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90 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1010
”Lady Koshosho is so indefinably elegant and graceful she reminds one of a weeping willow in spring. She has a lovely figure and a charming manner, but is far too retiring, diffident to the point of being incapable of making up her mind about anything, so naïve it makes one want to weep. Whenever someone unscrupulous tries to take advantage of her or spreads rumors, she immediately takes it all to heart. She is so vulnerable and so easily dismayed that you would think she was on the point of expiring. I do worry about her.”
"Realizing that it was bound to a terribly drunken affair this evening, Lady Saisho and I decided to retire once the formal part was over. We were just about to leave when His Excellency’s two sons, together with Kantetaka and some other gentleman, came into the eastern gallery and started to create a commotion. We hid behind the dais, but his Excellency pulled back the curtains and we were both caught.
’A poem each for the Prince!’ he cried. ’Then I’ll let you go!’”
”I felt quite depressed and went to my room for a while to rest. I had intended to go over later if I felt better, but then Kohyoe and Kohobu came in and sat themselves down by the hibachi. ’It’s so crowded over there, you can hardly see a thing!’ they complained. His Excellency appeared. ’What do you think you’re all doing, sitting around like this?’ he said. ’Come along with me!’”
"And when I play my koto rather badly to myself in the cool breeze of the evening, I worry lest someone might hear me and recognize how I am ’adding to the sadness of it all’, how vain and sad of me.”
"Whenever my loneliness threatens to overwhelm me, I take out one or two of them to look at; but my women gather together behind my back. ’It’s because she goes on like that she is so miserable. What kind of lady is it who reads Chinese books?’ they whisper. ’In the past it was not even the done thing to read sutras!’ ’Yes,' I feel like replying, ’but I’ve never met anyone who lived longer just because they believed in superstitions!’”
"When my brother,…, was a young boy learning the Chinese classics, I was in the habit of listening with him and I became unusually proficient at understanding those passages that he found too difficult to grasp and memorize. Father a most learned man, was always regretting the fact: ’Just my luck!’ he would say. ’What a pity she was not born a man!’ But then I gradually realized that people were saying ’It’s bad enough when a man flaunts his Chinese learning; she will come to no good,’ and since I have avoided writing the simplest character.” (my feminist hearts bleed for her)
"Then Her Majesty asked me to read with her here and there from the Collected Works of Po Chü-i, and because she evinced a desire to know more about such things, to keep it secret we carefully chose times when other women would not be present, and, from the summer before last, I started giving her informal lessons on the two volumes of ’New Ballads’. I hid this fact from others, as did Her Majesty, but somehow both His Excellency and His Majesty got wind of it and they had some beautiful copies made of the various Chinese books, which His Excellency then presented to her.”
”I tried reading the Tale [of Genji] again, but it did not seem to be the same as before and I was disappointed. Those with whom I had discussed things of mutual interest - how vain and frivolous they must consider me no, I thought; and then ashamed that I could even contemplate such a remark, I found it difficult to write to them.”
"In particular I missed Lady Dainagon, who would often talk to me as we lay close by Her Majesty in the evenings. Had I then indeed succumbed to court life?
I sent to her the following:
How I long for those waters on which we lay
A longing keener than the frost on a duck’s wing
To which she replied:
Awakening to find no friend to brush away the frost
The mandarin duck longs for her mate at night
(Footnote by the translator: Mandarin ducks were supposed to always go around in inseparable pairs. This common metaphor for lovers originally came from Chinese literature but had by this time become firmly a part of the Japanese poetic vocabulary. These poems should be seen as forming a conventional exchange between close friends - nothing more.)”
Thus do I criticize others from various angles – but here is one who has survived this far without having achieved anything of note. I have nothing in particular to look forward to in the future that might afford me the slightest consolation, but I am not the kind of person to abandon herself completely to despair. And yet, by the same token, I cannot entirely rid myself of such feelings. On autumn evenings, which positively encourage nostalgia, when I go out to sit on the veranda and gaze, I seem to be always conjuring up visions of the past – ‘and did they praise the beauty of this moon of yore?’ Knowing full well that I am inviting the kind of misfortune one should avoid, I become uneasy and move inside a little, while still, of course, continuing to recall the past.
Each one of us is quite different. Some are confident, open and forthcoming. Others are born pessimists, amused by nothing, the kind who search through old letters, carry out penances, intone sūtras without end, and clack their beads, all of which makes one feel uncomfortable. So I hesitate to do even those things I should be able to do quite freely, only too aware of my own servants’ prying eyes. How much more so at court, where I have many things I would like to say but always think the better of it, because there would be no point in explaining to people who would never understand. I cannot be bothered to discuss matters in front of those women who continually carp and are so full of themselves: it would only cause trouble. It is so rare to find someone of true understanding; for the most part they judge purely by their own standards and ignore everyone else.
nasıl kayıtsız kalayım?
ben de geçiriyorum günlerimi
dalgalanıp duran bu belirsiz dünyada
Kuşlar o kadar çok kalpten eğleniyor gibi görünse de, bence kendilerince bu dünyadan acı çekiyorlardır. Elimde olmadan kendimle karşılaştırıveriyorum onları.
'It is still the depth of night. The moon has clouded over, darkening the shadows under the trees. There come voices: 'Can we open the shutters?' 'But the servants will not be ready yet!' 'Attendant! Open up!' Then the bell for the dawn watch suddenly wakes everyone up and the Ritual of the Five Mystic Kings begins...'
'I was absent from the mansion the day the Governor of Harima gave a banquet as a forfeit for losing a game of go, and it was only later that...'
'Sometime after the twentieth of the eighth month, those nobles and senior courtiers whose presence was required at the mansion started to stay the night. They would take naps on the bridge and the veranda of the east wing, and play music in desultory fashion. The younger members, who were as yet unskilled in either koto or flute, held competitions to see who was the best at chanting sūtras and they practiced the latest songs together...'
'His Excellency carried the baby prince in his arms, preceded by Lady Koshōshō with the sword, and Miya no Naishi with the tiger's head.'
'On the last night of the year, the ceremony for casting out devils was over very early, so I was resting in my room, blackening my teeth and putting on a light powder, when...'
'On the ninth of the ninth month, Lady Hyōbu brought me floss-silk damp with chrysanthemum dew.
'"Here," she said, "Her Excellency sent this especially for you. She said you were to use it carefully to wipe old age away!"'
I want to reveal all to you, the good and the bad, worldly matters and private sorrows, things that I cannot really go on discussing in this letter. But, even though one may be thinking about and describing someone objectionable, should one really go on like this, I wonder? But you must find life irksome at times. I know you do, as you can see. Write to me with your own thoughts — no matter if you have less to say than all my useless prattle, I would love to hear from you.The problem with a text like this is, unless you come at it with a whole host of previous experience with related materials and interests, it's not going to do much. Sure, you could marvel at the depth of psychological analysis present in a text written half a century before the Norman Conquest occurred on the opposite ends of the earth, but even my eyes started glazing over near the end of the last trailing description of aesthetic arrangements, and I've already read and loved The Tale of Genji. I'm not suggesting you tackle TToG first, or that you commit to an academic career path centered around Heian Japan (unless you're not white, there's enough neo-Orientalism floating around), but just that if you're in the habit of skipping both forewords and afterwords in your textual engagement, you're not going to have much of a worthwhile time. Admittedly, the afterword is tedious with its almost complete excision of inner reflection and the foreword is abhorrently Christocentric (Japan's belief system was not evolving on the trajectory towards a Jesus cult), but they still give much needed orientation for a person reading a millennium after the text's composition.
So you see — I still fret over what others think of me, and, if I had to sum up my position, I would have to admit that I still retain a deep sense of attachment to this world. But what can I do about it?
As the day for the imperial visit to the mansion approached, everything was repaired and polished. Rare chrysanthemums were ordered and transplanted. As I gazed out at them through the wraiths of morning mist - some fading to varying hues, others yellow and in their prime, all arranged in various ways - it seemed to me that old age might indeed be conquered. But then for some strange reason - if only my appetites were more mundane, I might find more joy in life, regain a little youth, and face it all with equanimity - seeing and hearing these marvellous, auspicious events only served to strengthen my yearnings. I felt downcast, vexed that nothing was turning out as I had hoped and that my misery simply seemed to increase.
"But why?" I asked myself. "Now surely is the time to forget. It does me no good to fret, and besides, it will only make matters worse."
As day dawned, I looked outside and saw the ducks playing about on the lake as if they had not a care in the world:
Can I remain indifferent to those birds on the water?
I too am floating in a sad uncertain world.
They looked as though they were enjoying life but must suffer greatly, I thought.