Saturday, June 4, 2011





Chunagon Yakamochi

If Magpie Bridge
By flight of magpies spanned,
White with frost I find,

With deep-laid frost made white:
Late, I see, has grown the night.


Under stars
diamond hard,
I cross the log bridge

where we fed birds
by the lake,
skating my boots

like a young girl,
hoping to find you,
this time, cabined,

building a fire
on the open hearth.


In Risa's poem she is remembering a fragmented and anxious dream of love, involving an icy bridge. Perhaps she should say no more.

Chunagon Yakamochi was one of the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals and active about 750 CE. This is a complex poem; there was a bridge in the Imperial Palace called the Magpie Bridge, but the reference to a flight of magpies evokes the legend of the maiden and her lover, stars separated by the Milky Way (thought of here as a river). The magpies build for her a bridge on the seventh day of the seventh month to go and see him, once a year.

Hokusai's old woman's response is suitably oblique; passengers on a Chinese boat point to passing magpies. The legend was from China.(*)