The Pillow Book of Prudence . . .
When I first read Sei Shonagon, one of the things I noticed and deplored, was her misplaced arrogance. The arrogance of the nobility of a thousand years ago. But one can never ignore her acuity, her powers of observation. It is this particular aspect of her work that I love and which I try to emulate in my own Pillow Book.
Those who are fluent in print and in front of an audience. People like Stephen Fry. Or Dawn French when she played the Vicar of Dibley and married Richard Armitage. Those who are able to laugh at themselves when they realise how ridiculously affected they are. Jane, because her stitching is God given. People who can go through life unaffected by the emotion around them. But no! Perhaps I don’t envy them. Perhaps I actually feel sorry for their lack of empathy.
When one is at Week Eight of ruptured tendons in ankle and wrist and one sees people running along a beach or hitting a tennis ball. Those who are content with their aging process. Women who have beautifully elegant hands: long fingers, superbly shaped nails without French manicures or colour. It is honestly like looking at poetry in motion. Men who have strong hands with good bones and a broad span and short fingernails.
I envy people of rank who are humble. I envy those who are beautiful with no ego and who can walk without checking their image in a shop or car window. Those who love unconditionally, who forgive outright and who welcome life in all its forms.
Things that matter:
Believing in equality. Empathy. Family. Kindred spirits. The love of dogs. The weather at lambing and at shearing. The ocean and the coast.
Things that don’t matter:
Facial appearance. Weight. A perfect meal every evening. The idea that status and possessions matter. One should never be judged on whether one wears Hermes or Cartier, Wal-Mart or Target. Who really cares? Drinking Chateau Cardboard instead of Rothschild. Another ridiculous judgement. In other words, surface issues are just that . . . shallow, and imply a person not worth knowing.
On this bitter Spring day when snow filled our garden and the outside temperature barely reached five degrees, I longed for warmth so that all living things might open, blossom and stretch to the sun. I am tired of winter clothing, wanting the feel of the sun on my arms and fresh air around my ankles. The kayak gathers dust and cobwebs and I despair of ever venturing out to the sea again. I look at its bright colour and am reminded of long summer days and the thought cheers me as I once again watch people running back and forth in the sleet, wrapped in black.
I myself have chosen brown quilting which is the closest to black that my mind can manage in the daylight. And even then, it must be leavened by a snow- coloured scarf that is knitted in fancy cables and knots. I shall ever dislike the modern day predilection for black garb. We are not priests, nuns, nor are we all of us widows or widowers. Our ancestors invented coloured dye with which to tint fibre and I think we should do them the honour of wearing such hues.
This embodies a lot of my own aspirations, as well, especially the point about humility. As you note, the summer will come again — sure as winter follows spring.
Oh Servetus, I have seen such a lot of people lately who aren’t remotely humble and are so full of themselves and their perceived
beauty . . .
Me too. Or full of their perceived intellect, in my case, which makes them think they have some right to abuse others in ways that are downright shameful.
All I think that we can do is try to be kind, try to be the kind of people to others that they wish they were to us. As you say yourself, we can try to be those we envy, “those who love unconditionally, who forgive outright and who welcome life in all its forms.” (And try not to be proud of this stance). What is the alternative?
Auden: “we must love each other or die.”
Hang in there, mesmered.
Love the Auden quote.
it’s the arrogance that has turned me off to reading the rest of pillow book. maybe i’ll get into it again later.
ah, the ocean. i must always live near it.
Yes, I remember you saying that earlier this year about Sei Shonagon, Velvet and its is unmistakable. That said, she has an eye for detail that leads one on a marvellous journey through Japan of 1000 years ago.
Given that she was in the Imperial Court at the time, was beautiful and learned and highly sort after, the medieval ‘us’ and ‘them’ viewpoint would have been deeply entrenched. The sad thing is that the religion of the time appeared not to leaven the attitude at all. Reminds me of medieval Europe.
I mean ‘sought’ after . . . ye Gods!