The Pillow Book of Saxon Henry

One of my favorite movies is “The Pillow Book,” a film by Peter Greenaway based upon The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, a collection of anecdotes and memories of an eighteenth-century courtier at the height of Japan’s Heian culture. Shonagon’s chronicling of Japan’s high society of her time was as varied as her interests. There were politics, of course, flirtations galore (“sex and the writing table” comes to mind), and a fair number of explorations of nature.

In entry number 137, entitled “Clouds,” she wrote: “I love white, purple, and black clouds, and rain clouds when they are driven by the wind. It is charming at dawn to see the dark clouds gradually turn white. I believe this has been described in a Chinese poem that says something about ‘the tints that leave at dawn.’ It is moving to see a thin wisp of cloud across a very bright moon.”

The Pillow Book Sei Shonagon by Hisashi Otsuka

The Pillow Book Sei Shonagon by Hisashi Otsuka

I thought it would be fun to come up with my own pillow book entry to get this week off to a lyrical start. Here’s my nod to Shonagon’s artful idea: “I love a soft, many-pillowed bed overlooking a wide sky of cerulean; lavender scents wafting on balmy breezes. It is charming to see the heavens steal the sun’s power and toss it to the horizon when it is dusk it desires.

I do not know if this has been described in a Chinese poem, but I believe it would be recounted ‘the hues that arrive as day leaks away.’ “It is moving to see the golden orb burn the canopy of trees shielding the earth from its incessant invasion.” Makes me want to hop on a plane to Japan! Shonagon left her book as a sort of memoir.

I am now recording My Pillow Book entries on my Improvateur blog; I hope you’ll stop by and take a peek! Oh, and happy roaming everyone, even if you are merely a mental traveler on this fine day…

You can see the beautiful art of Hisashi Otsuka on his web site!

  • Sonia King

    Love this, Saxon. Thanks for the reminder about the movie and the thoughtful post.

  • Saxon Henry

    The idea of calligraphy on the body just knocked me out when I saw the movie. I actually bought pen and ink, and tried it on my boyfriend at the time. All I can say is I don’t know how they got the ink to stay on the skin without dripping in the film: they must have had some type of makeup secret! Glad you enjoyed the post. What are you up to these days?

  • ModernSauce

    It’s taken me two days and three glasses of wine and I still can’t write like this! Something, something twilight exhales and evening’s fireflies dance blah blah blah. Ok maybe the wine was more of a hindrance… ; ) And I think you should try a sharpie next time!

  • Saxon Henry

    I really like the “blah blah blah” part; it has a certain je ne sais quoi!