Wednesday, February 04, 2015


Then and Now

Kamo no Chōmei (1155–1216), "Record of the Ten-Foot-Square Hut," tr. Burton Watson in Four Huts: Asian Writings on the Simple Life (Boston: Shambhala, 2002), pp. 47-77 (at 55):
I have heard it said that the sage rulers of antiquity governed the nation with compassion. Their palaces were roofed with mere thatch, left untrimmed at the eaves, and when they saw that little smoke rose from the cooking fires of the people, they excused them from even the light tribute that was ordinarily required. All this they did because they pitied the people and wished to ease their lot. We have only to compare such ways with those in use today to see the difference.
The same, tr. A.L. Sadler in The Ten Foot Square Hut and Tales of the Heike (1928; rpt. North Clarendon: Tuttle Publishing, 1972), p. 6:
Now we learn that in the dim ages of the past, in the August Era of a certain most revered Mikado, the Empire was ruled with great kindness: that the Palace was thatched with reeds and its eaves were not repaired, because it was seen that little smoke went up from the houses, and the taxes were on that account remitted. So did the sovereign have pity on his people and help them in their distress. When we compare it with these ancient days we can well understand what a time we live in.
See also Basil Bunting (1900-1985), "Chomei at Toyama," in his Complete Poems (New York: New Directions, 2003), pp. 83-92 (at 85):
I have heard of a time when kings beneath bark rooves
watched chimneys.
When smoke was scarce, taxes were remitted.

To appreciate present conditions
collate them with those of antiquity.

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