Katsushika Hokusai 1760-1849

Pictures of 100 poems by 100 poets, explained by a Wet Nurse
Visipix.com proudly presents Hokusais last great series as complete as possible
(89 pictures) in facsimile quality in the original Oban-size 15 x 10 inch.


Poem number 6
Chunagon Yakamochi (Otomo no Yakamochi) 718-785, general of the Eastern Army, compiled the first great anthology of poems

The original poem:
If the "Magpie Bridge"
Bridge by flight of magpies spanned,--
White with frost I see:--
With a deep-laid frost made white:--
Late, I know, has grown the night

A situational poem by HK:
The gods can separate us but cannot extinguish our love. Our desire to meet will be so overwhelming that one night in autumn the magpies flight will become a bridge which lovers can cross. But separation will come again before the sun is melting the dew.

Comment by HK:
The poem tells of lovers eternally separated by the Gods. But for one night each year the magpies are permitted to form with their wings a bridge allowing the couple to get together. Hokusai shows two men on a boat looking at three occasional magpies. Two other men on the boat look to the village on a peninsula. In the real world boats are universal mobile replacements of bridges. Yeah, most probably also replacing the also not permanent bridges formed by magpies. Hokusais boats are extremely robust without a grain of romance. The closed windows hide the lovers secrets from our eyes. At the same time they alert our imagination.

Poem number 7
Abe no Nakamaro 710-790, poet and envoyee of the Emperor

The original poem:
When I look abroad
O'er the wide-stretched "Plain of Heaven,"
Is the moon the same
That on Mount Mikasa rose,
In the land of Kasuga?

A situational poem by HK:
I am far away from home. Enemies might now take my life. I am looking to the Plain of Heaven. Maybe it is the last time I see the moon and only as a reflection in the lake. Is this moon the same moon my love is seeing at home? And am I the same person now, whom my Emperor has sent on this mission?

Comment by HK:
This is the first poem which Hokusai illustrated literally. The Emperor and Son of the Sun of Japan had sent Abe No Nakamaro on a secret mission to China. He should analyse the Chinese calendar and its implication on astrological forecasting. That was a strategic task of high importance. The Emperor and Son of the Sun of China arrested Abe no Nakamaro. Hokusai enhanced the poem with a "twist": While Abe no Nakamaro is the Emperors "right man" in Japan, he is the "wrong man" in China. The moon in the sky would be "right". In the picture the moon is in the water where it is "wrong" (by the way: In Hokusais first draft the moon was in the sky). The wind is blowing from Japan towards China. The signals of the Gods - wind and moon - are wrong for an escape. It was left to the prisoner to turn wrong to right. He managed to escape, get hold of a ship - like the ones now idle on the sea - and return home. He was his own rescuer. I believe that is Hokusais lesson. I think he falsifies the idea that human destinies are hidden in calendars. They must rely on their own decisions.

Poem number 8
Kisen Hoshi, 9th century. Priest, eventually he was the former Emperor Seiwa

The original poem:
Lowly hut is mine
South-east from the capital:--
Thus I choose to dwell;--
And the world in which I live
Men have named a "Mount of Gloom."

A situational poem by HK:
I was an Emperor but choose to become a priest. I am searching solitude. But a pair of carriers handle my carriage. A pair of people slow us while they enjoy their gossip on the road. A pair of hunters are killing a pair of animals, a magnificent stag and his mate. Could it be that it is my heart carrying all this with me wherever I decide to go and that for me the Gods have no way into solitude?

Poem number 9
Lady Ono no Komachi 834-880, famous poet

The original poem:
Color of the flower
Has already passed away
While on trivial things
Vainly I have set my gaze,
In my journey through the world.

A situational poem by HK:
My own colors of beauty have faded and I walk on a stick. Why am I still focusing on the blooming trees and fail to participate with common life around me?

Comment by HK:
This is maybe the most famous poem of all times. The poet is now an old lady full of thoughts about lost time and approaching death. The poem does not recognise the world around her. Hokusais picture is the opposite of the poem. It shows the world not in autumn but in springtime. It is morning, not evening. We see future, busy people, with women dying colourful garments for expected joys. One tree blossoms but still carries snow which will now melt away. The old lady on her stick beneath the tree will share the destiny of the snow. She is very small and almost immobile. Unlike other interpreters I do not think that the old Hokusai identified himself with the old woman. In the contrary, his own death is not of great importance, it is not the end of the world and certainly not of his art. He had not spent his time on trivia. For Hokusais Buddhist faith his art experience will follow him through death.

Poem number 10
Semimaru 10th century, son of Emperor Uda

The original poem:
Truly, this is where
Travelers who go or come
Over parting ways,--
Friends or strangers, all must meet;
'Tis the gate of "Meeting Hill."

A situational poem by HK:
While I could see, I often passed through The Gate of Meeting Hill. When blindness came over me, this was the place I choose for living. Friends and strangers pass here and we meet while I play music for us.

Comment by HK:
When Semimaru got old, he became blind. It did not make sense anymore to travel into the world. Instead of that he wanted the world to come to him. Despite him being the son of the Emperor Uda, he felt that it is appropriate that he lives at a place where all people pass anyway, sooner or later. That was "The Gate of Meeting Hill". He wanted to avoid small talk about his past and choose to entertain people with his music. The poem and Hokusais illustration tell us that there are smart and pleasant solutions - especially arts - for the restrictions imposed by old age.

>> Poems (11 - 14)