“The Stillness of Death”, from “The Nightingale’s Song”

samurai women 2



Introduction to “The Nightingale’s Song”

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 travel to his court for a year. This was a clever idea of the honorable Emperor. It kept them 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 sent his eldest, rather stupid son to comply with the Emperor’s wishes. He agreed to have this disappointing young man stay in Edo to attend the Emperor. Probably forever.

Lord Mori, however, continued to hunt, hawk and generally enjoy life in the hinterlands.

True, his realm, his fiefdom, was tucked away in mountains hard to cross. To travel to Edo took months because of bad roads, fast 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 fortune tellers, and then of course, his samurai. His train of honor could be four thousand men or more!

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 clan 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 lost 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, samurai 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.


“My heart, like my clothing
Is saturated with your fragrance.
Your vows of fidelity
Were made to our pillow and not to me.”
—-12th century

Kneeling before her tea
Lady Nyo did not move.
She barely breathed-
Tomorrow depended
Upon her action today.

Lord Nyo was drunk again.
When in his cups
The household scattered.
Beneath the kitchen
Was the crawl space
Where three servants
Where hiding.
A fourth wore an iron pot.

Lord Nyo was known
For three things:
And drink.

Tonight he strung
His seven foot bow,
Donned his quiver
High on his back.
He looked at the pale face
Of his aging wife,
His eyes blurry, unfocused.
He remembered the first time
pillowing her.

She was fifteen.
Her body powdered petals,
Bones like butter,
Black hair like trailing bo silk.
The blush of shy passion
Had coursed through veins
Like a tinted stream.

Still beautiful
Now too fragile for his taste.
Better a plump whore,
Than this delicate, saddened beauty.

He drew back the bow
In quick succession
Let five arrows pierce
The shoji.
Each grazed the shell ear
Of his wife.

Life hung on her stillness.
She willed herself dead.
Death after all these years
Would have been welcome.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted , 2013

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24 Responses to ““The Stillness of Death”, from “The Nightingale’s Song””

  1. Yousei Hime Says:

    Wow. Intense. I’ve felt this way a few times too. Good writing.


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Hiya…..well, all these poems in this work are intense. They deal with marriage, and this can be some of the most intense relationships we can ever have.

    What I hope for in this saga is for readers to see a transformation in them both. One thing I have come to understand in reading Japanese literature and especially the great Man’yoshu….is that humanity doesn’t change much over the centuries. Love and hate doesn’t change.

    But love is the more important sentiment….as Lord Nyo is about to find out. And it takes a lot of work. LOL!

    Thanks for reading and your comment. Hopefully you will get some satisfaction in reading the series….

    Lady Nyo


  3. Yousei Hime Says:

    I remember reading what I think were some of the later poems (him returning from battle, etc.), so I know he goes through a metamorphosis. Looking forward to what else you share. 🙂


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Hiya Sweetie!

    At this point, I don’t know what to share! LOL! I’ve shared “Tin Hinan”, for about 4 years on the blog and it’s big in Middle East, but I never hear from those folk. Sometimes I wonder what a blog is supposed to be about when you don’t hear from readers who are obviously reading a piece. But this is just universal, I would suppose.

    So….I think I will just post some of the poems…for readers to get an idea of what this saga is about. I am excited that Nick Nicholson is doing the photography for this book….and the cover. It’ great to spread the work to someone else!

    It’s always a crapshoot with these things, neh?

    Thank you for reading and your encouraging comments!

    Lady Nyo


  5. Tony Maude Says:

    It’s great news that these poems are going to be collected in a book. I hope you do well with it.


  6. brian miller Says:

    have you posted this one before…i seem to remember reading it…remember the intensity of that pull of his bow and loosing the arrows and her wishing for death in the end…i appreciate revisiting it though as i enjoy the verse…bones like butter…ha…cool line that…


  7. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Brian, yes but it’s revised….and so are most of the others. Nothing stays the same on the page. right now, this computer is just doing bad for some reason….it’s actually the mouse dragging along and the spacing~! Yikes.

    There are actually 14 pieces, and two that I don’t know how to fit in, but the exciting news is that Nick Nicholson in Australia is doing the photos and the cover for this book….later on this year. He’s coming to visit here in Atlanta and we will be spending the days he is here working on our plans for this piece. It’s wonderful when you can find a collaborator of this caliber.

    These [poems have actually grown over the year because as I get more involved with the cultural issues, I can give them more ‘blood’…so many of them are not what I originally posted.

    Thanks, Brian, for reading and your comment.



  8. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Tony.

    There are actually 14 pieces for this book, but they are changing as I revise them. Going deeper into the cultural customs of the times and of course reading more of the poetry and general literature, they would change.

    Thank you for reading and also your comment.

    Lady Nyo


  9. Grace Says:

    I remember this post Jane ~ Yes, love the backstory and cultural nuances of the court, and couple ~ The ending verse is still powerful ~ Good for you to finally complete this project ~


  10. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Grace….am going to have to take in my computer tomorrow, so it will be a few days before I can travel around and look at sites.

    Thank you so much for reading and for your comment. It really encourages me to continue writing when poets like you read these poems!



  11. ManicDdaily Says:

    Yikes. So sad, so well written. You manage to tell a story in a kind of Japanese style which conforms somehow to archetypes but has so many particulars of psychological realism. It is very compelling. Wonderful. k.


  12. ManicDdaily Says:

    PS – back from India. Daughter in tow. We are a bit tired but fine. k.


  13. ladynyo Says:

    Ahhhhh! I am so glad and relieved!!

    Bless you both. I can be easier now in thought! It was the right move.

    Jane….who is tearing out the wires of my computer…time for the professionals to fix. Ugh. will be off line for a couople of days.


  14. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Karin. It’s a long slog through a lot of books for one. LOL! Psychological realism is really between the lines in Japanese literature. We have the benefit of hindsight from our century with our familiarity of psychological nuances…so that goes into the pot.

    Other than that, I rely on my own cultural background (Mori) for color. LOL! sometimes it works and sometimes it’s a uphill struggle….but I am learning to ‘let go’ and just write from a very simple place.

    Am disabling my computer right after this message, as I have too many problems with it right now to continue on a straight and comfortable line. Be back on line probably by Friday.

    Thanks for reading. Have missed you. figured where you were though and it’s a good move!



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