The Singing Bird of Heaven
Ama Terassu, the Glorious, the Light of High Heaven, commanded, saying, “His Augustness, my August Child, who is called the Conqueror, shall descend to the land. For it is a Land of Luxuriant Reed Plains, a Land of Fresh Rice Ears, a Land of a Thousand Autumns. So of this land he shall be king.”
Now his Augustness, the August Child, the Conqueror, stood upon the Floating Bridge of Heaven and looked down, and he saw that there was a great unquietness upon the Land of the Reed Plains. For earthly deities made strife, and blood ran, and fearful sounds of war arose, even to High Heaven. So the August Child, the heavenly born, turned back across the Floating Bridge, and swore he would not descend to rule the land until it should be cleansed.
And Ama Terassu, the Light of High Heaven, who had the sun set fast between her eyes, bound her head with jewels, and gathered the deities together in a divine assembly, to hold council in the Tranquil River Bed. And she spoke and said, “Who shall subdue the land that I have given to the August Child?”
And all the deities cried, “O Thine Augustness, send down the Lord of Spears.” Therefore the Lord of Spears went lightly down by the Floating Bridge; and there were bound upon his back eight hundred spears. Howbeit, he made a truce with the Lord of the Reed Plains and tarried there; and for three years there was no report.
Therefore, once more the Queen of Heaven called him whom the gods name Wonderful, and she called the Lord of Deep Thoughts, and likewise she called every deity of Heaven, and they came to council in the Tranquil River Bed, so that upon the sand there was left the print of their august feet. And Ama Terassu said, “Behold now the Lord of Spears is faithless. Whom shall we send to rule the land?” And the Young Prince answered, “O Mother of Heaven, Thine Augustness, send me.” And all the deities assented with one accord and cried, “Send him, send him,” till there was a sound like thunder in the River Bed.
So the Young Prince bound on his sandals, and they brought to him the great bow that stands in the Hall of High Heaven, and bestowed it upon him, and they gave him many heavenly-feathered arrows. So they made him ready, and they brought him to the Floating Bridge. And the Young Prince descended lightly, while his garments shone with the glory of Heaven. But when he touched the tops of the high hills, his heart beat fast and his blood ran warm. Therefore he cut the fastening of his sandals and cast them behind him, and he ran upon his bare feet, like an earthly deity, and came to the palace upon the Reed Plains.
Now, at the door of the palace the Princess Undershining stood, like a growing flower. So the Young Prince beheld her and loved her, and he built him a dwelling upon the Reed Plains, and took the Princess for his bride. And, because he loved her and her earthly children, he brought no report to High Heaven, and he forgot the waiting deities. For Heaven was vague to him as a dream.
But the gods were weary.
And Ama Terassu said, “Long, long tarries our messenger, and brings no word again. My Lord, the August Child, waxes impatient; whom now shall we send?” Thereupon, all the deities, and the Lord of Deep Thoughts, replied, “Send down the Singing Bird, the beloved of High Heaven.”
So Ama Terassu took the golden Singing Bird, and said, “Sweet music of the divine gods, spread thou thy bright wings, and fly to the Land of Reed Plains, and there search out the Young Prince, the messenger of Heaven, and, when thou hast found him, sing in his ear this song: ‘Ama Terassu, the Goddess of the Sun, has sent me saying, How fares the quest of High Heaven, and how fares the message? Where is the report of the gods?’”
So the bird departed, singing. And she came to the Land of the Reed Plains, and perched upon the branch of a fair cassia tree which grew hard by the Young Prince’s dwelling. Day and night, she sang, and the gods in Heaven thought long for their sweet Singing Bird. Howbeit she returned not again, but sat upon the branch of the cassia tree.
But the Young Prince gave no heed.
And She that Speaketh Evil heard the words that the bird sang. And she whispered in the Young Prince’s ear, “See now, my lord, this is an evil bird, and evil is its cry; therefore take thou thine arrows and go forth and slay it.” So she urged continually, and, by glamour, she prevailed upon him. Then the Young Prince arose, and took his bow and his heavenly-feathered arrows, and he let fly an arrow into the branches of the cassia tree. And suddenly the sweet sound of singing ceased, and the golden bird fell dead, for the aim was true.
But the heavenly-feathered arrow took wing and pierced the floor of Heaven, and reached the high place, where sat the Sun Goddess, together with her August Counsellors, in the Tranquil River Bed of Heaven. And the god called Wonderful took up the arrow, and beheld the blood upon its feathers. And the Lord of Deep Thoughts said, “This is the arrow that was given to the Young Prince,” and he showed it to all the deities. And he said, “If the Young Prince has shot this arrow at the evil deities, according to our command, let it do him no hurt. But, if his heart be not pure, then let the Young Prince perish by this arrow.” And he hurled the arrow back to earth.
Now the Young Prince lay upon a couch, sleeping. And the arrow fell, and pierced his heart that he died.
Yet the sweet Singing Bird of Heaven returned no more; and the gods were sorrowful.
Howbeit, the Young Prince lay dead upon his bed; and the wailing of his spouse, the Princess Undershining, re-echoed in the wind, and was heard in Heaven. So the Young Prince’s father descended with cries and lamentations, and there was built a mourning house upon the Land of Reed Plains, and the Young Prince was laid there.
And there came to mourn for him the wild goose of the river, and the pheasant, and the kingfisher. And they mourned for him eight days and eight nights.
Notes: Contains 38 Japanese folktales
Author: Grace James
Publisher: Macmillan And Co., Limited, London