Madame Chrysanthème, by Pierre Loti

Chapter 21

Ancient Tombs

Pursuing the path that winds past our, dwelling, one passes a dozen or more old villas, a few garden-walls, and then sees nothing but the lonely mountain-side, with little paths winding upward toward the summit through plantations of tea, bushes of camellias, underbrush, and rocks. The mountains round Nagasaki are covered with cemeteries; for centuries and centuries they have brought their dead up here.

But there is neither sadness nor horror in these Japanese sepulchres; it seems as if, among this frivolous and childish people, death itself could not be taken seriously. The monuments are either granite Buddhas, seated on lotus, or upright tombstones with inscriptions in gold. They are grouped together in little enclosures in the midst of the woods, or on natural terraces delightfully situated, and are usually reached by long stairways of stone carpeted with moss. Sometimes these pass under one of the sacred gateways, of which the shape, always the same, rude and simple, is a smaller reproduction of those in the temples.

Above us, the tombs of our mountain are of an antiquity so hoary that they no longer alarm any one, even at night. It is a region of forsaken cemeteries. The dead hidden away there have long since become one with the earth around them; and these thousands of little gray stones, these multitudes of ancient little Buddhas, eaten away by lichens, seem to be now no more than a proof of a series of existences, long anterior to our own, and lost forever and altogether in the mysterious depths of ages.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 22:36