by Nobuyuki Yuasa (Sosui)
.. Wild swans come from Siberia to winter on the northern lakes of Japan. Lake Hyoko in Niigata Prefecture and Lake Izunuma in Miyagi Prefecture are famous as their winter homes. However, we do not often see wild swans on Japanese rivers, probably because Japanese rivers are too fast for them. Most British rivers, however, flow gently, and therefore, we can see many wild swans swimming there. Here I am reminded of the famous words of Edmund Spenser: ‘Sweet Thames! run softly, till I end my song’. These words appear in Prothalamion, a poem which celebrates the nuptials of two gentle ladies. In this poem, Spenser compares the brides to ‘two swans of goodly hue’ and tells them to ‘come softly swimming down along the Lee’. The Lee is probably the tributary that runs into the Thames at Greenwich. When I visited the ruins of Spenser’s castle at Kilcolman in Ireland, I saw swans swimming peacefully in a small marshy lake in front of it. Here, Spenser wrote his Faerie Queene, but lost his estate and some of his family when Tyrone’s Rebellion destroyed the castle. Knowing this, I could not help wondering if the peaceful swans were the ghosts of the dead, who had somehow transcended the glory and tragedy of the past.
.. Shakespeare was called ‘Sweet Swan of Avon’ by Ben Jonson. When I visited Stratford- upon-Avon, I saw two swans swimming gently in the river close by Holy Trinity Church, where he was buried. In his writings, Shakespeare often associates the swan with death. This is because of the traditional belief that the swan sings immediately before its death. In the final scene of Othello, Shakespeare makes Emilia say, ‘I will play the swan and die in music.’ The pathos of these words is very impressive, but actually swans do not sing beautifully at their death. On the contrary, their voices are rather ugly. I am afraid that ugly voices are common to most waterside birds.
… Pale blue-gray like lead,
… The lake where a flock of swans
… Nestles in winter.
………. The tears of the swans
………. Come down in sudden showers
………. At Kilcolman Castle.
.. In Japan, cranes are more familiar than swans. Moreover, they are regarded as auspicious birds. For a long time, Japan Airlines used a crane emblem on their airplanes, and this was recently revived. Some cranes migrate between Siberia and Japan, but red-crested cranes stay in Hokkaido all the year round. I once visited Kushiro in the eastern part of Hokkaido to see the monuments of Takuboku, whom I admire as a poet. This town is known for its severe winter, but fortunately, I had a relatively warm day with some sunshine. Takuboku’s monument in Yonemachi Park was impressive, against a backdrop of rough sea. I visited his museum near the river, and his statue nearby. A sea gull came and perched on his head while I was there. Watching this bird, I suddenly had a burning desire to see the red-crested cranes. So I extended my stay.
.. I first went to the Red-crested Cranes Park, a kind of zoo, where I was able to see the birds at very close quarters, but was rather disappointed that they were caged. I was surprised to see numerous kites and hawks perching on the nearby trees. I thought they were after the food provided for the cranes. I then went to the Cranes Observation Point, where I was glad to see a crowd of red-crested cranes in the open wilds, with snow on the ground. While I was watching, a pair of cranes came down and landed unexpectedly. Their elegant flight is something that I shall never forget. Soon, several cranes put their heads together, and raising their long necks, began to cry loudly up at the sky, as if in emulation. Even there, though, I was not watching the cranes in a completely natural environment, for the farmers there had been feeding them in order to attract them. What I had really wanted to see was the cranes going to sleep standing in the marshy rivers. This proved impossible. So I had to satisfy myself with pictures in the museum.
.. With snow all around
.. The crimson berets of cranes
.. Stand out in the sun.
………. Evening fog setting in,
………. Red-crested cranes go to sleep
………. In a marshy stream.