Sunday, February 1, 2015






Saigyo Hoshi (monk)

Is it then the moon
That has made me sad, as though
It had bade me grieve?

Lifting up my troubled face
I am all tears.


I built a tall fire,
fed it dry bark
through the cold.

At midnight a bobcat
stepped through ferns 
to watch with me.


We are come to the lifetime of the compiler of these poems. Saigyō (1118 – 1190),  formerly of the retired Emperor's guard, was an itinerant monk/poet and friend of the compiler of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. They encouraged each other in innovation and their influence on Japanese poetry lasted into the twentieth century. 

The poem wonders whether the poet's tears have been caused by the moon's beauty (which is often thought of as sad) or some grief of his own (of which he does not tell us).

Hokusai's Old Nurse offers us a more serene communion between poet and moon -- in fact he looks, in very advanced age, as though both he and the moon have sorted through all of his long life's business and come to an understanding in which former griefs are now light as a feather. It is a very Buddhist interpretation of a very Buddhist personality.

Risa's reaction to the Old Nurse's interpretation is to hark back to her Appalachian Trail journey, and a night when she cam in from the rain to an Adirondack shelter (the kind with one side open to the fireplace) and built a fire of hickory bark, which she tended well into the night. After she had climbed into her sleeping bag, a huge bobcat walked in from the darkness and stared rather companionably into the flames. Risa felt more at peace after that than she had done in many days.