Friday, May 20, 2011





(Emperor) Tenchi Tenno

Coarse the rush-mat roof
Sheltering the harvest-hut
Of the autumn rice-field —

And my sleeves are growing wet
With the moisture dripping through.


Sleeves dripping
from a hike
through heavy

autumnal rains,
I find shelter
amid tall books:

drying my hands,
I find one, lifting it
down with care from

a high shelf:
Hokusai. Prints,
depicting with love
hard country lives —

sudden tears.


The emperor had stepped out into the fields on a rainy day and taken refuge in a rude hut of the kind constructed by field hands to get in out of the weather from time to time. He feels a connection with their lives and finds water on his sleeves -- a metaphor for weeping.

Taking refuge in the Art Library one day in 1999, with rain bucketing down on the quad, Risa moved to the Oversize section and lifted down a heavy volume of prints by Hokusai. It was her first introduction to the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. The phrase "as explained by the old nurse" in Hokusai's title for his print series surprised her by moving her to tears.
    She was living alone at the time, indulging herself in a "midlife crisis." After the rains ceased, she went home to her small room near campus and wrote one hundred small poems over the course of the next ten days.

Hokusai's Old Nurse shows busy farmers in the rice field. It is not raining, and the harvest hut is empty. Perhaps the Emperor has not yet arrived. Or perhaps it is Hokusai's own time, and the emperor came here hundreds of years before, and is long dead and forgotten by the rice farmers ...