From Pillow of Grass by Natsume Soseki , 1925

From Pillow of Grass by Natsume Soseki

Going up a mountain track I fell to thinking. Approach everything rationally, and you become harsh. Pole along in the stream of emotions, and you will be swept away by the current. Give free rein to your desires, and you become uncomfortable confined.

When the unpleasantness increases, you want to draw yourself up to some place where life is easier. It is just at that point when you first realize that life will be no more agreeable no matter what heights you may attain, that a poem may be given birth, or a picture created.

The creation of this world is the work of neither God nor devil, but of the ordinary people around us; those who live opposite, and those next door, drifting here and there about their daily business. You may think this world created by ordinary people a horrible place in which to live, but where else is there? Even if there is somewhere else to go, it can only be a “non-human” realm, and who knows but that such a world may not be even more hateful than this?

There is no escape from this world. If, therefore, you find life hard, there is nothing to be done but settle yourself as comfortably as you can during the unpleasant times, although you may succeed in this for short periods, and thus make life’s brief span bearable. It is here that the vocation of the artist comes into being, and here that the painter receives his divine commission. Thank heaven for all those who in devious ways by their art, bring tranquility to the world, and enrich men’s hearts.

Strip off from the world all those cares and worries which make it an unpleasant place in which to live, and picture before you instead a world of graciousness. You now have music, a painting, or poetry, or sculpture. I would go farther, and say that it is not even necessary to make this vision a reality. Merely conjure up the image before your eyes, and poetry will burst into life and songs pour forth. Before even committing your thoughts to paper, you will feel the crystal tinkling, as of a tiny bell, well up within you; and the whole range of colours will of their own accord, and all in their brilliance, imprint themselves on your mind’s eye, though your canvas stands on its easel, as yet untouched by the brush. It is enough that you are able to take this view of life, and see this decadent, sullied and vulgar world purified and beautiful in the camera of your innermost soul.

Even the poet whose thoughts have never found expression in a single verse, or the painter who possesses no colours, and has never painted so much as a single square foot of canvas, can obtain salvation, and be delivered from earthly desires and passions. They can enter at will a world of undefiled purity, and, throwing off the yoke of avarice and self-interest, are able to build up a peerless and unequalled universe. Thus in all this, they are happier than the rich and famous; than any lord or prince that ever lived; happier indeed than all those on whom this vulgar world lavishes her affections.

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