24. Tanka



Poem without rhyme of 31 syllables in five lines
Otagaki Rengetsu (1791-1875)
Hanging scroll; Ink on paper mounted on silk
36.8 x 47 cm (121 x 49.8 cm)

Otagaki Rengetsu, named Nobu at birth, was born of a secret union between a geisha and a samurai named Tōdō Yoshikiyo. As a child, she was adopted by the Ōtagaki family, and at the age of 8 she became a lady-in-waiting at Kameyama Castle, located in what is now Kameoka, Kyoto Prefecture. The first part of her life was marked by the loss of many family members, including four children, two adopted children, two husbands, and finally her own adoptive father. In 1823, after the death of her second husband, she joined the temple of Chion-in (Kyoto), the seat of the School of Pure Earth (Jodo shū), and took the Buddhist name Rengetsu “Lotus-Moon”. For nearly half a century, she lived in various temples and devoted herself not only to poetry (waka) – Rengetsu is considered one of the most important Japanese poets of the 19th century – but also to arts as diverse as dance, sewing, the tea ceremony and martial arts. An admirer of poets with whom she studied, including Ozawa Roan and Ueda Akinari, she became a close friend and mentor of the artist Tomioka Tessai (1837-1924).

Transcription of a tanka written at the age of 80

Haru no hikari no
Hana o kasumeru
Kane no oto kana

Hatijuh-sai, Rengetsu

When I happen to pass
near Mount Nagara
draped in the light of spring,
the sound of a temple bell
rings on flowers.

Hatijuh-sai, Rengetsu