History of Literature



In Prints and Poetry




Ichiryusai Hiroshige



In 1832, when he was thirty-jive years old, the man who was to become the most popular woodblock artist of all time journeyed down the highway from Tokyo to Kyoto. His name was Ichiryusai Hiroshige. He and his companions were escorting a gift horse from the Shogun to the Emperor. The Japanese had long called the road they traveled "the way facing the eastern ocean," or " Tokai-do." Over the years through custom and convenience some fifty-three stopping places had been established about a day's journey apart.
As Hiroshige went he sketched. Two years later in 1834 there first appeared a set of fifty-three prints devoted to views from these stations plus one for the starting point, Nihotnbashi, and one for the arrival in Kyoto. It is these fifty-jive prints which are here reproduced in color. From the day of their publication they have been enormously and deservedly popular. Hiroshige's land-, sea-, and snow-scapes rank with the world's finest, and this set contains choice examples of all three. Small as these reproductions are, they also show details of everyday life in the lusty action so typical of ukiyo-c artists. Hiroshige died in 1858. Before his death he had produced the amazing total of 8,400 color prints but none are more beloved than The Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido.
Accompanying Hiroshige's scenes in this little hook are appropriate examples of Japanese poetry in three celebrated forms: tanka, haiku, and senryu, plus a selection from the Manyoshu, Japan's earliest anthology. In their own language these poems adjust to a severe poetic discipline. Tanka have thirty-one syllables; haiku and senryu have seventeen, but haiku almost inevitably are tuned to one of nature's seasons, whereas scnryu's concern is with the foibles of human nature. None have rhyme. In English translations strict conformance to this pattern would not be natural nor desirable. It is hoped, however, that they do reflect the deceptive simplicity, the packed philosophical implications, and the lighting flashes of intuition of the originals.
It seems fitting that these poems adorn Hiroshige's landscapes. Of all ukiyo-c artists none combined better a transcendent love of nature with a homely interest in the people.
















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