Madame Chrysantheme by Pierre Loti


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Page 2

The wind was dead against us, and the strong breeze, which steadily
increased, seemed as if the country were blowing with all its might
against us, in a vain effort to drive us away from its shores. The
sea, the rigging, the vessel itself, all vibrated and quivered as if
with emotion.




II.

By three o'clock in the afternoon all these far-off objects drew close
to us, so close, indeed, that they overshadowed us by their rocky
masses and dense green thickets.

We now entered into a shady kind of channel enclosed between two high
ranges of mountains, curiously symmetrical in shape--like stage
scenery, very fine, though unlike nature. It seemed as if Japan opened
to our view, through a fairy-like rent, which thus allowed us to
penetrate into her very heart.

Nagasaki, as yet unseen, must be at the extremity of this long and
curious bay. All around us was admirably green. The strong sea-breeze
had suddenly fallen, and was succeeded by a perfect calm; the
atmosphere, now very warm, was laden with the perfume of flowers. In
the valley resounded the ceaseless whirr of the cicalas, answering

innumerable sounds; the whole country seemed to vibrate like crystal.
On our way we passed among myriads of Japanese junks, gliding softly,
wafted by imperceptible breezes on the unruffled water; their motion
could scarcely be heard, and their white sails, stretched out on
yards, fell languidly in a thousand horizontal folds like
window-blinds, their strangely contorted poops rising up castlewise in
the air, reminding one of the towering ships of the middle ages. In
the midst of the intense greenery of this wall of mountains, they
stood out with a snowy whiteness.

What a country of verdure and shade is Japan; what an unlooked-for
Eden!

Beyond us, at sea, it must have been full daylight; but here, in the
recesses of the valley, we already felt the impression of evening;
beneath the summits in full sunlight, the base of the mountains and
all the thickly wooded parts near the water's edge were steeped in
twilight.

The passing junks, gleaming white against the background of dark
foliage, were silently and dexterously maneuvered by small yellow men,
stark naked, with long hair piled up in womanlike fashion on their
heads. Gradually, as we advanced further up the green channel, the
perfumes became more penetrating, and the monotonous chirp of the
cicalas swelled out like an orchestral crescendo. Above us, on the
luminous sky, sharply delineated between the mountains, a species of
hawk hovered about, screaming out with a deep human voice, "Han! Han!
Han!" its melancholy call lengthened out by the surrounding echoes.

All this fresh and luxurious nature bore the impress of a peculiar
Japanese type, which seemed to pervade even the mountain tops, and
consisted, as it were, in an untruthful aspect of too much prettiness.
The trees were grouped in clusters, with the same pretentious grace as
on the lacquered trays. Large rocks sprang up in exaggerated shapes,
side by side with rounded lawn-like hillocks; all the incongruous
elements of landscape were grouped together as though it were an
artificial creation.

Looking intently, here and there might be seen, often built in
counterscarp on the very brink of an abyss, some old, tiny, mysterious
pagoda; half hidden in the foliage of the overhanging trees; bringing
to the minds of new arrivals such as ourselves, the sense of
unfamiliarity and strangeness; and the feeling that in this country,
the Spirits, the Sylvan Gods, the antique symbols, faithful guardians
of the woods and forests, were unknown and uncomprehended.

* * * * *

When Nagasaki rose before us, the sight that greeted our eyes was
disappointing; situated at the foot of green overhanging mountains, it
looked like any other commonplace town. In front of it lay a tangled
mass of vessels, carrying all the flags of the world; steamboats just
as in any other port, with dark funnels and black smoke, and behind
them quays covered with factories: nothing in fact was wanting in the
way of ordinary, trivial, every-day objects.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sun 15th Sep 2019, 17:09