ASIA212Varley

This opinion demonstrated the excellent taste of the

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Unformatted text preview: ss their wish “to be reborn again and again for seven lives . . . in order to destroy the enemies of the court!”20 According to the Taiheiki, Godaigo’s loyalist movement—his “imperial destiny”—is doomed to final failure in large part because of the emperor’s foolhardy refusal to follow the strategy of Kusunoki Masashige. Another important literary work of the mid-fourteenth century is the Essays in Idleness (Tsurezuregusa), a collection of notes, anecdotes, and personal observations by Yoshida Kenkò (1283–1350), a court poet who took Buddhist vows in his later years. Written about the time of Godaigo’s Restoration (although without a word concerning the momentous political and military events of the day), the Essays in Idleness is structurally very much like the Heian period miscellany The Pillow Book. In content, however, the two books clearly reflect the differences between the ages in which they were written. Whereas The Pillow Book is biting, witty, and “up-to-date,” Kenkò’s work is an elegant expression of the tastes and feelings of a medieval man who possessed both a fine sensitivity for the poignancy of life and the perishability of all things and a profound nostalgia for the customs and ways of the past. Unlike the author of Hòjòki in early Kamakura times, Kenkò was not overcome with anguish by the suffering that accompanies the ceaseless flow and change of life. Indeed, he felt that “the most precious thing in life is its uncertainty,” and delighted in something precisely because its beauty promised to be brief or because it already showed signs of fading. Moreover, Kenkò never expressed his love for former times in cloyingly sentimental terms, but with such simple eloquence as: In all things I yearn for the past. Modern fashions seem to keep on growing more and more debased. I find that even among the splendid pieces of furniture built by our master cabinetmakers, those in the old forms are the most pleasing. And as for writing letters, surviving scraps from the past reveal how superb the phrasing used to be. The ordinary spoken language has also The Canons of Medieval Taste 111 steadily coa...
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