Tuesday, February 3, 2015






Kamakura no Udaijin (Minamoto no Sanetomo)

Would that this, our world,
Might be ever as it is!
What a lovely scene!

See that fisherwoman's boat,
Rope-drawn along the beach.


The rough-spoken 
surprises himself —

offering a drink
to me.


Minamoto no Sanetomo, 1192-1219 C.E., was the third Shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate. He was installed as a puppet Shogun in childhood. Knowing he was marked for assassination, he devoted his young life to poetry, studying with Fujiwara no Teika, the compiler of this collection. He produced 700 competent tanka in the short time available to him. In this poem which begins tritely enough, the poignancy of his situation is brought home to us by his closing with a sharply observed detail. To see (or at least to be able to sense) is to live. You can't take it with you, though you may perhaps leave it to others in a poem.

Hokusai's Old Nurse likewise focuses on a sharply observed moment by the seashore. But her choice is not the fisherwoman's boat with its small rope; she sees men occupied in the considerable effort it takes to operate a rope-walk. The massive rope they are winding together is more suitable for use in the rigging of a large ship. Everything is one, as the strands of the rope become one, and men (and fisherwomen) are embedded in the moment.

Risa, a tourist when she goes to the shore, recalls being offered water in a kindly enough manner by a fisherman who had just been cursing tourists.