“I’ll write to you. A super-long letter, like in an old-fashioned novel.”
— Haruki Murakami - After Dark
1 February 2014
29 December 2013
23 November 2013
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
29 October 2013
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."
28 October 2013
It has been a little while since I have written about anything at all and because I don't want to get stuck with the Hyakunin Isshu only, I though I might share little parts of other Japanese classics. Poetry is still very important and "In fact, verse plays an essential part, not only in this book [Sarashina Nikki], but in all Japanese literature of the Heian period which, to a large extent, derives from the lyric tradition," wrote Ivan Morris in his Introduction to his translation of Sarashina Nikki.
The Hyakunin Isshu is not forgotten on this blog but I thought it might be nice to broaden the view a little bit. Teika has selected some of the very best for the 100 but there's a whole lot more of written works from the time. This is my first attempt, I hope somebody enjoys this. If so, let me know. I might continue.
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):
Late one night towards the end of the Eight Month I gazed at the wonderful dawn moon illuminating the dark clusters of threes and the mountainside, and I listened to the beautiful sound of the waterfall.If only I could share this moon
With one whose feelings are like mine -
This moon that lights the mountain village in the Autumn dawn!
This is a tiny piece from a diary of Lady Sarashina, even though she wouldn't have recognised the name. Not a single note of her real name remains and all usually she is known as Takasue no Musume or Takasue's Daughter (Sugawara no Takasue's Daughter to be exact). She was born in 1008, at the age of nine she was taken with her family to the province of Kazusa in eastern Japan and at the age of twelve they all returned to the Capital. The journey to the capital is where she starts her diary or Sarashina nikki, as it is known these days.
The part that I am quoting is about years 1024–1025 (the dates are probable, though), when Lady Sarashina visited Higashiyama. Even though it might look a little like a love poem, I believe it is a poem for her good friend, who she went to Higashiyama with. Yet after some time her companion left for the Capital and it is almost certainly a poem of longing for a good friend.