THE FLOWER GATE: A PLAY OR POEM TO BE IMAGINED AS A PLAY
In memory of Del Riddle
Note on the Text:
THE FLOWER GATE is a performance piece based on conventions of the Noh theater of Japan. Noh, which means ‘perfected art’ was developed from the work of the great theater genius, Zeami (1363-1443), and is one of the very oldest continuous performing traditions still intact.
The Noh as a whole is focused on showing the range of ways in which the past enters into the present. It is a theater designed to enact the moment when two worlds meet: people meet gods, travelers meet demons or warrior ghosts, dead courtesans. The living meet the dead. Sometimes this is terrifying, sometimes melancholy, stirring, strangely romantic, and sometimes encouraging. In this particular play, the ghost of an old man relives the shock and then despair of love in old age, before he finally accepts the mask of one who exists only in memory.
As in traditional Noh theater, the text is just one part in an ensemble of elements, and also as in Noh, it has been derived from a variety of sources. The underlying point of using borrowed texts from the distant past is to let the sound and presence of those other works resonate in the present. The intention is to make something trans-temporal.
The opening is derived from the second section of the Damask Drum, but the overall structure and the largest part of the piece is taken from the text for the Awaji Puppet version of Okina called Sanbaso. In its incarnation in the Noh, Okina is considered the oldest Noh play and is structurally unlike any other piece in the repertoire. Basically it consists of two dances by two deities: the first by the old man, Okina, and the latter by the earth deity, Sanbaso. Okina means ‘old man’, or the ‘ancient one,’ and Zeami believed that he was analogous to the Primordial Buddha. He also held that this play was the source of all subsequent Noh.
Okina is always performed as an invocation to bring Heaven and Earth together, ensuring longevity and prosperity at the beginning of a cycle of plays. In the puppet version, it is offered as a New Year’s blessing. Here, in this transformation, perhaps this ancient deity will appear as an invocation for the renewal of culture altogether. It was for this reason that in the flower section there are citations from figures who were culturally seminal in Japan.
It is hoped that this play will invoke and sustain a moment of intense charm: a moment when one is charmed, but one’s mind has not moved to the more substantial promptings of desire or images of fulfillment. It is a moment when one is suspended between the real and the possible and both are alive without conflict.
(with repeats as Old Man enters slowly. Stops at entry.)
How can an old man, An old crane half sleeping in the marshes of the night, Oh, Worn and cold at end of life, An old crane who now can barely lift his wings On the red tint of the edge of day; How can he see beyond an ebbing stream of years and days? How can an old man, Now inured to solitude, Find himself so stirred by a fleeting glance, A fragrant breeze, Shimmering brocade, A smile as cool and distant as the moon,
Oh, How can an old man wake again Bright with the lure of first love.
(Old Man, enters, sits)
(Flowers arrangers enter.)
SHHHHH SHHHH SHHHH Lavish as cloud banks Floating in the sky Dazzling, white, edged in pink Clouds rise up. SHHHHH SHHHH SHHHH She passes downward through the mist. Her brocade robe touches the earth. (Arrangers begin placing flowers) Here Sugawara No Michizane once sang: “Mists and cloudbanks, far and near, Overflow In peach and dogwood blossoms, pale or dark, Cups of wine.”
(Flower Dancer enters, unmasked,)
She places her pale foot On the bending iris leaf. SHHHHH SHHHHH Her sleeves billow in the cherry flowers. Her scent perfumes the air. Here Ki No Haseo once sang: “Night rains in secret moistened them. Dawn wind softly stirs. Their lips curve in a silent smile.”
SHHHHH SHHHH Sudden and curving, bright as forsythia, Opulent as soft chains of blue wisteria, Secretive as violets, Trembling in the lilac branch, She turns.
(Dancer puts on mask, dances)
Oh. Here Po Chu-I once sang: “Her rouge is deeper than any dahlia, Her eye shadow more green than any willow stalk.”
She turns. She turns. She turns away. Oh
(Flower Dancer continues, ‘til she exits, followed by arrangers, then Old Man stands)
(Old man puts on mask, moves in front of flowers)
The distant laughter of a waterfall The laughter of a waterfall Sparkling in a sun so far away. Toh toh tarari tarari ra Tarari agari rarari toh Chorus: Chiriya tarari tarari ra Tarari agari rarari toh Old Man: It lives and will not end. Chorus: It lives and will not end. Old Man: Toh toh tarari tarari ra Tarari agari rarari toh Chorus: Chiriya tarari tarari ra Tarari agari rarari toh Old Man: Like a heavenly maiden’s feather cloak, It hovers, shining in the air. The laughter of the waterfall Dances in the shining air, And does not end. Chorus:
(as Old Man dances slowly)
Like all who live in the high planes of Heaven, It does not end. Soyo yari chiya ton doh ya. The crane who lives a thousand years, Rises in the empty sky. The crane who lives a thousand years Sings. It does not end. Soyo yari chiya ton doh ya. Old Man: The crane who lives a thousand years, Spreads his wings On winds of longing. Sand banks glitter, Shores shift beside the sea and spread. The earth plays with the color of the morning sun. Cascades of cool pure water Rest in pools And wait for the moon. Galaxies of flowers, Wave on wave, Shine on the earth, Perfume the night. Tasting, feeling, hearing, Smelling, touching Unfold unending. The crane who lives a thousand years, Soars on waves of endless longing. It does not end. It does not end.
(Old Man sits half facing flowers)
Soyo yari chiya ton doh ya.
(Old man, removes mask, but at stage edge, turns)
Chorus: Here an old man wakes, and whispers: “Immersing this face In the cool deep sky A wake-up wash In an ebony bowl This skin glistening with stars This breath a warm wind Across a setting moon”
(Old man exits)
This is the dance called Returning to the Palace; This is the dance of ten thousand years. Soft hands will touch the earth and those who dwell here. Sweeping arms will brush away all grief.
(1) adapted from Aya no Tsuzumi in Japanese No Dramas, tr. R.Tyler, Penguin Classics 1992 (p.52)
(2) Poems to Sing, Wakan Roei Shu, tr. Rimer & Chaves, Columbia UP 1995 (p. 37)
(3) Wakan Roei Shu, (ibid p. 38)
(4) Wakan Roei Shu (ibid p. 51)
(5) from Okina in Puppets of Nostalgia, J.M.Law Princeton UP 1997 (p. 183-185)
(6) Del Riddle, 5/2007
(7) Okina (ibid p. 185-186)
DOUGLAS PENICK has been a research associate at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, a chef at Gordon Matta Clark’s Food, and has written and taught on Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian religion, history and culture. He wrote the National Film Board of Canada’s prize winning two part series on the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Leonard Cohen, narrator) and the libretti for two operas: King Gesar (Sony CD w/ Ma, Serkin, Ax et. al.) and Ashoka’s Dream (Santa Fe Opera) with composer, Peter Lieberson. He’s also written pieces to music by Philip Glass and for choreographer Katsura Kan. He is the author of ‘Crossings on a Bridge of Light’, and the ‘Warrior Song of King Gesar’(reprint from Wisdom Publications edition). His novel about the 3rd Ming Emperor, A Journey of the North Star is available from Publerati.