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Ten Nights Dreaming

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Ten Nights Dreaming


  Natsume Sōseki

  A New English Translation by

  Matt Treyvaud

  Foreword by Michael Emmerich

  Introduction by Susan Napier


  Mineola, New York


  Copyright © 2015 by Dover Publications, Inc.

  All rights reserved.

  Bibliographical Note

  Ten Nights Dreaming, first published by Dover Publications, Inc., in 2015, is a newly translated edition of the work originally serialized in Japanese in the Asahi Shimbun in 1908; the story “The Cat’s Grave” is also included in this edition. Written specially for this edition are a Translator's Note by Matt Treyvaud; a Foreword by Michael Emmerich; and an Introduction by Susan Napier.

  International Standard Book Number

  eISBN-13: 978-0-486-80723-2

  Manufactured in the United States by RR Donnelley

  79703101 2015


  Translator’s Note



  Ten Nights Dreaming

  The Cat’s Grave


  These translations are based on the Aozora Bunko texts of Yume jūya and Eijitsu shōhin, accessible online via was also made to two other versions of Ten Nights Dreaming: the text contained in Sōseki kinjū shihen (“Four recent works by Sōseki”), published in 1910 by Shunyōdō and accessible online through the National Diet Library’s website; and the text in Iwanami Shoten’s most recent Sōseki zenshū (“Complete works of Sōseki”), published from 1993 to 1999. The commentary in Sasabuchi Tomoichi’s “Yume jūya” ron hoka (“On ‘Ten Nights Dreaming’ and other topics”), published by Meiji Shoin in 1986, also proved particularly valuable.

  Since the unusual character of Ten Nights Dreaming lies not only in story but also in technique, this translation attempts to recreate the structure and flow of the original as closely as possible without becoming pedantic and unreadable. Where Sōseki uses multiple methods to indicate dialogue, for example, this is reflected in the translation. Japanese terminology is also retained where there is no sufficiently equivalent word in English, notably in reference to material culture such as clothing and architecture. The first instance of each such Japanese terminology has been footnoted with an explanation.

  The italicized notes at the beginning of each dream do not correspond to anything in the source text. Rather, they have been added as a compromise to help provide readers with enough basic background knowledge to appreciate each part of the work on its own terms.

  Matt Treyvaud

  Shōnan, 2015


  I can’t recall when I first read Ten Nights Dreaming. Yet the experience of reading it comes to me with an almost unnerving clarity, as vividly as a scent summoned by something in the wind, without warning, from some ordinarily inaccessible substratum of memory. It could have been a decade ago, maybe even longer. I know I read it in Japanese, but in what edition? Was I in Kyoto, New York, Tokyo?

  Certain literary masterpieces have this effect: the impression they create is so intense, so unique, that it overloads our senses, preventing us from registering the context within which we encounter them. Our brains record the feelings they evoke in us less as a discrete memory than as a category of experience, less an event than a mood. For me, Ten Nights Dreaming is this kind of masterpiece.

  Recognizing the special power of these books is not as easy as one might think. Just as some cue is needed to summon the memory of that scent, so too it takes a second, entirely different book, encountered in a different place and time, to make us see how deep and distinctive an impression the first has made upon us. It takes, that is to say, a masterful translation. For me, Matt Treyvaud’s Ten Nights Dreaming is just such a translation. Reading it, I found myself being drawn once again into the distinctive, uncanny mood this book first created in me all those years ago.

  When they recount their dreams, people often describe feeling as though they had been in that precise scene or landscape before. That sense of déjà vu, more than anything, stands at the core of my memory of first reading Ten Nights Dreaming. I can think of no better way to express my admiration for what Matt Treyvaud has accomplished in this book than to say I felt that same déjà vu all over again in reading this translation.

  Michael Emmerich

  May 2015


  “Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious,” proclaimed Sigmund Freud, suggesting that we find hidden aspects of ourselves through dreaming. But in the case of Natsume Sōseki’s beautiful and eerie fantasy collection Ten Nights Dreaming, we might perhaps ask, “Whose unconscious do you mean?” Is it Sōseki the writer’s unconscious? Or is it the collective unconscious of Japan at a crossroads moment in its history? Or could it even be the reader’s own unconscious, because this collection of dreams stirs and provokes us in complex and memorable ways each time we read it?

  In fact, all of the above probably are true. Reading Ten Nights Dreaming we gain access to the many-layered mind and imagination of Sōseki, one of modern Japan’s greatest—and most anguished—writers. And we also gain entry into the uneasy, multifaceted world of Japan during the Meiji period (1868–1912), a time when Japan pulled and pushed itself out of a tradition-bound feudal society to confront the challenge of modernity brought on by its recent contact with the West. Sōseki’s concerns were not merely culturally specific, however: Most of the anxieties and challenges he chronicles are universally experienced by modern human beings, and the strange, uneasy dreams he recounts flicker and resound across our own brains even a hundred years later.

  It is little wonder that issues of identity abound throughout the dreams. Mirrors, a hat, blindness, and a shadowy sinister child appear, signifiers of the self or at least of the search for the self. These images relate both to Sōseki’s own personal and aesthetic experiences and to the deep transitions convulsing his country as a whole. Later on Sōseki would write about these issues in a number of realistic novels for which he is most famous, but in many ways the fantastic, grotesque, and occasionally lyrical imagery in Ten Nights Dreaming and other early fantasy works expresses these concerns in more profound and memorable ways. The fantastic, as scholars and psychologists from Bruno Bettelheim onwards have reminded us, can be an extremely effective method of processing traumatic issues in a safely displaced fashion. By [dis]placing our deepest fears, anxieties, or hopes into the realm of the fantastic, we can work through them at a secure psychological distance, removed from the sometimes too painful directness of realistic fiction or art.

  Certainly, Sōseki had ample reasons for using the fantastic mode to work through trauma. His life contained a number of traumatic events, beginning in his infancy. Sōseki was born in 1867 to aged parents who, embarrassed to have a child at an advanced age, farmed him out to another couple. When he later returned to his parents, they pretended for a while that they were his grandparents, and he only learned the truth through a late-night whisper from a kindly maid. Fortunately for Sōseki, he escaped his unhappy household through his brilliance as a student, first mastering Chinese and then going on to become one of a handful of Japanese students to become truly literate in English literature.

  Sōseki’s success in English, however, led to one of the most traumatic periods in his life, a two-year stint in London arranged by the Japanese government. Although he arrived boasting that he would out-master the English in their own language, he soon realized that his spoken English would never achieve fluency. As all his biographers chronicl
e, these two years were the most miserable in Sōseki’s life. By his own account he lived “like a stray dog among wolves,” lonely and fearful, ashamed of his own failure and resentful of the English. The dream of “The Seventh Night,” with its vision of an alienated Japanese man on a ship full of Westerners steadily moving towards the setting sun, undoubtedly expresses the disturbing, even despairing, emotions that Sōseki felt towards his own encounter with the West.

  But it is also true that his time in England provided Sōseki with some of his most memorable and beautiful material for his early fantastic literature. Visits to the Tower of London not only gave him the inspiration to write the ghostly tale “The Tower of London,” but also may have inspired the themes of claustrophobia or outright entrapment evident in the dreams of the second, fifth, and tenth nights. “Tower” also deals with the inescapable power of a dark past that still shadows the present, a theme that appears as the climax of the dream of “The Third Night,” widely acknowledged to be the most gripping and haunting of all the dreams.

  More positive inspirations from Sōseki’s time in London also exist and are at least as important as the dark shadows of the Tower. Most significant were his visits to the Tate Gallery in London and his encounters with the poetry and art of the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arthurian poetry of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Both Tennyson and the Pre-Raphaelites looked back to a pre-modern world of beauty, grace, and chivalry often embodied in the figure of a beautiful, and sometimes dying, woman. Sōseki apparently spent many hours at the Tate transfixed in front of John William Waterhouse’s picture of the Lady of Shalott, the legendary lover of Lancelot who died tragically (and beautifully) of unrequited love. The Lady and her Arthurian equivalent, Elaine, were both associated with lilies, and it is easy to see another incarnation of her in Sōseki’s flower-woman of the lyrical “Dream of the First Night.”

  “The First Night” also contains an image of entrapment, but in this case the male observer seems content to stay spellbound by the woman’s power. In “The Second Night,” the male is imprisoned by his own ego, although there may be a hidden sexual element as well, given his references to his “nine and a half inch knife.” Sexuality and entrapment reach a crescendo in the grotesque black humor of the dream of the “Tenth Night,” in which a mysterious woman leads “Shotaro” (perhaps the dreamer’s alter ego) to a hideous fate of being charged by an endless stream of pigs and then licked by one. It seems that all that will be left of Shotaro is his beloved Panama hat, a last fragmented image of identity. Critics have long known that Sōseki’s own marriage was an unhappy one, and these conflicting images of beauty and entrapment are suggestive of his psychological state at that time.

  But the image of a pure and dying woman etched in “The First Night” may have larger cultural references as well, suggesting a general need among modernizing nations for an image of organic purity and beauty removed, at least momentarily, from the taint of industrialization. Across cultures this image is often embodied in the vision of a dying or vanishing woman, and it is perhaps not surprising that Sōseki returns to this image in his later realistic novel And Then, and in his last, unfinished novel, Light and Dark.

  The popularity of these later novels with his contemporary Japanese audience attests that Sōseki’s work struck a major chord in the hearts of the citizens of the Meiji period. His later work was famous for its themes concerning the increase in isolated egotistical individuals, the relentlessness and bewildering quality of technological progress, and the disappearance of faith. All these themes appear in the earlier Ten Nights Dreaming. We have already mentioned the dream of “The Seventh Night,” with its vision of a ship and its alienated passengers steaming relentlessly toward an unknown future, a metaphor for Meiji Japan as much as for the dreamer himself. The relentless vision of the final dream with its nonstop stream of pigs goes beyond issues of sexual insecurity to hint at a deep unease with progress in and of itself. Similarly, the dream of the “Eighth Night” limning a busy barbershop in which the protagonist attempts to change his appearance as he gazes at the reflections of passersby in a mirror suggests the crazy pace and insecurities of the newly modern world.

  The dreams of the second, fifth, sixth, and ninth nights depict their protagonists’ attempts to believe in something beyond themselves, only to end up frustrated or betrayed. The woman in the dream of “The Ninth Night” prays to a god to help her samurai husband, not realizing that he is already dead. The old man in “The Fifth Night,” perhaps a Taoist immortal, seems unable to wield his magic, and, similar to the dreamer in “The Seventh Night,” ends up disappearing beneath the surface of the water. Most poignant of all is the dream of “The Sixth Night,” in which a sculptor of the Meiji period attempts to summon medieval “Benevolent Kings” from the wood of modern logs, only to ruefully conclude that “Benevolent Kings simply were not buried in Meiji trees,” a resigned acknowledgment of the absence and emptiness that signify the modern world.

  Sōseki wrote Ten Nights Dreaming three years after his return from London and two years after the publication of his first major work, the satirical and somewhat fantastical I Am a Cat, the story of a Meiji household told from a cat’s point of view. The somber little piece “The Cat’s Grave,” which ends the present collection, is told in entirely realistic terms, giving the reader a hint of Sōseki’s later fiction. The piece acts as a bridge between his fantastic pieces and his realistic fiction, since it concerns the very real death of a previously fantastical cat.

  At the same time, the story’s placement in this collection also reminds the reader of the power of dreams and fantasy. A realistic account of a cat’s death and burial memorializes a specific cat at a specific time and place. Compare this with the death and burial that provide the framework of the story in the dream of “The First Night,” which begins this collection. It is up to the reader to use his or her imagination to play with the image of a fragment of a star worn round “through its long passage through the sky” or the vision of a woman transforming into a flower for a final kiss. These images reach into our unconscious, opening up roads and realms beyond ourselves and inspiring, perhaps, our own dreams, be they lyrical, grotesque, terrifying, or, as with Sōseki’s dreams, all of the above.

  Susan Napier

  April 2015


  The First Night

  The First Night

  The first dream is a relatively straightforward tale whose vivid imagery foreshadows many of the themes running through the collection.

  This is what I dreamed.

  I was sitting, arms folded, by the pillow of a woman who lay with her face towards the sky. ——I am dying, she said in a quiet voice. Her long, flowing hair spread across her pillow, framing the soft outlines of her oval face. Within the pure white of her cheeks her blood showed its color warmly, and her lips, of course, were red. She did not look about to die at all. But she had said quite distinctly, in her quiet voice, that she was dying. I found myself in agreement with her: she would surely die. ——Are you sure? Are you really dying? I asked, peering down at her face. Her eyes opened wide. ——Yes, she replied. I am dying. Within the long lashes that enclosed her large, moist eyes was the purest black. In the depths of those pure black pupils my form floated vivid and clear.

  Gazing at those shining dark eyes, so deep that they were almost transparent, I could not accept that she would die. Lowering my mouth to her pillow, I spoke again. ——You aren’t dying, surely. You’ll be fine, I said. You’ll be fine. ——No, I am dying, the woman insisted in the same small voice, eyes drowsy but not yet closed. There’s nothing to be done about it.

  ——Well, can you see my face? I asked, watching her closely. ——Why, she replied with a smile, Isn’t that its reflection, right there? I straightened up again in silence. Folding my arms, I wondered if she really had to die.

  Some time later, the woman spoke again.

  “When I am dead, please bury me.
Dig a hole with a large oyster shell. Then use a fallen fragment from a star to mark where I lie. That done, please wait beside the grave. I will come to you again.”

  I asked her when that would be.

  “The sun will rise, as you know. After that, it will set. Then it will rise again, and then set again. Can you wait for me, even as the red sun1 sinks from east to west, east to west?”

  I nodded silently.

  A new note of determination entered the woman’s quiet voice. “Please wait a hundred years,” she said. “Sit beside my grave and wait a hundred years. I will come to you, I promise.”

  I told her simply that I would wait. At once, I saw my form in her black eyes, so vivid and clear, begin to blur and break. Just as it started to run, like a reflection in still water muddled by movement, the woman shut her eyes tightly. A tear spilled from between her eyelashes onto her cheek. She was dead.

  I went down to the garden and dug a hole with an oyster shell. The shell was sharp, with a long, gently curved edge. The mother-of-pearl inside the shell glinted in the moonlight with every scoop of earth I removed. The smell of damp earth was in the air too. After a time the hole was complete. I lowered the woman into it. Then I gently covered her with the soft earth. The mother-of-pearl inside the shell caught the moonlight with each scoop.

  This done, I went and found a fallen fragment from a star to place on top. The fragment was round. I supposed that its corners had been worn away during its long fall through the sky, leaving it smooth. I felt the warmth of the fragment against my breast and in my hands as I cradled it in both arms and lowered it carefully into place.

  I sat down on some moss. So this is how I will spend the next hundred years, I thought, gazing at the round gravestone with my arms crossed. Before long, the sun rose in the east, just as the woman had said it would. It was a large, red sun. Eventually, again just as the woman had said, the sun set in the west. It stayed as red as ever as it sank out of sight. One, I counted.

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