, , ,

This was a labor of love for me. first of all because it was an

assignment given to me by my wife, jean bennett, who was also

the editor. she gave me a pile of translated japanese poems

that she had collected and asked if i wanted to do the

illustrations for the book.

doubleday & company, inc., was publishing gift books and had

already brought out collections from the portugese and

chinese love poems.

i took it very seriously and spent a long time preparing.

serendipitously, the metropolitan museum of art in new york

city was just having two special shows, (the kind with twenty

foot banners billowing from the pediment of the main

entrance}.one show was 'ukiyo-e' woodblock prints. the other

was 'momoyama' screens. i devoured all of these masterpieces

with my eyes until the japanese style was imbedded in my

repertoir of imagery. i began to imagine that i had been

japanese in a past life.

then i went to work and painted four of the watercolors for the

book. i couldn't feel like illustrating any of the other poems.

they were elusive and without specific visions. so with jean's

permission, i began to research japanese poetry. in the

process of finding four more poems that stimulated my

imagination, i doubled the number of poems in the collection. i

poured through hundreds of books at the library of the 'met',

columbia university and the main public library at 42nd st.

some of these books were ancient treasures.

reading reading

reading… sketching sketching sketching. it was four months

before i ever even touched a brush. then i began to produce

eight watercolors and eight black sumi-e chapter dividers.

it was by the sea of iwami
where the clinging ivy creeps across
the rocks,
by the waters of cape kara
a land remote as the speech of far
yes, there where the seaweed grows,
clinging to rocks fathoms beneath the
and where on the stony strand
the seaweed glows like polished gems.
my young wife dwells there
who like seaweed bent to the current
of love,
the girl who slept beside me
soft and lithesome as the gem-like
water plants.
now those nights seem few
when we held each other close in sleep.
we parted unwillingly,
clinging to each other like ivey creepers;
my heart ached and swelled
against the ribs that would hold it,
and when my yearning drew me
to pause, look back, and see her,
once again
waving her sleeves in farewell,
they were already taken from my sight,
hidden by the leaves
falling like a curtain in their yellow whirl
at the crest of mount watari,
a crest like a wave's that bears a
ship away.
although i longed for her–
as for the voyaging moon when it glides
into a rift of clouds
that swallow it up on mount
yakima, where,
they say, men retire with their wives–
i took my lonely way, watching the sun
coursing through the sky
till it sank behind the mountains,

though i always thought
myself a man with a warrior's heart,
i found that my sleeves–
wide as they were, like our bedclothes–
were all soaked through with tears.


my gray-white horse
has carried me at so swift a pace
that i have left behind
the place where my beloved dwells
beneath the cloudland of the distant sky.
o you yellow leaves
that whirl upon the autumn slopes–
if only for a moment
do not whirl down in such confusion,
that i may see where my beloved dwells.

Kakinomoto no Hitomaro (8th century)