Thursday, July 17, 2014

Kenko: longing for the past


"When I sit down in quiet meditation, the one emotion hardest to fight against is a longing in all things for the past.  After the others have gone to bed, I pass the  time on a long autumn's night by putting in order whatever belongings are at hand.  As I tear up scraps of old correspondence I should prefer not to leave behind, I sometimes find among them samples of the calligraphy of a friend who has died, or pictures he drew for his own amusement, and I feel exactly as I did at the time   Even with letters written by friends who are still alive I try, when it has been long since we met, to remember the circumstances, the year.  What a moving experience that is!  It is sad to think that a man's familiar possessions, indifferent to his death, should remain unaltered long after he is gone."

-- Kenko --
from Essays in Idleness

This is a common theme in Kenko's collection of essays.  In one essay, he writes that in all things those of the past are superior to the present.    I guess as one gets older one only remembers the good things.  Someone, I forget who, once wrote that perfect happiness was good health and a bad memory. 

I wonder if those "familiar possessions" are really unaltered.  I wonder if they may be changed in some way by the person who uses them or even just contemplates them.


  1. Interesting. I've been thinking a lot about this lately - unaltered possessions left behind. Over on Pinterest I sometimes come across an artist's studio left behind and kept just as it was on the artist's last day alive - that sort of thing. I also wonder what will happen to my things when I'm gone. It's like you don't want to let go, you don't want to lose total control but you know you will. Kind of makes possessions seem unimportant, but not. Know what I mean? They will outlast you. No getting around it.

    Good health and a bad memory. Yes.

  2. Yvette,

    I have mixed feelings about those rooms that are kept the same since the occupant died. I guess many feel they are a memorial to the individual. If the person had been an artist or a writer or a composer, I would prefer the art, the books, or the music as a memorial. The room strikes me as a repository of the person's possessions, but somehow not about that person.

    Oh well, that's a personal idiosyncrasy and I know many if not most do not think this way--otherwise we wouldn't find so many examples.