Sunday, July 7, 2013

Waka of the Meiji Era - Empress Dowager Shoken: Lyric for a Sunday Afternoon

 Emperor & Empress in Western Style Dress by Yoshu Chikanobu

Recently, I ran across an older volume of tanka entitled Imperial Japanese Poems of the Meiji Era. Published in 1914 in English and translated by Frank Alanson Lombard, the volume contains the work of Emperor Meiji and the Empress Dowager Shoken. The Emperor was said to have written over 100,000 waka and the Empress over 30,000.

I opened the volume to the following poem, pg. 83, and was greatly taken:

     Easily we brush  
The fallen dust from garments
    Gleaming white and fair;
But from the mind beclouded
How hard to sweep the shadows!
   Empress Dowager Shoken

I continued to look through the collection and yet nothing came close to this initial randomly selected piece, by either the Emperor or the Empress Dowager. Perhaps it is the translations by Lombard; the poems found here by both are fairly interesting. I'll continue to page through the 1914 volume and read the work of both poets, but, well, sometimes serendipity is all.


Greed by Scabeater

our shameful shadows!
in the long night walking
in vain
translated by David G. Lanoue


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Constance said...


Thanks for sharing your moment of serendipity. Love the poem. Reminds me of the one by Emily D. that talks of the mind slipping out of its groove.

Pamela A. Babusci said...

at the bus stop
one white one black
shadows overlapping
strangers in the rain

Pamela A. Babusci
Heron's Quarterly approx. 1995

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Hmn, that's a fine comparison - there are many a ED poem that have a bit of the tanka glimmer about them ... and vice versa.


Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Thanks for sending this along ... fine poem.

Carmen Sterba said...

This is a very successful juxtaposition between the tanka of Empress Haruko (Shoken) and the haiku of Issa's. I've been immensely interested in the Meiji Era since I was a college student in Tokyo. I find the Meiji Woodblock prints to be fine examples of the changes in Meiji with the sudden appearance of steamer ships, trains and horse & buggies. I read that the Empress Meiji began wearing dresses in 1889. The elegance of the kimono is enduring, but considering the time it takes to put on, the limitations in walking, and the tightness of the obi, the change to Western clothes clothes was liberating for her majesty.

Donald Keene's history book, Emperor of Japan: Meiji and his World 1852-1912, includes the emperor's tanka in it. However, they seem dry and lifeless. Whether that is the fault of the original or the translation or both, I don't know, but translating poetry is completely different from translating non-fiction.

Ed Baker said...

I've a copy around here somewhere of one of the very first books I read:

Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan... published hard-back sometime in the 50's

I did a book report on it... I recall something called
"Gunboat Diplomacy"

.... fast forward & things yet not much different ?

< some wild flower playing in the rubble >

Ed Baker said...

Japanese woodblock prints... do check-out David Bull via this film. click the image then go full screen.

....over on the right a link to more films....

Ed Baker said...

Japanese woodblock prints... do check-out David Bull via this film. click the image then go full screen.

....over on the right a link to more films....

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

- some wildflower playing in the rubble -

Gunboat Diplomacy ...

ah ...

Thanks, Ed


Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Viewing the amazing woodblock video now, Ed.

Just wonder full ...


Ed Baker said...


sort of same attitude we should all have towards our own particular means of recording/communicating
(our own history) ?

came to this one via the newest film of him that was on the NHK network called: OSAKA ART POWER

he ( Bull) takes us into how a four-block piece is done ....

NHK usually broadcasts these features several times....n I think it's called JAPANOPHILE

Ed Baker said...

Don, I just left a comment on David Bull's site..... and linked him to your site (where you very frequently put-up a print):

looks like at the tow of his page is link to about 12 stages of a block's printing....
neat that there are three separate craftsmen involved in the process:

the artist
the carver
the printer

there is also the paper and its maker and the ink to consider...

the collector/viewer ..... well, it's up to they-selves the rest ?

Ed Baker said...

what, me again? However DO check this out:

a very neat bit re: David Bull inking a block and "pulling" a print...

scroll down to see this young "right now" artist's work...

closest I ever got to anything even remotely like this
has been scanning some of my things and printing them on my HP 2605dn

I have about 125 of them in a box ... these guys have marketing help.... and deservedly so.

they limit the last 'pledge' to 12 people ... all of the prints PLUS a party-workshop with David Bull.

Ed Baker said...

.... and here is Master printer, Keizaburo Matsuzuki printing a very famous UTAMARO piece:

I have this one several times over on postcards that Cid sent to me ...

notice the beautiful piece of wood that he is working on ?

I wonder if it is the same block that the carver did under the eye of Utamaro ?

in the 60's and '70's we used to use Jim Ramey's
equipment to ink and run-off single sheets of a poem.... sometimes we inked, separately, three different colors ... as I recall, these were called "broadsides"

seems like the artists never made the carvings and the carvers passed the block on to the printer....

some of Bull's work and other Ukiyo-e, sumi-e, and etcs

-- the originals -- are d
own at the Smithsonian Institution's Freer and Sackler....

no matter HOW good computers are, or ever will be, there is NOTHING like
seeing the / an original

the only problem with museums and galleries isn the light ...

the Freer and Sackler do a nice job of how they present things.... and do bring in natural light when they can

Ed Baker said...

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Thanks so much for these links - incredible, incredible work by David Bull.

Still taking this all in ...


Ed Baker said...

yeah..... follow the Bull "stuff" with Yanagi's book:

The Unknown Craftsman

and then ? ----

get lost in your own work / vocabulary

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks again for this, Ed. Watched David's videos and was mesmerized. Total immersion ... I may try to feature one of the videos on the blog so as to properly point people to all of them, since it's probably you and me and outside a handful of others reading the comments.