The Hundred Poets, Part I

(Hyaku-nin isshu, 百人一首内)

Publisher: Ebisu-ya Shokichi

c. 1840-1842

 

Hyaku-nin isshu is an anthology of 100 poems by 100 different poets compiled by the thirteenth-century critic and poet Fujiwara no Sadaie (also known as Teika).  The poems are all five-line poems of 31 syllables arranged as 5, 7, 5, 7 and 7.  This form was known as waka and is now known as tanka.  The 100 poets are in approximately chronological order from the seventh through the thirteenth centuries.  The number associated with each poet appears in the margin of most of the prints, with a few incorrectly numbered.  Some of the prints portray the poets, and some show scenes associated with their lives or poetry.  The poem and some descriptive text appear on each print.  Robinson described 58 prints in this series, and it is unlikely that any more exist. The poems were translated by Clay MacCauley in his book “Single Songs of a Hundred Poets” (1917, Kelly and Walsh, Yokohama).  The prints are each about 14 by 10 inches (36 by 25 centimeters), a size known as ôban.

Number: 1

Poet: Emperor Tenchi Tennô (天智天皇)

Scene: Peasants harvesting grain in the foreground with a palace overlooking the sea in the distance

Robinson: S19.1

 

The poem translates:

   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.

This print superficially resembles the above print.  However, it is lacking Kuniyoshi’s signature, his personal red seal (below his signature), the publisher’s square seal below that, and the carver’s signature-seal (below and just to the right of the publisher’s seal).  A careful comparison of corresponding parts of the two prints will reveal slight differences.  This print was copied from the above using newly carved woodblocks.  No matter how skilled the carver, it is never possible to perfectly duplicate the original. 

Number: 2

Poet: Empress Jitô Tennô (持統天皇)

Scene: Empress Jitô Tennô at a palace door looking out at the wooded mountains of Kaguyama

Robinson: S19.2

 

The poem translates:

   The spring has passed

   And the summer come again;

   For the silk-white robes,

   So they say, are spread to dry

   On the "Mount of Heaven’s Perfume."

 

This is another version of the above design.  It is a less labor intensive printing than the above, which almost invariably means a later edition.  In this print, the shading (bokashi) in the sky was omitted.  Bokashi was achieved by hand-applying a gradation of ink to the wooden printing block rather than inking the block uniformly.  This hand-application had to be repeated for each sheet of paper that was printed. 

 

 

Yet another state with green added

 

Number: 3

Poet: Kakinomoto no Hitomaro (柿本人麿)

Scene: The aged poet holding his brush and watching a pheasant with writing materials before him

Robinson: S19.3

 

The poem translates:

   Oh, the foot-drawn trail

   Of the mountain-pheasant’s tail

   Drooped like down-curved branch!

   Through this long, long-dragging night

   Must I lie in bed alone?

 

Another state of the above design

 

 

Number: 4

Poet: Yamabe no Akahito (山辺赤人)

Scene: Yamabe no Akahito with a page on a hill overlooking the Bay of Tago with Mt. Fuji in the distance

Robinson: S19.4

 

The poem translates:

   When I take the path

   To Tago’s coast, I see

   Perfect whiteness laid

   On Mount Fuji’s lofty peak

   By the drift of falling snow.

 

Another state of the above design courtesy of Stuart Varnam-Atkin

 

This is another unsigned copy printed with newly carved woodblocks.

Number: 5

Poet: Sarumaru-dayû

Scene: A peasant woman with two children looking over a river and rice paddies at a hill on which are deer and autumn maple trees

Robinson: S19.5

 

The poem translates:

   In the mountain depths,

   Treading through the crimson leaves,

   The wandering stag calls.

   When I hear the lonely cry,

   Sad–how sad!–the autumn is.

Number: 6

Poet: Chûnagon Yakamochi (中納言家持) also known as Otomo no Yakamochi

Scene: Ori-hime, the weaving princess, and her husband mounted on an ox among clouds and stars

Robinson: S19.6

 

The poem translates:

   If I see that bridge

   That is spanned by flights of magpies

   Across the arc of heaven

   Made white with a deep-laid frost,

   Then the night is almost past.

 

Number: 7

Poet: Abe-no Nakamaro (安倍仲麿)

Scene: Abe-no Nakamaro in China on a moonlight balcony overlooking the sea with a Chinese official and two pages

Robinson: S19.7

 

The poem translates:

   When I look up at

   The wide-stretched plain of heaven,

   Is the moon the same

   That rose on Mount Mikasa

   In the land of Kasuga?

This is another version of the above print.  It is a less labor intensive printing than the above, which almost invariably means a later edition.  In this print, the shading (bokashi) above the horizon and on the distant mountains has been eliminated.  Bokashi was achieved by hand-applying a gradation of ink to the wooden printing block rather than inking the block uniformly.  This hand-application had to be repeated for each sheet of paper that was printed.  The woodblock used to print shadows in the foreground has also been eliminated.

Number: 8

Poet: Kisen-hôshi (The Monk Kisen, 喜撰法師)

Scene: Kisen-hôshi seated in a hut overlooking a lake an a mountain with a servant sweeping-up fallen leaves

Robinson: S19.8

 

The poem translates:

   My lowly hut is

   Southeast from the capital.

   Thus I choose to live.

   And the world in which I live

   Men have named a "Mount of Gloom."

 

Number: 9

Poet: Ono no Komachi

Scene: Ono no Komachi seated at a writing table watching falling cherry blossoms in the wind

Robinson: S19.9

 

The poem translates:

   Color of the flower

   Has already faded away,

   While in idle thoughts

   My life passes vainly by,

   As I watch the long rains fall.

 

This is another copy printed with newly carved woodblocks.  It lacks both Kuniyoshi’s signature and the publisher’s seal in the right lower corner.

 

Number: 10

Poet: Semimaru (蝉丸)

Scene: The blind Semimaru at the window of his hut listening to travelers on the road outside

Robinson: S19.10

 

The poem translates:

   Truly, this is where

   Travelers who go or come

   Over parting ways–

   Friends or strangers–all must meet:

   The gate of "Meeting Hill."

 

Another state of the above design courtesy of Stuart Varnam-Atkin

 

Number: 11

Poet: Sangi Takamura (参議篁) also known as Ono no Takamura

Scene: Stern view of a large junk with a rowboat in the foreground

Robinson: S19.11

 

The poem translates:

   Over the wide sea

   Towards its many distant isles

   My ship sets sail.

   Will the fishing boats thronged here

   Proclaim my journey to the world?

 

This is another version of the above print.  It is a less labor intensive printing than the above, which almost invariably means a later edition. 

 

Number: 12

Poet: Sôjô Henjô (The Monk Henjô, 僧正遍昭)

Scene: A Bugaku performance before an audience of noblemen and the poet with a large drum in the foreground

Robinson: S19.12

 

The poem translates:

   Let the winds of heaven

   Blow through the paths among the clouds

   And close their gates.

   Then for a while I could detain

   These messengers in maiden form.

“Robinson” refers to listing in Kuniyoshi: The Warrior-Prints by Basil William Robinson (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1982) and its privately published supplement.

 

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