Kesa and Morito (Akutagawa Ryunosuke)


LOOKING AT THE moon in a pensive mood, Morito walks on the fallen leaves outside the fence of his house.


The moon is rising now. I usually wait for moonrise impatiently. But tonight the bright moonrise shocks me with horror. I shudder to think that tonight will destroy my present self and turn me into a wretched murderer. Imagine when these hands will have turned crimson with blood! What a cursed being I shall seem to myself then! My heart would not be so wrung with pain if I were to kill an enemy I hate, but tonight I have to kill a man whom I do not hate.
I have known him a long time. Though it is only lately that I have learned his name, Wataru Saemon-no-jo, I have known his handsome face ever since I can remember. When I found that he was Kesa’s husband, it is true that I burned with jealousy for a while. But now my jealousy has already faded, leaving no trace in my mind or heart. So for my rival in love, I have neither hatred nor spite. Rather, I think kindly of him. When my aunt, Koromogawa, told me how he spared no pain or effort to win Kesa’s heart, I felt sympathetic toward him. I understood that out of his whole-hearted desire to win her for his wife, he even took the trouble to learn to write poetry. I cannot imagine that simple and prosaic man writing love poems, and a smile comes to my lips in spite of myself. This is not a smile of scorn; I am touched by the tenderness of a man who goes to such extremes to win a woman. It is even possible that his passionate love which makes him idolize my beloved Kesa gives me some satisfaction.
But do I really love Kesa? Our love affair may be separated into two stages, the past and the present. I loved her before she married Wataru, or I thought I did. But now that I look into my heart, I find there were many motives. What did I want from her? She was the kind of woman for whom I felt fleshly desire even in the days when I was chaste. If an overstatement is allowed, my love toward her was nothing more than a sentimental embellishment of the motive that drove Adam to Eve. This is evident from my doubts about my continuing to love her if my desire had been fulfilled. Though I kept her in my mind for the three years after the break in our association, I can not surely say I love her. In my later attachment to her, my greatest regret was that I had not known her intimately. Tortured with discontent, I fell into the present relationship, which terrified me, and yet which I knew must come. Now I ask myself anew, “Do I really love her?”
When I met her again after three years at the celebration of the completion of the Watanabe Bridge, I resorted to all sorts of means to get a chance to meet her “secretly. Finally I succeeded. Not only did I succeed in meeting her, but I took her body just as I had been dreaming of. At that time the regret that I had not known her physically was not all that obsessed me. When I sat close to her in the matted room of Koromogawa’s house, I noticed that much of my regret had already faded. Probably my desire was weakened by the fact that I was not chaste. But the basic cause was that she was not what I expected her to be. When I sat face to face with her, I found that she was not the image of statuesque beauty I had imagined for the past three years. She was far from the idol I had idealized in my heart. Her face, thickly coated with leaden powder, had lost much of its bloom and smooth charm. Darkish rings had formed beneath her eyes. What remained unchanged in her was her clear, full, dark eyes. When I saw her in this new light, I was shocked, and in spite of myself I could not help turning my eyes away.
Then how is it that I had intercourse with a woman to whom I felt so little attachment? First I was moved by a strange wish to conquer my former heart’s desire. Sitting face to face, she gave me a deliberately exaggerated story of her love for her husband. It left nothing but an empty ringing in my ears. “She has a vainglorious idea of her husband,” I thought. I also suspected this may be motivated by her wish not to inflame my desire. At the same time my desire to expose her falsehood worked more and more strongly upon me. Why did I consider it a falsehood? If you tell me, dear reader, that my own conceit had led me to suspect the falsehood of her statement, I cannot deny your charge. Nevertheless, then I believed and still now do I believe that it was a lie.
But the desire to conquer was not all that obsessed me at that moment. I blush to mention it—I was dominated by lust. It was not merely my regret that I had not known her body. It was a base lust for lust’s sake which did not require that the other party be that woman. Probably no man who hired a woman in a brothel would have been baser than I was then.
Anyway, out of such various motives, I had relations with Kesa. Or, rather, I dishonored her. To return to the first question that I put forth, I need not ask myself now if I loved her. When it was over, I raised her up forcibly in my arms—this woman who had thrown herself down crying. Then she looked more ignominious than I. Her ruffled hair and sweating flesh, everything indicated the ugliness of her mind and body. It would not be wrong to say that I have had a new hatred for her in my heart since that day. And tonight I am going to murder a man I do not hate, for the sake of a woman I do not love.
“Let’s kill Wataru,” I whispered into her ear. Mad indeed I must have been to have made such a brazen proposal. Distractedly I breathed into her ear my past desire to challenge Wataru to a fight and win her love. Anyway, “Let’s kill Wataru,” I whispered, and very surely did I whisper clenching my teeth, in spite of myself. Looking back now, I cannot tell what prompted me to do such a rash thing. All I can think of to explain it is that I wanted to patch up the affair for the present, and that the more I despised and hated her, the more impatient I became to bring some disgrace upon her. Nothing could be more suitable for these purposes than to kill the husband she professed to love, and to wring her consent from her willy-nilly. So, like a man in a nightmare, I must have prevailed upon her to commit between ourselves the murder which I do not wish. If that does not suffice to explain my motive for proposing to murder Wataru, no other explanation can be attempted, except that a power unknown to mortals (maybe a devil or demon) led me into an evil course. Persistently and repeatedly I whispered the same thing into her ear.
Finally she raised her face and said, “Yes, you must kill Wataru.” Not only was her ready consent a surprise to me, but I saw a mysterious sparkle in her eye which I had not noticed before. An adulteress—that was the impression she gave me then. Instantly disappointment and horror—and yes, contempt—flashed through my feverish brain. I would have canceled my promise on the spot if it had been possible. Then I could have branded her an adulteress, and my conscience could have taken refuge in righteous indignation. But I was unable to do so. I confess that I readily saw its utter impossibility the moment she suddenly gazed at me. Her attitude changed, as though she had seen through my heart. I fell into the sad plight of making an appointment to murder her husband because of my fear that she would take revenge on me if I failed to carry out my part of the bargain. Now this fear has a firm and persistent vise-like grip on me. Laugh, if you wish, at my cowardice. This is the action of one who did not know how base his paramour could be. “If I don’t kill her husband, she will kill me one way or another. I must kill him else she will kill me,” I thought desperately, looking into her tearless but crying eyes. After I made the vow, did I not detect a smile on her mouth and a dimple forming on her pale cheek? Oh, because of this cursed pledge, I am going to add the crime of a heinous murder to the blackest heart imaginable. If I were to break this impending appointment which is to be fulfilled tonight. . . . No, my vow forbids it. This is more than I can bear. For another thing, I am afraid of her revenge. This is quite true. But there is something else that prompts me to the action. What is this? What is that great power which impels me, this coward ‘me’, to murder an innocent man? I cannot tell. I cannot tell. But possibly. . . . No, it cannot be. I despise her. I fear her. I hate her. And yet, and yet, it may be because I love her.
Morito, continuing to pace, says no more. The singing of a ballad comes out of the night.

The human mind is in the dark.
´ With not a light to shine upon.
It burns a fire of worldly cares
´ To go and fade in but a span.


At night under a lamp, Kesa, lost in thought, biting her sleeve, stands with her back toward the light.


Is he coming or isn’t he, I wonder. It’s highly unlikely that he isn’t. The moon is already sinking, but not a footstep can be heard, so he may have changed his mind. If he should not come. . . . I shall have to live in shame day after day, like a prostitute. How can I be so lost to shame and evil? For I shall be no better than a dead body tossed by the roadside. I shall be dishonored and trampled on, with my shame brought to light. And yet I shall have to be silent as if dumb. In that case I shall carry my regret beyond the grave. I’m sure he will come. From the moment I looked into his eyes when we parted the other day, that has been my conviction. He is afraid of me. He hates and despises me, and yet he is afraid of me. Indeed, if I were to rely only on myself, I couldn’t be sure of him. But I rely on him. I rely on his selfishness. I rely on the vile fear that selfishness inspires in him.
But now that I can no longer rely on myself, what a wretched being I am! Until three years ago I had confidence in myself, and above all, in my beauty! It would be more true to say “until that day” than “three years ago.” That day when I met him in the room of my aunt’s home, a glancq into his eyes showed me my ugliness mirrored in his mind. He spoke loving and comforting words to me, looking as if there were nothing the matter. But how can a woman’s heart ever be comforted once it has known the ugliness of her own person? I was mortified, horrified, grieved. How much better was the lurid uneasiness of the eclipse of the moon which I saw as a child in my nurse’s arms, compared to the ghostly despair that darkened my mind at that moment! All the visions and dreams I had in my heart vanished. The loneliness of a rainy dawn enshrouded me quietly. Shuddering with loneliness, I finally gave up my body, which was as good as dead, into the arms of a man I did not love — into the arms of a lascivious man who hates and despises me. Could I not endure my loneliness since my ugliness was vividly shown to me? Did I try to bury everything in that delirious moment of putting my face on his chest? Or was I moved by mere shameful desire as he was? The mere thought of it overwhelms me with shame! shame! shame! Especially when I took myself from his arms, how ashamed I was.
Vexation and loneliness brought endless tears to my eyes despite my effort not to weep. I was not only grieved because I had been dishonored, I was tortured and pained above all because I was despised like a leprous dog which is hated and tortured. What have I done since then? I have only the vaguest memory of it as if it were a thing of the distant past. I only remember his low voice whispering, “Let’s kill Wataru,” and his mustache touched my ear as I was sobbing. The instant I heard these words, I felt strangely enlivened. Yes, I felt lively and bright as pale moonlight, if moonlight can be said to be bright. After all, was I not comforted by these words? Oh, am I not—is not a woman a being that feels joy in being loved by a man even if she has to kill her own husband?
I continued to weep for some time with a lonely and lively feeling like moonlight. When did I ever promise to give a helping hand in this murder of my husband?
Not until then had my husband entered my mind. I honestly say “not until then.” Until that time my mind was wholly occupied with myself and my dishonor. Then I saw the image of my husband’s smiling face. Probably the moment I remembered his face, the plan flashed across my mind. At that time I was already determined to die, and I was glad of my decision. But when I stopped crying, raised my face, and looked up into his own to find my ugliness mirrored in it, I felt as though all my joy had faded out. It reminded me of the darkness of the eclipse of the moon I saw with my nurse. That, as it were, set free at once all the evil spirits lurking under cover of my joy. Is it really because of my love for my husband that I am going to die for him? No, it is merely that under such reasonable pretext, I want to atone for my sin of having slept with another. Having no courage to commit suicide, I have the mean desire to make a good impression on the public. This meanness of mine can perhaps be condoned. Under the pretext of dying for my husband, was I not planning to revenge myself on my lover’s hatred of me, his contempt of me, and his wicked lust? This is verified by the fact that a glance into his face put out the mysterious spark of life which is like pale moonlight, and froze my heart with grief. I am going to die not for my husband but for myself. I am going to die to punish my lover’s having hurt my heart and for my grudge at his having sullied my body. Oh, not only am I unworthy of living but unworthy of dying.
But now, how much better it is to die even an ignominious death, than to live. Smiling a forced smile, I repeatedly promised to kill my husband with him. Since he is quick-witted, he must have sensed from my words what the consequences would be if he broke his promise. So it seems impossible that after making such a promise he should fall back on it. Is that the sound of the wind? When I think that my afflictions from that day are at last coming to an end tonight, I feel at ease. Tomorrow will not fail to shed its cold light on my headless body. If my husband sees it, he will . . . no, I won’t think of him. My husband loves me. But I have no strength to return his love. I can love only one man. And that very man is coming to kill me tonight. Even this rushlight is too bright for me, tortured by my lover as I am.
Kesa blows out the light. Soon the faint sound of the opening of a shutter is heard, and pale moonlight floods in.

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