25 July 2014

“Orchid - breathing
incense into
butterfly’s wings.”
— Matsuo Basho
Translated by Lucien Stryk

“Poets give us insights into our world. Great poets give us insights into human life.”
— Kenneth Yasuda in the foreword to H. Jay Harris’ translation of ‘The Tales of Ise’

1 February 2014

“I’ll write to you. A super-long letter, like in an old-fashioned novel.”

— Haruki Murakami - After Dark

29 December 2013

“Does pain go away and leave no trace, then?’
‘You sometimes even feel sentimental for it.”
― Yasunari Kawabata, Thousand Cranes

23 November 2013

"And isn’t it better really to leave things only hinted at?" 
— Junichiro Tanizaki. Some Prefer Nettles

15 November 2013

Der Ling: She asked me how I had enjoyed the candy, and told me not to sleep... (From 'Two Years in the Forbidden City')

"The performance took place on a stage erected in the courtyard, and Her Majesty closed in one part of her veranda for the use of the guests and Court ladies. During the performance I began to feel very drowsy, and eventually fell fast asleep leaning against one of the pillars. I awoke rather suddenly to find that something had been dropped into my mouth, but on investigation I found it was nothing worse than a piece of candy, which I immediately proceeded to eat. On approaching Her Majesty, she asked me how I had enjoyed the candy, and told me not to sleep, but to have a good time like the rest. I never saw Her Majesty in better humor. She played with us just like a young girl, and one could hardly recognize in her the severe Empress Dowager we knew her to be."

― Der Ling. Two Years in the Forbidden City
Tonight I am quoting Der Ling, daughter of Yu Keng, a Manchu born in 1885 and the First lady-in-waiting to Empress Dowager Cixi. Her memoirs Two Years in the Forbidden City were published in 1911, when the Dynasty of Qing collapsed, three years after the death of Empress Cixi.

Empress Dowager Cixi is generally portrayed as a despot and villain responsible for the fall of the Dinasty in both China and Europe, yet some historians, portraying her in a more positive way, suggest that she prevented the disorder and was no more ruthless than other rulers.

The reason of posting something about Empress Dowager Cixi is the date. If it's still 15th of November somewhere, then it's the day that she died 105 years ago. I didn't really think I'd mark this date somewhere but somehow I haven't forgotten it ever since the 100th anniversary five years ago, when I read a couple of books about the Empress, both written by Anchee Min.

If you're ever looking for some good historical fiction, you might want to see the works of Anchee Min, she's great. And so her books are the reason I'm posting something on China today. 

105 years after Empress Cixi

9 November 2013

“I am nothing. You are right. I’m like someone who’s been thrown into the ocean at night, floating all alone. I reach out, but no one is there. I call out, but no one answers. I have no connection to anything.”

- Haruki Murakami. 1Q84

2 November 2013

“Time passed. But time flows in many streams. Like a river, an inner stream of time will flow rapidly at some places and sluggishly at others, or perhaps even stand hopelessly stagnant. Cosmic time is the same for everyone, but human time differs with each person. Time flows in the same way for all human beings; every human being flows through time in a different way.”

― Yasunari Kawabata, Beauty and Sadness

"You've always been fond of understanding people too well."
"They should arrange not to be understood quite so easily."

― Yasunari Kawabata, Thousand Cranes

29 October 2013

From Sarashina Nikki: Night after night I lie awake...

One bright moonlit night, when I was on a journey and staying in a house by a bamboo grove, I awoke to the sound of the leaves rustling in the wind. As I lay there, unable to go back to sleep, I wrote the poem,

Night after night I lie awake,
Listening to the rustle of bamboo leaves,
And a strange sadness fills my heart.

From Sarashina Nikki ("As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams: Recollections of a Woman in Eleventh-Century Japan" translated by Ivan Morris, published in Penguin Classics 1975)

This is another short extract from Lady Sarashina's diary. The poem was written around 1025. The interesting thing about the Sarashina Nikki and its author is that Lady Sarashina was probably collecting all the poems since her early years and the diary itself was written many years later. The Lady Sarashina of the prose text is the Lady Sarashina in probably the second half of 11th century and the Lady Sarashina of the poem is still a young girl, which makes the Sarashina Nikki not only a diary but also an autobiography. And what a paradox... We don't even know her name.

The poem, though, is exactly what makes the extract special. It is regarded as one of Lady Sarashina's finest and most characteristic poems, which was later included in many anthologies. 

As Ivan Morris points out in notes to his translation of the Sarashina Nikki, more literally the poem goes:
"Night after night as I lie here listening to the rustling of the bamboo leaves, I am overcome by an indefinable sadness."