Komachi at Sekidera belongs to the third category. It was probably written by Zeami, though some authorities hesitate to make the attribution. The play is considered to be the loftiest and most difficult of the entire No repertory. In the past century only a few great actors at the close of their careers have ventured to perform it. It enjoys its high reputation because it celebrates, with the most exquisite simplicity, the bittersweet delight of being alive. Childhood, maturity, extreme old age, the pleasure and pain of life, are immediately communicated. The play conveys a timeless moment in the brief interval between birth and death. Its subject is poetry. Much of the great poetry in No lies somewhat outside the main Japanese poetic traditions, but Komachi at Sekidera is at once a superb No play and a splendid expression of the sources of Japanese poetry. The shite role is considered so difficult because there is little an actor can add to the text unless he is supremely gifted. During the first hour of the performance Komachi hardly stirs.
The setting is wonderfully appropriate. The time is the festival of Tanabata, the seventh night of the seventh month: the one night of the year when the Cowherd star can cross the River of Heaven to join the Weaver-girl star. On earth all are celebrating
Komachi, a woman of great beauty and literary gifts, lived at the Heian court during the ninth century. She became a legend in later times, with many apocryphal stories surrounding the few known biographical facts. Five No plays about Komachi are in the present repertory; Komachi and the Hundred Nights presents another aspect of the Komachi legend, and Sotoba Komachi (translated in Keene, Anthology of Japanese Literature) ranks nearly on a level with Komachi at Sekidera.
The structure of the play is classic, and remarkable for its economy and simplicity. Nothing jars, nothing is wasted. The moment when Komachi admits her identity to the Abbot is particularly touching because so unaffected.
Sekidera ("The Barrier Temple") still exists at Otsu, a city east of Kyoto; its modern name is Choanji.
Komachi at Sekidera is in the repertory of all schools of No.
[ The Abbot faces front. ]
So long awaited, autumn has come at last,
So long awaited, the lovers' autumn meeting!
Now let us begin the Festival of Stars. 1
[ He turns to the Child. ]
I am the chief priest of Sekidera in Omi. Today, the seventh day of the Seventh month, we come to celebrate the Festival of Stars here in the temple garden. People say that the old woman who has built her hut at the foot of the mountain knows all the secrets of the art of poetry. So, on this festive day dedicated to poetry, I am going to take the young people to hear her stories.
[ The Abbot faces front. ]
Early autumn comes and brings a touch of chill.
We feel it in the wind and in our thinning locks. 2
Soon, soon the Seventh Night will be on us.
We bring offerings for the festival today,
The music of flutes and strings,
And many poems
[ He turns to the Child. ]
Composed in our native tongue. 3
[ The Abbot and his companions are now at their destination. ]
Our prayers for skill at poetry are decked
With brightly colored streamers:
Fluttering ribbons, each a token of prayer,
Like silk threads woven into rich brocades
On looms of autumn flowers
And pampas grass pearly with dew.
The winds in the pines
[ The Abbot faces front, takes a few steps, then returns to his former position, indicating he has made a journey. ]
Blend with the strings of the koto
To make music for the offerings tonight, 4
Our offerings for this festive night.
[ All kneel. A stage assistant removes the cloth around the hut, revealing the Old Woman seated inside. Paper strips inscribed with poems hang from the crossbars of the hut frame. The Old Woman wears the uba mask. ]
Here is the hut now. Let us call on the old woman.[ To the Child. ]
But first, please sit down.
[ She weeps. The Abbot and the Child rise, and go to kneel before her. ]
Days go by without a single bowl of food;
Whom can I ask for one?
At night my tattered rags fail to cover me,
But there is no way to patch the rents.
Each passing rain
Ages the crimson of the flowers;
The willows are tricked by the wind,
And their green gradually droops. 5
Man has no second chance at youth;
He grows old. The aged song thrush
Warbles again when spring has come,
But time does not revert to the past.
Oh, how I yearn for the days that are gone!
What would I do to recapture the past!
Old woman, we have come to speak with you.
Who are you?
I am a priest from Sekidera. These young people are students of poetry. They have heard of your talent, and I have brought them here to question you about poetry and to learn something of your life.
This is an unexpected visit! The log buried in the earth has been so long forgotten you must not expect it will put forth new sprouts. 6 Just remember this: If you will make
your heart the seed and your words the blossoms, 7 if you will steep yourself in the fragrance of the art, you will not fail to accomplish true poetry. But how praiseworthy that mere boys should cherish a love of poetry!
May I ask you about a poem everyone knows, "The Harbor of Naniwa?" 8 Do you agree that it should be used as a first guide?
Indeed I do. Poetry goes back to the Age of the Gods, but the meters were then irregular and the meanings difficult to understand. "The Harbor of
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