Tsurezuregusa

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Yoshida Kenkō

Tsurezuregusa (徒然草?, Essays in Idleness, alternatively: The Harvest of Leisure) is a collection of Japanese essays written by the monk Yoshida Kenkō between 1330 and 1332. The work is widely considered a gem of medieval Japanese literature and one of the three representative works of the zuihitsu [1] genre, along with Makura no Sōshi and the Hōjōki.

Structure and Content[edit]

Tsurezuregusa comprises a preface and 243 passages (段, dan), varying in length from a single line to a few pages. Kenkō, being a Buddhist monk, writes about Buddhist truths, and themes such as death and impermanence prevail in the work, although it also contains passages devoted to the beauty of nature as well as some on humorous incidents. The original work was not divided or numbered; the division can be traced to the 17th century.

The work takes its name from its preface passage:

つれづれなるまゝに、日暮らし、硯にむかひて、心にうつりゆくよしなし事を、そこはかとなく書きつくれば、あやしうこそものぐるほしけれ。
Tsurezurenaru mama ni, hikurashi, suzuri ni mukaite, kokoro ni utsuriyuku yoshinashigoto wo, sokowakatonaku kakitsukureba, ayashū koso monoguruoshikere.

In Keene's translation:

What a strange, demented feeling it gives me when I realise I have spent whole days before this inkstone, with nothing better to do, jotting down at random whatever nonsensical thoughts that have entered my head.

where つれづれ (tsurezure) means “having nothing to do.”

For comparison, Sansom's translation:

To while away the idle hours, seated the livelong day before the inkslab, by jotting down without order or purpose whatever trifling thoughts pass through my mind, truly this is a queer and crazy thing to do!

Translations[edit]

The definitive English translation is by Donald Keene (1967). In his preface Keene states that of the six or so earlier translations into English and German, that by G. B. Sansom is most distinguished. It was published by the Asiatic Society of Japan in 1911 as The Tsuredzure Gusa of Yoshida No Kaneyoshi. Being the meditations of a recluse in the 14th Century. A scan of a 1914 translation by Porter is included among the links below.

Sources[edit]

  • Chance, Linda H (1997). Formless in Form: Kenkō, Tsurezuregusa, and the Rhetoric of Japanese Fragmentary Prose. Stanford: Stanford UP. ISBN 978-0804730013.
  • Keene, Donald (1998). Essays in Idleness: The Tsurezuregusa of Kenkō. New York: Columbia UP. ISBN 978-0231112550.

External links[edit]

Footnote[edit]

  1. ^ literally, “as the brush moves,” i.e., jotting down whatever comes to one's mind, usually translated “essay.”