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… 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
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
the girl who slept beside me
soft and lithesome as the gem-like
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,
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
although i longed for her–
as for the voyaging moon when it glides
into a rift of clouds
that swallow it up on mount
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)