Thursday, August 13, 2015

Noh Blast From the Past!

Many years ago, I wrote an English adaptation of an experimental Japanese play that was performed at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. It was directed by a master Noh actor, Akira Matsui, who brought authentic Noh costumes from Japan for the production.  Akira wrote a draft of the play in Japanese, then it was translated into English. This rough translation was what I was to adapt into the play.

Before I started writing, I did a lot of reading about the poetry of Noh plays so that I could make the tone of the language appropriate. It seemed to me that writing in blank verse would be a good way to convey the poetic quality of the Noh. Another thing I learned was that there are many plays on words in Noh, no matter how "elevated" or serious the story.

That seemed to be right up my alley.  Anyway, here is a bit of the original rough translation:



Here is my version:

Mother:
And so you see, my son, most all of us
Are by our natures realists or romantics
And those who dream by day as well as night
Are fated to perception by the latter light.

Romantics go in search of the eccentric
We seek out life's extraordinary scenes
And, should life prove to be less than resplendent
Take refuge and delight in tales and dreams.

Child: And do you know such tales, to tell to me?

Mother:
I do, indeed, a web of countless tales
My mother told to me when I was young
And hers to her, and so on, back through time
A chain of tales, unearthly and sublime.

***
Whenever I'd be put to bed alone,
I used to give myself an awful fright
Descrying ghostly shapes above my bed
And weaving ghastly pictures in my head.

But as I said, these stories told to me
Were not recounted just to terrify.
They also served to underscore the part
That spirits play within the human heart.


"Hoichi" © Dorothea Jensen 1983