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The following is a synopsis of the 1951 short story, "Shijin no shôgai " appearing as "The Life of a Poet" in English in Beyond the Curve; translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter, Tokyo; New York: Kodansha International, 1991.

 

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The story opens with a thirty-nine year old woman hunched over a spinning wheel. Her labor is endless, and she has cut back on her sleep in order to work even more. As she works she wonders why she should go through all this trouble simply to keep the "machinery" inside of her working. She feels as if she is as tired as the cotton which she is spinning. At that moment she runs out of thread, and though the spinning wheel should stop, it continues of its own volition. Realizing that there was no more cotton to be had, the wheel latches on to the woman's flesh and, unraveling it, spins it into thread. Soon the woman is entirely unraveled, and has disappeared into the machine, emerging as thread.


Just as the woman's toes are about to disappear, her son--a poet who had been fired from his job at the factory for demanding a wage increase--wakes up and sees her vanish from within her work clothes. Saddened, but so tired as to be unable to do anything about it, he takes her work clothes and, throwing them over his body, goes back to sleep

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The next door neighbor comes by, as usual, to pick up the thread that the woman has spun, and knits it into a jacket. The neighbor then goes out into the streets attempting to sell the woman/jacket, but, though the jacket is warm and well-made, no one has the money to purchase it, and it is sold to a pawn shop.


Winter makes its way in, and a strange snow begins to fall. The crystals of the snow are large and wonderfully complex. Colder and harder than any known substance, it is not normal snow, but the dreams and souls of the poor, crystallized in the cold winter's air. The snow freezes everything it comes into contact with, bringing time to a complete halt. Only the very rich are able to protect themselves to any degree, as they live in houses impervious to snow, and have powerful furnaces to keep them heated. Yet as time passes, and they can not go outside to get more supplies, even they succumb to the cold.


At the point when life itself seems to have stopped, a mouse finds its way into the pawn shop and, thinking to make a warm nest for her babies on their way, takes a bite out of the jacket. The bite, right about where the woman's heart used to be, gushes blood, staining the jacket a bright red. The jacket then rises up and flies over to where the young poet lies fallen, frozen in act of distributing revolutionary handbills, and covers him. He suddenly wakes up and finds that he is impervious to the snow. Not only that, but it is speaking to him. He decides that he will write down the words of the snow, and, as he studies them, they gradually begin to melt, giving way to spring.

After he has written down all that there is to know about the crystals they vanish completely, and people begin to awaken from their frozen slumber. These people, upon awakening, walk up to him, and touching his arm, whisper the word "jacket." Soon all of the jacket storehouses are opened and their contents carried off by the poor. Happy that they at last have jackets, the workers return to their factories, and the young poet, seeing that his work is complete, vanishes into a page of poetry.