Song of Quiet Night Thoughts
hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk; signed Biho with artist's seal Biho, with tomobako signed Biho with artist's seal Biho, a sticker on the scroll end reads Tamamura, ca. 1930-40s
painting 49 3/8 by 19 7/8 in., 125.5 by 50.5 cm
overall 81 7/8 by 25 5/8 in., 208 by 65 cm
The subject of this painting relates directly to painting by Kobayakawa Kiyoshi (1896-1948), who derived the title for his work from a famous Chinese poem commonly known in Japanese as Seiyashi (lit. Quiet Night Thoughts), written by the immortal Chiense poet, Li Po (Li Bai, 701-762); although Kiyoshi inserted the extra kanji, 'ka' (song) in his title.
Neru mae ni gekko wo miru
Utagauraraku wa kore chijyo no shimo
Atama wo agete sangetsu wo nozomi
Atama wo hiku tarete kokyo wo omou
This poem has been translated numerous times into English, but perhaps most famously, it was also included among a group of Li Po poems translated by the influential American poet, Ezra Pound (1885-1972), based, in part, on the notes of his good friend, the late Ernest Fenollosa (1853-1908), an American professor who joined the faculty at the Imperial University in Tokyo in 1878 and who was one of the most influential figures advocating Nihonga in Japan.
On a Quiet Night
I saw the moonlight before my couch,
And wondered if it were not the frost on the ground.
I raised my head and looked out on the mountain moon,
I bowed my head and thought of my far-off home.
(Translated by Shigeyoshi Obata, The Works of Li Po, the Chinese Poet, 1923)
Before my bed there is bright moonlight
So that is seems like frost on the ground
Lifting my head I watch the bright moon
Lowering my head I dream that I'm home
(Translated by Arthur Cooper, Li Po and Tu Fu, 1973)
Calm Night Thought
The moon light is on the floor luminous
I thought it was frost, it was so white
Holding up head I look at mountain moon
Lowering head think of old home
(Translated by Ezra Pound, Cathay, 1915).
Laurance P. Roberts, A Dictionary of Japanese Artists, Weatherhill, 1976, p. 84
Helen Merritt and Nanako Yamada, Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975, University of Hawaii Press, 1992, p 70
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site last updated
January 19, 2021
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New York, New York 10019
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