Sunday, November 20, 2016

Autumn on Mount Oshio

Ōtagaki Rengetsu, Autumn Moon, 1870
Source: Wikimedia Commons

I've been very busy this week, but I just have time for a short post to recommend the website of The Rengetsu Foundation Project, which is dedicated to one of Japan's most fascinating cultural figures.  Ōtagaki Rengetsu's achievements were so various that she is hard to classify - in his primer How to Look at Japanese Art, Stephen Addiss decides to place her in his chapter on calligraphy, but she was equally famous for her waka poetry and ceramics (Rengetsu ware).  She was also skilled in painting, dance, sewing and the tea ceremony.  Not only that, but in her youth, before becoming a nun, she was a famous beauty proficient in the martial arts - sword, spear and sickle and chain - having been adopted as a child by a family known for training ninjas.  However, the Foundation site's biography explains that 'she was a pacifist, advocating mutual respect and gentle persuasion in resolving conflict.'  In her middle years she travelled widely and landscape is treated in many of her poems, brushed or carved onto pots and presented as calligraphy on tanzaku and shikishi paper.

The Rengetsu Foundation has 917 poems in a searchable database; I see that 133 of them, for example, contain the word 'mountain'.  I will quote just one of the translations below.  As I write this, I can hear the cold wind outside and it feels like we are nearing the end of autumn... 

Piercing my body
   the sad departure of autumn
      on Mount Oshio...
   where red leaves fall—
      the withering wind.

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