“I want to make a poem of my life.”
Mishima knew that life should not be “poetry written with a splash of blood,” but an anthology of verse–and a collaborative work.
“I want to make an anthology of my life,” lacks ring, but rings true. A life well-led is a collection of sonnets, senryu, cinquains, haiku, free-verse, rap, ballads, limericks and many, many elegies and odes. Many elegies and odes.
A cursory inspection of Mishima’s works will tell you that he disagreed. He decried our age as one that lacked heroic death and, in writing, scorned characters who are “…guaranteed a long life…[…]..suited for coupon clipping. Nothing more.” But a closer look reveals that only his characters yearned “to die young—and if possible free of all pain [,…for…] a graceful death—as a richly patterned kimono, thrown carelessly across a polished table, slides unobtrusively down into the darkness of the floor beneath. A death marked by elegance.”
Mishima the man, on the other hand, understood the attraction of the mundane, if not the mediocre, and when of himself, revealed its appeal to him:
“The highest point at which human life and art meet is in the ordinary. To look down on the ordinary is to despise what you can’t have. Show me a man who fears being ordinary, and I’ll show you a man who is not yet a man.”
In his most autobiographical work (although I would argue that the Sea of Fertility rivals Confessions of a Mask in this regard) he reveals quite clearly, and tragic-comedically, that:
“What I wanted was to die among strangers, untroubled, beneath a cloudless sky….my desire differed from the sentiments of that ancient Greek who wanted to die under the brilliant sun. What I wanted was some natural, spontaneous suicide. I wanted a death like that of a fox, not yet well versed in cunning, that walks carelessly along a mountain path and is shot by a hunter because of its own stupidity…”
Mishima was not heroic or ordinary: he walked the sword’s edge between the two, and the pain of being neither, of being unable to choose either, bled him for forty-five years. He was simultaneously “critically ill for the sake of love” and “preparing himself for the grave demands of reality.”
He was, a perfect distiller of the poignance of existence. He possessed what he called the special quality of Hell: “to see everything to its last detail.”To wit: life filtered through the lens of his pen is etched in shadows of the “bright disk of the sun soaring up and exploding behind our eyelids.”
“One of the snowflakes blew in and lodged itself on Kiyoaki’s eyebrow. It made Satoko cry out, and without thinking it made Kiyoaki turn toward her as he felt a cold trickle on his eyelid. She closed her eyes abruptly. Kiyoaki stared at the face with its closed lids; only the subdued crimson of her lips glowed in the shadows, and because of the swaying of the rickshaw, her features, like a flower held between trembling fingertips, were softly blurred.
…Kiyoaki now realized that a fanatical insistence on total independence was a disease, not of the flesh, but of the mind.”
Like many of us, what he realized through his work, he was unable to effect in his life. It seems that to himself as audience, his words “like inscriptions cut into stone exposed to the weather, fell from his mind, flake by flake.”
Perhaps we will meet him again, beneath the falls.