Saturday, July 10, 2010

Four seasons in The Pillow Book

Partly because its nature is bestowed with much variety and the seasons are full of subtle changes, Japan has been a nation where its people have cultivated subtle sensitivities to qualia. Makura no Soshi ("The Pillow Book") authored by Sei Shonagon in the year 1002 is a collection of essays where poignant feelings are expressed in observing and experiencing the goings of nature and men. The Pillow Book is a classic in the art of qualia appreciation.

There is a particularly famous essay in The Pillow Book where Sei Shonagon extols the beautiful things we encounter during the course of the changes of the four seasons:

"Spring at daybreak. The mountain edges, gradually becoming whiter. As more lights come into this world, threads of purple clouds flowing in the sky."

"Summer at night. More beautiful when there's the moon. When in total darkness, lots of fireflies airborne to and fro. Or only a few fireflies, leaving traces of faint lights. Otherwise, gentle rain falling all around"

"Autumn at sunset. The mountain edges looking nearer in the red sunbeam. A few birds in the sky hurrying back to their nests. An array of flying geese, looking so small in the distant sky. As the sun finally sets, no words can describe the beauty of the sound of the wind, the chirping of the insects."

"Winter in the early morning. Perfect when the snow is falling. With or without the white frost, making fire in haste, and carrying around the burning charcoals. How becoming to the winter morning."

(Translated from the original by Ken Mogi)

A copy of The Pillow Book in the Edo era. From the National Institute of Japanese Literature webpage


Wander14 said...

There has been a sence of "Qualia"
since long long ago.
I suppose it is an essential
part for a human being.

I feel most I live is when
my qualia is stimulated
and enjoy it.

Thanks for translating
one of Japanese masterpieces.

砂山鉄夫(Tetsu Sunayama) said...

Melodious translation! Beautiful!

yuzu said...

I'm sure that you are a beautiful artist.
Thank you very much for translation.
I'm specially impressed by the title's translation.
It is the pillow book. I feel it's so beautiful.
I was not aware its meaning.

masami said...

Recently I had a chance to read about Sei Shonagon and her Makura no Soshi.
And I thought if Sei Shonagon and Anne Shirley had met, they should have been bosom friends.

Greg said...

It is a very lyrical translation. Across a millennium, you have collaborated with Sei Shonagon to create and convey an impression of qualia to readers of English.