THE Bay of Yedo is all blue and yellow.
village of Haokami is pink. And Umanosuke,
who ruled the village worthily, was a widower.
And Yai, his daughter, was wayward. The
death of his wife had grieved Umanosuké.
‘She was more dear to me,’ he had cried over
her tomb, ‘than the plum-tree in my garden,
more dear than the half of all my pied chrysan-
themums. And now she is dead. The jewelled
honeycomb is taken from me. Void is the pavilion of my desire. As
an untrod island, as a little island in a sea of tears, so am I. My wife is
dead. What is left to me?’ Yai, not more then than a baby, had sidled
up to him, cooing, ‘I, O father!’ And the villagers had murmured in
reverent unison, ‘We, O sir!’ And so the widower had straightway
put from him his hempen weeds and all the thistles of his despair, had
lifted his laughing child upon his shoulder, and touched with his hand
the bowed heads of the villagers, saying, ‘Bliss, of all things most
wonderful, is fled from me. But Authority remains, and therefore will
I make no more lamentation.’ Henceforth Umanosuke lived for
Authority. Full of wisdom were his precepts, and of necessity his
decrees. Whenever the villagers quarrelled, as villagers will, among
themselves, and struck each other with their paper-fans and parasols,
at his coming they would lie flat upon the green ground, eager of his
arbitrage. With the villagers he had not any trouble. With Yai, alas!
‘Five years are gone,’ he said sternly to her, one morning,
sun glanced upon that sugared waterfall, your mother. Nor ever once
have you sought to please me, since the day when you delivered your-
self into my charge. The toys that I fashioned for your fingers you
have not heeded, and from the little pictures that I painted for your
pleasure you have idly turned your eyes. When I would awe you
to obedience, you do but flout me. When I make myself even as
a child and would be your playmate, you drive me from your pre-
sence. You will soon be eight years old. Behave, I beseech you,
Yai ran into the garden, laughing.
On the morning of her thirteenth birthday, Umanosuké resumed
warning. ‘Ten years ago,’ he said, ‘there flew from me that fair heron’s
wing that was your mother. I would she were here that she might
assuage the bitter sorrow you are always to me. You break the figured
tablets from which I would teach you wisdom. Strewn with unfingered
dust are the books you should have long learnt utterly. Your feet fly
always over the sand or through the flowers and feather-grasses. I see
you from my window bend your attentive ear to the vain music of the
seashell. I often hear you in foolish parley with the birds. Me, your
father, you do dishonour. Reflect! You are growing old. You will
never see twelve again. Behave, I beseech you, better!’
Yai ran into the garden, pouting.
On the morning of the day before her wedding-day,
called her to him and said, once and for all, ‘Since faded and fell that
fair treillage of convolvulus, than which I can find no better simile for
your mother, it is already fifteen round years. And, lo! in nothing but
dreams and errantry have you spent your girlhood. I, who begat you,
have grown sad in contemplating all your faults. Had I not, knowing
the wisdom of the philosophers, believed that in the span of every life
there is good and evil equally distributed, and that your evil girl-
hood was surely the preamble of a most perfect prime, your faults had
been intolerable. But I was comforted in my belief, and when I be-
trothed you to young Sanza, the son of Oiyaro, my heart was filled with
fair hopes. Only illusions!’
‘But, father,’ said Yai, ‘I do not love Sanza.’
‘How can you tell that you do not love him,’ her father
‘seeing that you hardly know him?’
‘He is ugly, father,’ said Yai. ‘He wears strange garments.
voice is harsh. Twice we have walked together by the side of the sea,
and when he praised my beauty and talked of all he had learnt at the
university, and of all he wished me to learn also, I knew that I did not
love him. His thoughts are not like mine.’
‘That may well be,’ Umanosuke answered, ‘seeing that he was
to be the finest student of his year, and you are a most ignorant maid.
As for his face, it is topped with the highest forehead in Haokami. As
for his garments, they are symbols of advancement. In fourteen lan-
guages he can lift his voice. I am an old man now, a man of the
former fashion, and many of Sanza’s thoughts seem strange to me, as to
you. But when I am in his presence I bow humbly before his intellect.
He is a marvellous young man, indeed. He understands all things. If
you mean that you are unworthy of him, I certainly agree with you.’
‘Then, it is that I am unworthy of him, father,’ faltered
‘Sanza does not think so,’ said her father, more gently. ‘He
me, yesterday, that he thought you were quite worthy of him. And as I
look at you, little daughter, and see how fair a maid you are, I think he
was right. It is because I love you that I would you were without
fault. I have never been able to rule you. It is therefore that I give
you gladly to Sanza, who will understand you, as he understands all
‘Perhaps,’ said Yai, ‘Sanza is too wise to understand me, and
not wise enough to love him. I do not know how it is—but, oh, father!
indulge me in one whim, and I will never be graceless nor unfilial
again ! Tell Sanza you will not let him be my bridegroom!’
‘To-morrow you will be his wife,’ said Umanosuké. ‘That you
yourself indifferent to him, is nothing to me. You are betrothed to
him. He has given to you, in due form, a robe of silken tissue, a robe
incomparably broidered with moons and lilac. When once the lover
has given to the maiden the robe of silken tissue, his betrothal is sacred
in the eyes of our God.’
‘Father,’ said Yai, ‘the robe has been given to me indeed. It
my room, and over all its tissue are moons and lilac. But lilac is said
to be the flower of unfaith, and moons are but images of him whom I
love. Ever since I was little, I have loved the Moon. As a little child
I loved him, and now my heart is not childish, but I love him still,
hrom my window, father, I watch him as he rises in silver from the
edge of the sea. I watch him as he climbs up the hollow sky. For
love of him I forgo sleep, and when he sinks into the sea he leaves me
desolate. Of no man but him can I be the bride.’
Umanosuké raised his hand. ‘The Moon,’ he said, ‘is the
lantern that our God has given us. We must not think of it but as of a
lantern. I do not know the meaning of your thoughts. There is mischief
in them and impiety. I pray you, put them from you, lest they fall as a
curse upon your nuptials. I did but send for you that I might counsel
you to bear yourself this afternoon, in Sanza’s presence, as a bride should,
with deference and love, not with unmaidenly aversion. It is not well
that the bridegroom, when he comes duly on the eve of his wedding to
kiss the hand of his bride, and to sprinkle her chamber with rose-leaves,
should be treated ungraciously and put to shame. Little daughter, I
will not argue with you. Know only that this wedding is well devised
for your happiness. If you love me but a little, try to please me with
obedience. I am older than you, and I know more. Behave, I beseech
Yai ran into the garden, weeping.
She paced up and down the long path of porcelain. She beat
hands against the bark of her father’s favourite uce-tree, whose branches
were always spangled with fandangles, and cursed the name of her
bridegroom. For hours she wandered among the flower-beds, calling
upon the name of her love.
The gardeners watched her furtively from their work, and
mured, smiling one to another, ‘This evening we need not carry forth
our water-jars, for Yai has watered all the flowers with her tears.’
When the hour came for her bridegroom’s visit, though, Yai
bathed her eyes in orange-water, and sat waiting at her window.
She saw him, a tiny puppet in the far distance, start from the pavilion
that was his home. As he came nearer, she noted his brisk tread,
and how the sun shone upon his European hat. What a complacent
smile curved his lips! How foolish he looked, for all his learning! In
one hand he swung a black umbrella, in the other a small parcel
of brown paper. ‘He will release me,’ whispered Yai; but her heart
misgave her, and she shrank away from the window.
When her nurse ushered Sanza into the room, Yai hardly
‘Well,’ he said cheerily, as he placed his hat on the floor,
‘here I am,
you see! Quite punctual, I think? Brought my rose-leaves along
with me. Really, my dear Yai,’ he said, after a pause, ‘I do think
you might rise to meet me when I come into the room. You know
I don’t stickle for sentiment—far from it,—but surely, on such an
occasion, a little display of affection wouldn’t be amiss. Personally,
you know, I object to all this rose-leaf business; but I’m not going to
offend your father’s religious views, and it’s really rather a quaint old
ceremony in its way; and I do think that you might—what shall
I say?—meet me half-way.’
Yai came forward listlessly.
‘You’ll excuse the suggestion,’ he laughed, shaking her
‘Now, I had better undo my parcel, I suppose? I expect you know
more about these little Japanese customs than I do;’ and he began to
loosen the string.
‘What have you in there?’ asked Yai.
‘Why, the rose-leaves, to be sure!’ Sanza replied, producing
that had once held cocoa.
‘Most lovers bring their rose-leaves in a bowl, I fancy,’
with a faint smile. ‘But it is no matter. Please do not sprinkle
‘How stupid of me!’ exclaimed Sanza, throwing back his
rose-leaves into the tin. ‘If one does a thing at all, let it be done
correctly. I have to kiss your hand first, of course.’
‘Please do not kiss my hand, Sanza,’ the girl said simply. ‘I
love you. I do not wish to be your bride.’
‘What about that silk material I sent you the other day?’
asked sharply. ‘I understood that your failure to return it was ipso
facto an acceptance of my proposal?’
‘I kept the silken robe that was broidered with moons and
Yai murmured, ‘because I wished to please my father, whom I have
often grieved. I thought then that I could be your bride. Now I
know that I cannot.’
‘Why this change of front?’ gasped her lover.
‘I have no good reason,’ she said, ‘that I can give you; only
thought I was stronger than I am—stronger than my love.’
‘If you will excuse me,’ muttered Sanza, with momentary
levance, ‘I will sit down.’ And he squatted upon the floor, disposing
the tails of his frock-coat around him. ‘May I ask,’ he said at length,
‘to what love you refer?’
‘My love for the Moon,’ Yai answered.
‘The—the what? cried Sanza.
‘The Moon,’ she repeated, adding rather foolishly, ‘I— I
perhaps you had guessed.’
Sanza laughed heartily.
‘Well, really,’ he said, ‘you quite took me in. I should
your becoming an actress, if it weren’t for native prejudices. You’d
go far. Oh, very good! Ha, ha!’
‘I am not jesting, Sanza,’ said Yai sadly. ‘I am very
since I was little, I have loved the Moon. As a little child I loved him
and now my heart is not childish, but I love him still. My heart grows
glad, as he rises in silver from the edge of the sea and climbs up the
hollow sky. When he climbs quickly, I shudder lest he fall; when he
lingers, I try to fancy it is for love of me; when he sinks at length into
the sea, I weep bitterly.’
Sanza began to humour her.
‘Oh yes,’ he said, ‘the Moon’s a wonderful climber. I’ve
that. And a very good fellow, too, from all accounts. I don’t happen
to know him personally. He was senior to me at the university. I
must get you to introduce us.’
‘You jest poorly,’ said Yai.
‘Come, come,’ he resumed presently, ‘you know as well as I do
the Moon is just an extinct planet, 237,000 miles distant from the earth.
Perhaps you didn’t know? Well, selenography is rather a hobby of
mine, and I ’ll give you one or two little facts. The Moon is a subject
which has attracted a great many physiologists in all ages. Thanks to
the invention of photography, we moderns have accumulated a con-
siderable amount of knowledge regarding it. The negatives obtained
at the Lick Observatory, for example, prove conclusively that the
immense craters and mountainous ridges visible upon its surface, so far
from being surrounded with an atmosphere similar in density to our
own, are, in fact, enclosed only by a gaseous envelope, not less than 200
times thinner than the most rarefied atmosphere obtainable on the
But Yai had shut her ears.
‘Sanza,’ she said, when he ceased, ‘will you release me? If
think me mad, you cannot wish me to be your bride.’
For a moment Sanza hesitated—but for a moment.
‘Madness,’ he said, ‘is a question of degree. We are all
mad. If you were left to indulge in these absurd notions, you would
certainly become mad, in time. As it is, I fancy you have a touch of
Neuromania. And, when you speak, I have noticed a slight tendency
to Echolalia. But these are trifles, my dear. Any sudden change of
life is apt to dispel far more serious symptoms. Your very defects,
small though they are, will make me all the more watchful and tender
towards you when 1 am your husband.’
‘You are very cruel and very cowardly,’ sobbed Yai, ‘and I
‘Nonsense!’ said Sanza, snatching one of her hands and
In another minute the room had been sprinkled with
and Yai was alone.
At sunset her father came to the room and bent over her
kissed her. ‘Do not weep, little daughter,’ he said. ‘It is well that
you should be wed, though you are so unwilling. Sleep happily now,
little daughter. To-morrow, all in your honour, the way will be strewn
with anemones and golden grain. Little lanterns will waver in the
Yai spoke not a word.
But when her father had reached the threshold of her room,
swiftly to him and flung her arms around his neck, and whispered to
him through tears, ‘Forgive me for being always an evil daughter.’
Umanosuké caressed her and spoke gentle words. And when
left her, at length, he barred the door of her room. For in that land
there is an old custom, which ordains that the bride’s room be sealed
on the wedding-eve, lest the bride be stolen away in the night.
Umanosuké’s footsteps grew faint in the distance. So soon as
could hear them no more, Yai shook the door, noiselessly, if peradven-
ture it were not rightly barred. It did not yield. Noiselessly she crept
across the floor, the rose-leaves brushing her bare and tiny feet. Noise-
lessly she slid back the wickered grill from her window. She wrapped
her skirt very tightly round her, and raised herself on to the ledge.
Down a trellis that covered the outer wall she climbed lightly. No one
Darting swiftly from shadow to shadow, she passed down the
garden, and dragged from its shed the little, reeded skiff that her
father had once given to her. She did not dare drag it down the
beach, lest the noise of the rustling shingle should betray her. Easily
(for it was light as a toy) she lifted it on her shoulder, and carried
it down, so, to the darkening waters, launched it, and stepped in.
She knew at what point on the edge of the great sea her
would rise. She knew by the aspect of the stars that he would rise
before the end of another hour. Could she reach the edge of the
great sea so soon? Crouching low in the skiff, a little figure scrupu-
lously balanced, she brushed the water with her paddle. Strong and
supple was her wrist, and sure were her eyes, and swiftly the frail craft
sped on over the waters. Never once did the maid flag nor falter,
though her hands grew cold and stiff in their strenuous exercise.
Though darkness closed in around her, and the waters rushed past her,
on either side, with a shrill sound as of weeping, she had no fear, but
only love in her heart. Gazing steadfastly before her at that glimmer-
ing, white line, where the sky curves down upon the sea, and ever
whispering through her lips the name of her love, she held her swift
course over the waters.
Clearer, clearer to her gaze, grew the white line and the
purple that rested on it. Another minute, and she could hear the waves
lapping its surface, a sweet monotony of music, seeming to call her
on. A few more strokes of her paddle, swept with a final impulse, and
the boat bore her with a yet swifter speed. Soon she suffered it to
glide on obliquely, till it grazed the white line with its prow. She had
reached the tryst of her devotion. Faint and quivering, she lay back
and waited there.
After a while, she leant over the side of the boat and peered
into the sea. Far, far under the surface she seemed to descry a little
patch of silver, of silver that was moving. She clasped her hands to
her eyes and gazed down again. The silver was spreading, wider and
wider, under the water, till the water’s surface became even as a carpet
of dazzling silver.
The Moon rose through the sea, and paused under the
of the sky.
So great, so fair was he, of countenance so illustrious, that
Yai did but hide her head in the folds of her garment, daring not
to look up at him.
She heard a voice, that was softer and more melancholy than
west wind, saying to her, ‘Child of the Ruler of Haokami, why sought
you to waylay me?’ And again the voice said, ‘Why sought you to
‘Because,’ Yai answered faintly, ‘because I have long loved you.’
And as she crouched before him, the Moon covered her
silver, insomuch that she was able to look up into his eyes, being
herself radiant, even as he was. And she stretched out her arms to
him and besought him that she might sail over the sky with him
‘Nay, said the Moon, ‘but you know not what you ask.
the sky you might sail in my embrace, and love me, and be my
darling. I would bear you among the stars and lie with you in the
shadows of the clouds. The tiny world would lie outspread beneath
us, and in the wonder of our joy we would not heed it. We would
mingle the cold, silver of our lips, and in the wreath of our arms our
love-dreams would come true. But soon I should sink into the sea
yonder. On the grey surface of the sea I should leave you to drown.’
‘Take me in your arms!’ cried the girl.
And the Moon bent down to her and took her gently in his arms.
Next morning, the Sun, as he was rising from the sea, saw a
pale body floating over the waves.
‘Why!’ he exclaimed, ‘there is the child of the ruler of
kami. She was always wayward. I knew she would come to a bad
end. And this was to have been her wedding-day too! I suppose she
was really in love with me and swam to meet me. How very sad!’
And he covered her with gold.
‘After all,’ he muttered, rising a little higher, ‘it does
not do for
these human beings to have ideas above their station. It always leads
to unhappiness. The dead child down there would soon have forgotten
her unfortunate attachment to me, if she had only stayed ashore and
married that impertinent little fellow, who is always spying at me
through his confounded telescope. And there he is, to be sure! up
betimes and strutting about his garden, with a fine new suit on! Quite
Beerbohm, Max. “Yai and the Moon.” The Pageant, 1897, pp. 143-155. Pageant Digital Edition, edited by Frederick King and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2021. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2021. https://1890s.ca/pag2-beerbohm-moon/