Beauty defies definition

I’m reading my second Yukio Mishima: Forbidden Colours (禁色/Kinjiki) from 1951. It’s a thick piece, beautifully and carefully written, in a style sometimes reminding me of what Evelyn Waugh called “ornamental.”

The story centers around a youth called Yuichi. He is so beautiful that everyone, men and women, fall in love with him. But Yuichi is gay. Yes, a real homosexual. This novel from 1951 describes the Japanese gay scene in detail, and yet Mishima became Japan’s maybe most celebrated author. I find that very fascinating.

Shunsuké is an aged author with three terrible marriages behind him. When he meets Yuichi, he decides to use the boy to avenge the women he has grown to hate. Women at large that is. So he makes Yuichi marry the first girl who falls for him. Then he encourages him to flirt with any other woman who shows interest for him, with the result that they fall in love. Shunsuké’s single goal is to make these women unhappy.

I’m not even halfway through the book, and it takes time to read, since I’m constantly underlining sentences and writing comments in the margins. Just now, I was captivated by the way Mishima, through Shunsuké, describes the allure of youth:

In the Tale of Shotetsu, Section 23 says that if someone asks where Mount Yoshino is, a person should answer that when one writes poems about cherry blossoms he recalls Mount Yoshino; if about maple leaves, the River Tatsuta; that’s all. Whether it’s in Isé or Hyuga, one doesn’t know. The information as to where it may be is useless to remember. Even though one makes no effort to remember, however, the fact keeps being remembered of itself that Yoshino was in Yamato. That’s what it says.

When put into words, youth is a thing like that, the old man thought. For cherry blossoms, Yoshino; for maple leaves, Tatsuta – other than that can there be any definition of youth? The artist spends the half of his life after his youth is over searching for the meaning of youth. He explores the native lands of youth. What does that amount to? Cognition has already ruptured the sensual harmony existing between cherry blossoms and Yoshino. Yoshino has lost its universal meaning. It has become a point on a map – or a period in past time: Yoshino, in Yamato, nothing more.

Sigh! So beautiful, so true, so tragic. You may want to read that quote a second time (as I did), slowly, to fully grasp its content.

I keep repeating to myself in awe that Mishima was 26 when he wrote the book. Such wisdom. Such obsession.