Saturday 21 January 2023

Spring Snow: Mishima and Proust

I can’t be the only person thinking of Proust whilst reading Spring Snow

““I can’t tell you why,” she answered, deftly dropping ink into the clear waters of Kiyoaki’s heart. She gave him no time to erect his defenses.

He glared at her. It had always been like this. Which was why he hated her. Without the slightest warning she could plunge him into nameless anxieties. And the drop of ink spread, dull and gray, clouding everything in his heart that had been pellucid only a moment ago.” (Ch.4) 

Does Kiyoaki not make you think of Proust’s narrator? 

“Kiyoaki was so capricious that he tended to exacerbate the very worries that gnawed at him. […] Perhaps this was why Satoko deliberately sowed the seeds of dark and thorny flowers, rather than brightly colored ones, knowing what an unhealthy fascination they held for Kiyoaki. Indeed he had always been fertile ground for such seeds. He indulged himself, to the exclusion of all else, in the cultivation of his anxiety.” (ibid.) 

Kiyoaki is especially reminiscent of Proust’s narrator when he writes an angry letter to Satoko. I mean: 

““… I have no doubt that your emotional whims have driven you to do this to me. There has been no gentleness in your method, obviously no affection whatever, not a trace of friendship. There are deep-seated motivations in your despicable behavior to which you are blind, but which are driving you toward a goal that is only too obvious. But decency forbids me to say anything further…”” (Ch.6) 

Then he tells her to burn the letter unread, and invites her to the theatre. 

“… she was nevertheless like fine silk disguising a sharp needle, or rich brocade that hid an abrasive underside.” (Ch.8) 

But it’s not just the obsession, the anxiety, the little games…—Kiyoaki, like Proust’s narrator, is introverted, sensitive, elegant, dreamy, and an aesthete.

Spring Snow is full of interesting images. 

“Their white faces, powdered even more meticulously than usual for the occasion, were dappled in violet, as though some exquisite shadow of death had fallen across their cheeks.” (Ch.1) 

Interesting metaphors and similes. 

“… this fleeting angle of the Princess’s face—too slight to be called a profile—made Kiyoaki feel as if he had seen a rainbow flicker for a bare instant through a prism of pure crystal.” (ibid.) 

There are more striking metaphors in Mishima than in Kawabata or Tanizaki, that’s my impression. 

“The hot sun struck the backs of their close-shaven necks. It was a peaceful, uneventful, glorious Sunday afternoon. Yet Kiyoaki remained convinced that at the bottom of this world, which was like a leather bag filled with water, there was a little hole, and it seemed to him that he could hear time leaking from it, drop by drop.” (Ch.2) 

This is the scene of the ritual on the 17/8 when Kiyoaki’s 15—a water basin is placed in the garden to catch the reflection of the moon, and the belief is that if the moon isn’t seen in it, the boy has misfortunes for the rest of his life: 

“He could not bring himself to look up into the sky at the moon itself, the origin of the image in the water. Rather he kept looking down into the basin and into the water contained by its curved sides, the reflection of his innermost self, into which the moon, like a golden shell, had sunk so deep. For at that moment he had captured the celestial. It sparkled like a golden butterfly trapped in the meshes of his soul.” (Ch.5) 

Both the sensitivity, the overthinking of the character and the simile make me think of Proust.

More than other Japanese writers I have ever read, except perhaps Abe Kobo, Mishima uses lots of unusual metaphors. For example, when he says that Kiyoaki’s parents, the Marquis and Marquise, never have crises or storms of passion, he says: 

“Their expressions blank, innocent of foreknowledge, they glided downstream like twigs hand in hand on clear waters mirroring blue sky and clouds, to take the inevitable plunge over the crest of the falls.” (ibid.) 

He compares a voice to an object:

“And her voice on this cold winter night was as warm and ripe as an apricot in June.” (Ch.6) 

He compares arrogance to a tumour: 

“This time, Satoko’s forceful methods did not wound his pride. On the contrary, he felt a sense of relief, as though her scalpel had skillfully cut out a malignant tumor of arrogance.” (Ch.11) 

This description, when Kiyoaki hangs out with Satoko, also makes me think of Proust: 

“Kiyoaki had brought a green tartan blanket that now covered their legs. Since those forgotten days of childhood, this was the first time that they had ever been so close together, but Kiyoaki was distracted by the pale light flooding through the cracks in the bonnet of the rickshaw that narrowed and widened as a stream of snow filtered through them, by the snow itself turning to water on the green blanket, by the loud rustle of the snow pelting down on the hood as if onto dry banana leaves.” (Ch.12) 

Proust would perhaps write more clauses, more complex sentences, but the sensitivity and the notice of the light wouldn’t be out of place in Proust. 

The translation is by Michael Gallagher. 


  1. Nice analysis. As it so happens, I am just about to start reading this work! Question: are you immediately going to read the other works in this tetralogy? Did this work leave you wanting more?

    1. Nice.
      I do want to read more, but not yet. I think I want to either read Dostoyevsky or reread Melville first.


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