Yukio Mishima with poster for his film Yukoku (Patriotism)

We end this cycle the way we began, with a fascinating but tortured personality. From my first reading of John Nathan’s biography of Yukio Mishima, the legendary Japanese writer haunted me for years. I read over a dozen of his novels in translation including, of course, the fabled Sea of Tranquility quartet (he really should have won the Nobel for that) and the idyllic Sound of Waves.

Mishima’s impact on me echoed for some time, even after I wrestled with him by writing this piece. But in a way, the circle had finally closed by the time my favorite band, Jack or Jive, released their 2008 album Kakugo, which includes an updated version of the first song from their first album. That song, Worry About the Country, features a portion of Mishima’s dramatic pre-suicide speech to a captive audience of Japanese soldiers.


Defiance lash electric
Nova crash this bubbling sunless sky
Crack the dull shimmering backdrop
  of complacent denied history

I crush in my charged hands
  the calm deceitful mask
Dust for placid choking civility
Finger my sharp man’s teeth
Now I must resolve you –
  settle this dissonance

Yukio Mishima in his study, probably mid-1950sYou rolled the mirror –
  made a microscope
Turned upon yourself like a blade
Self-fashioned, tradition’s martyr
Slave to destiny embraced too easily
Stinking illogic of waste

You dug but rooted not
  the heart of sorrow
No, you had to have your emperor
Your confessions were all
  bloody Grand Kabuki masques

I saw a midget black cloud
  racing raging smash its form
    on a giant, immovable, massive –
      and lose integrity

Your protest exploded sharp the night
Howling Sun’s eclipse
Final blinding dying lines lashing out

Your reaction thundered through
  exquisite gardens
    magical pavilions
      delicate banquets
        thrashing waves
Swept over that terrible, final
  sunlit sterile hill

You pulled a swift curtain
Jumped from grace with the sea
  headlong to sink and drown
Had it to be
  such trouble to float?

Yukio Mishima making his final speechWhy not harbor still mobile life?
Daring see more
  what might you say?
Your life a brief brilliant flurry
  echoing after images lost
    seared by memory denied yourself

What murk of mine reflects yours –
  filling to flow over?
What fascinates me,
  strange haunting man?
A warning empty death awaits
Aching truth of action void
  divorced from healing self

Finally the storm clears
  into cool still light
    leaving gifts we may appreciate
      in or out of time

Life comes a flash, subsides
What did you find
  as you made your mark
    on the world of words?
      – on your smooth, rippling belly?

Son of Steel, gave no shape to anger
  but bowed before it invisible
I must work a resolution
  short of death
Be no Sensei of mine


Kinkakuji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion), Kyoto, Japan