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He Always Hid His Damaged Left Eye When Being Photographed

Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) was a true exotic. Born in Lefkada, Greece, he came to the United States and published several charming works of folklore, of which his Stray Leaves from Strange Literature (1884) was one title. And then he went to Japan, married a local woman, and published his best known works. These were collections of Japanese folktales in English. Masaki Kobayashi’s gorgeous color horror film anthology, Kwaidan (1964), was based on three of Hearn’s tales. Hearn changed his name to Koizumi Yakumo. Today he is revered by the Japanese for his works.

The following excerpt is from Stray Leaves from Strange Literature from the tale of “Yamaraja,” about a Brahmin who attempts to visit the Hindu god of the dead, who is called Yamaraja, to plead to bring his dead son back to life. It is this god who speaks:

“Verily thou hast not been fitted to seek the supreme wisdom, seeing that in the winter of thine age thou dost still mourn by reason of a delusion. For the stars die in their courses, the heavens wither as leaves, the worlds vanish as the smoke of incense. Lives are as flower-petals opening to fade; the works of man as verses written upon water. He who hath reached supreme wisdom mourneth existence only…. Yet, that thou mayst be enlightened, we will even advise thee. The kingdom of Yama thou mayst not visit, for no man may tread the way with mortal feet. But many hundred leagues toward the setting of the sun, there is a valley, with a city shining in the midst thereof. There no man dwells, but the gods only, when they incarnate themselves to live upon earth. And upon the eighth day of each month Yamaraja visits them, and thou mayst see him. Yet beware of failing a moment to practice the ceremonies, to recite the Mantras, lest a strange evil befall thee! …Depart now from us, that we may reenter into contemplation!”