Annoying things, writes Sei Shonagun – “One has sent someone a poem (or a reply to a poem) and after the messenger has left, thinks of a couple of words that ought to be changed.”
So much for the idea of progress. When was the last time you sent someone a poem, or even more esoterically, replied to a poem – with another poem of course?
Yes, the copy of the Pillow Book plopped through my letter box yesterday, a touch yellowed around the edges but the script is a decent size and the spine still supple and unbroken, which is all you need to enjoy a book.
And here is another annoying thing – this is the kind of delightful detail we want to read:
“A woman is angry with her lover about some trifle and refuses to continue lying next to him. After fidgeting about in bed she decides to get up. The man gently tries to draw her back, but she is still cross. “Very well, then,” he says, feeling that she has gone too far. “As you please!” Full of resentment, he buries himself under the bedclothes and settles down for the night. It is a cold night and since the woman is wearing only an unlined robe she soon begins to feel uncomfortable. Everyone else in the house is asleep, and besides it would be most unseemly for her to get up and walk about. As the night wears on, she lies there on her side of the bed feeling very annoyed the quarrel did not take place earlier in the evening when it would have been easy to leave. Then she begins to hear strange sounds in the back of the house and outside. Frightened, she gently moves over in the bed towards her lover, tugging at the bedclothes, whereupon he annoys her further by pretending to be asleep. “Why not be stand-offish a little longer?” he asks her finally.”
The detail is so precise this must have happened to her – and you can see she has no sympathy for herself either. She is laughing at herself.
Her Pillow Book is, just as any blog is, a mish-mash of anecdotes, thoughts, observations and of course poems – what blog can hold its head up high if it doesn’t contain at least one poem.
I lay my head on the pillow of your words
And dream of a world long gone
Emperors, lovers, mountains of snow
And the annoying things of Sei Shonagon
Hmmm? McGonagall might have phrased it better.
But isn’t it the case that blogs are a kind of public diary of private worlds. Sei Shonagon was considered a shameless hussy for writing out “those Chinese writings of hers that she so presumptuously scatters about the place we find they are full of imperfections. Someone who makes such an effort to be different from others is bound to fall in people’s esteem.” So said her great female contemporary, Murasako Shikibu, author of The Tale of Genji, the world’s first novel.
So there you are, fellow bloggers. You have been warned. This blogging business will do you no good. And it seems that – so rumour has it – that Sei Shonagon was eventually dismissed from the court and died a lonely old lady.
But let us reflect – the writer of the first novel and the first blog knew each other a thousand years ago in far off Japan. I’m sure there’s a poem there somewhere.
Jonathan Chamberlain is author of Dreams of Gold – the comic novel of the London 2012 Olympics http://amzn.to/zWCAPm