(1952) | Yukio MISHIMA
"Was it death he was now waiting for? Or a wild ecstasy of the senses?" For the young army officer of Yukio Mishima's seminal story, "Patriotism," death and ecstasy become elementally intertwined. With his unique rigor and passion, Mishima hones in on the body as the great tragic stage for all we call social, ritual, political. The intense sobriety of this story as it drives to catharsis illuminate's Hortense Calisher's remarks on Mishima's esthetic in The New York Times Book Review: "The violence we are facing with such difficulty, hypocrisy, or extravagance in our daily life and art, he gives us simply, domestically, in all its subcutaneous horror and myth; like the Greeks, he pours the bloud that is there... His soul and ours may not be cognate, but he makes one feel again what it is to have one."
"Remarkably beautiful, Mishima's
style exploits every resource of the Japanese language, giving new life
to unbroken literary traditions of a thousand years. He was unquestionably
a modern writer, speaking to modern audiences... of a Japanese way of
life that is completely intelligible, but completely remote."
- Donald Keene, The Saturday Review
"This is my favorite story..."
- Yukio Mishima
On the twenty-eighth of February, 1936 (on the third day, that is, of the February 26 Incident), Lieutenant Shinji Takeyama of the Konoe Transport Batallion - profoundly disturbed by the knowledge that his closest colleagues had been with the mutineers from the beginning, and indignant at the imminent prospect of Imperial troops - took his officer's sword and ceremonially disemboweled himself in the eight-mat room of his private residence in the sixth block of Aoba-chô, in Yotsuya Ward. His wife, Reiko, followed him, stabbing herself to death. The lieutenant's farewell note consisted of one sentence: "Long live the Imperial Forces." His wife's, after apologies for her unfilial conduct in thus preceding her parents to the grave, concluded: "The day which, for a soldier's wife, had to come, has come..." The last moments of this heroic and dedicated couple were such as to make the gods themselves weep. The lieutenant's age, it should be noted, was thirty-one, his wife's twenty-three; and it was not half a year since the celebration of their marriage.
Those who saw the bride and bride-groom in the commemorative photograph - perhaps no less than those actually present at the lieutenant's wedding - had exclaimed in wonder at the bearing of this handsome couple. The lieutenant, majestic in military uniform, stood protectively beside his bride, his right hand resting upon his sword, his officer's cap held at his left side. His expression was severe, and his dark brows and wide-gazing well conveyed the clear integrity of youth. For the beauty of the bride in her white over-robe no comparisons were adequate. In the eyes, round beneath soft brows, in the slender, finely shaped nose, and in the full lips, there was both sensuousness and refinement. One hand, emerging shyly from a sleeve of the over-robe, held a fan, and the tips of the fingers, clustering delicately, were like the bud of a moonflower.
After the suicide, people would take out this photograph and examine it, and sadly refect that too often there was a curse on these seemingly flawless unions. Perhaps it was no more than imagination, but looking at the picture after the tragedy it also seemed as if the two young people before the gold-lacquered screen were gazing, each equal clarity, at the deaths which lay before them.
Thanks to the good offices of their go-between, Lieutenant General Ozeki, they had been able to set themselves up in a new home at Aoba-chô in Yotsuya. "New home" is perhaps misleading. It was an old three-room rented house backing onto a small garden. As neither the six - nor the four-and-a-half-mat room downstairs was favored by the sun, they used the upstairs eight-mat room as both bedroom and guest room. There was no maid, so Reiko was left alone to guard the house in her husband's absence.
The honeymoon trip was dispensed with on the grounds that these were times of national emergency. The two of them had spent the first night of their marriage at this house. Before going to bed, Shinji, sitting erect on the floor with his sword laid before him, had bestowed upon his wife a soldierly lecture. A woman who had become the wife of a soldier should know and resolutely accept that her husband's death might come at any moment. It could be tomorrow. It could be the day after. But, no matter when it came - he asked - was she steadfast in her resolve to accept it? Reiko rose to her feet, pulled open a drawer of the cabinet, and took out what was the most prized of her new possessions, the dagger her mother had given her. Returning to her place, she laid the dagger without a word on the mat before her, just as her husband had laid his sword. A silent understanding was achieved at once, and the lieutenant never again sought to test his wife's resolve.
In the first months of her marriage Reiko's beauty grew daily more radiant, shining serene like the moon after rain.
As both were possessed of young, vigorous bodies, their relationship was passionate. Nor was this merely a matter of the night. On more than one occasion, returning home straight from maneuvers, and begrudging even the time it took to remove his mud-splashed uniform, the lieutenant had pushed his wife to the floor almost as soon as he had entered the house. Reiko was equally ardent in her response. For a little more or a little less than a month, from the first night of their marriage Reiko knew happiness, and the lieutenant, seeing this, was happy too.
Reiko's body was white and pure, and her swelling breasts conveyed a firm and chaste refusal; but, upon consent, those breasts were lavish with their intimate, welcoming warmth. Even in bed these two were frighteningly and awesomely serious.