Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A poem about painting; a poem about poetry

Two Japanese poems.

The first, above, is a 17th century "poem about painting". The characters shrink dramatically after the first four (you can see a hint of that if you enlarge the photo), and then shrink again halfway down the scroll. Some sort of orthographic effect.

The second, shot from the head down, is also from the 17th century. The poem consists of exactly 1,000 Chinese characters, none repeated.

Chinese influence on Japanese art ebbed and flowed. These scrolls date from a period of flow, a torrent. Both are in the Tokyo National Museum, amidst a heap of treasures. I wish I knew how to photograph the paper used for some of the 1,000-year-old calligraphy, for example, a mix of bamboo and linen, dyed indigo, with fleck of gold leaf mixed in. Shockingly beautiful. Imagine reading a book handwritten on paper like that. Imagine the $10,000 the book would cost you.

That piece ought to be here, but I can't find it. So many other nice things to see, though, that you might not care.


  1. I'd love to write a book on paper like that...the trick would be finding the words worthy of that kind of material

  2. But first, one must have the material. I should visit a fancy Japanese paper shop.

    Anyway, you write that book and I'll read it.