Kochō (胡蝶)

Contributed by David Surtasky
Dedicated to Jean Ann Wertz of the Zen Mountain Monestary, Mt. Tremperer, NY

Kochō (胡蝶) (summary)

A third category play by Kanze Nobumitsu

One early spring a Monk from the mountains of Yoshino was making his way from the Province of Yamato towards Kyoto. Dressed in his traveling robes, he strolled down the green clad mountain paths from his home deep in the mountains, enjoying the fresh air. Not having seen the renowned sites of Miyako he was eager to visit the many temples and historic places there.

mossThe peaks of the mountains were still brightly covered in snow, the air was brisk this early in the year, and the Monk expected that the flowers might well bloom late. The Monk climbed over Mount Kisa, and saw in the distance famous Mount Mikasa. Among the still chill and leafy shadows of the oak trees he traveled, coming past Nara and eventually to Kyoto. Having traveled swiftly, he found himself beside an old but still impressive Imperial mansion in the neighborhood of Ichijō Ōmiya. The view was rustic but charming; an old pine grew out of the roof and moss covered the tile and eaves of the once stately home. Looking in at the grounds from around the carriage porch, the Monk could see a lovely plum tree; its blossoms open bravely in the new spring.

Much to the Monk’s surprise a young Woman appeared from the shadows. He hadn’t seen her there, and was briefly startled. The Woman spoke to him, asking him where he had come from. The Monk replied that he was no one of significance, only a simple traveler enjoying Kyoto for the first time. Speaking softly, the Woman explained that the mansion they stood before once hosted gay parties with elegant guests who’d come to enjoy the surroundings, listening to poems and music and to appreciate the beauty of the plum blossoms he was admiring. Impressed with her knowledge of the place, the Monk asked the Woman if she would share her name.

blossomMysteriously the Woman declined. She quoted an old poem, saying that just like the silence of the moon in spring, she could not answer. The sleeves of her robes were fragrant with the smell of blossoms, and she told the Monk that much like a diver on the beach in Akashi she had no true place to dwell.

Please, said the Monk, tell me more about this place and – do also reveal your name. The young Woman looked with longing upon the plum blossoms and said that she was not a human being. Although not human she was filled with human desire, each spring her eyes filled with sorrow since she could not truly enjoy the plum blossoms. She was not human, and instead a butterfly! Her life was granted in late spring, and the plum blossoms of the early year bloomed and faded before she could cherish them. Pray for me, she said, recite the Lotus Sutra so that I might eventually reach the Pure Land of the West.

Here at this now abandoned house, the Shining Prince – Hikaru Genji, had once brought dancers who floated as gracefully as butterflies, their precious robes the colors of the sun. Boats floated in the pond bedecked with silver and gold, and everywhere were five-petaled yellow mountain roses in the most exquisite vases. Music and fine poems filled the air. The world, alas, was transient and all things prone to change. While the young Woman spoke fondly of ancient days, the sun dipped in the sky and the moon spread its silver light upon the old house. Please, stay here tonight under the plum tree, and I will come to you in your dreams. With these words the young Woman faded from sight, vanishing into another world.

ko_omoteAbout this time, a Man from the Area came along and saw the Monk. The Monk described the wondrous sight of the embodied butterfly that he had just met, and the Man spoke of the world of the Shining Prince and the glories and pleasures which had once filled the old house. Stay here tonight, encouraged the Man, and surely the butterfly will come and visit you in your dreams. Pray for her, so that she too might find enlightenment.

The Monk settled in for the night under the boughs of the perfumed tree. He recited the sutra, and then spread his travel cloak upon the ground. Lying down, he drifted off into the world of dreams.

Here she was. The Spirit of the Butterfly appeared before the Monk, her robes like gossamer wings. Drawn near by the recitation of the sutra, she was grateful for its merits. All living beings, great and small, were to be saved by the mercy of the Buddha. The sutra had brought her release from her resentment: that she had not basked in the fragrance of the plum blossoms. You must be the Woman that I met while the sun still shone, declared the Monk. Why call me Woman, she said, can’t you see I am a butterfly? blossomsLook: the sleeves of her robes now delicate wings like petals – she floated on the air among the plum blossoms at last. To the strains of hidden flute and drums, she danced in the treetops with earnest pleasure.

A yellow butterfly. Yellow flowers. As if she held the spring breeze at her command. Spring, summer, fall – till all the flowers must fade. Moved by the Buddha’s teachings, she attained enlightenment. The butterfly danced like the Bodhisattva who dances in the Western Paradise. The rose-tinted first rays of the sun burnished the morning sky. The Spirit of the Butterfly, released from longing, flew up into the heavens. Like clouds passing in the sky, with grace, she flew away.


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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