Thursday, February 5, 2015






Gon-Chunagon Sadaie (Fujiwara no Teika)

Like the salt sea-weed,
Burning in the evening calm,
On Matsuo's shore,

All my being is afire,
Waiting one who does not come.


Had you stooped
to gather shells,
you might at least

have made 
a keepsake
for the one 

not here.


Our compiler, Fujiwara no Teika (1162-1241 C.E.), includes a poem of his own in the collection. One of the best poets of his time, he was related to and/or friends with many of the last two dozen poets anthologized here. He led the group of poets who compiled the official Imperial collection Shinkokinshu. Successful only relatively late in life (he had enemies), he eventually became a monk. At seventy-three he compiled the Ogura Hyakunin-Issu.

In this poem he alludes to a work by an earlier poet who observed a young woman making salt by burning seaweed, using the flames as a metaphor for the impatience with which he awaits a lover.

Although many of the later poems are represented by copies of drawings that were never printed, or by nothing at all in this unfinished series, Hokusai appears to have skipped ahead to work on this one by the old compiler, finishing it with brilliant colors. The Old Nurse's response to the poem is to represent, with the eye for detail of the working commoner, dehydrated kelp stems being converted into ash to be boiled away, leaving the salt (Peter Morse). No pining lord is to be seen. The workers might say, "sir, why suffer over one who is absent? We, who labor all our lives long so that you may gad about and mope, can tell you that now is all there is." 

Risa's reaction is to recall returning from the beach empty-handed to a loved one who loved keepsakes. Love, like everything else, requires a commitment to mindfulness. Such small instances of thoughtlessness may have added up and eventually harmed the relationship, contributing to an undertow of regret.