Tuesday, February 3, 2015






Go-Kyogoku no Sessho Daijodaijin (Fujiwara no Yoshitsune)

On a chilling mat,
Drawing close my folded quilt,
I must sleep alone,

While all through the frosty night
Sounds a cricket's forlorn chirp.


Not meaning to be
unkind, I
caught crickets

at their singing —
then flung them
out far, to hear fish

rising to my gift.


Fujiwara no Yoshitsune (1169 – 1206 C.E.), regent and chancellor who fell upon adverse fortunes, could be missing a lover or bewailing a political fate. One way of reading the poem is that the lonely cricket is chirping on the snow -- a way of expressing exile.

Hokusai has a distinct sympathy for the situation of women in society and so the Old Nurse switches our view to the missing lady and it is she that is listening to the cricket. "Will my man stand me up yet again? Or have I been callously tossed aside? My life is so empty, it has shrunk to the sound of a single cricket."

Risa, a country girl and fisherman's daughter, grew up rather callous to the perspectives of insects. Here she tosses one into the pond to see if the bass are awake. Years later she remembers this, with at least a slightly increased sensitivity. If we think ours is sometimes, if not mostly, a cruel world, how is it we recognize this cruelty? Perhaps we should look within.