Thursday, October 20, 2011

Kajii Motojirō | Underneath the Cherry Trees

Motojirō Kajii
Underneath the Cherry Trees
Translated by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert

Underneath the cherry trees cadavers are interred!

I don’t deny I had to be persuaded.  Nevertheless isn’t it incredible how the cherry trees flourish so splendidly?  I was restless, those days, because I hadn’t been able to believe in such beauty.  But now I have at last understood:  underneath the cherry trees cadavers are interred.  I don’t deny I had to be persuaded.

Why is it that, each evening, when I get home, among all the objects in my room, it is a thin object like the blade of my safety razor which steals over my spirit, as if by telepathy?  You say you know nothing?  Neither do I.  But why should it matter?  In the end, it’s all the same.

The trees in flower, having attained full bloom, lavish all about them an aura of mystery.  This resembles the impression of perfect immobility given by a spinning top or the hallucination which always accompanies a good musical performance:  the illusion of fervent procreation, of self-perpetuation emanating like a halo.  It is a strange beauty full of life, which cannot fail to move the beholder.

Yet, yesterday and the day before, this was the very thing which rendered me so frightfully sad.  This beauty appears to me something scarcely believable.  On the contrary, it makes me feel uneasy, melancholy, empty.

Try to imagine that a cadaver is interred under each of the cherry trees flowering with such swarming luxuriance.  I believe that you have grasped my malaise.

Cadavers of horses, cadavers of dogs and cats, cadavers of human beings, all these cadavers in putrefaction, teeming, swarming, crawling with worms, emitting an insupportable foulness. 

Nevertheless, they ooze, drop by drop, a liquid resembling fluid crystal.  The roots of the cherry trees enlace like the arms of rapacious octopi and pump this liquor while wriggling their radicles like the tentacles of sea anemones.

Of what are these petals made, of what are the hearts of these flowers composed?  As in a dream, I seem to see myself climbing, in a silent cortege, to the interior of some stalks or stems, borne along by the current of this sap resembling crystal which their roots inhale.

Why do you affect that air of suffering?  Isn’t there much to be admired in this act of second sight?  Now I am capable of gazing for hours, staring fixedly at the cherry blossoms;  I have been freed from the mystery which tormented me yesterday and the day before.

Once or twice, I descended to the bottom of the gully and skirted the torrent, stepping from stone to stone.  Borne everywhere from powdery clouds of water, like Aphrodite, were ephemerids which lifted themselves dancingly towards the sky where they celebrate, as you know, their beautiful nuptials.  After having walked a ways, I encountered something truly singular.  It floated on a little puddle sunk in the bank of the stream in an otherwise dried-up spot.  Its entire surface flashed and shimmered with an unexpected brilliance like that produced by an oil smear.  What was it, do you think?  It was the glare from the corpses of an incalculable number of ephemerids.  Their crumpled wings which covered the puddle, shriveled into the sunlight spreading an oily glow.  That was their cemetery over there, beyond the bridge.

When I saw that, I had the impression of receiving a direct blow to the solar plexus.  I tasted the sadistic joy of a maniac who violates sepulchers and loves cadavers.

In this gully, there was nothing in which to delight.  The nightingales, the tomtits, the white light of the sun which the buds of the trees absorbed in a bluish blur – all that formed nothing more than an image hazy and vague.  It struck me as tragic:  for it was only by virtue of this counterweight that my mental pictures were able to take shape and clarify themselves for the first time.  My heart is thirsting from melancholy, like a demon’s;  to be appeased, it must attain its plenitude.

Do you find yourself sponging under your arms?  You have cold sweats?  So do I.  But there is no reason to find that displeasing.  Try to consider how this stickiness is exactly like that of sperm.  Then our melancholy shall attain its plenitude.

Ah!  Beneath the cherry trees cadavers are interred!

I truly don’t know from where this illusion came to me but now I know that these cadavers and the cherry trees must be considered as one.  I have duly shaken my head;  they cannot undermine unless I stay away.

From now on I have earned the right, like the villagers, to picnic beneath the cherry trees.  I believe I shall sample the sake in anticipation of the feast.
English language translation copyright ©2011 by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert and EXPLORINGFictions.

Born in Osaka on February 17, 1901, Motojirō Kajii wrote several fictions, described by the Japanese as masterpieces of poetic quality, including "The Lemon," "Winter Days," and the above, "Underneath the Cherry Trees." Although his work was highly appreciated, and praised by Kawabata, Motojirō remained unknown for much his life. In 1932 he wrote a novella, The Carefree Patient. The same year, the writer died of tuberculosis. His work Lemon appeared in English translation.

1 comment:

  1. I like this story. I am learning japanese, but i still have to go a long way, to be able to do such a grat thing as translate a text in japanese . This blog was of great help to me. I always have a good time reading the posts. Thanks !!