by KAJII Motojirō (梶井 基次郎)
One late spring afternoon, I was on the embankment that runs next to the road through the village, basking in the sunshine. In the sky, there was a giant cloud which had not moved for quite some time. The side of the cloud facing down at the earth had a dark blue gloom to it. And the huge size and dark blue gloom of the cloud somehow filled me with a vague sorrow.
Where I was sitting was the the edge of the widest open space in the village. Mountains and valleys could be seen in most directions in this village, so no matter where one looked there was nothing without some kind of slope. The scenery was always threatening you with the law of gravity. And the transition from light to dark always gave people in the valleys a confused feeling. In such a village, there was nothing that could calm one’s mind more than spending the day on a sunny field, far from the valleys. But myself, I was nostalgic to the point of sadness at the sight of the sun-splashed scenery that day. The land where the lotus-eaters live, where it is always afternoon——that is what it made me imagine.
The cloud stretched over the tree-covered mountain on the other edge of the field. There were always cuckoos singing on the mountain. At the base, aside from a water wheel shining, I could not see anything moving, and I felt that within the gentle late spring sunlight shining over the hills and fields there was a good deal of quiet languor. And I thought somehow that the cloud had perhaps made me sad over the misfortune of that languor.
I shifted my eyes in the direction of the valley. Just beyond was where the two valleys from the small mountain range on the peninsula met. Between the two valleys, like a lynchpin, stood a mountain, and between it and another mountain which blocked it in the front like a folding screen, at the upper reaches of one valley the folds of the mountains became thick, like twelve kimonos. And on the horizon, on the mountaintop, there was one huge dead tree, and as if put there to raise one’s spirit, one mountain soared above the rest. Everyday, the sun passed over the two valleys and sank behind that mountain, but this early afternoon sun had only crossed over one valley so far, and it stood out that the mountain that stands between the two valleys was resting under a death-like shadow. Halfway through March, I had seen smoke rising from the cryptomeria forest that covered the mountain, as if there was a wildfire. That had been a cloud of pollen that had blown away from the forest all at once, on a day when the the wind was as strong as the sun, a day when the temperature was good enough or very good indeed. But pollenation should already be over by now, and a brown mass was settling in over the forest. The zelkovas and oaks, covered with young shoots like a gaseous haze, felt very early summery. In each maturing new leaf there was not yet such a shadowy, gaseous dream. Only the burgeoning beech trees, rising up tall in the valley, had started to look as if they were covered with flour. When my eyes, flitting over this scene, saw this cloud, so thin I could still see the blue sky over the forest that separates the two valleys, continually advancing, they were unwittingly drawn into it. The cloud was rushing forward, expanding across the sky before my very eyes, over the area that was shining in the sun.
On one side, as it formed inexhaustibly, it was also slowly rotating. The ragged edge of the other side was gradually being swallowed by the blue sky. Someone seeing this kind of change in such a cloud would not have any particularly deep, indescribable feelings called to mind. But my eyes, gazing at that transformation, were drawn into that never-ending creation and destruction, and within that repetition, a strange feeling like fear gradually rose within my heart. This feeling choked me, gradually sapped the feeling of equilibrium from my body, and I thought that if that state continued for a long time, at the worst, I might fall all the way down to somewhere like hell. And like a paper doll set among fireworks, all the energy drained from every part of my body.——
My eyes could not believe the decreasing distance between me and the cloud, and I was becoming swallowed up in the feeling that I described before. Then I suddenly noticed a strange phenomenon. It was there, between the part of the cloud that was surging forward and not far above the forest that had been thrown into shadow, in the gap. It was then that I could first faintly see it coming. And then before my eyes, its looming shape was revealed.——
I was seized by the mysterious feeling that there was something like a mountain which I could not see in the sky. Then suddenly the thought crossed my mind: this is what the dark of night is like in this village.
That night I walked the dark road home without even a paper lantern. On the way there was only one house, and a lamp in that house lit up from the peephole in the door out to the scene around the house in that vast darkness, casting light onto the road. Suddenly a shadow in the shape of a man appeared. Probably just a villager walking, like me, without a lantern. It isn’t that I didn’t find anything particularly strange about that shadow. But I watched the shadow disappear into the darkness without a word. And the light on the back of the man slowly decreased and then was gone. Just a feeling in my retinas, just a trick of the imagination in the darkness——and eventually that trick of the imagination just went like that, too. And then, in that darkness so dark I couldn’t tell which way was where, I felt a faint shiver. I imagined myself disappearing into the darkness just as hopelessly; I thought about that unspeakable fear and passion.——
When that thought came to me, I understood instantly. The thing that had suddenly appeared in the disappearing sky was nothing like a mountain at all, nothing like a mysterious cove, it was sheer nothingness! Darkness rising in broad daylight. As if my eyesight had weakened, I had felt a tremendous unhappiness. Deep blue, that spring sky with smoke rising in it—the more I had looked at it, the more all I could feel was the darkness.