“The stirring beauty of a night of stars” Sketches Pro on iPad, 2018
Starry Night by Lady Daibu
It must have been around the beginning of the twelfth month. Darkness had set in, and sleet, neither quite snow nor rain, was falling intermittently. Banks of cloud pressed overcast, while here and there groups of stars shone and were then snuffed out. I lay down and pulled the quilt up over my head. But later in the night – it must have been about the second quarter of the Ox* – I pushed the quilt off and looked up into the sky. It was unusually clear and had turned a lighter blue, against which large stars had appeared with unusual brilliance in one unbroken expanse. The sight was extraordinarily beautiful. It looked just as if pieces of gold and silver leaf had been scattered on paper of pale indigo. I felt as though I were seeing such a sky for the very first time that night. I had often before looked at starlit skies so bright that the moon might almost have been shining. but perhaps because of the time and place, that night made a particularly vivid impression on me, and I could only remain there sunk in thought:
I have often gazed upon,
But the stirring beauty
Of a night of stars
I have understood this night.
*Between 1:30 am – 2:00 am (not 2:30-3:00 am, as older theories of Heian timekeeping maintained).
Kenrei-mon-in Ukyo no Daibu (1155 – 1214)
She served for a daughter of Taira no Kiyomori who was a military leader of Japan.
Translation: Phillip Tudor Harries
– The Poetic Memoirs of Lady Daibu, Stanford University Press
A birth of notion: The first moment she realized the beauty of a starry night.
In 1185, Taira clan was defeated and fell into ruin at the Battle of Dannoura by an old enemy, Minamoto clan. After Taira no Sukemori, her lover, who died in the battle, she wrote over 300 pieces of poems with forewords. The theme of her poems was the memory of joy and painful love affair with Sukemori. She also depicted the brilliant palatial life, including a friendship with the high-ranking nobles of the Taira clan, and other courtiers.
In the forwards of “Starry Night,” the 251st verse, she illustrated the scene as massive stars had appeared with exceptional brilliance. It was a new moon night, according to the date of the forewords, the 1st day of December by the lunar calendar. I imagine that she must have seen Sirius and the stars of Orion at the southwest sky at around 2:00 am probably in the beginning of January. The temperature may have been below 35 ℉ as she saw sleet. The air was clear, especially after windy weather. Thinking of her thoughts, I wonder what the brilliant stars brought to her mind. Sadness, pleasure, regret? Alternatively, all those memories of the moment she had with a died lover, I would not know. I, however, at least could say Lady Daibu found herself in the beauty of stars which gave her a notion that she loved and missed Sukemori from deep in her heart once again. Although it might be too much to say, it could have been the moment which implied her a new beginning of the understanding of herself. Because I think she did not only realize the beauty of the starry night but also she noticed an inspiration beyond her thoughts which she connected with stars. If so, she must have found something different and new in herself, which she’d never had before. It should have been something cherished.
In 1991, an asteroid 5242 was discovered and named Kenreimonin (建礼門院) whom Lady Daibu served for.
- Harries, Phillip Tudor. The Poetic Memoirs of Lady Daibu. Stanford University Press, 1980, pp. 227-229.
建礼門院右京大夫 (1155 – 1214)
– 岩波文庫「建礼門院右京大夫集」 (p.120-121)
- 久松 潜一, 久保田 淳, 建礼門院右京大夫集. 岩波文庫, 第17版, 2009, pp. 120-121.