Friday, March 12, 2010

'Pillow Book' Friday: Week Four (and a 1000-year-old tree)

The Pillow BookIt's Week Four of our read-along of The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon, and this week we're looking at entries 31 to 40. Just a reminder that for the numbered entries, we're following the McKinney translation, but as always I've included the corresponding numbers in the Morris translation, when possible, for those of you reading along with that version.  For more information on the different translations, please visit the 'Pillow Book' Friday page. 

Week Four
McKinney:  Entries 31 - 40 (p. 33 to 47)
Morris:  Entries 22 - 30 (p. 55 to 70)

[31]  While I was visiting Bodai Temple to hear the Salvation Lotus Discourses, I received a message...
Morris (22):  When I visited Bodai Temple to hear the Eight Lessons for Confirmation, I received this message from a friend...

[32]  The place known as Koshirakawa is the home of the Koichijo Commander...
Morris (23):   Smaller Shirakawa is the residence of His Excellency, the Major Captain of the Smaller Palace of the First Ward.

[33]  In the seventh month, when the heat is dreadful, everything in the building is kept open all through the night, and it's delightful to wake on moonlit nights and lie there looking out. Dark nights too are delightful, and as for the sight of the moon at dawn, words cannot describe the loveliness.
Morris (24):   It is so stifingly hot in the Seventh Month that even at night one keeps all the doors and lattices open.

[34]  Flowering trees - The best among blossoms is the red plum, whether light or dark in colour.
Morris (25): Flowering trees - Plum blossoms, whether light or dark, and in particular red plum blossoms, fill me with happiness.

[35]  Ponds - ... Nieno Pond - it was marvellous to see seemingly endless flocks of water birds rising noisily from this pond, when we passed it on our pilgrimage to Hase.

[36]  Seasonal palace festivals - Of the five seasonal palace festivals, none is better than the fifth month's. I love the way the scents of sweet flag and wormwood blend on this day...
Morris (26):  Festivals - There is nothing to equal the Festival of the Fifth Month, when the scents of the iris and the sage-brush mingle so charmingly.

[37]  Trees that have no flowers - The maple, the Judas tree, the white pine. The Chinese hawthorn seems a rather unrefined tree, but it startles with its richly-coloured red leaves showing so unseasonably in the midst of the astonishing green, at a time when all the flowering trees have shed their blossom and everything is a uniform spring green.
Morris (27):  Trees - The maple and the five-needled pine, the willow and the orange tree. The Chinese hawthorn has a rather vulgar name; but, when all the other trees have lost their blossoms, its dark red leaves shine out impressively from the green surroundings.

[38]  Birds - Although it comes from another land, the parrot is a very touching bird. It apparently mimics things people say.
Morris (28):  Birds - The parrot does not belong to our country, but I like it very much. I am told that it imitates whatever people say.

[39]  Refined and elegant things - A girl's over-robe of white on white over pale violet-grey.
Morris (29):  Elegant things - A white coat worn over a violet waistcoat.

[40]  Insects - The bell cricket. The cicada. Butterflies. Crickets. Grasshoppers. Water-weed shrimps. Mayflies. Fireflies.
Morris (30):  Insects - The bell insect and the pine cricket; the grasshopper and the common cricket; the butterfly and the shrimp insect; the mayfly and the firefly.

My thoughts:

Not quite as humorous and entertaining as last week's selection of Sei's opinionated lists of all manner of things from Infuriating things to Things that make you cheerful.  However I still enjoyed reading the stories she told in some of the longer entries in this week's batch.  Like gathering to hear a special sermon, or the preparations for the festival of the fifth month.  These entries give us a nice glimpse into the culture and goings-on of the time, with the description of the elaborate clothes, the carriages, the manners and morals.

I also do quite enjoy her entries about nature, like when she talks about the various kinds of trees, and birds, and gets poetic about plum blossoms, or watching the moon on a hot, summer night.  The general appreciation of nature, that continues to this day, is one of the aspects of Japanese life that I really love.  How people of all ages celebrate the different seasons; cherry blossom viewing parties in the spring, or the crowds that gather to see the yellow ginkgo trees, or the red maple, in autumn.  The spring and autumn equinoxes are even national holidays!  Thankfully, even in this land of high tech gadgets, and neon, there is still a portion of the Japanese psyche that reveres nature. 

This past week, a 1000-year-old ginkgo tree, a long-time symbol of a famous temple in Kamakura, was uprooted during a storm.  I loved that it was the top news story on the national news channel that day!  And how the people of the town that they interviewed were genuinely saddened, and sentimental, at the loss of a tree.  I love that nature is still an important part of Japanese culture. 

1000 year old tree at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, Kamakura
The 1000-year-old tree at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, Kamakura, that is no more.
Photo taken in May, 2006

Reading Sei's entries makes me want to stop and admire the nature that surrounds me too.  Winter was quite cold and wet this year so we didn't really spend much time outdoors these last few months, but spring is just around the corner and I'm looking forward to getting out with my camera more regularly again. 

On that note, here are a couple more old photos that illustrate some passages in this week's entries.  I know I've posted the one of the uguisu on the blog before, and I might have posted the plum blossom one too,  but if so it's been a few years, so I hope you don't mind seeing them again. 

red plum blossoms

The best among blossoms is the red plum, whether light or dark in colour. 
[Entry 34: Flowering trees]

uguisu (Japanese bush warbler)
The uguisu is made out to be a wonderful bird in Chinese poetry, and both its voice and its appearance are really so enchanting that it's very unseemly of it not to sing inside the grounds of our 'nine-fold palace'.  People did tell me this was so but I couldn't believe it, yet during my ten years in the palace I did indeed never once hear it.  This despite the fact that the palace is near bamboo groves and there are red plums, which would make a fine place for an uguisu to come and go.  [...] 

No doubt I feel this way because the uguisu is so well-loved for the fact that it sings in spring - after all, it appears in Japanese and Chinese poetry with the charming association of 'the changing of the year'.  How delightful it would be if it only sang in spring. [Entry 38: Birds]
You can listen to the song of the uguisu, courtesy of wikipedia.

So, how is it going?  Are you still enjoying The Pillow Book?
Was there anything in this week's reading that stuck out for you?

Previous posts:
Week One (Entries 1-10)
Week Two (11-20)
Week Three (21-30)

For next time:
McKinney:  Entries 41 - 50 (p. 47 to 52)
Morris:  Entries 31 - 35 (p. 70 to 75)

[41] In the seventh month when the wind blows hard...
Morris (31): In the Seventh Month, when there are fierce winds...

[42] Unsuitable things
Morris (32): Unsuitable things

[43] A lot of us are gathered in the Long Room...
Morris (33): I was standing in a corridor of the palace with several other women...

[44] No menial position could be finer than that of the palace groundswoman.

[45] Among the serving men's positions, the gentleman's escort guard is the finest.
Morris (34): Gentlemen should always have escorts.

[46] Secretary Controller Yukinari was standing by the lattice fence...
Morris (35): Once I saw Yukinari, the Controller First Secretary...

[47] Horses

[48] Oxen

[49] Cats

[50] Carriage runners and escort guards should be trim, slightly on the thin side.

Next week's reading is only about half of this week's, in page numbers that is, so hopefully if anyone has fallen a little behind, you'll get a chance to catch up, but do let me know and I can slow down the pace a bit too, if you need it.  And please feel free to visit the previous posts any time, to share your thoughts. 

Until next week,

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  1. I'm completely caught up! I'll talk a little about it in my next Sunday Salon (which will be up on Sunday ;)

    I hope to read your posts and comment in the next week. Now I really need to go to bed, I have a busy weekend coming up!

  2. I'm not reading "The Pillow Book," but I loved reading about and seeing the photos of the tree and the bird!

  3. gnoegnoe - Yeah, I'm glad to hear you've started reading and are even caught up with the schedule! I'm curious to hear what you think of it so far. I'll come visit soon. I've been so behind lately, sorry.
    Hope you had a great weekend!

    Teresa - I'm glad you enjoyed the photos. It was quite sad to hear about the tree.


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