Friday, January 11, 2013

Women Diving for Abalone, from "One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets" (Hokusai)


Tidal surges shorten the diving day.
Though strong and skillful swimmers, the women
Fight being thrown upon the coral reef.
Those taking a rest seem resigned to stay
Uninvolved until they resume swimming,
Brief oblivion their only relief.
An arm reaches up with its precious find
To men in a boat, not evil or kind,
Who, themselves not in any danger,
Think of that arm as one of a stranger's,
Or a breed of sea creature or goddess
Of good fortune and generosity,
Though she's merely a village wife half-dressed,
Bursting lungs from hungry necessity.

* For this, my 100th sonnet in 99 weeks, I chose this print by Hokusai, because it is No. 11 from his late series of 100 prints and drawings, published in 1830, called, variously, "One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets," and "The Hundred Poems Explained by the Nurse," (evidently meaning "by a nurse to children"). Each artwork illustrates a poem. The poem, by Sangi Takamura, which accompanied this stunning print, reads: "O'er the wide, wide sea,/Towards its many distant isles,/Rowing I set forth./This, to all the world proclaim,/O ye boats of fish-folk." Many of my sonnets have taken the artwork simply as a stepping off point. In this case, the sonnet is a verbal illustration of the print, which is a visual illustration of a poem. The symmetry of that seems appropriate for Sonnet #100.

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