THE STORY OF THE AGED MOTHERA Japanese Folktale by MATSUO BASHO Long, long ago there lived at the foot of the mountain a poor farmer and his aged, widowed mother. They owned a bit of land which supplied them with food, and their humble were peaceful andhappy.Shining was governed by a despotic leader who though a warrior, had a great and cowardlyshrinking from anything suggestive of failing health and strength. This caused him to send out acruel proclamation. The entire province was given strict orders to immediately put to death all agedpeople. Those were barbarous days, and the custom of abandoning old people to die was notcommon. The poor farmer loved his aged mother with tender reverence, and the order filled hisheart with sorrow. But no one ever thought a second time about obeying the mandate of thegovernor, so with many deep hopeless sighs, the youth prepared for what at that time wasconsidered the kindest mode of death. Just at sundown, when his day’s work was ended, he took a quantity of unwhitened rice which isprincipal food for poor, cooked and dried it, and tying it in a square cloth, swung and bundle aroundhis neck along with a gourd filled with cool, sweet water. Then he lifted his helpless old mother tohis back and stated on his painful journey up the mountain. The road was long and steep; thenarrowed road was crossed and recrossed by many paths made by the hunters and woodcutters. Insome place, they mingled in a confused puzzled, but he gave no heed. One path or another, itmattered not. On he went, climbing blindly upward – ever upward towards the high bare summitof what is known as Obatsuyama, the mountain of the “abandoning of aged”. The eyes of the old mother were not so dim but that they noted the reckless hastening from onepath to another, and her loving heart grew anxious. Her son did not know the mountain’s manypaths and his return might be one of danger, so she stretched forth her hand and snapping thetwigs from brushes as they passed, she quietly dropped a handful every few steps of the way sothat they climbed, the narrow path behind them was dotted at frequently intervals with tiny piles of twigs. At last the summit was reached. Weary and heart sick, the youth gently released his burdenand silently prepared a place of comfort as his last duty to the loved one. Gathering fallen pineneedle, he made a soft cushion and tenderly lifting his old mother therein, he wrapped her paddedcoat more closely about the stooping shoulders and with tearful eyes and an aching heart saidfarewell. The trembling mother’s voice was full of unselfish love as she gave her last injunction. “Let notthine eyes be blinded, my son. A” She said. “The mountain road is full of dangers. LOOK carefullyand follow the path which holds the piles of twigs. They will guide you to the familiar way fartherdown”. The son’s surprised eyes looked back over the path, then at the poor old, shriveled hands allscratched and soiled by their work of love. His heart smote him and bowing to the grounds, he criedaloud: “oh, Honorable mother, thy kindness thrusts my heart! I will not leave thee. Together we willfollow the path of twigs, and together we will die!”Once more he shouldered his burden (how light it seemed no) and hastened down the path,through the shadows and the moonlight, to the little hut in the valley. Beneath the kitchen floor wasa walled closet for food, which was covered and hidden from view. There the son his mother,supplying her with everything needful and continually watching and fearing. Time passed, and hewas beginning to feel safe when again the governor sent forth heralds bearing an unreasonableorder, seemingly as a boast of his power. His demand was that his subject should present him witha rope of ashes. The entire province trembled with dread. The order must be obeyed yet who in allShining could make a rope of ashes?One night, in great distress, the son whispered the news to his hidden mother. “Wait!” she said. “Iwill think. I will think” On the second day she told him what to do. “Make rope twisted straw,” shesaid. “Then stretch it upon a row of flat stones and burn it there on the windless night. ” He calledthe people together and did as she said and when the blaze and died, behold upon the stones with
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