(Editor’s note: the below is principally derived from “The No Plays: Koi no Omoni and Yuya,” P. G. O’Neill, Monumenta Nipponica , Vol. 10, No. 1/2 (1954), pp. 203-226, Published by: Sophia University.)
Contributed by David Surtasky
Koi no Omoni (恋重荷)
A fourth category play by Kanze Motokiyo Zeami
A certain Retainer to the retired Emperor Shirakawa was out viewing the gardens around the mansion. The retired Emperor greatly enjoyed his chrysanthemum flowers, and grew many of them every year. Yamashine no Shōji was the gardener of the grounds, but a somewhat older man. He was charged with keeping the garden tidy and with clearing the bottom leaves of the chrysanthemum plants. Of late, the Retainer had noticed, Shōji had been slack in his duties. The Retainer had also become aware that at some point Yamashine no Shōji was known to have glimpsed one of the Consorts – and found himself to be greatly in love with her.
The Retainer instructed one of the servants to bring Shōji to him at once. Dutifully Shōji was brought before him. Why have you not swept the garden clear, inquired the Retainer? I’ve been ill of late, Shōji responded. This may be so, the Retainer continued, but I also hear that you have fallen in love. Shōji was taken aback, wondering how his feelings could be such common knowledge. It is as plain as the look on your face, expressed the Retainer; I have heard it spoken of by others and even the Lady Consort, the object of your affection, knows of your thoughts. The gardener Shōji could not deny his true feelings.
Look, declared the Retainer, the Lady Consort has an offer for you: there is a package over there, and she says that if you’ll only carry it around the garden many hundreds of times that she’ll deign to let you see her again. Shōji was stricken; if only he could carry the package around the garden then he’d have the brief chance to see the woman that he loved! Take me to the package, Shōji declared. Here it is, said the Retainer, isn’t it attractive? The package wasn’t overly large and was handsomely done-up in damask cloth and brocaded ropes. Truly this was the burden of love, and what a wonderful offer had been made to the gardener, opined the Retainer!
Shōji immediately undertook his task. He knelt down and grasped at the ropes that bound the package. Thinking to himself that he would gladly bear this burden till he could see his love, he strained to pick it up, only to discover that it was too heavy to even be able to lift. In defeat he sank to the ground and wept, covering his face with his hand. Remonstrating himself he thought of the pains of unattainable love, and as the early autumn twilight began to fall he redoubled his efforts to lift the package. Surely the strength of his love would allow him to overcome this obstacle of fabric and brocade. A Chinese warrior could even split a rock with an arrow if he had great conviction!
The burden of love was heavy indeed. Shōji the gardener tried and tried. In his frustration and his unhappiness a feeling of anger began to well up in him. After having tossed in his sleep for days, obsessed with the sufferings of his unrequited love, he was exhausted. Again he tried to lift the burden. Again his attempt was in vain. The burden was crushing him. In his despair his thoughts turned against him, and in the final grievous defeat of a shattered heart he ended his own life.
A Servant from the mansion observed Shōji’s death with sadness. Certainly the gardener was of much lower station than the Lady Consort, but love never respected such boundaries. A tear came to the Servant’s eye. Love could cause people to neglect themselves in all sorts of ways, in their obsession little realizing how truly troubled they’d become. There was nothing for it, and the Servant brought word of Shōji’s death to the Retainer.
The Retainer was almost speechless and profoundly saddened by the news. He knew that the Lady Consort’s intent was to deter Shōji’s affections, not in any way to destroy him. Her plan was that he might find the burden of love too great to bear, and so realizing this, that it was best to give up such feelings. Instead, the brief joy that Shōji felt at the thought he might accomplish his task and win her heart turned against him. With reluctance the Retainer informed the Lady Consort, and told her of the tragic outcome.
The Lady Consort went out into the garden and knelt down at Shōji’s side. She was filled with great pity, and spoke words of mercy – but when she attempted to stand up she could not. It was as if the weight of a great stone was around her neck, pulling her to the earth. Try as she might, she could not stand.
Suddenly the spirit of Shōji the gardener appeared before the Lady Consort. His countenance was fearful, his hair wild and his fists were clenched in retribution. With a grave and forceful voice he spoke to the Lady Consort, telling her that he had died on account of his love. Although his obsessive attachment had condemned him he held the Lady responsible for the careless promise that she had made: carry the burden of love, and I will come before you. Transformed now into a vengeful spirit Shōji acknowledged his foolishness and lamented his fate for loving so far beyond his station.
Consumed by the burning fire of love, smoke rose up from his body. His suffering in the Common Hell was profound. Even in his torment he imagined that after living in this world, and the next, and the next beyond he could rest only if there was some hope for his redemption.
The Lady Consort could not meet his gaze, his fearful eyes smoldering with embers stoked by loss. The spirit of Shōji told her that his love drifted up like smoke from a fire, only to be blown away by the winds. Although he found himself lost in the darkness, while looking at the Lady Consort mercy moved within him. If she might pray. If she would offer prayers of consolation his bitter grudge would disappear, it would melt like snow or vanish like morning mist. Pray for me, Shōji said, and I would be your protector forever, your guardian spirit, and would defend you from all harm for a thousand lifetimes yet to come.
So saying the spirit faded away, and the Lady Consort was released from her burden.