Monday, 9 November 2015

Book #48

A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees by Yoshida Kenkō


Moonlight, sake, spring blossom, idle moments, a woman's hair - these exquisite reflections on life's fleeting pleasures by a thirteenth-century Japanese monk are delicately attuned to nature and the senses. 

Due to my complete inability to appreciate poetry, I was cautiously hoping for one of the Little Black Classics to enthral me again; that's exactly what happened with Kenkō's installment, and for the first time since starting this series, I'm moved to purchase the complete edition. It's incredible to understand and relate to the feelings of a Buddhist monk, but for these thoughts to still have meaning after being recorded seven centuries ago is nothing short of breathtaking.

Kenkō's musings range from choosing a soulmate to the merits of a disorganised room. Each passage leaves you considering your own perceptions and whether you agree with him or not, you will completely understand the merits of his argument. He writes beautifully, and his wisdom set against the blossoms of mediaeval Japan is absolutely gorgeous.

One of my favourite passages was this:

As soon as I hear someone's name, I feel I can picture their face, but when I actually meet them no one ever looks as I had been imagining all that time.
Also, I wonder if everyone, on hearing some old tale, imagines it as taking place in a certain part of some house he knows, and identifies the characters with people he sees in life, as I do.
And is it just I who sometimes feels a conviction that what someone is saying, or what you're seeing or thinking just then, has already happened before, though you cannot remember when?

We gain snippets of understanding of his culture, and this learning feels in tune with his teachings. There are some mildly misogynist comments (how dare a drunk woman throw her head back and laugh so boldly!), but these are few, a clear mark of the way things were, and also set against some really lovely passages describing the elegance and delectability of women.

Whoever picked the quote to be used for this one should be commended. I'm still blown away by this Japanese monk's words transcending time, culture, and language to allow me, an unintelligent twenty-eight year old woman with no particular religious leanings, to feel and agree with his wise thoughts.

It is a most wonderful comfort to sit alone beneath a lamp, book spread before you, and commune with someone from the past whom you have never met.

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