The River Of Death, episode 11, from “The Nightingale’s Song”

Savannah Birds

(Watercolor, Jane Kohut-Bartels, 2007)

It’s been a while since I have returned to this story.  Everything and anything has taken up my time since I started “The Nightingale’s Song” at the end of 2011.  I am back to my favorite research, which is anything concerning Japanese history and literature.  This time, I won’t leave it.  I have a reason to stay.  Nick Nicholson, an old friend who produced my last book, “Pitcher of Moon” this spring, is coming from Canberra, Australia in ten days for a four month trip by car around the US.  In March, he will be here with us for a number of days and  has promised to format “The Nightingale’s Song”.  I am more than grateful. Formatting anything has me all thumbs.  Nick is an expert at these things.

“The Nightingale’s Song” is a story in 12 episodes about a marriage in 17th century Japan.  Lord Nyo and Lady Nyo, he a samurai and she from the powerful clan Fujiwara, have been married since she was fifteen.  Now she is thirty and Lord Nyo sixty. Magic, a tricky Tengu and a baby plucked from the surface of the moon figure in the story.

The poetry of Saigyo is noted:  where it isn’t, it is mine.

Episode 11 is a scene from a battlefield, as Lord Nyo is a general in the provincial army of Lord Mori, an aging and despot daimyo in north west Japan, near Moon Mountain.

Lady Nyo…but not the one in the story.




There’s no gap or break in the ranks of those marching under the hill:

an endless line of dying men, coming on and on and on….


When the news of Lady Nyo

Birthing a son

Reached Lord Nyo

He was far from home,

To the east,

Over mountains

In dangerous, alien territory.

A general in the service

Of his lord,

The gore of battle,

The issue of ‘dying with honor’

Began at first light,

The air soon filled with sounds of battle-

Dying horses, dying men

Drawing their last gasps of life,

Churned into the mud of immeasurable violence.

The river of death is swollen with bodies fallen into it;

in the end  the bridge of horses cannot help.


Death, not new life

Was before his eyes at dawn,

And death, not life

Pillowed his head at night.

A battle rages around me,

But inside this old warrior

A battle rages inside my heart.

It is heavy with sorrow,

So tired beyond my old bones.

 What good have we done

In watering the soil

With blood and offal

of sons?


He stunk with the blood of battle

As his bow and swords cut a swath

Through men in service to another

And when the battle horns went silent,

With tattered banners like defeated clouds

Hanging limp over the field,

Acrid smoke stained everything

And the piteous cries of the dying

Echoed in his ears.

He wondered if his life would end here.

But the gods that he didn’t believe in

Were merciful.

His thoughts turned from fierce, ugly warriors

Towards home and a baby.

Still, he could not leave.

He was caught by status,

The prestige of his clan.

He could not desert the

Fate set out from birth.

Ah! This was fate of a man in servitude

To his Lord Daimyo.

This was the fate

Of a man chained to Honor.

Still, in the darkest hours of the night

The soft and perfumed shape of his wife

Floated down to him from the fleeting clouds,

Came to him through the smoke of battlefield fires,

And he turned on his pallet

To embrace this haunting comfort.

Off in the distance

There I see my loved one’s home

On the horizon.

How I long to be there soon

Get along black steed of mine!

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014



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6 Responses to “The River Of Death, episode 11, from “The Nightingale’s Song””

  1. TR Says:

    This is an intriguing story. It is a wonderful experience to read this as there are so few words and descriptors yet I still feel the emotion and the contrast between death and life. That is a wonderful talent you have. To say much with so few words. xx


  2. TR Says:

    I love the watercolor you did! It is beautiful. xx


  3. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you! It has quite a history. I gave it to the toxic mother, and apparently she didn’t find room for it in her house, so hung it on a closet door in a spare bedroom. It fell, and frame broke. She apparently forgot all about it, and I found it almost under the bed. I took it home, Fred repaired the frame and she raised HELL that I wasn’t going to bring it back. She didn’t deserve it, actually, and has her own ‘taste’ in paintings. Not mine. So, it looks beautiful in our bedroom and will be the cover for the new book: “The Nightingale’s Song” this spring.

    LOL! So some good can come from her, though you have to take control of everything! But if she hadn’t scorned it, and the painting not fallen, and I not found it….I would be out an acceptable cover for a new book! LOL! Life has a way of balancing the scales.

    Love, Jane


  4. ladynyo Says:

    LOL! TR! You know by our emails that I am NOT a woman of few words….but for some reason, in the poetry, I hate long poems, verbosity, etc. LOL!

    I think poetry puts me into a very different mind state. Most times I try to eliminate words, but sometimes it’s just the nature of the particular poetry that doesn’t allow many words. I think because some of my earliest poems were in the tanka style…this has impacted strongly my poetry.

    Dunno. Don’t really know much about how these things are formed. I think it is just trusting the subject, and what comes from the thought process.

    I am so pumped by this simple story! I hope others will feel some of the same wonder that I feel in these characters. They live for me.

    Thank you so much for reading and your comments.
    Love, Jane


  5. TR Says:

    That is terrific you got it back and it is now going to grace the cover of your next book! xx


  6. ladynyo Says:

    Well, I had to bear her anger because I wasn’t going to give it back to her. She obviously didn’t like it enough to display it properly….so it ended on a closet door, and broke when it fell. And that is the problem with narcissists. Regardless what you give them, it’s never enough. They are bottomless pits.

    This also gives me a breather. I don’t have to scramble for a cover….this is ready-made for the book. Since it is a story about love and marriage, it fits.

    Hugs, Jane


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