Thursday, February 21, 2013

deeds and ways

The Heike, the Heike, o, the plump son is present then gone in less than two pages, sad ephemeron, and even the characters at the forefront of the book come back to my memory only in a few strange scenes, in my mind they are not more substantial than Muneyasu, they are not long and consistent as they appear in the book but brief and impressionistic; I remember Lord Kiyomori more specifically than any of his contemporaries because he has supernatural skulls in his garden one morning when he wakes up, Book Five, Chapter Three,

dead men's skulls beyond counting, rolling and churning,
up and down, in and out, rattling against one another with a huge clatter.
"Attendant! Attendant!" he called, but, as it happened, no one came.
Meanwhile the skulls clumped into a great mound,
bursting the bounds of the garden, some hundred and fifty feet high --
a mountain of skulls, now suddenly crammed with living eyes,
all of them training on Lord Kiyomori an unblinking glare.
Kiyomori glared back, unperturbed, and under his gaze
they disappeared without a trace
like frost or dew in the morning sun.

Lord Kiyomori is one of the book's important characters, prime mover of the Heike clan, present by page two --

... his lordship
Taira no Kiyomori,
tales of whose deeds and ways
surpass the imagination,
exceed all that tongues can tell.

-- followed by his genealogy -- he is the single figure who grows into a mass of figures before that dwindling-to-a-single-death at the end, the book shaped like a Christmas cracker or a long con, first a pinch then a bulge then a pinch, or a silence roaring up into a noise then down to another silence, Kiyomori the first chime or deep ping, he is followed by the conglomerate boom of the orchestra, then there is one note from a triangle and the music is complete.

He occupies more page-time than Muneyasu and Seno-o but in my memory he is only one action, one gesture, like them, the fat man hefting his jelly across a stretch of grass, soon beheaded by his father, then the violent Kiyomori, empire powerbroker, glaring at the eyeball'd skulls, though now that I have begun writing about his lordship I remember more of him; there is a gigantic floating face that stares through his window, again this is in Book Five, "an enormous face, a full bay wide | peered into the room" so he glares and it vanishes -- and after that (now he is surging in, he is occupying several scenes in my mind, Muneyasu has nothing more to add, he wasn't around for very long, his father was around for slightly longer but I forget the rest of him; they are defeated) I recall his death. He was sick, he had a fever so hot that his skin made water boil, he lay in agony, blaspheming against his enemies and steaming; this torture was explained when his wife had a dream about hell spirits. All these hundreds of characters mark ye and he is the only one who attracts this kind of sustained attention from the spirit world. The skulls and the giant face are not significant parts of the plot, they don't contribute to the diplomatic shoving that occupies the first part of the book where they occur and yet their role is emotionally important, they are a warning and a premonition, they tarnish and complicate Kiyomori's worldly success, and when I realise that two of the illustrations that come with this book are pictures of the skull-staring incident by different artists then I start to think that it has been memorable to more human beings than just myself, that the sheer startling arrival of those skulls is a memory-glue with universal potential, that this may even, over centuries, have become the skulls' most important role in the Heike machinery, this fish-hook snagging of the audience's attention, the ability to leave a scar behind after the functional plot points have sunk away and gone as they have for me, I know, I barely remember them.

No comments:

Post a Comment