Poem by Retired Emperor Sutoku (Sutoku-in) from the series One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets (Hyakunin isshu no uchi)

Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi 歌川国芳 (1798-1861)
Historical period(s)
Edo period, ca. 1840-42
Ink and color on paper
H x W (overall): 37.6 x 25.4 cm (14 13/16 x 10 in)
Credit Line
The Anne van Biema Collection
Arthur M. Sackler Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Woodblock print

Anne van Biema collection, Edo period (1615 - 1868), emperor, Japan, oban, poems, ukiyo-e, wave
Provenance research underway.

The One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each anthology inspired Kuniyoshi to design a series of prints. The poem quoted and explicated in the text to the left of the title in the upper corner was composed by Retired Emperor Svtoku (1119-1164). It reads:

 Because the current is swift,
 even though the rapids,
 blocked by a boulder,
 are divided, like them, in the end,
 we will surely meet, I know.

In Kuniyoshi's print, the emperor stands on a boulder that emerges from turbulent rapids. The dark tones of the water and the stormy sky intensify the powerful emotions of separation and longing expressed by the poem. The desolate, unsettled imagery chosen by Kuniyoshi for this illustration may allude as well to the emperor's abdication and exile following his unsuccessful challenge of his successor Emperor Go-Shirakawa (1127-1192).

Translation of poem by Joshua S. Mostow (Pictures of the Heart: The Hyakunin isshu in Word and Image [Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1996])

Published References
  • Ann Yonemura, et al. Masterful Illusions: Japanese Prints from the Anne van Biema Collection. Seattle and Washington. cat. 123, pp. 300-301.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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