MISHIMA: THE SAILOR WHO FELL FROM GRACE WITH THE SEA

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I’ve just finished reading Yukio Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. I continue my fascination with this hauntingly poetic and brutally beautiful writer. Published in 1963 and translated (by John Nathan) into English in 1965, the novel chronicles the complex relationship between the 13-year old Noburu, his widowed mother Fusako, and Ryuji, the sailor that transfixes the mother and son. Ryuji and Fusako fall in love and end up marrying, which sends Noburu into a spiral of anxiety. Noburu belongs to band of savage boys who pride themselves on “objectivity”, despise sentimentality, reject hypocrisy, and shun the illusory world of adults. Ryuji, whom Noburu initially idealizes, becomes hated and targeted by the gang of children as his romance progresses with Fusako.

Nathan’s translation feels refreshingly straightforward, maintaining the essence of Mishima’s prose. A few highlights:

[H]is body looked younger and more solid than any landsman’s: it might have been cast in the matrix of the sea. His broad shoulders were square as the beams in a temple roof, his chest strained against a thick mat of hair, knotted muscle like twists of sisal hemp bulged all over his body: his flesh looked like a suit of armor that he could cast off at will

[A] man encounters the perfect woman only once in a lifetime and in every case death interposes.

Real danger is nothing more than just living. Of course living is merely the chaos of existence, but more than that it’s a crazy mixed up business of dismantling existence instant by instant to the point where the original chaos is restored, and taking strength from the uncertainty and the fear that chaos brings to re-create existence instant by instant. You won’t find another job as dangerous as that. 

Shining cooly through the gloom of the shed, the scissors were magnificent in their cold intellectual dignity

He saw them as marvelous gold embroideries leaping off a flat black fabric: the naked sailor twisting in the moonlight to confront a horn–the kitten’s death mask, grave and fang-bared–it’s ruby heart…gorgeous entities all and absolutely authentic: then Ryuji too was an authentic hero..all incidents on the sea, in the sea, under the sea. 

At that moment the pool was terrifically deep. Deeper and deeper as watery blue darkness seeped up from the bottom. The knowledge, so certain it was sensuous, that nothing was there to support the body if one plunged in generated around the empty pool an unremitting tension. Gone now was the soft summer water that received the swimmer’s body and bore him lightly afloat, but the pool, like a monument to summer and to water, had endured, and it was dangerous, lethal.

Glory, as anyone knows, is bitter stuff.

Next on my list of Mishima novels is Forbidden Colors.

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