Natsume Soseki on the gospel of living artistically.

Natsume Soseki. The Three cornered world.

The raindrops, which had before been like chaff flying in the wind, were now getting larger and longer, and I was able to see each separate shaft clearly. My haori of course was saturated, and the rainwater, which had soaked right through to my underclothes, had become tepid with the heat of my body. I felt really wretched, and so pulling my hat resolutely down over my eye, I set off at a brisk pace.

When I think of it as happening to someone else, it seems that the idea of me soaked to the skin, surrounded by countless driving streaks of silver, and moving through a vast grey expanse, would make an admirable poem. Only when I completely forget my material existence, and view myself from a purely objective standpoint, can I, as a figure in a painting, blend into the beautiful harmony of my natural surroundings. The moment, however, I feel annoyed because of the rain, or miserable because my legs are weary with walking, then I have already ceased to be a character in a poem, or a figure in a painting, and I revert to the uncomprehending, insensitive man in the street I was before. I am then even blind to the elegance of the fleeting clouds; unable even to feel any bond of sympathy with a falling petal or the cry of a bird, much less appreciate the great beauty in the image of myself, completely alone, walking through the mountains in spring.

. . .

Life is an inescapable rat-race in which you are constantly being spurred on by materialistic values to wrangle and squabble with your neighbor. For us who live in this world with its East and West, and who have to walk the tight-rope of advantage and disadvantage, love which is free of self-interest is an enemy. And yet, visible wealth is as worthless as dust, and fame which has been avidly grasped is, it seems to me, like stolen honey which looked sweet while in the making, but in which the cunning bee has left his sting. The so-called pleasures in life derive from material attachments, and thus inevitably contain the seeds of pain. The poet and the artist, however, come to know the absolute purity by concerning themselves only with those things which constitute the innermost essence of the world of relativity. They dine on summer haze, and drink the evening dew. They discuss purple, and weigh the merits of crimson, and when death comes they have no regrets. For them, pleasure does not lie in becoming attached to things, but in becoming part of them by a process of assimilation. And when at last they succeed in this, they find there is no room for their ego. Thus, having risen out of materialism, they are free to devote themselves to the real essentials of life, and thereby obtain boundless satisfaction. [. . .] My sole purpose has been to point out the gospel contained in this state of affairs, and to invite all those who so desire to take advantage of it. Let me be more precise: the road which leads to the realm of poetry and art is open to everybody without exception.

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