Katsushika Hokusai, 1760-1849
The Hundred Poems [By the Hundred Poets] as Told by the Nurse: Tenchi Tenno
(Hyakunin isshu uba ga etoki: Tenchi Tenno)
signed Zen Hokusai manji, with censor's seal Kiwame and publisher's seal Eijudo (Nishimuraya Yohachi) at lower right, ca. 1835-36
oban yoko-e 10 1/4 by 14 3/4 in., 26 by 37.6 cm
This is the first design from Hokusai's incompleted series, The Hundred Poems as Told by the Nurse, which was the last major single sheet series Hokusai designed before he devoted his remaining years primarily to painting commissions. Of the intended series of one hundred, only twenty-seven prints are known to have been completed; an additional sixty-four designs survive in the form of preparatory drawings.
Hokusai based this series on the well-known anthology of poems, the Hyakunin Issu (A Hundred Poems by a Hundred Poets), compiled by the poet Fujiwara no Teika in 1235. The collected verses were (and continue to be) familiar to most Japanese in some format, including a shell matching game (similar to 'concentration'), where the challenge was to match the poet painted on the interior of one shell to their verse painted on the interior of another shell. Hokusai approaches the poems from the perspective of an uneducated wet-nurse, allowing for seemingly simple-minded mistakes or misinterpretations which add a light-hearted quality to his renditions.
The poem in the cartouche is by Emperor Tenchi Tenno (628-681), who reigned from 688-671. In the poem the Emperor takes shelter during an autumn rain in the field hut of a common rice farmer.
Aki no ta no
Kario no io no
Toma wo arami
Waga koromode wa
Tsuyu ni nure-tsutsu
Coarse the rush-mat roof
Sheltering the harvest-hut
Of the autumn rice-field
And my sleeves are growing wet
With the moisture dripping through
The poem demonstrates the Emperor's empathy for his hard-toiling people. Although he describes the rain dampening his sleeves, the image of wet sleeves was a common metaphor for weeping (the word tsuyu can mean dewdrops or tears).
Peter Morse, One Hundred Poets, 1989, p. 26-27, no. 1
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