon was overjoyed: “My mother has always lamented that I was alone. Your heartfelt words will give her a new lease on life when I convey them to her.” With this, he took Akana to his house, where his mother greeted them joyfully: “My son lacks talent, his studies are out of step with the times, and so he has missed his chance to advance in the world. I pray that you do not abandon him, but guide him as his elder brother.” Akana bowed deeply and said, “A man of character values what is right. Fame and fortune are not worthy of mention. Blessed with my honored mother’s love, and receiving the respect of my wise younger brother—what more could I desire?” Rejoicing, he stayed for some time.

Although they had flowered, it seemed, only yesterday or today, the cherry blossoms at Onoe had scattered, and waves rising with a refreshing breeze proclaimed that early summer had arrived. Akana said to Samon and his mother, “Since it was to see how things stand in Izumo that I escaped from Ōmi, I should like to go down there briefly and then come back to repay your kindness humbly as a servant living on bean gruel and water. Please allow me to take my leave for a time.” Samon said, “If it must be so, my brother, when will you return?” Akana said, “The months and days will pass quickly. At the latest, I shall return before the end of this autumn.” Samon said, “On what day of autumn shall I expect you? I beg you to appoint the time.” Akana said, “Let us decide, then, that the Chrysanthemum Festival, the ninth day of the Ninth Month, shall be the day of my return.” Samon said, “Please be certain not to mistake the day. I shall await you with a sprig of blossoming chrysanthemum and poor saké.” Mutually they pledged their reunion and lamented their separation, and Akana returned to the west.

Would that I might always have the desire of chasing butterflies

From Lafcadio Hearn’s essay on butterflies in his collection Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, one of a number of haikus he includes:

Cho wo ou

[Would that I might always have the heart (desire) of chasing butterflies!*]

*Literally, “Butterfly-pursuing heart I wish to have always;”—i.e., I would that I might always be able to find pleasure in simple things, like a happy child.

It somehow reminded me of Lear’s speech in Act V (Scene 3, 3130ff):

No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison.
We two alone will sing like birds i’ th’ cage.
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down
And ask of thee forgiveness. So we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too-
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out-
And take upon ‘s the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies; and we’ll wear out,
In a wall’d prison, packs and sects of great ones
That ebb and flow by th’ moon.


On the verb Nazoraeru

From Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, in the tale Of a Mirror and a Bell.

Now there are queer old Japanese beliefs in the magical efficacy of a certain mental operation implied, though not described, by the verb nazoraeru. The word itself cannot be adequately rendered by any English word; for it is used in relation to many kinds of mimetic magic, as well as in relation to the performance of many religious acts of faith. Common meanings of nazoraeru, according to dictionaries, are “to imitate,” “to compare,” “to liken;” but the esoteric meaning is to substitute, in imagination, one object or action for another, so as to bring about some magical or miraculous result.

For example:—you cannot afford to build a Buddhist temple; but you can easily lay a pebble before the image of the Buddha, with the same pious feeling that would prompt you to build a temple if you were rich enough to build one. The merit of so offering the pebble becomes equal, or almost equal, to the merit of erecting a temple… You cannot read the six thousand seven hundred and seventy-one volumes of the Buddhist texts; but you can make a revolving library, containing them, turn round, by pushing it like a windlass. And if you push with an earnest wish that you could read the six thousand seven hundred and seventy-one volumes, you will acquire the same merit as the reading of them would enable you to gain… So much will perhaps suffice to explain the religious meanings of nazoraeru.

The magical meanings could not all be explained without a great variety of examples; but, for present purposes, the following will serve. If you should make a little man of straw, for the same reason that Sister Helen made a little man of wax,—and nail it, with nails not less than five inches long, to some tree in a temple-grove at the Hour of the Ox,—and if the person, imaginatively represented by that little straw man, should die thereafter in atrocious agony,—that would illustrate one signification of nazoraeru… Or, let us suppose that a robber has entered your house during the night, and carried away your valuables. If you can discover the footprints of that robber in your garden, and then promptly burn a very large moxa on each of them, the soles of the feet of the robber will become inflamed, and will allow him no rest until he returns, of his own accord, to put himself at your mercy. That is another kind of mimetic magic expressed by the term nazoraeru. And a third kind is illustrated by various legends of the Mugen-Kane.

Achille n’est plus seulement hante par sa propre mort, mais par le gouffre meme de la mort.

From Marcel Conche’s essay La disproportion d’Achille in his collection Essais sur Homere (pg 88-89):

La nature demonique d’Achille – ou le cote demonique de sa nature – se revele surtout apres la mort de Patrocle. Si la mort de Patrocle est, pour lui, un veritable “tremblement de terre”, c’est qu’il ne s’y attendait pas.  Jusque-la, il vivait persuade que son sort etait de perir en Troade, loin des siens.  Sa mere, Thetis, le lui a dit, et il le sait: le destin, au lieu de “longs jours”, ne lui accorde qu’une “vie trop breve” (1.416).  L’angoisse de la mort est, chez lui, constamment presente: c’est elle qui explique son impatience en plusieurs circonstances, ou qui le fait, plusieurs fois, envisager d’abandonner la partie et de rentrer en Phthiotide, avec ses Myrmidons.  Il exprime, sur fond d’angoisse, un regret intense d’avoir a quitter la vie: “Il n’est rien pour moi qui vaille la vie … La vie d’un homme ne se retrouve pas” (9.4001, 408).  Il va jusqu’a conseiller aux Acheens de “voguer vers leurs foyers” (9.417).  Mais autant Achille est persuade de sa mort – car il ne croit pas vraiment pouvoir encore choisir entre la vie breve mai glorieuse et la longue vie sans gloire -, autant it est convaincu que son ami, son “autre lui-meme” (18.82), lui survivra.  Pour lui, avec la mort de Patrocle, l’aveni qu’au-dela de sa propre mort il se figurait encore, s’effondre brusquement.  Qui, maintenant, ira chercher son fils a Scyros pour le ramener en Phtie? Il gemit devant le corps dechire du heros: “Avant ce jour mon coeur comptait en ma poitrine que je perirais seul, ici, en Troade, loin d’Argo, nourriciere de cavales, et que tu reviendrais, toi, en Phthie, afin de ramener mon fils de Scyros sur ta rapide nef noire, et de lui montrer tout: mon domaine, mes serviteurs, ma vaste et haute demeure” (19.327-333, trad. Mazon). D’une certaine facon, en ce jour, la mort est survenue avant la mort.  Desormais, Achille n’est plus seulement hante par sa propre mort, mais par le gouffre meme de la mort.  Lui mort, la vie gardait une signification, qu’elle a perdue maintenant.  De la une nouvelle colere, plus “terrible” que l’autre, plus sanguinaire.

Moderation began its fatal inroads

More from A.J. Liebling’s Between Meals (pg27-28).

When [Yves] Mirande first faltered, in the Rue Chabanais, I had failed to correlate cause and effect. I had even felt a certain selfish alarm. If eating well was beginning to affect Mirande at eighty, I thought, I had better begin taking in sail. After all, I was only thirty years his junior. But after the dinner at Mme. B.’s, and in light of subsequent reflection, I saw that what had undermined his constitution was Mme. G.’s defection from the restaurant business. For years, he had been able to escape Mme. B.’s solicitude for his health by lunching and dining in the restaurant of Mme. G., the sight of whom Mme. B. could not support. Entranced by Mme. G.’s magnificent food, he had continued to live “like a cock in a pie” — eating as well, and very nearly as much, as when he was thirty. The organs of the interior — never very intelligent, in spite of what the psychosomatic quacks say — received each day the amount of pleasure to which they were accustomed, and never marked the passage of time; it was the indispensable roadwork of the prizefighter. When Mme. G., good soul, retired, moderation began its fatal inroads on his resistance. My old friend’s appetite, insufficiently stimulated, started to loaf — the insidious result, no doubt, of the advice of the doctor whose existence he had revealed to me by that slip of the tongue about why he no longer drank Burgundy. Mirande commenced, perhaps, by omitting the fish course after the oysters, or the oysters before the fish, then began neglecting his cheeses and skipping the second bottle of wine on odd Wednesdays. What he called his pipes (“ma tuyauterie”), being insufficiently exercised, lost their tone, like the leg muscles of a retired champion. When, in his kindly effort to please me, he challenged the escargots en pots de chambre, he was like an old fighter who tries a comeback without training for it. That, however, was only the revelation of the rot that had already taken place. What always happens happened. The damage was done, but it could so easily have been averted had he been warned against the fatal trap of abstinence.


There’s a definite Proustian tang to the phrasing and thought structure of – “organs of the interior — never very intelligent, in spite of what the psychosomatic quacks say — received each day the amount of pleasure to which they were accustomed, and never marked the passage of time.”

…and did not satisfy my appetite for poetry

There is a very brief story of Virginia Woolf’s – An Unwritten Novel – that I routinely think of when sitting on trains – or anywhere, really – and coming up with stories about the people around me.  Just now I found a Maupassant story – L’infirme – with much the same setup and a similar trajectory of the narrator’s engagement – an initial enthusiasm in story construction, a later disappointment at the seeming blandness of revealed reality, and a final somewhat ambivalent rebirth of curiosity following recognition potential richness behind that reality.  That last point could alternately be rendered as – the need to tell stories about others is so inborn in certain personalities that no amount of disappointment or lack of closure can keep it from endlessly reawakening.  Still, the below quote from the Maupassant story is how these affairs mostly go:

The outcome conformed to the rule, to the average, to the truth, to the likely … and did not satisfy my appetite for poetry.

Le dénouement conforme à la règle, à la moyenne, à la vérité, à la vraisemblance, ne satisfaisait pas mon appétit poétique

Dostoevsky called Gogol the demon of the guffaw

From Antal Szerb’s essay on Nikolai Gogol, translated in Reflections in the Library: Selected Literary Essays 1926-1944.

In Gogol, every character carries his own ghost within him.  They are the portraits of two devils, said Pushkin of Khlestakov and Chichikov…. It is the cast of Gogol’s imagination that makes ghosts of them.  He does not invent new lineaments, but hones the existing ones to the point of ghostliness. “In me everything has moved away from its place,” he writes in one of his letters.  “If, for example, I see someone trip up, my imagination at once appropriates this image and develops it into some dreadful vision, which torments me so much that I am unable to sleep and feel sapped of all my strength.”  Here the point is that the most ordinary workaday reality turns ghost-like if we stare at it long and hard enough: one of Gogol’s secrets is that he releases the dread that lurks in the workaday.  Dostoevsky called Gogol the demon of the guffaw.

… he might have written a masterpiece

From A.J. Liebling’s Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris

The Proust madeleine phenomenon is now as firmly established in folklore as Newton’s apple or Watt’s steam kettle.  The man ate a tea biscuit, the taste evoked memories, he wrote a book.  This is capable of expression by the formula TMB, for Taste>Memory>Book.  Some time ago, when I began to read a book called The Food of France, by Waverley Root, I had an inverse experience: BMT, for Book>Memory>Taste.  Happily, the tastes that The Food of France re-created for me- small birds, stewed rabbit, stuffed tripe, Cote Rotie, and Tavel- were more robust than that of the madeleine, which Larousse defines as “a light cake made with sugar, flour, lemon juice, brandy and eggs”.  (The quantity of brandy in a madeleine would not furnish a gnat with an alcohol rub.)  In the light of what Proust wrote with so mild a stimulus, it is the world’s loss that he did not have a heartier appetite.  On a dozen Gardiners Island oysters, a bowl of clam chowder, a peck of steamers, some bay scallops, three sauteed soft-shelled crabs, a few ears of fresh-picked corn, a thin swordfish steak of generous area, a pair of lobsters, and a Long Island duck, he might have written a masterpiece.

This is humanism not as a feeling but as an attitude to life

From Antal Szerb’s essay on Thomas Mann, included in Reflections in the Library: Selected Literary Essays 1926-1944.  

This is humanism not as a feeling but as an attitude to life; in practice it is primarily a negative stance: abhorrence of the use of force, of tyranny, of the crippling of individuality.  This is the humanism of the eighteenth century, of Voltaire and Goethe.  It derives from an awareness of human dignity, and from the intellectual’s serenity, tenderness, and horror of fighting, for it rises far, far above the passions that provoke human beings to commit bloody barbarities.  It is an ethos that is not rooted in any feeling or religion, but solely and uniquely in the intellect.  This intellect-based morality has been from Goethe onwards the greatest pride and achievement of the German spirit, and from this the new German world, with its new uncertainty in ethics and intuition, has diverged the furthest.

La plupart des hommes vieillissent dans un petit cercle d’idées

From Vauvenargues’ Reflexions et Maximes (no.238):

La plupart des hommes vieillissent dans un petit cercle d’idées, qu’ils n’ont pas tirées de leur fond ; il y a peut-être moins d’esprits faux que de stériles

I refuse to translate this.  English can’t hit the semantic range of fond in this context and no English speaker should ever touch esprit, especially when coming from the 17th or 18th century.