Saturday, July 5, 2008

it is always summer

Lafcadio Hearn to Sentaro Nishida

Tokyo, 1897

Dear Nishida,
This morning (the 17th) Mr Takahashi came with your letter of introduction. He is a charming gentleman, and I felt unhappy at not being able to talk Japanese to him. He brought a most beautiful present a tea-set of a sort I had never even seen before,--"crackled" porcelain inside to the eye, and outside a chocolate-coloured clay etched with pretty designs of houses and groves and lakes with boats upon them. The cups were a great surprise and delight--especially as they were made in Matsue. Mr. Takahashi gave me better news of you than your last letter brought me: he thought you were getting stronger, so I have hopes of pleasant chats with you. He told us many things about Matsue. He is a very correct, courteous gentleman; and I felt quite clumsy, as I always do when I meet a real gentleman of the Japanese school. I think I should like any of your friends. Mr. Takahashi had something about him which brought back to me the happy feeling.of my pleasant time in Izumo.
I don't feel to-day, though, like I used to feel in Izumo. I have become very grey, and much queerer looking; and as I never make any visits or acquaintances outside of my quiet little neighbourhood, I have become also rather henjin. But I have written half a new book. I am not able to say now what it will be like: for the things I most wish to put into it--stories of real life have not yet been written. I have finished only the philosophical chapters. One subject is "Nirvana," and another the study of matter in itself as unreality, or at least as a temporary apparition only. Then I have taken up the defence of Japanese methods of drawing, under the title of "Faces in the Old Picture-Books." My public, however, is not all composed of thinkers; and I have to please the majority by telling them stories sometimes. After all, every public more or less resembles a school-class. They say, just like my students always used to say when they felt very tired or sleepy, hot days,--"Teacher, we are tired: please tell us some extraordinary story."
I can't just now remember when--at Matsue--a man came into the classroom to watch my teaching. He came from some little island. I have quite forgotten the name. He looked a little like Mr. Takahashi;--but there was something different in his face,--a little sad, perhaps. When the class was over he came to me and said something very good and kind, and pressed my hand and went away to his island. It is a queer thing that experiences of this kind are often among the most vivid of one's life--though they are so short. I have often dreamed of that man. Often and often. And the dream is always the same. He is the director of a beautiful little school in a very large garden, surrounded by high white walls. I go into that garden by an iron gate. It is always summer. I teach for that man; and everything is gentle and earnest and pleasant and beautiful, just as it used to be in Matsue,--and he always repeats the nice things he said long ago. If I can ever find that school, with the white walls and the iron gate,--I shall want to teach there, even if the salary be only the nice things said at the end of the class. But I fear the school is made of mist, and that teacher and pupils are only ghosts. Or perhaps it is in Horai.

Ever with best regards from all of us, faithfully,
Lafcadio Hearn.
-from The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn by Elizabeth Bisland in 2 volumes (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1906) volume 2, p. 330-32.

No comments: