I love voices that spin across time and space , bringing their reality into my life. It has been a fascination all my life to read a verse or see a painting and feel some connection with the person that created it. It is the experience of sharing similar feelings that has provoked me to consider the possibility of a ‘elan vital’ , a unifying creative impetus that inhabits all beings. It is through the vision or poets, philosophers and artists that my search for meaning begins to lead me in a direction that I had dismissed, a direction that could be described as religious in its temperament. I am not religious in any common understanding of that state, but I am aware of a space within myself that could be described a god shaped. It’s the terms I struggle with, but I can’t deny the presence of the hole. This writer lived in a foreign culture, in a time that is so distant from my own I can barely imagine the breadth of history that has gone by in the time between our lives. So the freshness of her voice is a delight in my day, a gem of a find.
Sei Shônagon wrote a journal of her thoughts called The Pillowbook (covering the years 986-1000 CE) .It is a valuable source of information about the court society and cultural life of the Heian Period. Below are some translations of parts of that journal. I hope you enjoy them as I have.
– from http://web.archive.org/web/20050328023705/blog.simon-cozens.org/shonagon/
Sei on March 19, 987
I really can’t understand why any parent would want to bring up their son to become a priest. I’m sure it’s a great thing for them, but sadly most people think that a priest is about as useful as a piece of wood, and they treat them around the same.
Priests live on hardly any good food, and they can’t even sleep without being criticized. And when they’re young – well, it’s only natural for them to be interested in the things of the world, and I’m sure they take a peep when there are women around, (in a po-faced kind of way, of course) and let’s be honest, is that really so bad? But people will criticize him them stuff like that.
It’s not as bad as being an exorcist, I guess. You’ve got to go up to Mitake, Kumano and the other sacred mountains, and it’s a hell of a trek. Once people hear that your prayers work, they summon you here, there and everywhere to get prayed for: the better you are, the less peace you get. If you have to go to visit someone who’s really ill, you wear yourself out praying to get rid of the spirits, but if you then fail asleep, people will just say “this priest does nothing other than sleep.” That’s got to be really embarrassing; I can understand what the guy feels.
Well, that’s how it used to be at least; I think the priests have an easier life these days.
A good lover will behave as elegantly at dawn as at any other time. He drags himself out of bed with a look of dismay on his face. The lady urges him on: “Come, my friend, it’s getting light. You don’t want anyone to find you here.” He gives a deep sigh, as if to say that the night has not been nearly long enough and that it is agony to leave. Once up, he does not instantly pull on his trousers. Instead he comes close to the lady and whispers whatever was left unsaid during the night. Even when he is dressed, he still lingers, vaguely pretending to be fastening his sash.
Indeed, one’s attachment to a man depends largely on the elegance of his leave-taking. When he jumps out of bed, scurries about the room, tightly fastens his trouser-sash, rolls up the sleeves of his Court cloak, over-robe, or hunting costume, stuffs his belongings into the breast of his robe and then briskly secures the outer sash—one really begins to hate him.
Things that fall from the sky
- Sleet. I don’t like sleet, but it looks quite pretty when it’s mixed in with white snow.
When snow melts a bit, or when there’s only been a little bit of it, it gets in the cracks between the bricks; the roof is black in some patches and white in other patches. It looks great.
- Drizzle. I like drizzle and hail if they come down on a shingle roof.
- Frost. Frost on a shingle roof looks good, and frost in a garden too.
I don’t think I have to explain any further why I find her so compelling. How lovely!!