Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sixty


こしきぶのないし

おおえやま
いくののみちの
とければ

まだふみもみず
あまのはしだて




60

Lady Koshikibu no Naishi

As, by Oe's mount
And over Iku's plain, the way
Is so very far—

I have not yet even seen
Ama-no-hashidate. (The Bridge of Heaven).






60

I did not know
love had gone;
I stood by the stairs

a long time, then
walked away.





Notes

Koshikibu no Naishi  11th century, was daughter to a very famous poetess. Upon being chided that perhaps her mother was helping her write poems, she composed this tanka extempore, ironically agreeing that as she has seen nothing yet, how can she write poems? This silenced the critic, who walked away flummoxed.

The incomplete print we have from Hokusai for this poem suggests a scene of great beauty in the distance, but leaves that area blank. Perhaps the Old Nurse hasn't been to the "Bridge of Heaven" either.

visipix.com

Risa's response poem, unlike the tanka, is a love poem. It points to one of the many ways of encountering emptiness.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Fifty-Nine


あかぞめえもん

やすらわで
ねなましものを
さよふけて

かたぶくまでの
つきをみしかな




59

(Lady) Akazome Emon

Better to have slept
Carefree, than to keep vain watch
Through the passing night --

Till I saw the lonely moon
Traverse her descending path.





59

She walked alone,
admiring the view
over field and wood

as if he were there.






Notes

"Akazome Emon (赤染衛門, 956–1041) was a Japanese waka poet and early historian who lived in the mid-Heian period. She is a member both of the Thirty Six Elder Poetic Sages (中古三十六歌仙 Chūko Sanjūrokkasen) and the Thirty Six Female Poetic Sages (女房三十六歌仙 Nyōbō Sanjūrokkasen) .... Emon is thought to be the daughter of Akazome Tokimochi, but her biological father was likely her mother's first husband, Taira Kanemori. Emon was born before her mother's marriage to Tokimochi in the Akazome family. Her husband Ōe no Masahira was a famous literary scholar, and the couple were considered to be "lovebirds" (おしどり夫婦 oshidori fūfu)." -- Wikipedia

The poem, while lovely, is conventional in the wife's longing for her husband, who was often absent on business. Hokusai's Old Nurse, perhaps with a cackle of impudence, shows a (possibly self-important) courtesan, traveling from one room to another -- perhaps on business of her own?

http://www.visipix.com/sites-en/hoku_100_poem/poem_56_60.htm
Risa, a very conventional woman herself who is often home alone yet not lonely, pictures a scene much like that of Lady Emon's "waiting wife."
 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Fifty-Eight



だいにのさんみ

ありまやま
いなのささわら
かぜふけば

いでそよひとを
わすれやはする



58

Daini no Sanmi (Lady Kataiko)

Mount Arima
Sends his rustling winds across
Ina's bamboo-plains –

Even so, I can
Never forsake you.





58

Why, then,
was I troubled
when you talked

of happiness?
Was it because
the chrysanthemums

eavesdropped?



Notes

We do not have a Hokusai illustration for this poem. Any image of a lady anxiously parsing her lover's vacillating opinion concerning her steadiness or constancy would do.

The poet was Lady Murasaki's daughter, and an important Court retainer in her own right.

Risa speaks of her own discomfort when her loved one spoke of an enthusiasm she could not share, leading her to thoughts of separation -- a kind of death.



Fifty-Seven


むらさきしきぶ

めぐりあいて
みしやそれとも
わかぬまに

くもがくれにし
よわのつきかげ



57

Lady Murasaki Shikibu

Meeting in the way,
While I cannot quite see
If this is friend or not —

Already the midnight moon
In a cloud has disappeared.





57

Around us people
talked on inanely;
we two fled, 

seeking shadow.





Notes

Lady Murasaki is of course the author of the world's first known novel, The Tale of Genji. She was also a noted poet.

"Murasaki Shikibu ( , English: Lady Murasaki) (c. 978 – c. 1014 or 1025) was a Japanese novelist,poet and lady-in-waiting at the Imperial court during the Heian period. She is best known as the author of The Tale of Genji, written in Japanese between about 1000 and 1012. Murasaki Shikibu is a nickname; her real name is unknown, but she may have been Fujiwara Takako, who was mentioned in a 1007 court diary as an imperial lady-in-waiting." -- Wikipedia

The Old Nurse makes quite a drama of the poem. Two groups, the principals of whom appear not to be of quite the same class, appear briefly to recognize one another across a stream, while passing on opposite banks. A perceptive commentator asks if the child at right has just missed meeting his father, left center.

http://www.visipix.com/sites-en/hoku_100_poem/poem_56_60.htm

Risa responds to the moon's disappearance into a cloud. She and her loved one left two groups that met, rather than passed, to sit on a bench in near darkness, wrapped in the bubble of solitude.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Fifty-Six



いずみしきぶ

あらざらん
このよのほかの
おもいでに

いまひとたびの
あうこともがな




56

(Lady) Izumi Shikibu

Soon I cease to be.
One fond memory I would keep
When beyond this world.

Is there, then, no way for me
Just once more to meet with you?





56

I had almost died
under a distant
sun. I thought:

I should write you again.




Notes

"Izumi Shikibu (和泉式部?, b. 976?) was a mid Heian period Japanese poet. She is a member of the Thirty-six Medieval Poetry Immortals (中古三十六歌仙 chūko sanjurokkasen?). She was the contemporary of Murasaki Shikibu, and Akazome Emon at the court of empress Joto Mon'in." Wikipedia

http://www.visipix.com/sites-en/hoku_100_poem/pic.php?pic=56_1024.jpg
This type of poem is often handed to the lover in the form of a letter. Hokusai's Old Nurse (humorously, the wicked old thing) envisions the sick or dying lady's envelope containing not the letter but perhaps a payment to a fortuneteller, who has possibly assured the lady that she will meet her lover one more time, as she wishes. Will she? Fortunetellers notwithstanding, the future is always in doubt, especially in the case of an envisioned afterlife.

Risa, in her response, remembers a time when she was in hospital for ten days, and began writing letters to old friends ... and lovers.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fifty-Five




だいなごんきんとう

たきのおとは
たえてひさしく
なりぬれど

なこそながれて
なおきこえけれ




55

Fujiwara no Kinto

Though the waterfall
In its flow ceased long ago,
And its sound is stilled --

Yet, in name it ever flows,
And in fame may yet be heard.





55

He speaks
as if her ever
going away

would be his breath
going away.




Notes

"Fujiwara no Kintō (藤原 公任?, 966 – February 4, 1041), also known as Shijō-dainagon, was a Japanese poet, admired by his contemporaries [1] and a court bureaucrat of the Heian period. His father was the regent Fujiwara no Yoritada and his son Fujiwara no Sadayori.[2] An exemplary calligrapher and poet, he is given mention in works by Murasaki Shikibu, Sei Shōnagon and a number of other major chronicles and texts." -- Wikipedia

A noted Japanese waterfall's site draws attention even after the watercourse has been altered, drying up the falls. One can think of parallels in human fame.

It appears the Old Nurse visualizes the waterfall as it once was, with a picnic underway. Perhaps this emphasizes the sense of loss after the waterfall is gone.

http://www.visipix.com/sites-en/hoku_100_poem/pic.php?pic=55_1024.jpg
Risa visualizes a lover becoming aware of the vulnerability inherent in love.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Fifty-Four




ぎどうさんしのはは


わすれじの
ゆくすえまでは
かたければ
きょうをかぎりの
いのちともがな




54

Gido Sanshi no Haha (Gido's mother)

If "not to forget"
Will for him in future years
Be too difficult –

It were well this very day
My life should close.





54

I thought, as I drove
by the river's edge —
I might do better

by mistaking
this sharp curve.





Notes

There is no extant Hokusai image for this poem. Here is one by Hiroshige:

http://www.heliam.net/One_Hundred_Poems/54_SanshiHaha.html

The poet is the wife of a nobleman, Fujiwara no Michitaka, and the mother of, among others, a Japanese official who was demoted (his title in the line identifying her is an empty one). It is said to be a wedding poem, alluding to her husband's wedding vows. Should things go awry, she would rather die now, while she is still happy. But the marriage may have been a good one.

Risa takes the opposite stance. She remembers a moment when things had indeed gone awry, and briefly contemplated driving into the river (so that it could be called an accident and thus relieve her family of the burden of a suicide). As it turned out, her marriage also remained a good one. Would-be suicides often forget that the horrible future they are avoiding might not happen in any case. Such succumb to their own imaginations.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Fifty-Three


うだいしょうみちつなのはは

なげきつつ
ひとりぬるよの
あくるまは

いかにひさしき
ものとかはしる




53

Udaisho Michitsuna no Haha (Michitsuna's mother)

Sighing all alone,
Through the long watch of the night,
Till the break of day –

Can you realize at all
What a tedious thing it is?





53

When you have
been journeying,
life in the house

slows to a crawl.
I go the window
again and again.




Notes

Ascribed only to one who is only named as an important man's mother (he was the leader of the armed forces), we are told she was a Fujiwara and one of the three most beautiful women of her time. Her husband seems to have exercised his noble prerogative to be gone at all hours and come home, if at all, perhaps smelling of another woman. She is said to have finally locked him out and, when he demanded to be let in, have thrown this poem over the wall to him.

The Nurse does not fool around with this story. Women understand one another concerning this kind of vigil. Hokusai has depicted the lady in a crushed kimono (indicating sleeplessness) holding a lamp against the darkness. Behind her, his pipe and bed await him in vain. 

Only the drawing may exist (if it does, it is in a private collection); there are no prints. Reproduced here is a very old Gillotype of the original (Morse, p.118).

www.visipix.com
Risa's situation, decades ago, was like that of Michitsuna's mother. She well remembers the wretchedness of those times, and is thankful that her life took, quite some time ago, a turn for the better.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Fifty-Two




ふじわらのみちのぶあそん

あけぬれば
くるるものとは
しりながら

なおうらめしき
あさぼらけかな





52

Fujiwara no Michinobu Ason

Though I know full well
That the night will come again
E'en when day has dawned,

Yet, in truth, I hate the sight
Of the morning's coming light.




52

How many times
I have remembered
how I hated that bus

when it rolled you
serenely away.


Notes

Fujiwara no Michinobu Ason, one of the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals, died at 23. His work exists in several collections. This is thought of as a 'morning-after" poem. It is sometimes illustrated as from a man's point of view, sometimes a woman's. 

Hokusai's Old Nurse comically sees the "morning after" as a whole caravan of anonymously buttoned-up palanquins racing away down a dangerous incline at dawn, their way lit by lanterns. Lovers often care not what risks they (or, if rich, their retainers) run.

www.visipix.com
Risa remembers a time when she was separated from her love by a huge "palanquin" -- the intercity bus.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Fifty-One




ふじわらのさねかたあそん

かくとだに
えやわいぶきの
さしもぐさ

さしもしらじな
もゆるおもいを


51

Fujiwara no Sanekata Ason

That it is as it is,
How can I make known to her?
So, she may never know

That the love I feel for her
Like Ibuki's moxa burns.





51

Is this the last
day we may walk
together? Then

I suppose I 
must gaze
straight ahead.



Notes

Fujiwara no Sanekata Ason was a relatively short-lived courtier and poet active in the late 900s C.E. Moxa is a plant fiber which, when wound into a small dried cone shape, could be set on various points of the body and then burned, with an intended effect similar to acupuncture. Like a good patient, he must bear the pain (of love) quietly, for the sake of decorum.

Hokusai's Old Nurse visualizes a Moxa apothecary at Mount Ibuki (where the best stuff came from). Travelers, or perhaps customers, sit out front while a horse is attended to, and refreshments are provided by the proprietress. Perhaps one of the travelers is on his way to or from an appointment with the beloved, and thinks of the moxa simile while disguising his feelings?

Risa too remembers disguising her feelings, because she found it necessary to say farewell in a public place.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Fifty



ふじわらのよしたか

きみがため
おしからざりし
いのちさえ

ながくもがなと
おもいけるかな



50

Fujiwara no Yoshitaka  

For thy precious sake,
Once my eager life itself
Was not dear to me.

But 'tis now my heart's desire
It may long, long years endure.




50

I said to you then,
as we stood beneath
the lilacs:

"Now that I have
met you, I will live

forever."




Notes

Fujiwara no Yoshitaka, an official, was active in the 900s C.E., and died of smallpox at age twenty-one. His poem is therefore lent poignancy by its desire for an eternity in which to enjoy his love.

Hokusai's Old Nurse envisions a scene of timeless tranquility: three men and three women at the end of a long, hot bath. Two diving cormorants in an expanse of  still water perhaps provide the entertainment.

Of interest: from Shakespeare's Love's Labours Lost:

      When, spite of cormorant devouring Time,
      The endeavor of this present breath may buy
      That honour which shall bate his scythe's keen edge
      And make us heirs of all eternity.

http://www.visipix.com
Risa, in her response poem, remembers a moment of possibly hyperbolic declaration in the early stages of love.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Forty-Nine



おおなかとみのよしのぶあそん

みかきもり
えじのたくひの
よるはもえ

ひるはきえつつ
ものをこそおもえ



49

Onakatomi no Yoshinobu Ason

Like the warder's fires
At the Imperial gateway kept
Burning through the night,

Through the day in the cooled ashes
The love still glows in me.




49

I thought I had
no objection —
but when you

returned, you
looked into my eyes
with pity.



Notes:

Onakatomi no Yoshinobu, active in the 900s C.E., was an active compiler of poetry anthologies and one of the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals

Hokusai's Old Nurse envisions the moment at dawn, when the night watch has not yet been relieved and the men are lazily stretching and thinking, perhaps of their beds -- while the lover sits, with his attendant, on the nearby bluff, musing on a distant or perhaps lost love.

http://www.visipix.com
Risa's response poem remembers a particularly difficult moment in a relationship she thought she'd understood.

Forty-Eight



みなもとのしげゆき

かぜをいたみ
いわうつなみの
おのれのみ

くだけてものを
おもうころかな



48

Minamoto no Shigeyuki

Like a driven wave,
Dashed by fierce winds on a rock,
So it is, alas!

Crushed and all alone am I;
Thinking over what has been.




48

You offered me water
in a glass, and said:
you must go.

I did; or tried to —
how was I to know
I was but a tide,

going, but returning
the same way?



Notes

Minamoto no Shigeyuki, active in the late 900s C.E. was  poet of the court. He is one of the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals

There is no known Hokusai print or drawing extant for this poem. Here is a very dramatic one by Kuniyoshi.

Risa remembers an occasion on which love suddenly became complicated. It was over, though it took years to become evident.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Forty-Seven




えぎょうほうし

やえむぐら
しげれるやどの
さびしきに

ひとこそみえね
あきはきにけり



47

Eikei Hoshi (monk)

To the humble cot,
Overgrown with thick-leaved vines
In its loneliness,

Comes the dreary autumn time —
And not even man is there.




47

Wading that far
river, turning over
stones for caddis

flies unborn,
you met no one –
not even me.




Notes

The monk Eikei turns in a standard meditation on the evanescence of the human presence in a natural landscape. We build homes; we vanish; nature reclaims our works. Hokusai's Old Nurse, however, harks back to the time when human activity filled the scene. It is certainly autumn; geese fly away, a tree bears fruit; tobacco leaves dry under the eaves of the house; a man washes a horse; a woman brings the saddle; a woman and child winnow rice. These routine activities gain poignancy from the poem's view of a later time ...

Risa's thoughts, on the other hand, turn to spring and a moment of isolation in the beloved's life.


http://www.visipix.com

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Forty-Six


そねのよしただ

ゆらのとを
わたるふなびと
かじをたえ

ゆくえもしらぬ
こいのみちかな



46

Sone no Yoshitada

Like a mariner
Sailing over Yura's strait
With his rudder gone –

Whither, o'er the deep of love,
Lies the goal, I do not know.





46

You should know
by now, this stream
in winter cannot

be crossed – 
or only if you 
care not where 

you come ashore.




Notes

For this poem there is no known Hosukai print or drawing. Here is one thought to have been done by Hiroshige. In it, a woman, one of a famous pair of star-crossed lovers, is traveling in hopes of glimpsing her love -- but she neither knows where he is nor where she is going.

The poet, a minor provincial official, was not highly regarded in his own time but his reputation grew after his death. His imagery is often original, a quality sometimes unappreciated.

Risa responds to this poem by suggesting the lovelorn should count the costs before committing under adverse conditions. It is very easy to drown in the river in winter, especially if one's thoughts are occupied by things that may not even come to pass.

Forty-Five



けんとくこう

あわれとも
いうべきひとは
おもおえで

みのいたずらに
なりぬべきかな



45

Kentoku Ko (Fujiwara no Koretada)

Sure that there is none
Who will speak a pitying word,
I shall pass away.

My death, alas, shall only be
My own folly's fitting end.




45

I knew by the look
you gave me, then,
I had made again

some sad mistake —
Yet looking back,
I remember only

walking by the river,
bending over pools
for pretty stones.




Notes

Fujiwara no Koretada, active in the 900s C.E., was made curator of poetry by the Emperor. He rose to a position of great importance. Descended from, and ancestor of, important poets, he appears in several collections. In the poem, his regret for an inappropriate love affair apparently hyperbolically extends to his entire career, whereas Risa is thinking only of a memory of a difficult moment which she finds emblematic of a difficult relationship.

Hokusai's Old Nurse sees a group of women spinning, winding and weaving thread. They resemble the Fates, and there is a suggestion, in the Buddhist texts on the monumental spinning wheel, that we create our own reality (thus creating the Fates -- our destiny is in our own hands, not theirs, for we have only imagined them). Peter Morse quotes Keyes to the effect that these women are also a constellation in the sky, with Vega ("The Weaver") in the window, weaving sadly.



http://www.visipix.com



Monday, December 31, 2012

Forty-Four




ちゅうなごんあさただ

あうことの
たえてしなくは
なかなかに

ひとをもみをも
うらみざらまし



44

Chunagon Asatada (Tomotada)

If a trysting time
There should never be at all,
I should not complain

For myself oft left forlorn,
Or of her, in heartless mood.




44

One such night,
we said, will do
to make us not

have lived in vain:
but these old words,
so many times

repeated, surprised us —
being true.



Notes

Fujiwara no Asatada, active in the 900s C.E., was a courtier and poet, one of the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals. He was included in a number of collections and a collection of his poems is extant. This translation of this poem is awkward; here is another

If it should happen
That we never met again,
I would not complain;
And I doubt that she or I
Would feel that we were left alone.


Risa's response is the reverse of a translation, as she is remembering happiness, but with a hint that the views she is here expressing are so commonly expressed as to be trite. Except that they never are.

Peter Morse tells us that Hokusai's Old Nurse associates this poem with the legend of the White Fox Lady, here appearing to to her husband and son after her death. It is the last day of the year, attested by a gathering of foxes in the background, breathing fire.



http://www.visipix.com

Monday, September 3, 2012

Forty-Three




ごんちゅうなごんあつただ

あいみての
のちのこころに
くらぶれば

むかしはものを
おもわざりけり



43

Chunagon Atsutada(Fujiwara no Atsutada)

Having met my love,
Afterwards my passion was,
When I measured it

With the feeling of the past,
As, if then, I had not loved.







43

Though I turned
away when you
watched me

braid my hair —
this, beyond all
that went before,

sheds on my life
continual light.





Notes

Chunagon Atsutada was a tenth century C.E. court nobleman and one of the Thirty-six immortal poets. He is of the same family line as the compiler of this anthology.

Atsutada's poem comes off a little trite in translation. Who has not experienced love, every time, as something unique to which all former loves seem but a shadow? But see what Hokusai's Old Nurse makes of it! One of those "former loves" will nail the man's effigy to a sacred tree, calling upon the local deity to help force the miserable effigy to behold itself in the mirror upon her breast. How dare he break a sacred trust? Emotions are powerful, but relationships are meant to supersede them. This print is one of Hokusai's masterpieces.

Risa instead focuses on the moment when a relationship suddenly somehow intensifies the bonds of trust. "All /that went before" may refer to the earlier stages of the courtship, rather than to a promise glibly made and broken.


http://www.visipix.com

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Forty-Two




きよはらのもとすけ

ちぎりきな
かたみにそでを
しぼりつつ

すえのまつやま
なみこさじとは



42

Kiyowara no Motosuke

Have we not been pledged
By the wringing of our sleeves,
Each for each in turn –

That over Sué's Mount of Pines
Ocean waves shall never pass?




42

I have stood
many times
beside this ocean,

and you have
never seen it —
I yet believe

what we said
was true.





Notes

Kiyowara no Motosuke (or Kiyohara) was a poet and literary editor active in the 900s C.E. He was one of the compilers of the Gosen Wakashū. He served twice as a provincial governor and is regarded as one of the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals.

Hokusai produces for this poem an unfinished drawing of a courtier whose palanquin has been set down for the moment, and to whom someone, in an attitude of obsequious respect, appears to be explicating the poem by indicating an item of cloth being wrung out by the seaside, where it has been soaked. A woman meanwhile sews another such cloth, listening in.

A promise holds great power and either keeping or breaking it can lead to widening circles of damage, thinks the Old Nurse. Do not weep over your vows unless your tears and your intentions and abilities match.

Risa's poem would not much impress the Old Nurse. She has crossed a continent to begin a life without someone. The decision will haunt her for the rest of her days, and perhaps she has no business applying selective memory, as she seems to do here.

http://www.visipix.com