Friday, May 14, 2010

'Pillow Book' Friday: Week Eleven (Things that lose by being painted)

Pillow BookThis week we're looking at entries 101 to 120 in the McKinney translation of The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon.  However, as always I've included the corresponding entry numbers in the Morris version too, when possible, for anyone reading along with that version.  For more information on the different translations, please visit the 'Pillow Book' Friday page. Don't hesitate to jump in anytime, whether you've read along from the start, or not.  Or if you're not reading along because you've read the book previously. It's the kind of book that can easily be dipped into here and there, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on Sei's rants and musings.

Week Ten
McKinney: Entries 101 - 120 (p. 113 - 127)
Morris: Entries 71 - 80 (p. 135 - 145)

[101] Around the end of the second month...
Morris (71): On the last day of the Second Month...

[102] Things with far to go

[103] Masahiro is a great laughing-stock
Morris (72): Masahiro really is a laughing-stock

[104] Things that are distressing to see

Here is Sei showing off her usual disdain and snobbishness once again, but the tone still made me chuckle as I can't help thinking that she would have harsh words to say about me. I do love an afternoon nap after all!
I do hate the sight of some swarthy, slovenly-looking woman with a hairpiece, lying about in broad daylight with a scrawny man with hair sprouting from his face. What kind of a picture do they think they make, lounging there for all to see? Of course this is not to say they should stay sitting upright all night for fear people will find them disgusting - no one can see them when it's dark, and besides, everyone else indulges in the same thing at night. The decent thing to do is to get up early once it's morning. No doubt it doesn't look quite as bad for people of high station to take daytime naps in summer, but anyone less than attractive will emerge from a nap with a face all greasy and bloated with sleep, and sometimes even a squashed cheek. How dreary for two such people to have to look each other in the face when they get up!
[McKinney, Entry 104, Things that are distressing to see, p. 117]
[105] Things that are hard to say

[106] Barrier gates
[107] Forests
[108] Plains

[109] Around the end of the fourth month...
Morris (73): On the last day of the Fourth Month...

[110] Common things that suddenly sound special

[111] Things that lose by being painted
Morris (74): Things that lose by being painted
Pinks, cherry blossoms, yellow roses. Men or women who are praised in romances as being beautiful.
[Morris, Entry 74, Things that lose by being painted]

[112] Things that gain by being painted
Morris (75): Things that gain by being painted
Pines. Autumn fields. Mountain villages and paths. Cranes and deer. A very cold winter scene; an unspeakably hot summer scene.
[Morris, Entry 75, Things that gain by being painted]
[113] Winter is best when it's fearfully cold...

[114] Moving things

[115] It's delightful to be on retreat at a temple...
Morris (77): In the First Month when I go to a temple...

[116] Deeply irritating things

[117] Miserable-looking things

[118] Things that look stifingly hot
Morris (78): Things that give a hot feeling

[119] Embarrassing things
Morris (79): Shameful Things

[120] Awkward and pointless things
Morris (80): Things that have lost their power
In the grip of foolish jealousy, a wife takes herself off and goes into hiding from her husband, certain that he'll come looking for her - but he's in no mind to do so, and goes about his business with brazen indifference, so she must face the fact that she can't stay away from home indefinitely, and finally decides to return of her own accord.
[McKinney, Entry 120, Awkward and pointless things, p. 127]
My thoughts
I included above a couple of the passages that stood out for me this week. First, I was somewhat amused by the section in Entry 104 in which Sei is utterly distressed to see an unattractive couple lounging around in the afternoon. Sometimes you just have to shake your head at her contempt for others, but at least she's consistent!

Next, in Entry 111, Things that lose by being painted, I agree with her about some things losing a certain something in art as compared to seeing them in nature. Nothing quite compares to actually strolling under the cherry blossoms in full bloom. And we all know how hard it can be to match the image we have in our minds of characters in a book. This, with Entry 112, Things that gain by being painted, also made me think about photography, and what things you can't quite capture on film versus those that actually look better in a photo. What do you think?

I also had to chuckle at the situation she describes as an example of Awkward and pointless things, (or according to the Morris translation, Things that have lost their power) in Entry 120. I could totally picture that scenario with the woman going off in a huff but later disappointed that her man hasn't come after her.

Sei ShonagonOne of the longest sections this time was Entry 115, in which she recounts being on retreat at a temple, and all the activity of the monks and other guests. It reminded me again of one of the aspects of life for women in the Heian court that I just don't think I could get used, at least looking at it from my modern perspective. That is the fact that women had to primarily stay hidden from view.  Either keeping behind screens, and in this case it would've been improper for them to be seen.  Can you imagine?
It's delightful to witness them beating the prayer gong, with slender youths evidently of good retainer families in tow holding branches of cherry blossom. One of them is someone you recognize, but he has no means of guessing your presence there. It's amusing to overhear another lady murmur longingly, 'Oh I do wish there was some way to give him a sign', from the sheer frustration of watching someone pass by and go on his way without being aware of her.
[McKinney, Entry 115, p. 124]
Reminder: Due to Book Expo America, and the Book Blogger Convention coming up soon, the next 'Pillow Book' Friday will be on June 11th. If anyone has fallen behind, this would be a good chance for to catch up in your reading. (Hint, hint!) You can check out the rest of the schedule on the main 'Pillow Book' Friday page.

For next time (June 11th):
McKinney: Entries 121 - 140 (p. 127 - 148)
Morris: Entries 81 - 96 (p. 145 - 168)

[121] Prayers and incantations
[122] Awkward and embarrassing things
Morris (81-82): Awkward Things/When the Emperor returned from his visit to Yawata...
[123] The Regent was to emerge from the Black Door...
Morris (83): One day we heard that His Excellency was going to appear at the Black Door...
[124] It's beautiful the way the water drops...
Morris (84): I remember a clear morning...
[125] When we gathered the herbs...
Morris (85): On the sixth of the month...
[126] In the second month, an event called The Selection is held...
Morris (86): One day a man from the Office of Grounds...
[127] One day someone idly said...
Morris (87): One night the Empress's Ladies-in-Waiting...
[128] After the late Regent's death...
Morris (88): On the tenth day of each month...
[129] One evening, Secretary Controller Yukinari...
Morris (89): One evening Yukinari, the Controller First Secretary...
[130] One dark, moonless night in the fifth month...
Morris (90): On a dark, moonless night in the Fifth Month...

[131] When the year of mourning for Retired Emperor Enyu's death was over...
Morris (91): A year after Emperor Enyu's death...
[132] Occasions when the time drags by
[133] Things that relieve such occasions
[134] Worthless things
Morris (92): Things without merit
[135] Things that are truly splendid
Morris (93): Outstandingly splendid things
[136] After the Regent had departed this life...
Morris (94): When His Excellency, the Chancellor, had departed from among us...
[137] It's towards the middle of the first month...
Morris (95): On the tenth day of the First Month...
[138] A good-looking man has spent the day engrossed in playing sugoroku
Morris (96): Two handsome men...
[139] It's also amusing to see someone of high standing playing go against a social inferior.
[140] Alarming-looking things

Previous posts:
Week One (Entries 1-10)
Week Two (11-20)
Week Three (21-30)
Week Four (31-40)
Week Five (41-50)
Week Six (51-60)
Week Seven (61-70)
Week Eight (71-80)
Week Nine (81-90)
Week Ten (91-100)

Happy reading!


The small print:  Image of Sei Shonagon courtesy of Wikipedia Commons. Links in this post to Amazon contain my Associates ID.  Purchases made via these links earn me a very small commission.  For more information please visit my About Page. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Inspringthedawn,
    As a Japanese, I am always thankful
    that your writings make this Japanese classic
    so easy to relate to for many people
    who are not so familiar with it.

    About 104: Yes, she is really cruel to what
    she thinks is not beautiful, but that makes
    Pillow Book very interesting!

    My thought about 112:
    Things that gain by being painted

    I noticed what Sei writes here is everything outdoors or wild animal/bird.
    Women in high class seldom went out those days.
    Maybe she saw the paintings first
    then saw the real things.
    When she went to fields, walked through villages and paths, or saw wild cranes and deer,
    there were dirty things, like rubbish
    and maybe she smelled something not so nice.


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