‘It is Getting So Dark’ from The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon

The Pillow Book is a fine example of literature as a form of time travel and clairvoyance. There is over one thousand years between its writing and now, and yet the way that it is written is as intimate and immediate as a whisper. It was created by a lady of the court and was never intended to be published. It contains elegiac passages on fireflies, cherry blossoms, blue horses and the passage of boats along rivers. What fascinates are the personal touches that render Sei Shōnagon so lifelike and her world so three dimensional – there are lists of things that depress her, things that make her heart beat faster or arouse thoughts of the past. She writes of dogs and cats in the palace, the clothes people wear, people who are a laughing stock, and others who have amazing memories. She speaks of shame, envy and awkwardness, storms and moonlit nights. She writes “I am the sort of person who approves of what others abhor and detests the things they like.” She writes in this particular fragment that she regrets the book was ever found and that “It is getting so dark that I can scarcely go on writing; and my brush is all worn out” as if she were finishing just now and not a millennia ago. 

First published in the year 1002

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