infuriating things: 1 post

Infuriating Things

Sei Shonagon has been my companion for many years. She was an opinionated 11th century Japanese lady-in-waiting, and she wrote what has become the embodiment of Japanese classical prose, The Pillow Book. I’ve already written about this quirky collection and its author and quoted one of my favorite lyrical passages about things that make one’s heart beat faster. Reading her enchanting descriptions of dew on chrysanthemums, first plum blossoms or the color of incense smoke is an instant escape from my routine, and while the world of Sei Shonagon wasn’t a cherry blossom tinted fantasy—a woman’s life at court was one of ennui and seclusion—the genius of the writer is to make you think otherwise. “Delightful” is one of the most frequently used words throughout the book.

pillow book-tea

Lyricism and refinement aside,  I’m drawn to Sei Shonagon for a far earthier reason—her flaws. She complains about her fellow ladies-in-waiting. She whines about her lovers whose morning departure is not as elegant as she would like it to be. She can be a snob. She finds it unseemly that the snow falls on the houses of common people—“moonlight shining into such houses is also a great shame,” she adds. She has a dry sense of humor. She’s vulnerable and prone to bouts of melancholy. She’s merely human. Despite her living more than a thousand years ago, she doesn’t come across as a museum piece.

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