Monday, December 26, 2011

Thirty-Four



ふじわらのおきかぜ

たれをかも
しるひとにせん
たかさごの

まつもむかしの
ともならなくに




34

Fujiwara no Okikaze

Whom then are there now,
In my age, so far advanced,
I can hold as friends?

Even Takasago's pines
Are not friends as of former days.




34

When I saw
the place where
you and I had

gathered apples,
what could I do
but weep?




Notes

Fujiwara no Okikaze, active in the 900s C.E., was one of the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals and had poems included in several imperial poetry anthologies, including Kokin Wakashū

Hokusai's Old Nurse envisions a relaxed group of people hanging round the famous pine, doing exactly what the poet rues having lost. It's almost as though she is taunting him (for his attachment, as though one could freeze time) with this scene.

In Japan, pines represent longevity. Okikaze's poem is of course not about the pine, but about the deleterious impact of time upon relationships. Likewise, Risa's poem is not about apples.


http://www.visipix.com

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Thirty-Three



きのとものり

ひさかたの
ひかりのどけき
はるのひに

しづごころなく
はなのちるらん



33

Ki no Tomonori

In the cheerful light
Of the glowing sun
In spring,

Why with such haste
Falls the cherry's bloom?





33

Bloom on our cherry
seems but to last
a day. We then think

spring is swift —
but what season 
for us now

is not swift?



Notes

Risa here invokes the sense the elders (and she is one) have of time passing more quickly as we age. She and her beloved barely catch the cherries blooming any more. They come and are gone.

Ki no Tomonori, court poet, was active in the 800s C.E. and both a Poetry Immortal and an anthologist. His poem appears to highlight the yearning we have for sunshine and cheerfulness by suggesting that the cherry blossoms have an insufficient appreciation for these things, in turning from them to fall to earth so soon.

Hokusai's Old Nurse sees the blossoms scattering over a boat being re-sealed for a summer's work. The men are intent on their business; they, too, it seems, under-appreciate spring.


http://www.visipix.com


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Thirty-Two




はるみちのつらき

やまがわに
かぜのかけたる
しがらみは

ながれもあえぬ
もみぢなりけり



32

Harumichi no Tsuraki

In a mountain stream
Built by the busy wind,
Lies a wattled barrier.

Yet 'tis only maple leaves
Powerless to flow away.




32

I remember you
when you were alive,
finding red salmon

in a pool. They whirled
like autumn leaves —
no place to go,

upstream or down.



Notes

Risa's friend identified with the circling, pool-bound salmon -- perhaps too well.

Harumichi no Tsuraki was a court poet and graduate of the imperial university, active in the early 900s C.E. Few of his poems are now known.

Hokusai's Old Nurse visualizes the river with the leaves tumbling down in a strong current;  a man appears to be fishing them out to fill a basket. On a small footbridge a woman waits for her child and his pet turtle. Filling much of the scene there is a lumberyard with square timbers, and sawyers are cutting boards from one of the timbers. At the foot of the sawing sits a "saw-doctor" filing and setting saw teeth. Hetty Litjens suggests the imagery represents "resistances," an interpretation of the poet's difficulties (perhaps in crossing the mountain, or at court, or in personal life, or all three).


http://www.visipix.com

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thirty-One




さかのうえのこれのり

あさぼらけ
ありあけのつきと
みるまでに

よしののさとに
ふれるしらゆき




31

Sakanoue no Korenori

At the break of day,
Just as though the morning moon
Lightened the dim scene,

Yoshino's fair hamlet lay
In a haze of falling snow.





31

Snow plumed straight down
like river foam.
I knew where

the trees were,
loading themselves
with white —

but could not
find them.



Notes

Sakanoue no Korinori, active circa 900 C.E., is one of the Thirty-Six Immortal Poets and is represented in a number of Imperial anthologies. The poem is set in winter in Yoshino in what is now Nara Prefecture, where there is a famous waterfall. A century later, Yoshitsune is said to have washed his horse there, and Hokusai has a famous wood engraving of this event.

Hokusai's Old Nurse envisions the waterfall in winter, with a crew of workmen braving the snow to bring in wood, perhaps into a bathhouse.

Risa remembers the morning after one of her very first nights in the Oregon woods, parked in her truck camper in a location where she was to be picked up for a day's work. She awoke to find herself snowed in, with more than a foot of snow accumulated, and more falling silently in large bewildering clumps. She could recognize nothing from the day before, and was enchanted with the scene. She made up her mind on the spot that Oregon would be her permanent home.


http://www.visipix.com

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Thirty



みぶのただみね

ありあけの
つれなくみえし
わかれより

あかつきばかり
うきものはなし



30

Mibu no Tadamine

The morning moon,
Cold, unpitying.
Since that parting hour,

Nothing I dislike so much
As the breaking light of day.




30

Once we had made up
our minds that you
should leave at morning —

we each in our way
prayed dawn would never
come.



Notes

Risa's response poem should be self-explanatory. It rests on the alternate interpretation to Tadamine's poem, which has been thought to represent a lover's complaint against being made to wait fruitlessly (a common theme in Japanese literature of the times) but could also mean a lover's complaint against the shortness of the night.

Hokusai's Old Nurse prefers the second meaning also, and visualizes two farmers or tradesmen of the lower classes encountering the lover after the lady (that dramatic pose, supporting herself on the gatepost -- it could not be her servant) has seen him off at the gate. They make the appropriate obeisances -- does he return the bow, or is he simply bowed with sadness at the foggy dawn?

Tadamine was one of the Thirty-Six Immortal Poets, as well as a noted critic, active around 900 C.E.


http://www.visipix.com

Friday, November 25, 2011

Twenty-Nine


おおしこうちのみつね

こころあてに
をらばやをらん
はつしもの

おきまどはせる
しらぎくのはな



29

Oshikochi no Mitsune

If it were my wish
White chrysanthemum to cull —
Puzzled by the frost

Of the early autumn time,
I by chance might pluck the flower.




29

I could not know
you waited for me here —
The falling petals

had already obscured
your steps.



Notes

Oshikochi Mitsune, a court official and regional governor, was active around 900 C.E. He was very successful in poetic culture and many of his poems survive. He was listed as one of the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals

Hokusai's series of woodcuts for the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu is incomplete as this is one of the poems for which we have nothing from his hand. There is one by Kunisada, showing a gift of picked white chrysanthemums that appear to have been delivered to a lady, who seems surprised to discover them.

Risa's Oregon response is fairly straightforward. She hopes to evoke the memory of a missed appointment through the universal symbolism of fallen petals. It may be presumed they are white chrysanthemum, in which case the incident occurred in perhaps November or December (Risa of course lives in the Northern Hemisphere) and the color of the mum symbolizes a lasting regret, perhaps even the end of a relationship.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Twenty-Eight




みなもとのむねゆきあそん

やまざとは
ふゆぞさびしさ
まさりける

ひとめもくさも
かれぬとおもえば



28

Minamoto no Muneyuki Ason

Winter loneliness
In a mountain hamlet grows
Only deeper, when

Guests are gone, and leaves and grass
Withered are ....




28

In boots I made rounds.
Looking back,
I saw no track

but mine.



Notes:

Minamoto no Muneyuki was a grandson of an Emperor and is regarded as one of the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals. The silence that falls after the departure of guests is a traditional subject.

The Old Nurse outdoes herself here. She imagines the mountain village long deserted, perhaps for decades. Hunters, who have no idea, perhaps, of who may have lived here, use rotted timbers as firewood. The smoke drifts away past the wrecked and snow-drifted dwelling. This is one of Hokusai's masterworks.

Risa remembers her friends making an extended journey into town, awaiting better weather before their work could recommence. She tended camp, and often turned to look back at her own footprints, unaccompanied in deep snow.



http://www.visipix.com

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Twenty-Seven



ちゅうなごんかねすけ

みかのはら
わきてながるる
いづみがわ

いつみきとてか
こいしかるらん




27

Chunagon Kanesuke

Over Mika's plain,
Gushing forth and flowing free,
Is Izumi's stream.

I know not if we have met:
Why, then, do I long for her?





27

When you asked
if you might
walk with me,

I said yes,
then looked
away. It is —

a thing we do.



Notes

The great-grandfather of Lady Murasaki, Chunagon Kanesuke was one of the Thirty-Six Immortal Poets. His home was a resort of poets and artists.

In an unfinished drawing for a woodcut, Hokusai's Old Nurse envisions a ferry boat on the river named in the poem, which flows west from the hills into Osaka Bay. There may be two small groups of passengers, and neither group takes notice of the other. Or do they? Perhaps the poet is in one of these, and the object of his notice is in the other. And now perhaps he does not well remember this chance meeting -- only the longing.

Risa remembers walking along a river with one who loved her -- and whose glance she found unsettling.


http://www.visipix.com

Friday, November 11, 2011

Twenty-Six




ていしんこう

をぐらやま
みねのもみじば
こころあらば

いまひとたびの
みゆきまたなん



26

Teishin Ko (Fujiwara no Tadahira)

If the maple leaves
On the ridge of Ogura
Have the gift of mind,

They will longingly await
One more august pilgrimage.





26

As I pass by,
I touch the boles:
Hemlock, fir,

spruce, alder,
maple, cedar,
madrone, yew,

bright myrtle –
and you not here
to touch them.




Notes

Mount Ogura is inland to the west of Tokyo. It was famous for its fall foliage. The retired Emperor asked the poet to invite his son, the current Emperor to view the scenery there, and the poem was the result.

Hokusai simply depicts the moment of the invitation (presumably the first recitation of the poem), with some exemplary fall foliage as part of the backdrop.

Risa remembers walking through the woods in a particularly lovely place on the North Fork of Middle Fork of the Willamette River, and wishing her love could be there to experience it with her.


http://www.visipix.com

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Twenty-Five



さんじょうのうだいじん

なにしおわば
おうさかやまの
さねかずら

ひとにしられで
くるよしもがな



25

Sanjo Udaijin (Fujiwara no Sadakata)

If your name be true,
Trailing vine of "Meeting Hill,"
Is there not some way

Whereby, without ken of men,
I can draw you to my side?




25

As you gaze, I
avert my eyes
lest my breath stop.

Behind you, leaves
cling to the light
while sparrows

sing on.



Notes

Fujiwara no Sadakata was active around 900-920 C.E. and a member of a family of poets. This poem needs little explanation -- furtive love being one of the principal topoi of ancient Japanese and Chinese poetry. In the Japanese, it is laced with erotic double entendres.

Hokusai's Old Nurse, in an unfinished image, has a relatively straighforward interpretation, showing a woman well-wrapped for an incognito visit. Is the merchant looking at her and laughing? Perhaps the poor find the upper-class penchant for secrecy amusing. Is the lover watching from the door of that house, leaving all the courage of illicit travel to her?

Risa is thinking of the private "bubble" that forms around lovers engrossed in each other. Even in the midst of a crowd, they are a universe to themselves.



http://www.visipix.com

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Twenty-Four




かんけ

このたびは
ぬさもとりあえず
たむけやま

もみじのにしき
かみのまにまに




24

Kan Ke (Sugiwara no Michizane)

At the present time,
Since no offering I could bring,
See, Mount Tamuke!

Here are brocades of red leaves,
At the pleasure of the god.





24

You who understand
may follow me to the
red mountain's slope —

and there accept
what only gods
may give.




Notes

Risa is remembering that her best years were spent earning a meager living on the mountainsides in all seasons and all weathers. Fall foliage has come to symbolize those years for her, as a sign of the turning of the year. It is something to be loved for itself, and cannot be sold or even given away -- only experienced.

Michizane, a courtier active in the 800s C.E., was also a scholar and teacher. He was exiled by the emperor, and a series of misfortunes followed, with catastrophes to the capital and the royal family. Subsequently Michizane's good name was restored in an effort to propitiate his spirit, and he is now a Shinto deity. His poems in the Chinese manner are considered especially good.

Hokusai's Old Nurse visualizes the Emperor's cart travelling (to a shrine) in autumn, the time of year referenced in the poem, with red leaves descending all round. Michizane would have had to wait to make his offering after the Emperor was done doing so, and his poem makes the leaves themselves an offering which would never have to wait -- a leveling sort of poem that could be taken as subversive: in effect, "we are all equal before the gods." The oxen have balked, and the cart is, at the moment, going nowhere -- possibly a reference to the oxen that carried Michizane to his grave, and which also balked.


http://www.visipix.com

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Twenty-Three




おおえのちさと

つきみれば
ちぢにものこそ
かなしけれ

わがみひとつの
あきにはあらねど




23

Oe no Chisato

Gaze I at the moon,
Myriad things arise in thought,
And my thoughts are sad –

Yet, 'tis not for me alone,
That the autumn time has come.




23

Autumnal thoughts
drift to me;
petals browning,

leaves. New
wrinkles in my hands
are well matched

to those in yours —
Now we have loved,
we cannot die.



Notes

Chisato is said to have been a nephew of Yukihira and to have been influenced by Chinese poetry. The Old Nurse, in Hokusai's unfinished print, visualizes heavy-laden peasants moving about the paths among the fields beneath a harvest moon. Age is given more than it can carry, perhaps, but the harvest is nevertheless brought in.

Risa is thinking here of the discovery by lovers that they are no longer young. On the same topic, she also has written: 

g r a c e

They do not always sit with an easy grace,
the aging: in afternoon light, even in October,
cracks invade her clear skin,

showing in relief, and he knows dismay,
seeing her, his own once simple face
crowding itself, as when a life within

doors runs out of thought. Yet, sober
as this renders him, he will not turn away
from her to seek some easier play:

there is no win or lose, no hunt, no race,
no battle. His eyes would disrobe her,
for she is to him more than she has been,

and he would know all, even here,
as passers pass, not seeing what his eyes see;
but he will wait on her clear sign

that this is welcome, even from his gaze,
for she has known most men hold themselves dear;
known too long their avarice that she

should shape to their dreams, their ways,
their endless drawing round her of sharp lines,
their wrapping an arm carelessly round her days,

their failing, in this many years, to touch the key
moment of her heart, that movement lacking fear
when she might freely give, without design.

Placing her hand in his, she shifts and sighs;
a not unhappy sound, considering the hour
and how late, as well, this man has come to her:

five decades they have lived apart,
as though all meaning had to be deferred;
as though autumn alone might show love's power;

as though some god, having hated happy hearts,
had suddenly relented, offering them this prize.


http://www.visipix.com

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Twenty-Two




ふんやのやすひで

ふくからに
あきのくさきの
しをるれば

むべやまかぜを
あらしというらん



22

Bunya no Yasuhide

Since 'tis by its breath
Autumn's leaves of grass and trees
Riven are and waste –

Men may to the mountain wind
Fitly given the name, "The Wild."




22

You must know
the mountain wind
comes to me —

speaking your
wild thoughts.




Notes

There is almost no information on the life of Yasuhide; he is however listed among the Six and Thirty-Six exemplary poets. Hokusai's image, unfinished, depicts the winds interrupting a mountaintop festival.

Risa remembers a love whose thoughts and actions ranged wide and unpredictably, like a mountain wind.


http://www.visipix.com

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Twenty-One



そせいほうし

いまこんと
いいしばかりに
ながつきの

ありあけのつきを
まちいでつるかな





21

Sosei Hoshi (monk)

Just because you said,
"In a moment I will come,"
I've awaited you

Even until the moon of dawn,
In the long month, has appeared.





21

I went to a place
of waiting. People
passed, and glanced,

curious. I did not
mind; you might
arrive or you might

not. What to do 
was what to do.



Notes

Sosei, son of the author of poem eleven, was a court officer before becoming a monk. Many of his poems remain extant, and he is one of the Thirty-Six poetry Immortals

Hokusai's Old Nurse seems to focus on the speaker as female. Is the man being led by torchlight up the path in a different direction her lover? And why is he carrying a set of keys?

Risa also remembers waiting at night for one who promised to arrive. On this occasion (perhaps unusually so) she was able to compose herself -- whatever was to be, would be. Perhaps she was, that night, remembering times when she herself had been unkind.


http://www.visipix.com

Friday, October 14, 2011

Twenty



もとよししんのう

わびぬれば
いまはたおなじ
なにわなる

みをつくしても
あわんとぞおもう



20

(Prince) Motoyoshi Shinno

Now, in dire distress,
It is all the same to me!
So, then, let us meet

Even though it costs my life
In the Bay of Naniwa.





20

From me to you,
some three hundred
miles of ice? —

It's not so much.




Notes

Two syllables short of a haiku, Risa's response to the Prince's waka recalls a journey she undertook on a motorcycle during an ice-out. Madness, but, then, so is love.

The Prince (active 900s C.E.) was noted for affairs of the heart, and a number of his poems appear in the Tales of Yamato.

Hosukai's Old Nurse depicts Motoyoshi (or perhaps his lady friend) en route to an assignation along the shores of Naniwa (Osaka) Bay, disguised as a sheaf of grain. Ladies appear to avert their gaze, tipping their umbrellas so as not to see the strange sight -- perhaps everyone saw through him?


http://www.visipix.com

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Nineteen




いせ

なにわがた
みじかきあしの
ふしのまも

あわでこのよを
すぐしてよとや


19

(Lady) Ise

Even for a space
Short as joint of tiny reed
From Naniwa's marsh,

We must never meet again
In this life? This, do you ask?





19

How beautiful
your hands, tapping
my door, thirty

years ago.
Your heart knocked,
a fist against

my ribs. Whispering
my name, your lips
brushed mine. You

have been dead
almost half those years,
and, no — no time

has passed.



Notes

Lady Ise, active at the beginning of the 900s C.E., was a concubine of the emperor. Educated and talented, she was a noted poet in the Imperial style, and many of her poems were published in her lifetime.

Hokusai's Old Nurse depicts the lady watching, perhaps in vain, from a window across Osaka Bay (Naniwa). Time for her now seems to stand still, though she is well provided for; she has an attendant, a gardener is working below the window, roofers are tiling her roof, and the farmers in the rice fields carry on as they have always done. A fog is rolling in from lower right.

Risa remembers a love who has died. She, too, in a sense, feels left behind, frozen in time, as life goes unheedfully on around her. All tragedy ultimately is felt in a terrible solitude.


http://www.visipix.com

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Eighteen





ふじわらのとしゆきあそん

すみのえの
きしによるなみ
よるさえや

ゆめのかよいじ
ひとめよくらん





18

Fujiwara no Toshiyuki Ason

See the gathered waves
On the shore of Sumi's bay --
Even in gathered night,

When in dreams I come to you,
I must shun the eyes of men.





18

Even to dream
may shatter
my world.

What name
did I speak to
the night?




Notes

Fujiwara no Toshiuki was a Heian dynasty aristocrat and poet, active in the 900s C.E., and one of the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals.

Hokusai's Old Nurse sees a ship, presumably on Sumi Bay (in present-day Osaka) from which two hidden lovers peek forth. One commentator remarks that they are not a particularly attractive couple -- perhaps Nurse sees crewmembers, and not aristocrats -- in keeping with her subversive findings elsewhere.

Risa is remembering a time when love was complicated, to say the least, so her poem is practically a paraphrase of Toshiuki's.


http://www.visipix.com