Wednesday, May 25, 2011





Kakinomoto no Hitomaro

Ah! the foot-drawn trail
Of the mountain-pheasant's tail
Drooped like down-curved branch—

Through this long, long-dragging night
Must I keep my couch alone?


I took a room
and called it
Susuki-Grass Room

to honor Narihira.
Tonight, however,
I think of

Hitomaro, who slept
alone. Streets
below grow quiet.

in dream I climb,
wayside benches —

I call, but your answer
is a single
pheasant feather

by the moonlit trail.


Hitomaro was a court poet active around 700 CE, noted for expressing longing during absences of the beloved.

Hokusai's Old Nurse refers only obliquely to the poem, through imagery that evokes "drag" and "long."

Risa speaks of the room in which she lived alone, thinking of the one was absent. Hitomaro's poem was in her thoughts, because she was taking the poems of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu in order for these meditations, but she was also thinking of a poem by Narihira (a different poem that the one of his included in the collection). He, too, was thinking of an absent love, and was suddenly struck in the middle of the night by a fear that she had died (as it happened, she long outlived him). Susuki-grass surrounded the room in which Narihira's loneliness so forcibly struck his imagination.
    The wayside benches are placed along a trail on a mountain where Risa had sometimes walked with her love. Pheasants are sometimes seen there.