Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Kenko: inevitable change

No. 26
"When I recall the months and years I spent as the intimate of someone whose affections have now faded like cherry blossoms scattering even before a wind blew, I still remember every word of hers that once so moved me; and when I realize that she, as happens in such cases, is steadily slipping away from my world, I feel a sadness greater even than that of a separation from the dead.  That is why, I am sure, a man once grieved that white thread should be dyed in different colors, and why another lamented that roads inevitably fork.  Among the hundred verses presented to the Retired Emperor Horikawa one runs:

mukashi mishi                                           The fence round her house,
imo ga kakine wa                                      The woman I loved long ago,
arenikeri                                                     Is ravaged and fallen;
tsubana majiri no                                       Only violets remain
sumire no mi shite                                     Mingled with the spring weeds.

What a lovely picture--the poem must describe something that really occurred."

-- Kenko --
Essays in Idleness
trans. Donald Keene

When I first began reading this essay, I thought it was a traditional essay about a loved one who no longer loved him.  That is there, of course, but as I read further, it seemed as though something else was going on.  He mentioned several examples that didn't seem to fit:  his grief that is stronger than if she had died, the white thread that is dyed, and the road that must "inevitably fork." And the poem, just how strong are the references to his lost love?

The underlying theme, I think, is that of the inevitability of change.  The following quotation is a note provided by Keene to the references to the silk thread and the road:

"The passage comes from the Huai-an Tzu:  'Yang-tzu saw a forked road and grieved that ti would branch south and north.  Mo-Tzu saw raw silk and wept at the thought the some would be dyed yellow and some black.  Kao Yu said, "They were sad because what originally had been the same would now be different."'" 

Those which at one time were similar now change and become different. Nothing is permanent; all must change and become other than they were.  He feels a greater sadness now than if the separation happened because of death.  This seems strange unless this drifting apart was just one example of a greater issue--that all things change and that which had been similar now becomes dissimilar.   The poem contained in the essay speaks more, I think, of the change of the house and grounds than of his lost love.

In a past essay, Kenko had said that everything in the past was better.  This again, I see, as a lament against the fundamental law of this world--all things change--which is the main point here, I think.

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