ASSOCIATED IDEAS IN ART AND POETRY.
THERE are certain pairs of objects which form the main stock of the Japanese artist's designs. With many variations and combinations, they appear over and over again in pictures, on vases, lacquer-ware, trays, dishes, embroidery, bronze, and other articles of use and virtu, and objects of art, and form the set of symbols oftenest employed by the poet. The pine-tree and stork, emblems of longevity, are embroidered on robes, presented to newly born infants. The willow and swallow, and bamboo and sparrow, indicative of gentleness, are seen oftenest on screens, fans, and upright objects of household adornment. The young moon and cuckoo, the bird flying across the crescent, is a poetic reference to Yorimasa, a renowned archer, who shot a hideous beast, having the head of a monkey, body and claws of a tiger, and the tail of a dragon. This monster, who came at night to disturb the rest of the mikado Narihito, 1153, was hit in the eye by Yorimasa's arrow, three feet long, and finally dispatched by his trusty sword. The mikado rewarded him with a famous sword, Shishi no ō (king of wild boars), by the hands of a kugé who, when about to present it, heard a cuckoo, and, catching the bird's note, extemporized seventeen syllables, or the first strophe of the thirty-one syllable distich (honka). Yorimasa being as good a poet as he was a brave soldier, immediately replied with the second strophe of fourteen syllables. The "open secret" of the poem is thus roughly given in English:
|Kugé||The cuckoo||Like the cuckoo,|
|Above the clouds||So high to soar,|
|How does it mount (like the archer to honor)||How is it so?|
|Yorimsa.||The waning moon (bent bow)||Only my bow I bent,|
|Sets not at will (a sped shaft)||That only sent the shaft.|
The neatness of the allusion, the skill of the improvisatore, and the liquid cadences (utterly lost in translation) make the poem a joy forever to the ear of the native, as the silver bow and the "Japanese nightingale" are things of beauty to his eye.
The phænix bird (howo) and the Paulownia imperialis tree are often together as twin imperial emblems on the mikado's robes, rugs, curtains, and painted or gilded on screens and hanging scrolls. This tree, so common in Japan, is an emblem of rectitude. Its leaves form the imperial mon, or crest.
The peony and Chinese lion - a beast which never trod this earth, but which may be seen rampant on temple screens, yashiki doors, panels - form a couplet, with which lovers of the huge and monstrous may regale their vision. Another pair of these Siamese twins of Japanese art are the sleeping wild boar and a cluster of hagi (Lespedeza). The mulberry and the goat are put together by the artist, since this animal has the appetite of a silk-worm, and feeds voraciously on mulberry leaves or the paper which is made from its bark.
The hare peeps out of the rushes on many a lacquered box or tray, or is wrought in gold-threaded embroidery. Instead of seeing a man in the moon carrying a bundle of sticks, Japanese fancy beholds this leaping rodent scouring the face of the silver luminary, with equisetum, or scouring rush. This is a favorite subject on the lacquered bodies of jin-riki-sha.
The red maple leaves and the stag are painted with fine effect on screens. "In autumn the maples crimson, and the stag calls the doe." The Japanese word iro means both color and love; and in this stanza, as in a thousand others, the play is on that word. For a lover to send his once loved a sprig of autumn maple is equivalent to giving the "mitten." The leaf and the heart have both changed their iro (color).
The cherry-blossom and pheasant are fitly wedded together in poetry and art. The most beautiful bird (kiji) is this many-tinted iridescent queen of the groves in the Sun-land, and the bloom of the sakura-tree (Prunus pseudo-cerasus), which is cultivated solely for its blossoms, is the national flower of the Land of Great Place. "There are snow-showers which do not descend from the skies," and the falling bloom - flakes spread many a white carpet on the stone paths leading to the temples. It is often as large as a rose, and as beautiful. The - plum tree, also admired for its blossoms, is joined with the uguisa (nightingale). The plum is, by excellence, the poet's tree, and the nightingale is the poet of birds, loving song more than they all. "Send forth your fragrance upon the eastern winds, O flowers of the plum-tree! and do not forget the spring, because of the absence of the sun," cries a native poet. Not unfrequently does one, see the plum-tree stand all leafless in the snow, but adorned with white blossoms, like a bride before the altar. It bursts into clouds of fragrance and beauty in February, the leaves appearing later.
It is said that goose in flying on long journeys carry rushes in their bills, and drop them before alighting on the water, and then alight upon them. The rushes and geese are figured together. A comical couplet is the baboon and the moon's reflection in the water. The long-armed, stump-tailed fool sees the image of the moon in the water, and in vain attempts to grasp it.
The couplet of the ehrysanthemum and fox refers to one of the hundreds of the current fox myths and stories. A fox, assuming the form of a lovely woman, bewitched a certain prince. One day, happening to fall asleep on a bed of chrysanthemums, she resumed her normal shape. The prince seeing the animal, shot at him, hitting the fox in the forehead. He afterward saw that his concubine had a wound in the corresponding part of the head, and thus discovered her true nature.
The bamboo and tiger are often seen together on large objects of use or ornament: the tigers, being afraid of elephants, hide in the bamboo jungle. The peachtrees and oxen, a less common design, had reference to a line in a Chinese poem. An emblem of success in life is that of the dragon crossim, the summit of Fuji on the clouds. As the small snake becomes a dragon, so does a man of low estate often rise by triumph over obstacles to exaltation and honor.
For a number of the facts here given I am indebted to Captain E. Pfoundes, whose "Budget" of Japanese notes, entitled Fu So Mimi Bukuro (Trübner & Co., London), is a valuable thesaurus of condensed information.