The soul first comes as a delicate young man, chilled and struck fatally ill in the spring snow as he climbs a mountain to get to his cloistered beloved. It is then reborn as a fiery revolutionary who attempts a revolution in 1930s Japan. It reemerges in a beautiful Thai princess. And it returns again as an evil, gnarled young man.
Throughout, a man grows old and reencounters this reincarnation cycle – as a best friend, a mentor, a benefactor, and a father.
“The Sea of Fertility” was signed and sealed on this day 45 years ago today. Yukio Mishima left his masterpiece behind at his home in an envelope for his publisher, then went with his private army to a military base, attempted and failed a coup, and then committed ritual suicide. November, 25, 1970 remains a baffling date to readers, Japanese nationalists, philosophers and fellow writers.
I was born more than a decade after the genius’s insane gesture.
But no single literary work has affected my personal worldview as much as Mishima’s masterpiece. I take the simplistic reading of the ending – simply that the protagonist died, and is absorbed into the lunar-like, cold brightness of the garden on that mountaintop. Time, cycles, reincarnation – even meaning itself – is meaningless.
Some suggest Mishima the joker was playing another of his famed games with critics, and that the ending was the sleight of hand putting a punchline to the cosmic joke that ran about 1,500 pages. I think he was too serious for that. Even for a man who created his own personal army complete with goofy uniforms.
In some ways, it is a mess. The third installment is heavy on philosophical musings and description, and the fourth is written as if it was a single draft, without bells and whistles. But that is part of its genius. At that point, the concept mattered more than the execution. The failure is part of the success.
This is all as baffling to those who have read “Sea” as much as those who have not. Perhaps that’s part of the artistic victory, too.
But that ending… There is something comforting in that bright empty garden for Honda at the end. I wonder if Mishima found it – and if he has ever come back again to visit us.
Maybe, he would probably say.