5. List of Birds 

(Approximate Translation from The Pillow Book, Sei Shonagon, section 41; The Pillow Book is an 11th century work of Japanese vernacular literature which collects short essays, anecdotes, and lists by Sei Shōnagon, a court lady and attendant to the Empress Teishi.)


Though it’s from a faraway place, the parrot is quite touching. I hear it can mimic what it hears people say. 

The lesser cuckoo. [hototogisu, technically a cuckoo but with much more poetic associations.] 

The water rail. 

The sandpiper. 

The smew. ["priestess bird" in Japanese.] 

The finch. 

The [火燒]. [I have no idea what bird this is; it means "burning."] 

Mountain bird: I've heard that when it's crying out for the one it loves, it can be comforted by looking into a mirror—how touching! It hurts the heart to think of them sleeping with a valley between them.  

The crane: Its appearance is totally over the top, but I love that you can hear its crying voice echoing all the way up to the clouds. 

The red-headed sparrow. 

The male grosbeak. [What is the female one like?!]

The woodpecker. [Lit. "skillful bird." Also refers to a winter wren.]

The heron: Herons are quite offensive to the eyes. With their horrible eyeballs etc., there’s nothing at all appealing about them, but it is charming how they battle it out and “won’t sleep alone in Yurugi Forest.” [allusion to a poem that’s basically like “all these herons won’t rest without a mate (yet I’m all alone)”]

The common cuckoo. 

Water fowl: 

The mandarin duck is quite moving. Very charming how they nest together and sweep the frost from each others’ wings. 

The capital bird. [Eurasian oystercatcher, named in Japanese for the Heian capital.] 

The river plover, especially when they’ve been thrown into disarray. 

The wild goose, very moving how you can hear its voice from so far away. 

Still charmed just thinking of the ducks brushing frost from their wings. 

[Skipping a long section on the uguisu (Japanese bush warbler) and hototogisu. Needless to say, their cries are lovely and poetic associations justified, but they do not always cry at appropriately poetic times and sometimes they hide themselves in the trees. This annoys the author. But when you do hear them at just the right moment, when you wake in the night during the early summer rains and wait to be the first one to hear the hototogisu, then it’s perfect. Your heart sings too.] 

Anything that cries in the night, anything and everything, is wonderful. Except for children.