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The Pillow Book

Extracts from The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, which contains the daily musing of a lady of the imperial court in tenth century Japan.

The remarkable thing about these beautiful passages is that they seem so fresh. They may be a thousand years old and from a land half a world away (at least from where I'm sitting), but I should not have been in the least surprised to be told that they were written only yesterday by someone I know.

It Was a Clear, Moonlit Night

It was a clear moonlit night a little after the tenth of the Eighth month. Her Majesty, who was residing in the Empress's Office, sat by the edge of the veranda while Ukon no Naishi played the flute for her. The other ladies in attendance sat together, talking and laughing; but I stayed by myself,leaning against one of the pillars between the main hall and the veranda.

'Why so silent?' said Her Majesty.'Say something. It is sad when you do not speak.'

'I am gazing into the autumn moon', I replied.

'Ah yes,' she remarked.'That is just what you should have said'.

I Remember a Clear Morning

I remember a clear morning in the Ninth Month when it had been raining all night. Despite the bright sun, the dew was still dripping from the chrysanthemums in the garden. On the bamboo fences and crisscross hedges I saw tatters of spider webs; and where the threads were broken the raindrops hung on them like strings of white pearls. I was greatly moved and delighted

As it became sunnier, the dew gradually vanished from the clover and the other plants where it had lain so heavily; the branches began to stir, then suddenly sprang up of their own accord. Later I described to people how beautiful it all was. What most impressed me was that they were not at all impressed.

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