Yōkihi (楊貴妃)

Contributed by David Surtasky

Yōkihi (楊貴妃) (summary)

A third category play by Komparu Zenchiku

daoistFar away in China there was at one point a Daoist Sorcerer in the service of the Emperor Gensō. His master was a just and good ruler but, like many powerful men, he did also greatly enjoy the material world. It came to pass that the Emperor had fallen in love with a woman of immense and peerless beauty, the Lady Yōkihi.

Due to an unfortunate event Yōkihi had been sent to her death on the Plain of Bagai. In the Emperor’s intense sorrow and loss, he had dispatched the Sorcerer to find Yōkihi’s departed spirit. The Sorcerer searched the vast blueness of the plain of Heaven, and the deep springs of the world beyond, and yet could not find Yōkihi’s spirit. Determined to fulfill his master’s wish, the Sorcerer at last set out for the Palace of Hōrai in the Land of Immortality. He traveled swiftly over the seemingly endless sea until he saw the mountainous island of the Land of Immortality rising from the ocean mist. Having reached the Palace of Hōrai he made an inquiry at the gate.

At the gate was a resident, a Man of the Palace who sternly asked the Sorcerer about his purpose there. The Sorcerer replied that he was searching for the spirit of Yōkihi, and did the Man know of her whereabouts? No, the Man replied, but there was a Lady that was called the Jade Princess who spoke often of her yearning for her former life and of the fine palacecourt in China. Perhaps this might be the lady that I seek, said the Sorcerer, please tell me where I might find her. The Man directed him through the woods and to a marvelous building, the Residence of Great Purity. Thanking the Man, the Sorcerer made off on his quest and eventually came to the Palace. The Palace grounds were overwhelming in their splendor, and there were no mighty Halls in the earthly realm that could compare to their greatness.

Inside the Residence of Great Purity the spirit of Yōkihi was dwelling. She thought of the transience of life, and with great fondness remembered her time on the earth. In the dusky autumn vale of Hōrai, the lady looked at the reflection of the moon, gazing at in loneliness. The moon seemed to weep for her, moved by her sadness.

The Sorcerer approached the lady and introduced himself as an Imperial messenger, and asked whether she might know the Jade Princess? Parting her flowered curtains the lady revealed herself: her gorgeous hair flowed like a cloud, her face as delicate as a flower, her beauty unmarred even as tears fell on her robe from her dark eyes.

broken_wakaonnaRecognizing the Lady Yōkihi, the Sorcerer told her of his quest. While she had been in the company of the Emperor Gensō, he was greatly distracted from his tasks, but now that she had departed things had become far worse in the entire realm. The Emperor’s grief was so profound that he neglected himself and the most trivial duties, to the point wherein even his own life seemed to be at stake. Beset by Lady Yōkihi’s vast loveliness the Sorcerer could now understand why his master the Emperor was in such a pitiable state. Having even briefly tasted the charms of such a woman, how could Emperor continue on without her?

Lady Yōkihi acknowledged that it must have been Gensō’s great love for her that sent the Sorcerer on his quest, yet his very presence in the Land of Immortality caused her deeper pain. Her memories of the waking world conspired against her and devastated her heart, withering it like a flower in an unkind wind. Like petals from a bruised orchid, her tears fell to ground.

The Sorcerer knew at once that he must return to the Emperor and tell of his discovery, and so asked Yōkihi to please provide him with some sign in order to show that he had actually spoken with her. The Lady removed a bejeweled hairpin from her dark tresses and offered it. No, responded the Sorcerer, such a material thing might easily be found in the waking world and the Emperor could very well not believe him; was there some other sign detailthat she could offer that only the Emperor would know as proof? Lady Yōkihi spoke of a vow that she and Gensō had shared: that in heaven they might be like twin birds that share a single wing, that on earth they might be like twin trees whose branches are always locked in embrace. Remind him of these words, Yōkihi said, for no other person has ever heard them.

Yōkihi spoke of the wheel of life and death. The sad and weary way of the waking world. Yōkihi’s body lay on the fields of Bagai, her soul fled away to the afterworld. Like a twin bird, she longed for her mate, alone she sat with tucked wing. The spreading branches of the twin tree became weak, and the color of the leaves faded quickly away. “If one’s heart remains true, then somehow we may hope to meet again.” Say these words to Gensō, and he will know it was truly I.

Bearing the words that Yōkihi spoke, the Sorcerer wished he could return her to life and happiness. Poor Yōkihi. The pangs of love had dwindled her away; her obi wrapped three times around her wasted body. Wait, before you leave Yōkihi said, and I will dance for you and tell you of the pleasures we once shared.

wavesOnce, on a moonlit night at the Palace of Black Horse Mountain, Yōkihi had danced like an angel with a feathered robe. She danced with the bejeweled pin in her hair; little knowing her time was so short – like the life of a butterfly. All the world was like a dream, however, quickly come and quickly gone.

Yōkihi danced in memory. She thought of the endless turning of reincarnation, of whether she might yet escape another turn on the wheel. The enormity of sorrow. Once she had dwelt in the immortal world, but the bonds of karma had returned her to the earth and her secluded chambers. The Emperor had heard of her peerless beauty and summoned her to be at his side. How false were his words: that they might grow old together and share a single grave. How useless his promise, since now she was alone, tossed by fate like sea-foam or dew upon the wind.

fanThe seventh night of the seventh month they had whispered their secret vow to each other. The twin birds, the twin trees. Sad it would be to part after a single night, tenfold the sadness after their sweet time together. It was said that those who meet must part, but Yōkihi would gladly have spent ten thousand years in the company of Gensō.

Lady Yōkihi danced as the moon spun on its course, her bejeweled hairpin sparkling in its light. She offered up her hairpin once more as a token of the past. She longed for her days in the waking world, for the company of her love, and regretted their hopeless parting. The Sorcerer made his way to leave, to return to the capital with the secret promise Yōkihi had shared. He looked back on the forlorn woman’s spirit. There she would remain, forever weeping, in the Tower of Eternal Life.


About Theatre Nohgaku

Noh, one of the oldest continuing stage arts, combines highly stylized dance, chant, music, mask and costume with intense inner concentration and physical discipline, creating a uniquely powerful theatrical experience. Theatre Nohgaku’s mission is to share noh’s beauty and power with English speaking audiences and performers. We have found that this traditional form retains its dramatic effectiveness in languages other than Japanese. We believe noh techniques hold a powerful means of expression in the context of contemporary English language theatre.
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1 Response to Yōkihi (楊貴妃)

  1. Pingback: 今何時、我々は何処ですか | Theatre Nohgaku Blog

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