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1914 BY SÔSEKI NATSUMÉ I SENSEI AND I I first became acquainted with Sensei one summer at Kamakura. I call him Sensei (Teacher) for the simple reason that this is the way I used to address him. In fact, this seems more natural to me than to refer to him by his surname. Subsequently, upon my return to Tokyo, I had numerous occasions to visit him at his home. I also met his beautiful wife. Once every month Sensei went to the cemetery at Zôshigaya to pray for the soul of a departed friend who had been buried there. Why he did so and who this dead friend was, he did not tell me. " I am a lonely man," he said, and smiled in a wistful sort of way. Sensei was a college-bred man. To me, a college student, this fact was easily discernible. Yet, though he was a man possessed of an amazing talent, somehow he had not taken an active part in the affairs of his contemporary world. As one, however, who was constant to a single individual without saying much, he seemed to me greater by far than the great professors who served as my academic instructors. He said: " Love is a sin, and it is sacred." Again : " You should not place too deep a trust in me. " Though I could not understand what precisely he meant by these sayings, my acquaintance with him and his family gradually ripened, in the meantime, into a warm friendship. When my father, who suffered from a kidney ailment, grew worse and I decided to make a short visit to my native province, Sensei spoke to me kindly, suggesting many precautionary measures to be taken against the disease. My father's condition, however, did not prove to be serious. When I returned to Tokyo I found that the time set for submitting my graduation thesis had almost expired. For the preparation of this thesis, also, I received much guidance and instruction from Sensei. Fortunately I was able to graduate from the university. I then returned to my native province, though of course it was not with the intention of living permanently in the country, but for the purpose of reporting the fact of my graduation and of inquiring after my father's condition. II MY PARENTS AND I My father was in better spirits than I had anticipated. He attended to such matters as deciding the day on which my graduation party should be given. But before that day had yet arrived, something very grave indeed occurred : the reported illness of the Emperor Mciji. This event, which was quickly made known throughout Japan through the newspapers, had the effect of dissipating all thoughts of a mere graduation party in a country home, like specks of dust blown away by a great gust of wind. " I think we should forego our plans out of deference to the Emperor," said my father. He remained silent after that and
seemed to contemplate his own illness. Every day he waited for the newspaper to arrive and was the first to read it. " Here ! Read this," he would say. " The paper is again full of reports to-day about the Tenshisama. " My father always referred to the Emperor as Tenshi-sama (literally, Son of Heaven). " It is an irreverent thing to say, but the Tenshi-sama's illness is probably similar to mine, don't you think ? " My father's spirits gradually declined. And when the Emperor's demise was reported, he held the newspaper in his hand and said: " Oh! Oh! The Tenshi-sama has at last left for another world. Myself, too. ... " He did not finish the sentence. After that my father had frequent fainting spells. There was no hope for him. All our relatives were summoned and kept vigil at his bedside. I had meanwhile written to Sensei every day, without fail, regarding my father's condition. And in order to set the members of my family at ease, I also wrote, asking him — though I knew this was an unreasonable request — to assist me in securing a position. Sensei's reply did not arrive for a long time. Finally a letter came,a thick, voluminous one. It contained nothing in the nature of an answer to my request. It dealt with something far more important. I withdrew for a brief interval from my father's room, where a crisis seemed to arrive at any moment, and was about to glance through the letter when of a sudden I turned to the last paragraph and received a great shock. It said : " By the time this letter reaches you I shall no longer be of this world. I shall already be dead." My father, to me, was a father in the physical sense. But Sensei was my spiritual father. The spirit of that lonely Sensei, though I could not fathom it, had challenged my mind ; had even penetrated deeply into my heart. And this was the man who had chosen to seek sudden death. The things he had said which I could not grasp and their seeming association with something dark in his own past, were, to me, entirely irrelevant now. All that mattered, and concerning which I wanted to know, was his immediate welfare. I ran like mad to the railway station. I scribbled a note to my mother on a scrap of paper, against the wall of the station, and leaped upon a train bound for Tokyo, leaving my father who was nearing his end, and began once more, from the beginning, to read Sensei's letter. The contents were as follows: III SENSEI AND HIS TESTAMENT Since you have declared that you wish, in all seriousness, to acquire knowledge that springs from life itself, I should like to relate to you my past. I am going to fling upon your head, in all frankness, the dark shadows of that life. But you must not be afraid. Concentrate upon the dark things and grasp something which might possibly serve as future guidance to you. I lost my parents before I reached the age of twenty. Both died of typhoid fever. My uncle undertook to arrange all the subsequent details, and I left for Tokyo, where I entered a higher school. When I returned to my native province for the first time during a summer vacation, I found that my uncle and his wife had moved into my own dwelling house, which had been vacant since my parents passed away. They gave me a warm reception, and I spent a very happy summer there. The following summer was the same. At that time my uncle suggested that I marry his daughter, who was my younger cousin. But since my cousin and I had been close chums since childhood days, I could not feel toward her, no matter how I tried to entertain the idea, as one should toward one's wife. I therefore went back to Tokyo without promising, at the time, to marry her. The third time I visited my native province, which was the summer after that, I found that my uncle's attitude toward me had undergone a complete change. Not only he, but all the members of his family assumed a front which, to me, seemed singularly queer. Alone I went to kneel before the graves of my father and mother. My private world underwent a strange metamorphosis. My uncle now used artifice in making me marry his daughter and attempted, besides, to appropriate the fortune which my late parents had bequeathed to me. Inevitably I quarrelled with him.
Then, taking with me what little was remaining from my legacy, I left for Tokyo, determined that never again would I return to my home province. I next arranged to lodge with the family of a soldier who had died in war, in their house in Koishikawadai. This household consisted of the Mistress (the widow), her beautiful daughter, and a maid. Since I now felt that I could no longer rely upon others, it seemed impossible for me to get into terms of harmonious fellowship with this family. But the Mistress praised me, saying I was sedate and self‐ possessed. She also said I was a studious person. Her attitude made me feel at ease. The hostile feeling toward people which I had acquired through my uncle gradually subsided within me, and I began to cultivate a closer friendship with the family, even to the extent of sharing amusing stories with the daughter. I confided to them about my past, received their sympathy, and was treated by the Mistress as though I were a relative of the family. It was all very pleasant. But, on the other hand, I began to feel suspicious of the Mistress, thinking that perhaps she was devoting her efforts towards getting me into closer intimacy with her daughter, with intentions similar to those of my uncle. Nevertheless, I did not want to suspect the girl herself. On the contrary, I found myself becoming increasingly disturbed over her, losing my self-possession and entering into a state of excitement. Once the three of us went out together to do some shopping, and the next day I was made the object of some bantering by my friends. I reported this to the Mistress. I even thought of going one step further by telling her about my feeling toward her daughter, but in the end I could not manage to say it, and let the opportune moment slip by. My relations with the Mistress and her daughter were in this state when it became necessary that another young man should enter into the situation. If he had not crossed my path, there would probably have been no necessity for my writing you a lengthy epistle. Let me here call this young man simply as K. K. had been my close friend since childhood days. As a matter of fact, it was I who had brought him, against his will, to lodge at this house. K. was the son of a Buddhist priest of the Shin Sect. For certain reasons he was adopted by a physician and had expected to study in Tokyo in order to become a physician himself. But that did not suit his taste. He changed to a special study of religious philosophy. For this he was driven out of his adopted family and suffered also the discontinuance of his school allowances from his legitimate home. He thus became a night school teacher and attended the university during the day. His subsequent mode of life was so wretched and pathetic that, since I had a small sum remaining from my legacy, I induced him to come to live at my house and secretly paid for his board. He was inclined to silence. Further, he deliberately chose to pursue the sort of existence which involved hardship and inconvenience, in order — so he said — to discipline his will. Having been reared in the Buddhist dogma, it is probable that he even went to the extent of lashing his body so that his soul might rise to greater splendour and brilliance. The Mistress said he was a man with a personality that was quite inaccessible. Yet, in the meantime, K. became friendly with the member of the household. The daughter, particularly, held frequent chats with him in his room. To me, moved as I was with the intense desire to take exclusive possession of her, this turn of events was somewhat disconcerting. Yet it was I who brought him to live in this house, against his wish. The irony of it all made me suffer all the more. At last the catastrophe came. In that grave and solemn manner of his, he one day bared his love for her. I was stunned — to think that he had beaten me out! ... But this was not all. I was completely overcome by the favourable circumstances of his case, so that I even felt a sense of fear in my heart — the fear arising from a recognition of the fact that he had a better record than me at the university and that even his ardour was greater than mine. As to his love, however, he had confided it to no one else. It was several days afterwards that I finally thought of giving utterance to my accumulated feelings in a counter-attack. I asked him how he expected
to manage the situation growing out of his love. What, I demanded, did he propose to do about it, then and thereafter ? On this point he was silent, his face drooping. And the upshot of it was that he was at a loss as to whether he should move forward boldly, or retreat. This was, of course, all that was said in our talk. Please bear in mind that some time had elapsed before I managed to get this from him. I knew very well that he was a man of quick decisions. I also realized deep in my heart that I, too, had to take decisive action. I waited for an opportunity when both K. and the girl were out of the house. One morning I rose rather late, pretending that I was indisposed. K. went forth to the university. The girl went somewhere. And so I went to sit opposite the Mistress across a rectangular brazier, and abruptly said to her : " Oku-san, please give me your daughter in marriage." She did not show as much surprise as I had anticipated. She was quite calm about it. After a while she said : " I haven't any objections to giving her to you, but isn't it rather sudden ? " When I replied, " I want to marry her right away," she began to laugh. The matter was easily and clearly settled between us. Since I dreaded to be in the same house when the Mistress broached the subject to her daughter, I went out directly for a walk. My conscience with respect to K. began to hurt the instant I stepped back into the house. K. said : " Are you feeling better already ? Have you been to a doctor ? " At that moment I had a strong desire to go on my knees and ask his forgiveness for the wrong I had done him. But there happened to be others in the next room. That evening I dined on food that tasted like lead in my mouth. The girl, for reasons of her own, remained closeted in her own room. Two or three days passed in this state. It was most difficult for me to break the news to K. regarding my new position in the household, believing as I did that I now had a vulnerable spot in my moral character. Five or six days later, the Mistress said : " Isn't it wrong of you to keep silent about it when you are ordinarily on such friendlyterms with him ? " of you to keep silent about it when you are ordinarily on such friendly terms with him ? " It seems she told K. about my proposal. I gathered from what she said that K. received the shock with a suppressed show of amazement. " Is that so ? " was all he said. A little later he is said to have declared, with a smile : " Please accept my congratulations. I should like to offer something as a token of felicitation, but unfortunately I have no money and cannot do so." When I heard about it, I felt a pain in my heart, as though a chill had entered there. Though I frequently came face to face with him after that, he assumed such an unruffled, detached attitude that I was never reminded of it. " I have been victorious in strategy and defeated as a man." This thought formed a veritable whirlpool in my mind. But that night K. took his own life. He had severed an artery in his throat with a knife. The contents of a note he had left behind read : " Being weak in mind and lacking in decision, I see no hope for me in the future and therefore choose to die at my own hands." The girl's name was not mentioned. I concluded that he had intentionally avoided it. Out of consideration of the fact that I had up to then taken care of him in many ways, I undertook to arrange for the funeral and all incidental matters, and buried him at the Zôshigaya cemetery. And so long as I lived, I wanted to kneel at his grave once every month to show my repentance. Soon after that we moved into the house where we now live. Two months later I graduated from the university. And within a short time following this event, the girl and I were married. Outwardly at least we were supposed to have become a very happy couple indeed. As for me, however, a dark shadow had draped itself about my life. Whenever I looked at my wife's face, the image of K. came floating swiftly before my mind's eye. This drove me, at times, to devour one book after another, and, at other times, to drink excessively. When I realized the fact that I, who had regarded my uncle with contempt, now deserved likewise to be thought of as a contemptible creature, I felt a sudden attack of dizziness.
My mother-in-law died not long afterwards. Yet I have been faithful and loving, both to her as a son-inlaw, and to my wife as a husband. My wife and I have lived a friendly and happy life together. It is true, however, that because this past has come between us, she feels toward me a vague sense of something lacking, somethingunfulfilled. Why, then, you may ask, have I not confessed to her the whole truth ? I have not done so because I do not wish to stain her unblemished life with this one dark memory. The simplest way is for me to put an end to my life, and yet, for the sake of my wife whom I love dearly, I have dragged my life to this day. Then, in the midst of the hot summer season, the Emperor Meiji passed away. I felt at the time as though the spirit of the Meiji era had begun with the Emperor and died with the Emperor. I told my wife that should I follow the Emperor to the grave, it would be with the intention of dedicating my life to the departing spirit of the Meiji era. I have decided at last upon suicide. I am leaving my wife behind. Fortunately she will have no worry about problems of food and clothing and shelter. I have sent her to be with relatives. I have completed the writing of this letter. By the time this letter reaches you, I shall no longer be of this world. I shall already be dead. But please do not divulge this secret to my wife. For it is my one wish that she keep the memory of my own past as immaculate as possible. I intend to die without letting her observe the colour of my blood. I want her to think that I have met with a sudden death. I do not want her to undergo any torture. ***
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