e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the tag “calligraphy”

Seasons of Sacred Celebration: Flowers and Poetry from an Imperial Convent

Cover artWhile attempting to organise some of my books, I came across this one. I’ve owned it for some time and have read it before, but now, re-reading it I was thrilled all over again.

It presents a set of poetry cards from the Diashoji Imperial Convent in Kyoto. Each card is reproduced on its own page and opposite are a Japanese and English version of the poem. The publishers are the Institute for Medieval Japanese Studies, part of Columbia University, New York.

The poems are waka (also called tanka), a style of short poem with a long history in Japan. Like most Japanese poems they are direct and seemingly simple but say so much:

Could it be that the maple leaf

fathoms the heart of one who feeds the fire …

The book is beautiful – the illustrations are magical; the poems show new ways of looking at flowers and trees; the scholarly introduction and essay are fascinating – I learned an amazing amount; the index to the calligraphers is well organised and useful.

And there is a mystery – who initiated the production of the set of cards and why?

And they are part of women’s Buddhist history and were published to celebrate a great woman, Zen Abbess Mugai Nyodai (1223 – 1298).

What more could one want?

The cover art is from Floating World Editions.

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