Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Suke no Makura no Soshi

(From The Pillow Book of Lady Dainagon no Suke)

Things That Are Elegant

Blood is most elegant
Because anything that is scarlet is elegant
Scarlet thread
Scarlet paper
Scarlet fish
Scarlet peonies
Scarlet stains
One drop of blood on excellent Chinese paper
The toes of a fresh new baby
The hair on top of the head of a new baby
The jade stalk of a new baby boy
Spring strawberries in a silver bowl
Duty performed perfectly
Lightning in clouds
Distant thunder that remains
The winding smoke of blood dropped in tea
New strings for a koto

In spring time it is the dawn which is most beautiful, spreading the goddess light of the compassion of Kwannon through the mountains and over the lake. The servants bustle to bring charcoal to the rooms and the smells of cooking wake us.

In summer time it is the late morning which is most beautiful. Young men bring boats and there are picnics and conversation under the old trees with shaved ice in black bowls on the grass near the great Almond blossum Pavilion.

In autumn it is the evening which is most beautiful just after the closing of the Blue Hour when the red moon rises and the cold air blows through the tall susuki grass. The old ones draw their jackets tight and know the shortness of days.

In winter time it is the night which is most beautiful when snow is falling and what wealth it is to stand alone in the great silence as all the house sleeps and to have all the snow for oneself.

Things That Are Annoying

Five drops of blood on a tatami mat
Disrespect from an inferior
The weak jade stalk of an old man
A former lover who gossips
To choke on food in the presence of superiors
Finding bad fortune in a cup of tea
To be treated like the page of a book
A drunken man who repeats himself
A lover who wears shoes in one’s bed
Parents who tell stories in the voice of their child.
Women who weep in their sleep
Emperor Antuko’s cat, Lady Myobu, who dominates the palace and drinks the blood of the rats

One of the saddest things I have seen under the sun is a maid of no expectations. I am thinking of Lady Nagako. When one is waiting for her lover and there is a tapping at the door and the heart beats faster and one pretends to be asleep. But the hand which lights so secretly on the shoulder is not the lover one hoped for, but only a man one is not permitted to disappoint. When a woman has found the wrinkles at her eyes, and the inferior man is at the chamber door it is like the sound of barren trees in October.

Things That Are Curious to Think on

Cold white winter ashes in my bedroom brazier when no cares to keep the fire alive anymore
a severed jade stalk touched with four drops of blood, four, no less no more.
A drop of blood on the face of the August moon
A poem painted in black ink on skin
The inside of a cat's ear.
The nipples of an old woman.
Susuki grass in moonlight and wind
A poor man with four daughters and no son
Dried blood holding a single black hair to fine steel on which a single candle is shining
A great old tree blown down with its defeated roots in the air

There is a ghost inhabiting the pond behind the great Almond Blossum Pavilion. During the night of the moon viewing party by the pond the handsome young men had a contest to frighten us ladies with kwaidan stories. One said it was a true story that the pond is haunted by a young lady whose spirit cannot be free to incarnate again unless someone takes her place, for having drowned herself over a lost love. While he told the story of Peach Blossom, Lady Nagako was dangling her ankles in the cool water and suddenly fell in. The water is not deep but she disappeared below and a young officer jumped in only up to his waist and yet almost could not find her. Her garments were so soaked and heavy two men it took to pull her out. She said she had felt hands on her and we all laughed but she began to cry piteously and there was a gash on her thigh that ran blood, truly it did. The Emperor's mother, Lady Tokuko, summoned a famous Taoist sorcerer to do an exorcism. We ladies had not seen an exorcism and were very excited and made much of him. But the old man was tired and only muttered his mantras and recited the Diamond Sutra and nothing seemed to happen. We were disappointed and made rude jokes about him to his face. What a tedious thing when old fools make claims for themselves.

But oh!

How fearful it must be to die of a broken heart.

How lonely death must be for some.

You can read more of Lady Dainagon no Suke's story in "The Color of the Moon", published by Whisky Creek Torrid at:

C. Sanchez-Garcia


  1. Enjoyed this very,very much, Garce.

    Can there be anything better than the diaries, tales and memoirs of the Heian Court poets? The women were outstanding, truly stellar, and Saigyo had great poetic influence from Ono no Komanchi and Izumi Shikibu, though long dead when he was living.

    I will get your book, though I remember reading "The Color of the Moon" mss that you sent me years ago. I guess this was just one story? Beautiful and impressive one, though. You have brought this time to vibrant life.

    Just finished reading "The Ink Dark Moon" which I am sure you are familiar with.

    Izumi Shikibu:

    "The cold rises
    through the sleeve
    of my pillowing arm--
    I think that tonight
    even my bed must frost."

    These Heian court women were marvelous poets and they speak through the centuries directly to our experience.

    Still working on "The Kimono"...5 years and rather seasonally. It's the research that takes you well know.

    Lady Nyo (Jane)

  2. Hi Lady Nyo!

    I like reading these amazing Lady poets too. Usually people think of that period as being all about samurai, but there were these other things going on too.

    Good luck with the Kimono. I know it'll be good. Stick with it. Thanks for coming by.


  3. Wow.

    You've truly channeled her voice.

    I'm not familiar with this literary tradition, and yet you've managed to communicate it beautifully to this ignorant one.

  4. I think I've channeled her voice, but clearly this is not a popular literary tradition in the west, which is too bad. My calling and my curse I guess.