(Watercolor, Jane Kohut-Bartels, for the book cover above, 2015.)
The world can become a sacred universe for poets when we become such. That ‘golden thread’ William Blake and William Stafford wrote about can bring us to the gates of Heaven but I envision a very different Heaven than what has been spoken about by the religious. That golden tread leads through, or encompasses the sights, sounds, chaos and experience that makes up our poems and our dreams can be easily broken. We must not grab it so tightly. We, and it, must have room to breath.
Perhaps that is why we compose our poetry in silence, roll it around our mouths, recite it to the cats, and, when we are lucky, recite to other poets. But it is by necessity a solitary pursuit. There can be no demand to ‘let me into your artistry’ when it is forming. It must complete itself before seeing the light of day. It is our contract with ourselves, sacred universe in its being.
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, (Mt. Gassan) 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.
Copyrighted, 2017 (“Song of the Nightingale” can be purchased at Amazon.com, published in 2015)