Japan: The Labors of Yamato - The Grotto of Love

Here you will meet one of the most memorable sea-women of world mythology: Benten, a sea kami (goddess) who is also considered one of the Seven Lucky Gods of Japan. Over time, the identities of several different goddesses have coalesced into this complex figure. You can read more at Wikipedia: Benzaiten.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Japanese Mythology unit. Story source: Romance of Old Japan, Part I: Mythology and Legend by E. W. Champney and F. Champney (1917).

The Labors of Yamato: The Grotto of Love

When ‘neath the drowsy hill the Day doth fade,
And Eve with ebon wing doth earth enfold,
Then come to me and in my grot abide;
There will I cloak thee from winter cold
Within warm-nestling arms, with thine enlaced.
Pillowed upon my breast more bright than gold,
Clasping the silken girdle of my waist,
Thou‘lt lie beneath a coverlet of flowers,
And sleep and dream away the idle hours.
Then, if my passion thou wouldst deign to prove,
Come dwell with me within my grot of love.

Now it came to pass that, though his Princess was ever an obedient and gentle wife, the fickle Yamato soon wearied of her constant devotion. Since there was no more fighting to be done in her behalf, Tacibana seemed to him tedious and of little worth. Wherefore sought he distraction in the zest of the chase, riding far afield in quest of stag and boar and neglecting his dutiful Princess, who grieved sorely but uttered no word of plaint.

Yamato longed for his lost siren, the mysterious mermaid. One day he wandered on the isle of Enoshima, led thither by strains of elfin music, floating from the realms of air.

On and on he followed the haunting melody, seeming now to issue from the very bowels of the earth.

Descending the jutting cliff to the ever-seething waters, he beheld a great grotto from whose hidden depths glowed a wondrous emerald light. While he pondered upon this, he heard again the eerie music and saw a flitting of faint shadows as of strange celestial damsels.

Plunging through the surges, Yamato swam to the mouth of the cave. Here he paused as though he would fain draw back, for often had he heard old wives’ tales how this grotto was a trap baited with unearthly bliss whence no mortal might e’er return. Then he heard the heart-enthralling strains anew, and a voice wondrous sweet calling his very name, and he struck out manfully for the cavern.

His foot fell upon a seeming rock which yielded suddenly beneath his weight and a monstrous dragon, snorting terribly, lumbered forth into the sea. Nothing daunted Yamato entered the grotto, and, ever following the strange emerald light through long and tortuous galleries, came at last to a vast and lofty chamber.

Here burst upon his enraptured vision

So fair a scene,
That mortal eye might ween
It scann’d the very heavens’ unknown delight.
For ne’er in those old vasty halls imperial
Bath’d in the moonbeams bright,
Or where the dragon soars on clouds ethereal,
Was aught like this to entrance the sight:
With golden sand and silvern pebbles white
Was strewn the floor;
And at the corners four,
Through gates inlaid
With diamonds and jade,
Pass’d throngs whose vestments were of radiant light.

Upon a couch of coral bowered mid glittering sea-blooms, reclined his lost siren, singing softly the whiles she gently fingered a gold and amber lute.

“Mortal, behold Benten, Goddess of Deathless Love,” sang the mermaid. “Deign, most worshipful stranger, to taste the pleasures of our watery realm.”

Even as she spake, her beauteous handmaidens spread before the delighted youth a banquet of rare and delicious dishes such as he had never known. Sweet ambrosial sake they poured into cups of frail-stemmed sea-lilies. Heaps of gem-like fruits gleamed on plates of opalescent anemones. Translucent shells of pearl shed throughout the chamber a soft silvery light, and entrancing strains pulsated from unseen recesses, breathing of peace and love.

Yamato, kneeling spellbound at the throne of the Goddess, implored: “Grant me thy love, sweet siren — else I shall surely die.”

With eyes abased Benten fingered idly her gold and amber lute. Strangely sweet the songs she sang, but sweeter still the caresses she lavished upon the infatuated youth.

Suddenly she cast him from her: “To win my love thou must dare death,” she demanded imperiously.

“There is naught I would not venture, gentle Goddess,” he declared fervidly, “for the sake of life with thee.”

Benten smiled incredulously. “Sail to Horaizan,” she commanded. “Gain the Golden Apple of Immortal Youth, and thereafter shalt thou dwell with me in unending love.”

(800 words)

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