Sunday, September 2, 2012






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?


I have stood
many times
beside this ocean,

and you have
never seen it —
I yet believe

what we said
was true.


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.