Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Sea of Fertility cycle of novels by Yukio Mishima. I just finished reading Mishimas last work, his 'testament to the world' that after completion in November of 1970 he committed suicide in spectacular fashion. The Sea of Fertility consists of 4 novels starting in 1912 and ending in 1970. The perspective of the work is from Shigekuni Honda who witnesses the transformation of himself, of Japan and the transmigration of his childhood friend Kiyoaki through three reincarnations in the subsequent three novels. It is an epic work exploring the nature of history, humanity, reality all told in a story that is difficult to put down. Mishima was a dynamic personality and writer and all of his work is wonderful and a joy to read. This was my second reading of Mishima which was much more satisfying then my first. I loved the books the first time through and was especially drawn to the rich visual imagery and youthful passion and romantasicsm that made up the first two books, Spring Snow and Runaway Horses as translated in to English by Michael Gallagher. The third novel, Temple of Dawn, translated by E. Dale Saunders and Cecilia Segawa Seigle followed the emphasis on rich and dramatic visual imagery of the Gallagher translations. Decay of the Angel though on my first reading seemed almost like a totally seperate novel as translated by Edward Seidensticker. Darker in tone and more sparse in language it didn't feel like a continuation of the previous three books and at the time I blamed it on the translation. On my second reading thirty years later though I didn't notice this abrupt shift in tone and style that dissapointed me on the first reading. Instead I experienced a much smoother transition from the previous three novels into the fourth that reflected Mishimas preoccupation with death and the decay of Japanese purity and appropriately titled 'The Decay of the Angel'. An alternate title prior to publication had been ' Five Signs of Gods Decay' a reference from early Buddhist texts of the signs of death in an angel; "Their flowered crowns wither, their robes are soiled, the hollows under their arms are fetid, they lose their awareness of themselves, they are abandoned by the jeweled maidens". The death of the angel is perhaps a reference to the dilution of Japanese purity by Western influences that is a central theme in the four novels. In the final novel the central character Shigekuni Honda tutors the young Toru who he adopts when he recognizes him as the third reincarnation of his only real friend Kiyoaki that Japanese Purity was once a fatal poison but now has been diluted to a potion that can be consumned by all with no ill effect.



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