Hateful Things by Sei Shonagon
"Hateful Things" is an excerpt from Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book. She was a tremendously witty lady of the court in 10th century Japan who kept a private diary of various lists and commentaries, and this is one of them. It's still mostly dead-on accurate, over a thousand years later, and it always cheers me up when I'm having a most hateful day.
One is in a hurry to leave, but one's visitor keeps chattering away. If it is someone of no importance, one can get rid of him by saying, "You must tell me all about it next time"; but, should it be the sort of visitor whose presence commands one's best behavior, the situation is hateful indeed.
One finds that a hair has got caught in the stone on which one is rubbing one's inkstick, or again that gravel is lodged in the inkstick, making a nasty, grating sound.
Someone has suddenly fallen ill and one summons the exorcist. Since he is not at home, one has to send messengers to look for him. After one has had a long, fretful wait, the exorcist finally arrives, and with a sigh of relief one asks him to start his incantations. But perhaps he has been excorcizing too many evil spirits lately, for hardly has he installed himself and begun praying when his voice becomes drowsy. Oh, how hateful!
A man who has nothing in particular to recommend him discusses all sorts of subjects at random as though he knew everything.
An elderly person warms the palms of his hands over a brazier and stretches out the wrinkles. No young man would dream of behaving in such a fashion; old people can really be quite shameless. I have seen some dreary old creatures actually resting their feet on the brazier and rubbing them against the edge while they speak. These are the kind of people who in visiting someone's house first use their fans to wipe away the dust from the mat and, when they finally sit on it, cannot stay still but are forever spreading out the front of their hunting costume or even tucking it up under their knees. One might suppose that such behavior was restricted to people of humble station, but I have observed it in quite well-bred people, including a Senior Secretary of the Fifth Rank in the Ministry of Ceremonial and a former Governor of Suruga.
I hate the sight of men in their cups who shout, poke their fingers in their mouths, stroke their beards, and pass on the wine to their neighbors with cries of "Have some more! Drink up!" They tremble, shake their heads, twist their faces, and gesticulate like children who are singing, "We're off to see the governor!" I have seen really well-bred people behave like this and I find it most distasteful.
To envy others and complain about one's own lot; to speak badly about people; to be inquisitive about the most trivial matters and to resent and abuse people for not telling one, or, if one does manage to worm out some facts, to inform everyone in the most detailed fashion as if one had known all from the beginning -- oh, how hateful!
One is just about to be told some interesting piece of news when a baby starts crying.
A flight of crows circle over with loud caws.
An admirer has come on a clandestine visit, but a dog catches sight of him and starts barking. One feels like killing the beast.
One has been foolish enough to invite a man to spend the night in an unsuitable place -- and then he starts snoring.
A gentleman has visited one secretly. Though he is wearing a tall, lacquered hat, he nevertheless wants no one to see him. He is so flurried, in fact, that on leaving he bangs into something with his hat. Most hateful! It is annoying too when he lifts up the Iyo blind that hangs at the entrance of the room, then lets it fall with a great rattle. If it is a head-blind, things are still worse, for being more solid it makes a terrible noise when it is dropped. There is no excuse for such carelessness. Even a head-blind does not make any noise if one lifts it up gently when entering and leaving the room; the same applies to sliding-doors. If one's movements are rough, even a paper door will bend and resonate when opened; but, if one lifts the door a little when pushing it, there need be no sound.
One has gone to bed and is about to doze off when a mosquito appears, announcing himself in a reedy voice. One can actually feel the wind made by his wings, and, slight though it is, one finds it hateful in the extreme.
A carriage passes by with a nasty, creaking noise. Annoying to think that the passengers may not even be aware of this! If I am traveling in someone's carriage and I hear it creaking, I dislike not only the noise but the owner of the carriage.
One is in the middle of a story when someone butts in and tries to show that he is the only clever person in the room. Such a person is hateful, and so, indeed, is anyone, child or adult, who tries to push himself forward.
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!
Very hateful is a mouse that scurries all over the place.
Some children have called at one's house. One makes a great fuss of them and gives them toys to play with. The children become accustomed to this treatment and start to come regularly, forcing their way into one's inner rooms and scattering one's furnishings and possessions. Hateful!
A certain gentleman whom one does not wish to see visits one at home or in the Palace, and one pretends to be asleep. But a maid comes to tell one and shakes one awake, with a look on her face that says, "What a sleepyhead!" Very hateful.
A newcomer pushes ahead of the other members in a group; with a knowing look, this person starts laying down the law and forcing advice upon everyone -- most hateful.
A man with whom one is having an affair keeps singing the praises of some woman he used to know. Even if it is a thing of the past, this can be very annoying. How much more so if he is still seeing the woman! (Yet sometimes I find it is not as unpleasant as all that.)
A person who recites a spell himself after sneezing. In fact I detest anyone who sneezes, except the master of the house.
Fleas too, are very hateful. When they dance about under someone's clothes, they really seem to be lifting them up.
The sound of dogs when they bark for a long time in chorus is ominous and hateful.
I cannot stand people who leave without closing the panel behind them.
I hate people whose letters show that they lack respect for worldly civilities, whether by discourtesy in the phrasing or by extreme politeness to someone who does not deserve it. This sort of thing is, of course, most odious if the letter is for oneself, but it is bad enough even if it is addressed to someone else.
As a matter of fact, most people are too casual, not only in their letters but in their direct conversation. Sometimes I am quite disgusted at noting how little decorum people observe when talking to each other.
Sometimes a person who is utterly devoid of charm will try to create a good impression by using very elegant language; yet he succeeds only in being ridiculous. No doubt he beleives this refined language to be just what the occasion demands, but, when it goes so far that everyone bursts out laughing, surely something must be wrong.
A man who has nothing in particular to recommend him, but who speaks in an affected tone and poses as being elegant.
An inkstone with such a hard, smooth surface that the stick glides over it without leaving any deposit of ink.
Ladies-in-waiting who want to know everything that is going on.
Sometimes one greatly dislikes a person for no particular reason --- and then that person goes and does something hateful.
A gentleman who travels alone in his carriage to see a procession or some other spectacle. What sort of man is he? Even though he may not be a person of the greatest quality, surely he should have taken along a few of the many young men who are anxious to see the sights. But no, there he sits by himself (one can see his silhouette through the blinds) with a proud look on his face, keeping all his impressions to himself.
A lover who is leaving at dawn announces that he has to find his fan and his paper. "I know I put them somewhere last night," he says. Since it is pitch-dark, he gropes about the room, bumping into the furniture and muttering, "Strange! Where can they be?" Finally he discovers the objects. He thrusts the paper into the breast of his robe with a great rustling sound; then he snaps open his fan and busily fans away with it. Only now is he ready to take his leave. What charmless behavior! "Hateful" is an understatement.
Equally disagreeable is the man who, when leaving in the middle of the night, takes care to fasten the cord of his headdress. This is quite unnecessary; he could perfectly well put it gently on his head without tying the cord. And why must he spend time adjusting his cloak or hunting costume? Does he really think that someone may see him at this time of night and criticize him for not being impeccably dressed?
A good lover will behave as elegantly at dawn as at any other time. He drags himself out of bed with a look of dismay on his face. The lady urges him on: "Come, my friend, it's getting light. You don't want anyone to find you here." He gives a deep sigh, as if to say that the night has not been nearly long enough and that it is agony to leave. Once up, he does not instantly pull on his trousers. Instead, he comes close to the lady and whispers whatever was left unsaid during the night. Even when he is dressed, he still lingers, vaguely pretending to be fastening his sash.
Presently he raises the lattice, and the two lovers stand together by the side door while he tells her how he dreads the coming day, which will keep them apart; then he slips away. The lady watches him go, and this moment of parting will remain among her most charming memories.
Indeed, one's attachment to a man depends largely onthe elegance of his leave-taking. When he jumps out of bed, scurries about the room, tightly fastens his trouser-sash, rolls up the sleeves of his Court cloak, over-robe, or hunting costume, stuffs his belongings into the breast of his robe and then briskly secures the outer sash -- one really begins to hate him.
And two excerpts from another list:
Things that are at odds with Nature
A letter that comes back unopened that one has taken great care to write in the most beautiful of script. One waits and waits for an answer, and then when it is much, much too overdue and one is waiting impatiently, the thing comes back (doesn’t matter whether it is a folded personal letter or a more formal letter with an outer wrapping), all soiled, rumpled up (even the signature on the wrapping has been smudged out). Then one is told the intended recipient was either not home, or unable to receive your letter because of some sort of superstitious taboo. This is the worst disappointment imaginable. Depressing isn’t the word for it!
Or again, when one sends a carriage out to fetch someone over to your house for a visit, and then the carriage returns and one is delighted and sends someone out to greet the visitor, only to see the carriage being drawn away toward the garage, and one hears the sound of the harness being plopped on the ground. And when one asks what has happened, one is informed that the person in question was not at home, and so, of course, was unable to come over. I am depressed when I see the ox being led away.
A wetnurse leaves her job with a new baby, saying she will be gone just a short time. Then when the situation becomes desperate and an attempt is made to get her back in a hurry, she replies only that she cannot make it back that evening. As though she didn’t think that would make a person go mad! Insulting and depressing isn’t the word for it!
Speaking of waiting—say one is waiting for a gentleman to arrive, and it has grown somewhat late when suddenly one hears a knock at the gate and one’s heart begins to race and one sends a servant out to see him in. And then one hears a totally different voice announcing himself, someone furthermost from one’s mind. Oh, the utter disappointment of that is not to be matched!
Wearing summer white clothes into autumn. Unbearable.
What can I say about a wetnurse who has run out of breastmilk?