Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The earliest literary diary

It is one thousand and seventy years since the death of  Ki no Tsurayuki, a nobleman and poet renowned for his erudition and skills in Chinese and Japanese. He is acknowledged as the author of The Tosa Diary, which is considered the oldest literary diary in existence - predating English diaries by half a millennium!

Tsurayuki was a son of Ki no Mochiyuki, and grew up to become a poet of waka, short poems composed in Japanese. In 905, under the order of Emperor Daigo, he was one of four poets selected to compile an imperial anthology of waka poetry (Kokin WakashÅ«). His preface to the anthology is credited with being the first formal description of Japanese poetry. After holding a few offices in Kyoto, he became the provincial governor of Tosa province from 930 until 935. Later, he lived in Suo province. He died - according to Wikipedia’s entry - on 30 June 945.

Apart from his contribution to the imperial anthology, Tsurayuki is also considered a literary figure of some historical importance because of the Tosa Nikki - which, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica, is the earliest example of a literary diary. (The first English diaries date from the 16th century.) Although, apparently by a woman, and published anonymously, Tsurayuki is acknowledge as being its author. It was first translated into English by William N. Porter in 1912 and published by Henry Frowde as The Tosa Diary. Some pages of a more recent edition, published by Turtle Publishing (Boston) in 1981, is available to preview at Googlebooks.

The narrator of The Tosa Diary states at the outset: ‘It is generally a man who writes what is called a Diary, but now a woman will see what she can do.’ Porter explains in his introduction that this opening sentence means the diary is to be written in ‘the women’s language’. i.e. phonetic characters only, without the use of ideographs; and, in order to be consistent, the author writes as if he was a woman, and mentions himself only in the third person, using different names, such as ‘a certain personage’, ‘the seafarer’ etc. The diary tells of a journey by boat (being rowed) to the then capital Kyoto; although only 200 miles, it took 55 days. (At night, those travelling would camp on shore, and remain there if the weather for the day looked threatening.)

28 January 955 [first entry in published book]
‘One year on the twenty-first day of the twelfth month ‘a certain personage’ left home at the Hour of the Dog, which was the beginning of this modest record. He had just completed the usual period of four or five years as Governor of a Province; everything had been wound up, documents etc. had been handed over, and now he was about to go down to the place of embarkation; for he was about to travel on shipboard. All sorts of people, both friends and strangers, came to see him off, including many who had served him faithfully during the past years, and who sorrowed at the thought of losing him that day. There was endless bustle and confusion; and so with one thing and another the night drew on.’

6 February 955 New Year’s Day
‘Still they remained at the same place. The byakusan had been placed for safe-keeping during the night in the ship’s cabin; but the wind which is usual at this time of year got up and blew it all into the sea. They had nothing left to drink, no potatoes, no seaweed and no rice-cakes; the neighbourhood could supply nothing of this kind, and so their wants could not be satisfied. They could no nothing more than suck the head of a trout. What must the trout have thought of everybody sucking it in turn! That day he could think of nothing but the Capital, and talk of nothing but the straw rope stretched across the Gates of the Imperial Palace, the mullet heads and the holly.’ [These foods etc. are all to do with the then customs of New Year.]

18 February 955
‘The rain was gently falling at daybreak, but it soon stopped, and then the men and women together went down to a suitable place in the vicinity and had a hot bath. Looking out over the sea, he composed this verse:
Overhead the clouds
Look to me like rippling waves;
Were the fishers here,
Which is sea, and which is sky?
I would ask, and they’d reply
Well, as it was after the tenth day, the moon was particularly beautiful. All these days, since first he set foot aboard ship, he had never worn his handsome bright scarlet costume, because he feared to offend the God of the Sea; yet . . .’

25 February 955
‘Just as yesterday the boat could not start. All the people were sighing most dolefully, for their hearts were sad at wasting so many days. How many did they amount to already? Twenty? Thirty? It would make my fingers ache to count them. At night he could not sleep and was in a melancholy mood. The rising moon, twenty days old, came up out of the midst of the sea, for there were no mountain-tops (for it to rise from).’

28 February 955
‘The sun shone forth from the clouds, and, as there was said to be danger of pirates during the voyage, he prayed for protection to the Shinto and Buddhist gods.’

22 March 955
‘This day the carriage arrived. Owing to the dirt on board he removed from the boat to the house of a friend.’

23 March 955
‘That evening as he went up to the Capital, he saw in the shops at Yamasaki the little boxes painted with pictures and the rice-cakes twisted into the shape of conch shells, just the same as ever; and he wondered if the hearts of shopkeepers also were the same. [. . .] Planning to arrive at the Capital by night, he did not hasten. The moon had risen, and he crossed the Katsura River in bright moonlight. [. . .] He recited this also:
Once Katsura’s Stream
Seemed to me as far away
As the clouds of heaven
Now, while crossing, I perceive
It has wet my dipping sleeve.

And again he composed this:

Well I know my heart
And the River Katsura
Never were alike:
Yet in depth my heart would seem
Not unlike the flowing stream.

These too many verses are due to his excessive pleasure at reaching the Capital.’

The Diary Junction

No comments: