Sōseki: Ten Nights' Dreams - The First Dream
This is the dream I dreamed.
As I was sitting with my arms folded by her pillow, the woman lying on her back said in a quiet voice that she would die. Her long hair covered the pillow and the soft outline of her oval face lay down inside it. Deep in her pure white cheeks was a slight flush the color of warm blood. The color of her lips was, of course, red. She didn’t possibly look like she could die. But clearly, she had said in that quiet voice that she would soon die. Naturally I thought, don’t die. Then I peered down into her from above and asked, is that so? You’re going to die soon?
I will die, she said as she opened her eyes wide. They were large, moist eyes. Wrapped in long lashes was a mere surface of pure black. In the depths of those pure black pupils my form floated vividly.
I gazed at the luster of those dark pupils, so deep they were almost transparent, and thought, even so, could she die? Gently, I brought my lips to the side of her pillow and said, I don’t think you’re going to die. I’m sure everything’s fine. Her sleepy black eyes opened wide, she then said in that same quiet voice, but I will die, there’s no escaping it.
Can you see my face then? I asked intensely. Can I see? There, in there, it’s being reflected, isn’t it? she said, showing me her smile. I fell quiet, and withdrew my face from her pillow. With my arms folded, I wondered if she would die after all.
After a time she again spoke.
When I die, please bury me. Dig a hole with a large oyster shell. Then take a fragment of a star that has fallen from heaven and place it as a grave marker. And then, please, wait by my grave because I will come back to see you.
I asked her when she would come back.
The sun rises, doesn’t it? And then it sets. And doesn’t it then rise and set again the red sun while it goes from east to west? Can you wait while it falls from east to west?
I said nothing and nodded.
The quiet tone of her voice rose and she boldly said, please wait one hundred years.
Please sit and wait by my grave for one hundred years, for without fail I will come back to see you.
I’ll just be waiting, I replied. Then the form that I saw clearly in her black pupils started to faintly come apart. Like still water that moves and disturbs a reflection, she thought it would leak out and snapped her eyes shut. From between her long eyelashes tears trickled down her cheek: she had died.
After that I descended to the garden and dug a hole with an oyster shell. It was a large shell, with a smooth, sharp edge. With each scoop light from the moon would sparkle on the back of the shell. There was also the smell of moist earth. A hole was hollowed out after some time. I put her in there. Then I gently scattered soft earth from above. Each time I scattered the earth, light from the moon shone on the back of the oyster shell.
Then I picked up a fragment of star that had fallen and gently set it on top of the earth. The fragment was round. When it had fallen through the heavens, I thought, the corners must have come off and it became smooth. While I was lifting it up in my arms and placing it on top of the earth my chest and hands became a little warmer.
I sat on moss. I folded my arms and stared at the round grave stone, all the while thinking about how I would be waiting like this for the next hundred years. Soon, just like she had said, the sun appeared from the east. It was a large, red sun. And again, just like she had said, it soon fell to the west. Just as red, it suddenly fell away. I counted one.
I waited a while and again the crimson sun slowly started to rise. Then it quietly sank. Again I counted, two.
I wasn’t sure how many times I saw the red sun while I was counting one and two this way. A nearly inexhaustible number of red suns passed over my head no matter how many I counted. But even so, a hundred years would still not come. At last, I stared at the round rock covered in moss, and the thought that she might have deceived me came to mind.
Just then, from under the rock, a green stem started to stretch out diagonally toward me. I watched as it grew longer, until it stopped around my chest. I thought it had stopped, but at the top of the smoothly swaying stem, a single long, thin bud, slightly bent, softly opened its petals. A pure white lily at the tip of my nose gave off a fragrance that seeped into my bones. From far above dewdrops fell, causing the flower to waver unsteadily under its own weight. I moved my head forward and kissed the white petals dripping wet with cool dew. At the moment I pulled my face from the lily, unthinking, I looked at the distant sky and a single morning star was twinkling.
This was the moment I first realized that one hundred years had finally passed.
(Natsume Sōseki, translation by Chris Pearce)
It is interesting that this Japanese story calls into my mind Chinese wisdom. Says Tom Vick, the fundamental tenet of Taoism is that the natural world operates in a patterned, harmonious manner (Tao, the Way), and it is our duty as humans to understand and find a place in it (Asian Cinema). I think however that this dream says perhaps something close to the meaning of Tao while slightly different. It is about the way to arrive to live within Cosmos, to be no more distinct. And then the hundred years are no more, there is no more past or future, you are within Eternity.
You count the sun dawn, one, you watch it going from East to West, you count the sunset, two, and again, and again, till you do not know any more whether it is the Sun that walks East to West, or you are going West to East, one, then two, and again, one, then two. By then it does not matter anymore, motion and stillness are the same, and you are no more an individual with past and future, because past and future are no more.
I spoke some time ago about the movie made by Kimsooja that I saw at Hirshhorn, and I intend to speak about a movie of Kiarostami, Five Dedicated to Ozu. This First Dream of Sōseki helped me a lot to deepen my understanding.
(The Thousand faces of HANAFUBUKI)