Monday, September 3, 2012






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.


Though I turned
away when you
watched me

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

sheds on my life
continual light.


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.