Jul/Aug 2006  •   Fiction

Kagekiyo, a Noh Play

by Martin Burke

Art by Victor Ehikhamenor

Art by Victor Ehikhamenor

Our lives
are dewdrops waiting for the wind
And the wind of morning blows.


I am Hitomaru
And I search for my father.
He fought in the great war
And for this he was hated
And is now banished.
And so, in exile, he passes the years.
But I must not be downcast
For that is the fate of all who travel
Unfamiliar roads.
I must bear it for my father's sake.

Girl and Attendant
The tears of our troubled dreaming
And the tears of dew on our grassy bed
Now wet our sleeves.
We leave the country that is known—
Who will point the way?
We go by land and by sea—
But for how long will we journey?
How long, o city in the clouds,
Will we have to travel
And see you in our dreams?

We have journeyed far and fast.
I think we are in the country of Hyuga.
It is here you should ask for your father.
The voice of Kagekiyo is heard.

I am trapped in the blindness
Of darkness and exile.
I cannot see the light
I no longer count the days
In this low room.
No comfort has been given to me.
I have one coat to protect me against
The winter winds
And the fires of summer.
I am a wreck of what I once was.
I am a ruin.

I should have left this world
Long ago and worn the black-stained sleeve.
Who will pity me now?
Who will search me out and help me to carry
The burden of my cares?

Strange. That hut is so old
I cannot imagine anyone lives there.
And yet, I heard a voice.
Perhaps some beggar lives there?
Perhaps a thief?
I will not go near it.
She steps back.

Though my eyes do not see the autumn
Yet the wind has brought me news

Of someone who walks
In a bewildered state
Finding rest nowhere—

For in the three worlds
There is no rest.
Only in the eternal void
Can that be found.

(going up to Kagekiyo's hut)
I have come to ask you something.

What is it you want?

Can you tell me where the exile lives?

The exile?
Which exile do you mean?
Tell me his name.

We are loking for Kagekiyo the Passionate
Who fought for the Taira.

I have heard of him
But I am blind, and have not seen him.
I have heard such sad tales of him
That I pity him. Go further; ask elsewhere.

(to Girl, who has been waiting)
We will not find him here.
Let us ask elsewhere
They pass on.

Who can it be asking for me?
A voice from the past I know?
A voice from the past I don't know?
What if it should be the child of this blind man?
She is not content to stay with her foster-parents
And has come all this way to meet her father.

To hear a voice,
To hear and not to see!
I have let her pass by;
I have not told my name;
It was love that bound me,
Love's rope held me.

(calling into the side-bridge)
Hey! Is there any one about?

(raising the curtain dividing the side-bridge from the stage)
What do you want?

Do you know where the exile lives?

The exile? What exile are you asking about?

The one called Kagekiyo the Passionate,
Who fought for the Taira.

Did you not see some one in a thatched hut
Under the hillside as you came along?

We saw a blind beggar in a thatched hut.

That blind beggar is your man.
He is Kagekiyo.
The Girl starts and trembles.
But why does your lady tremble
When I tell you he is Kagekiyo?
What is wrong with her?

It's no wonder you ask—
She is his daughter
And has suffered many hardships
On this journey to meet him.
Please, take her to him.

So, she is Kagekiyo's daughter
How strange. But lady,
Calm yourself and listen.
He went blind and so,
Finding himself helpless,
Shaved his head and called himself
The beggar of Hyuga.
he begs a little from travellers;
and we villagers are sorry for him
and see to it he does not starve.
Perhaps he would not tell you his name
because he was ashamed of what he has become.
But if you will come with me I will shout
"Kagekiyo, Kagekiyo" at him
And he will surely answer to his old name.
Then you can go to him. So please, come this way.
They go towards the hut.
Hey, Kagekiyo, Kagekiyo!
Are you there, Kagekiyo the Passionate?
Are you there?

Silence! I'm already troubled
A while ago travellers came from my home country
But I didn't let them stay.
I couldn't show them my loathsomeness
Nor tell them my name
Even though it was hard not to do so.
Rivers of tears soften my sleeve!
I am active in my dreams
But wake to idleness.
I am in the world but not of the world.
So let them call my old name.
Let them call it over and over—
Beggars don't have to answer.
Moreover, I have no name.

Old names, new names,
This is my fate.
Only do not call me
By old names. That name
Has dropped from me
Like a bow from a stricken hand!
I have left my old name
In the shadows of the past.
Let it remain in shadow.
Let all things abide in the darkness.
While the Chorus speaks his thought, Kagekiyo mimes their words, waving his stick and finally beating it against his thigh in a crescendo of rage.
(suddenly lowering his voice, gently)
But while I live here...

But while I live here
Should I become hateful
To those who help me
Then would I
Be truly blind.
A blind man without a stick!
So forgive my anger,
Forgive my words,
I do not mean to be rude
Or ungrateful.

And even though my eyes are dark

And even though my eyes are dark
Yet I can read the thoughts of men.
Listen—the wind blows
Upon the woods on the hill,
Snow is coming
And winter is not far away.
But to wake from a dream of beauty
To the dark winter
As on the shore
The cold waves are lapping
Over the rough stone.
Kagekiyo fumbles for his staff and rises, coming just outside the hut.
I was one of them, one of the Tairas.
If you will listen, I will tell you the tale...

(to the Villager)
I should not have spoke harshly to you
But there was a weight on my mind-forgive me.

You always speak harshly—
So never mind. But tell me,
Didn't some one come here before
Asking for Kagekiyo?

No, you are the only one.

That's not true.
A girl came here saying she was your daughter
Why didn't you tell her yours name?
Anyway, it's doesn't matter
As I've brought her back with me.
(to the Girl)
Come now, speak with your father.

(going to Kagekiyo's side and touching his sleeve)
I have come a long way to see you,
Through rain, wind, frost and dew.
And now—you have not understood;
It was all for nothing.
Am I not worth your love?
If I am not then life is cruel!
She weeps.

Everything I thought to have concealed
Is made known
—so where can I hide—
I who have no more refuge than the dew
Who finds no leaf to fall on.
Should you call me ‘Father'
Then you will be know as a beggar's daughter
And I could not have that.
So forgive me I did not tell you
My name nor who I was.
He gropes falteringly with his right hand and touches her sleeve.

Sadness, sadness.
You have talked to others
But would not raise your voice
To welcome your own child.
Sadness, sadness, sadness.
To hide his wretchedness
From his old child—
How sad, for him who had been
Famous as a bowman
Among the armies of Taira,
Famous as a captain
Whose council was heard
In many quarters. Yet that
Is long ago, ago.
Now he is something life outruns
And makes old.

(seeing the Girl standing sadly apart)
Poor child, come back again.
She comes back to her father's side.
Listen, Kagekiyo, there is something
Your daughter wants of you.

What does she want?

She longs to hear the story
Of your high deeds at Yashima.
Could you not tell us the tale?

What a strange thing
For a girl to ask
Yet since love brought her here
I will do as she wishes—
If you will promise me
As soon as my tale is done
You will send her back home.

I will. As soon as your tale is finished
I will send her home.

Very well then.
It was in the third year of Juyei, 8
At the close of the third month.
We of Heike were in our ships,
and the men of Genji were on the shore.
we were two armies spread along the coast
Eager to bid in battle
For final mastery.
Then Noritsune, Lord of Noto, said:
"Last year at Muro Hill
In the land of Harima,
At Water Island, even at Jackdaw Pass,
We were beaten again and again;
Outwitted by Yoshitsune's strategy.
If only some plan could be found,
Some counsel given for the slaying of Kuro.
Then thought Kagekiyo in his heart,
"Though he be called 'Judge,'
Yet is he no god or demon, this Yoshitsune.
therefore it is an easy task
For one who does not love His own life
Above all things."
So he took leave of Noritsune
And landed upon the beach.
The soldiers of Genji
Called out,
"Death to him, death to him!"
As they swept towards him.

And when he saw them,
"What great to-do!" he cried,
Then waving his sword in the evening sunlight
He fell upon them.
They fled before him,
They could not withstand him
This way, that way, they scuttled wildly,
And he cried,
"They shall not escape me!"

(breaking in excitedly)
Cowards, cowards all of you!

Cowards, all of you!
Shameful alike for Gen and Hei.
Then, thinking to stop one man
Would be easy,
"I am Kagekiyo," he cried,
"Kagekiyo the Passionate,
A captain of the soldiers of Hei."
And swiftly pursued, to grasp
The helm Mionoya wore.
He clutched at the neck-piece,
Twice and again he clutched,
But it slipped from him, slid through his fingers.
Then crying
"He shall not escape me, this foe I have chosen,"
Swooped like a bird, seized upon the helmet,
"Eya, eya," he cried, tugging,
Till "Crack!"—the neck-piece tore from the helm
And was left in his hand,
While the master of it ran till he was
A good way off, then turning,
"O mighty Kagekiyo,
How terrible the strength of your arm!"
And the other called back to him,
"No, say rather 'How strong the shaft
Of Mionoya's neck!'"
So laughed they across the battle,
And went off each his way.
Kagekiyo, who has been miming the battle, breaks off abruptly and turns to the Villager.

Chorus and Kagekiyo
I am old. I have forgotten
My thoughts are tangled.
I am ashamed.
But little longer will this world,
This sorrowful world, torment me.
The end is near. Go to your home,
Pray for my soul departed, child,
Candle to my darkness,
Bridge to salvation!
He rises to his feet, feeling his way with his stick, comes to the Girl and gently pushes her before him towards the wing.

"I stay," he said;
And she "I go."
The sound of this word
Is all I will keep of her.
Nothing else has passed between us
But this enduring sadness.