Tuesday, October 11, 2011






(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?


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.


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.