Wednesday, September 14, 2011






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.


Even to dream
may shatter
my world.

What name
did I speak to
the night?


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.

Monday, September 5, 2011






Ariwara no Narihira Ason

I have never heard
That, even when the gods held sway
In the ancient days,

Ever was water bound with red
Such as here in Tatsuta's stream


Removing our hot
boots, we hung them
by laces and crossed

the stone-floored stream
on shocked feet.
Work-weary as we

were, we stopped
to see maple finery
skip past our knees.


Narihira, a member of the royal family who spent much of his life in relative exile due to, it is said, inappropriate romantic entanglements, is said to have inspired the Tales of Ise and may also have been one of the models drawn upon by Murasaki Shikibu for Prince Genji. Active in the 800s C.E., he is referred to as one of the Six Great Waka Poets and the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals.

The Tatsuta River is popular with poets for its display of floating leaves of the Japanese Maple in autumn, and it is referred to as "dyed" by the leaves. Hokusai's Old nurse plays with this concept by visualizing a man who has apparently fallen in the stream, whose clothing is now red, to the amusement of his friends. Perhaps there is a sly reference to Narihira, whose amorous escapades "dyed" him with a reputation that ultimately injured his career.

Risa remembers an incident in her tree-planting days, in which a crew member went missing overnight in the woods, sparking an all-day search by the crew along with sheriff's deputies and the local search-and-rescue volunteers. (The crew member was located, suffering from hypothermia, and hospitalized). Several searchers crossed a small river with swift, cold water and poor footing, yet stopped in mid-stream to admire the color of fallen big-leaf maple leaves, rushing down with the current. To this day, she has few memories as vivid as that moment.