Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Sei Shōnagon

Japanese Author and Court Lady who served the Empress Teishi

"A man who has nothing in particular to recommend him discusses all sorts of subjects at random as though he knew everything. "

"During the hot months it is a great delight to sit on the veranda, enjoying the cool of the evening and observing how the outlines of objects gradually become blurred. At such a moment I particularly enjoy the sight of a gentleman's carriage, preceded by outriders clearing the way. Sometimes a couple of commoners will pass in a carriage with their rear blinds slightly raised. As the oxen trot along, one has a pleasant sense of freshness. It is still more delightful when the sound of a lute or flute comes from inside the carriage, and one feels sorry when it disappears in the distance. Occasionally one catches a whiff of the oxen's leather cruppers; it is a strange, unfamiliar smell, but, absurd as it may seem, I find something pleasant about it. On a very dark night it is delightful when the aroma of smoke from the pine-torches at the head of a procession is wafted through the air and pervades the carriage in which one is travelling."

"A preacher ought to be good-looking. For, if we are properly to understand his worthy sentiments, we must keep our eyes on him while he speaks; should we look away, we may forget to listen. Accordingly an ugly preacher may well be the source of sin."

"In spring it is the dawn that is most beautiful. As the light creeps over the hills, their outlines are dyed a faint red and wisps of purplish cloud trail over them. In summer the nights. Not only when the moon shines, but on dark nights too, as the fireflies flit to and fro, and even when it rains, how beautiful it is! In autumn, the evenings, when the glittering sun sinks close to the edge of the hills and the crows fly back to their nests in threes and fours and twos; more charming still is a file of wild geese, like specks in the distant sky. When the sun has set, one's heart is moved by the sound of the wind and the hum of the insects. In winter the early mornings. It is beautiful indeed when snow has fallen during the night, but splendid too when the ground is white with frost; or even when there is no snow or frost, but it is simply very cold and the attendants hurry from room to room stirring up the fires and bringing charcoal, how well this fits the season's mood! But as noon approaches and the cold wears off, no one bothers to keep the braziers alight, and soon nothing remains but piles of white ashes."

"Even on this festive day, when all are seeking butterflies and flowers, you and you alone can see what feelings hide within my heart."

"In life there are two things which are dependable. The pleasures of the flesh and the pleasures of literature."

"Letters are commonplace enough, yet what splendid things they are! When someone is in a distant province and one is worried about him, and then a letter suddenly arrives, one feels as though one were seeing him face to face. Again, it is a great comfort to have expressed one's feelings in a letter even though one knows it cannot yet have arrived. If letters did not exist, what dark depressions would come over one! When one has been worrying about something and wants to tell a certain person about it, what a relief it is to put it all down in a letter! Still greater is one's joy when a reply arrives. At that moment a letter really seems like an elixir of life."

"It was a clear, moonlit night a little after the tenth of the Eighth Month. Her Majesty, who was residing in the Empress's Office, sat by the edge of the veranda while Ukon no Naishi played the flute for her. The other ladies in attendance sat together, talking and laughing; but I stayed by myself, leaning against one of the pillars between the main hall and the veranda. 'Why so silent?' said Her Majesty. 'Say something. It is sad when you do not speak.' 'I am gazing at the autumn moon,' I replied. 'Ah yes,' she remarked. 'That is just what you should have said."

"One has carefully scented a robe and then forgotten about it for several days. When finally one comes to wear it, the aroma is even more delicious than on freshly scented clothes."

"One is telling a story about old times when someone breaks in with a little detail that he happens to know, implying that one's own version is inaccurate — disgusting behavior!"

"The fly should have been included in my list of hateful things; for such an odious creature does not belong with ordinary insects. It settles on everything, and even alights on one's face with its clammy feet. I am sorry that anyone should have been named after it."

"That parents should bring up some beloved son of theirs to be a priest is really distressing. No doubt it is an auspicious thing to do; but unfortunately most people are convinced that a priest is as unimportant as a piece of wood, and they treat him accordingly."

"Rare Things-- A son-in-law who's praised by his wife's father. Likewise, a wife who's loved by her mother-in-law. A pair of silver tweezers that can actually pull out hairs properly. A retainer who doesn't speak ill of his master. A person who is without a single quirk. Someone who's superior in both appearance and character, and who's remained utterly blameless throughout his long dealings with the world. You never find an instance of two people living together who continue to be overawed by each other's excellence and always treat each other with scrupulous care and respect, so such a relationship is obviously a great rarity. Copying out a tale or a volume of poems without smearing any ink on the book you're copying from. If you're copying it from some beautiful bound book, you try to take immense care, but somehow you always manage to get ink on it. Two women, let alone a man and a woman, who vow themselves to each other forever, and actually manage to remain on good terms to the end."

"Splendid Things - Chinese brocade. A sword with a decorated scabbard. The grain of the wood in a Buddhist statue. Long flowering branches of beautifully colored wisteria entwined about a pine tree."

"There is nothing in the whole world so painful as feeling that one is not liked."

"Pleasing things: finding a large number of tales that one has not read before. Or acquiring the second volume of a tale whose first volume one has enjoyed. But often it is a disappointment."

"Things That Lose by Being Painted - Pinks, cherry blossoms, yellow roses. Men or women who are praised in romances as being beautiful. Things That Gain by Being Painted - Pines. Autumn fields. Mountain villages and paths. Cranes and deer. A very cold winter scene; an unspeakably hot summer scene"

"Someone who butts in when you're talking and smugly provides the ending herself. Indeed anyone who butts in, be they child or adult, is most infuriating."

"Things That Should Be Large: Priests. Fruit. Houses. Provision bags. Inksticks for inkstones. Men's eyes: when they are too narrow, they look feminine. On the other hand, if they were as large as metal bowls, I should find them rather frightening. Round braziers. Winter cherries. Pine trees. The petals of yellow roses. Horses as well as oxen should be large."

"Things That Should Be Short: A piece of thread when one wants to sew something in a hurry. A lamp stand. The hair of a woman in the lower classes should be neat and short. The speech of a young girl."

"When crossing a river in bright moonlight, I love to see the water scatter in showers of crystal under the oxen's feet."

"While one is cleaning a decorative comb, something catches in the teeth and the comb breaks. A carriage overturns. One would have imagined that such a solid, bulky object would remain forever on its wheels. It all seems like a dream -- astonishing and senseless. A child or grown-up blurts out something that is bound to make people uncomfortable. All night long one has been waiting for a man who one thought was sure to arrive. At dawn, just when one has forgotten about him for a moment and dozed off, a crow caws loudly. One wakes up with a start and sees that it is daytime -- most astonishing. One of the bowmen in an archery contest stands trembling for a long time before shooting; when finally he does release his arrow, it goes in the wrong direction."