A little over a year ago I started a series of long poems, ultimately titled “The Nightingale’s Song”. This became a collection of twelve poems, set in 17th century Japan. It was a saga of two people, a married couple named Lord and Lady Nyo.
I loved these poems. They were highly emotional, what I hoped was a ‘slice of life’ of a samurai couple of that era. Some time before, I came across the great 8th century document, “The Man’yoshu”. This was a collection of over 4500 poems of various themes, but many of them love poems. They had such an impact upon me that I still am reading various editions of these poems. While writing what was to become “The Nightingale’s Song”, it seemed these 8th century poems spoke directly to the life of my own characters, and I wrapped some of them around the behavior and emotions of these two. People who haven’t read “The Man’yoshu” have little understanding the power of these poems: they speak directly to us through the centuries, to our inner most emotions, dilemmas, concerns. Human nature doesn’t change much over time. These poems are a testament to the power of love and longing between men and women.
Very recently I suggested to a good friend, Nick Nicholson, from Canberra, Australia, that he collaborate on this new book with me. He is a wonderful writer and poet on his own, but this time Nick will be using another talent: he will be contributing photographs to this book. He will be doing much more than this and I am very grateful for the chance to work in such concrete and deeper ways with a friend of over seven years.
Even though there is a lot of work on “The Nightingale’s Song” to be done, I am posting something of a ‘prologue’ just to introduce these poems. I don’t know how many I will post on this blog in the future, but enough I hope to interest readers. I especially want to thank the readers from Japan and other Asian countries. Your support, and occasional comments, encourage the writing here.
In Old Japan there was an even older daimyo called Lord Mori who lived in the shadow of Moon Mountain, far up in the Northwest of Japan. Lord Mori ran a court that did little except keep his men (and himself) entertained with drinking, hawking and hunting. Affairs of state were loosely examined and paperwork generally lost, misplaced under a writing table or under a pile of something more entertaining to his Lordship. Sometimes even under the robes of a young courtesan.
Every other year the Emperor in Edo would demand all the daimyos in the land travel to his court for a year. This was a clever idea of the honorable Emperor. It kept the daimyos from each other’s throats, plundering each other’s land, and made them all accountable to Edo and the throne.
Lord Mori was fortunate in his exemption of having to travel the months to sit in attendance on the Emperor. He was awarded this exemption with pitiful letters to the court complaining of age, ill health and general infirmities. He however, continued to hunt, hawk and generally enjoy life in the hinterlands.
True, his realm, his fiefdom, was tucked away in the mountains that were a hardship to cross. To travel to Edo took months because of the bad roads, rivers and mountain passages. A daimyo was expected to assemble a large entourage for this trip: vassals, brass polishers, flag carriers, outriders, a train of horses and mules to carry all the supplies, litters for the women, litters for advisors, and then of course, his samurai. His train of honor could be four thousand men. He sent his rather stupid eldest son to comply with the Emperor’s wishes. He agreed to have this disappointing son stay in Edo and attend the Emperor at court. Probably forever.
But this tale isn’t about Lord Mori. It’s about one of his generals, his vassal, Lord Nyo and his wife, Lady Nyo, who was born from a branch of a powerful clan, though a branch who had lost standing at the court in Edo.
Now, just for the curious, Lord Nyo is an old samurai, scarred in battle, ugly as most warriors are, and at a loss when it comes to the refinement and elegance of life, especially poetry. His Lady Nyo is fully half his age, a delicate and thoughtful woman, though without issue.
But Lord and Lady Nyo don’t fill these pages alone: there are other characters, priests, magical events, Buddhist characters and a particularly tricky Tengu who will entertain any reader of this tale.
A full moon, as in many Japanese tales, figures in the mix. As do poetry, some historic and some bad. War and battles, love and hate. But this is like life. There is no getting one without the other.
The present Lady Nyo, descended from generations past.
Jane Kohut Mori Bartels