Monday, December 31, 2012

Forty-Four




ちゅうなごんあさただ

あうことの
たえてしなくは
なかなかに

ひとをもみをも
うらみざらまし



44

Chunagon Asatada (Tomotada)

If a trysting time
There should never be at all,
I should not complain

For myself oft left forlorn,
Or of her, in heartless mood.




44

One such night,
we said, will do
to make us not

have lived in vain:
but these old words,
so many times

repeated, surprised us —
being true.



Notes

Fujiwara no Asatada, active in the 900s C.E., was a courtier and poet, one of the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals. He was included in a number of collections and a collection of his poems is extant. This translation of this poem is awkward; here is another

If it should happen
That we never met again,
I would not complain;
And I doubt that she or I
Would feel that we were left alone.


Risa's response is the reverse of a translation, as she is remembering happiness, but with a hint that the views she is here expressing are so commonly expressed as to be trite. Except that they never are.

Peter Morse tells us that Hokusai's Old Nurse associates this poem with the legend of the White Fox Lady, here appearing to to her husband and son after her death. It is the last day of the year, attested by a gathering of foxes in the background, breathing fire.



http://www.visipix.com

Monday, September 3, 2012

Forty-Three




ごんちゅうなごんあつただ

あいみての
のちのこころに
くらぶれば

むかしはものを
おもわざりけり



43

Chunagon Atsutada(Fujiwara no Atsutada)

Having met my love,
Afterwards my passion was,
When I measured it

With the feeling of the past,
As, if then, I had not loved.







43

Though I turned
away when you
watched me

braid my hair —
this, beyond all
that went before,

sheds on my life
continual light.





Notes

Chunagon Atsutada was a tenth century C.E. court nobleman and one of the Thirty-six immortal poets. He is of the same family line as the compiler of this anthology.

Atsutada's poem comes off a little trite in translation. Who has not experienced love, every time, as something unique to which all former loves seem but a shadow? But see what Hokusai's Old Nurse makes of it! One of those "former loves" will nail the man's effigy to a sacred tree, calling upon the local deity to help force the miserable effigy to behold itself in the mirror upon her breast. How dare he break a sacred trust? Emotions are powerful, but relationships are meant to supersede them. This print is one of Hokusai's masterpieces.

Risa instead focuses on the moment when a relationship suddenly somehow intensifies the bonds of trust. "All /that went before" may refer to the earlier stages of the courtship, rather than to a promise glibly made and broken.


http://www.visipix.com

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Forty-Two




きよはらのもとすけ

ちぎりきな
かたみにそでを
しぼりつつ

すえのまつやま
なみこさじとは



42

Kiyowara no Motosuke

Have we not been pledged
By the wringing of our sleeves,
Each for each in turn –

That over Sué's Mount of Pines
Ocean waves shall never pass?




42

I have stood
many times
beside this ocean,

and you have
never seen it —
I yet believe

what we said
was true.





Notes

Kiyowara no Motosuke (or Kiyohara) was a poet and literary editor active in the 900s C.E. He was one of the compilers of the Gosen Wakashū. He served twice as a provincial governor and is regarded as one of the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals.

Hokusai produces for this poem an unfinished drawing of a courtier whose palanquin has been set down for the moment, and to whom someone, in an attitude of obsequious respect, appears to be explicating the poem by indicating an item of cloth being wrung out by the seaside, where it has been soaked. A woman meanwhile sews another such cloth, listening in.

A promise holds great power and either keeping or breaking it can lead to widening circles of damage, thinks the Old Nurse. Do not weep over your vows unless your tears and your intentions and abilities match.

Risa's poem would not much impress the Old Nurse. She has crossed a continent to begin a life without someone. The decision will haunt her for the rest of her days, and perhaps she has no business applying selective memory, as she seems to do here.

http://www.visipix.com

Friday, February 10, 2012

Forty-One



みぶのただみ

こいすちょう
わがなはまだき
たちにけり

ひとしれずこそ
おもいそめしか




41

Mibu no Tadami

Though indeed I love,
Yet the rumor of my love
Had gone far and wide

When no man then could know
That I had begun to love.




41

Those waiting
at the breakfast
table understood —

though they had not
been told.






Notes

Risa does not enlarge upon the poet's meaning but instead concentrates it into a single image. Of course, those at the table who understand without being told (as she envisions this) are other women -- most men seem much slower on the uptake in these matters.

Mibu no Tadami was a court poet and a designated member of the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals; many of his poems are extant.

There appears to be no work by Hokusai extant for this poem.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Forty




たいらのかねもり

しのぶれど
いろにいでにけり
わがこいは

ものやおもうと
ひとのとうまで




40

Taira no Kanemori

Though I would conceal it,
In my face, it appears --
My foolish secret love.

So much so, my friend asks of me,
"Does not something trouble you?"





40

It is when I think
of all you have meant
to me, that my face

does a thing some
see. They lean
across the table:

"What was that
about?"




Notes

Taira no Kanemori, active in the 900s C.E., was governor of Echigo province and a noted poet. He is one of the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals, and a number of his poems survive in collections. Here, he drops in on a friend, trying to be casual, but his distraction gives him away.

Hokusai's Old Nurse envisions people lined up for a reading from a physiognomist. Surely, under the gaze of the specialist with the magnifying glass, our poet will be found out. Better put this off!

Risa, who has never been able to conceal her feelings, has been through this many times and can relate! There is really no privacy where love is concerned.


http://www.visipix.com

Monday, January 16, 2012

Thirty-Nine



さんぎひとし

あさじうの
をののしのはら
しのぶれど

あまりてなどか
ひとのこいしき




39

Sanji Hitoshi (Minamoto no Hitoshi)

Bamboo-growing plain,
With a field bearing small reeds --
Though I bear my lot,

Why is it too much to bear?
Why do I still love her so?





39

The color of
your eyes --
on a mountain path

I saw at dawn
spread unexpectedly
on clouds below.




Notes

Sanjo Hitoshi was a court official in the 900s and served in the provinces. He is known mostly by this poem of unrequited or forbidden love.

Hokusai's Old Nurse shows the poet observing a desolate landscape shrouded in fog, with two retainers in waiting. Workmen carrying heavy burdens appear at lower right; perhaps they are being held up by the gentry. There may be a subversive commentary on the heaviness of the lord's "burden."

Risa is here startled by the color of sunrise on a bank of clouds -- so like a remembered lover's eyes.


http://www.visipix.com

Friday, January 13, 2012

Thirty-Eight




うこん

わすらるる
みをばおもはず
ちかひてし

ひとのいのちの
をしくもあるかな



38

(Lady) Ukon

Though cast aside,
For myself I do not care:
But you had sworn an oath –

That the gods withhold vengeance
Is all I ask now.





38

When I remembered
what could not
be unsaid, 

I drove through 
endless rain,
seeking one merchant

who might give aid
to an empty hand.




Notes

Ukon was a prolific Court poet of the 900s C.E., very much in demand for contests and special occasions, and later accorded honor as one of the Thirty-Six Poetry Immortals. In this poem, when abandoned by her husband, she asks the gods not to strike him (thereby underlining the seriousness of his breach of faith).

In the unfinished print, Hokusai shows the lady apparently beginning a pilgrimage, perhaps to implore the help of the gods in her great disaster; she is bowed down by the weight of her misfortune. She is attended by her lady in waiting and two bodyguards.

Risa remembers an occasion on which she had broken a promise to a child. She went out in a terrible rainstorm, stopping at one place of business after another, seeking just the right gift to smooth over the hurt. But, of course, there is no gift that can replace steadfastness.


http://www.visipix.com

Thirty-Seven



ふんやのあさやす

しらつゆに
かぜのふきしく
あきののは

つらぬきとめぬ
たまぞちりける




37

Bunya no Asayasu

In the autumn fields
When the restless winds comb
The heedless dew

The unstrung pearls
are scattered round.





37

After freezing rain
I become wary
of the huckleberries: 

inveigling ice down
my neck, no matter
how I turn.




Notes 

Bunya [or Fun'ya] no Asayasu, active around the beginnings of the 900s C.E., is said to have composed this poem at the request of the emperor.

Hokusai's Old Nurse sees an autumnal task in progress on a windy morning: workers, or perhaps young courtiers, are out in a boat gathering lotus "water lily" pads. The dew has already been blown about, like loose pearls.

Risa remembers that when she worked in the woods, frost scattered before her like the dew in Asayasu's poem, and sometimes got underneath her collar. Those who work out-of-doors will recognize the posture of Hokusai's boatmen, who shrink away from the biting wind of approaching winter.


http://www.visipix.com

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Thirty-Six




きよはらのふかやぶ

なつのよは
まだよひながら
あけぬるを

くものいずこに
つきやどるらん




36

Kiyowara no Fukayabu

In the summer night,
While evening still seems here,
Dawn is coming.

In what region of the clouds
Has the wandering moon hidden?





36

While you were away,
I moved our bed
to the river's edge.

The moonlit waters 
flooded my heart
that night.




Notes

Kiyohara no Fukayabu was perhaps active in the 10th century C.E. He authored seventeen poems in the Kokinwakashu. He was the grandfather of Kiyohara no Motosuke, and the great-grandfather of Sei Shonagon.

Hokusai's Old Nurse envisions boats on the river carrying on by the light of the summer moon even though there is an overcast. 

Risa remembers when she was working an early-summer forestry contract in Idaho in unexpectedly hot weather. Pulling the "family bed" from her truck, she tried to sleep by the riverbank, where it was coolest, but the moonlight combined with the absence of her beloved conspired to keep her awake.


http://www.visipix.com



Sunday, January 1, 2012

Thirty-Five




きのつらゆき

ひとはいさ
こころもしらず
ふるさとは

はなぞむかしの
かににおいける



35

Ki no Tsurayuki

No — as for man,
How his heart is none can tell,
But the plum's sweet flower

In my birthplace, as before,
Still emits the same perfume.




35

My earliest spring:
grass, not yet
mown, raked

by the wind's fingers;
New sap, rising
in a solitary

peach, ran from
an open wound.



Notes

Ki no Tsurayuki, a courtier and one of the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals, was active after 890 C.E. He was a poet, editor and critic, and wrote the famous sentence used as the footer for this blog: "Our poetry, with ease, moves heaven and earth, stirs the feelings of invisible demons and deities, softens the relations between men and women, and calms the heart of the warrior."

Tsurayuki returns after a long absence and is greeted by his friend. He notices the blooming plum and recites the poem, and his friend responds with a poem that notes that he, the host, planted this tree in honor of Tsurayuki.

Hokusai's Old Nurse observes the arrival of the poet and administrator, but foregrounds the scene with workmen renewing a house for the year (a traditional spring activity). Perhaps, like his host, she is reminding the great lord that relationships should be maintained to be truly savored.

Risa's response is to suddenly remember that at the age of perhaps seven or eight she first became truly aware of the power of spring, as she watched sap ooze from a wounded peach tree in full bloom and observed the renewed vigorous growth and color of the grasses at it roots. It was a windy day. She has lived fifty-five more springs since that day, and yet that moment is as fresh in her mind as if it had occurred this very morning.


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