“Sixth Month” after Fujiwara no Teika’s “Poems of Birds and Flowers of the Twelve Months,” from Gleanings of Worthless Weeds (Shuiguso)

Ogata Kenzan (Japanese, 1663–1743)

Edo period (1615–1868)
Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper
Image: 6 1/4 x 9 1/8 in. (15.9 x 23.2 cm) Overall with mounting: 43 1/4 x 19 in. (109.9 x 48.3 cm) Overall with knobs: 43 1/4 x 20 5/8 in. (109.9 x 52.4 cm)
Credit Line:
The Harry G. C. Packard Collection of Asian Art, Gift of Harry G. C. Packard, and Purchase, Fletcher, Rogers, Harris Brisbane Dick, and Louis V. Bell Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, 1975
Accession Number:
  • Description

    Kenzan, brother of the painter and designer Ogata Kŏrin (1658–1716), is best known as a potter but was also a gifted painter and calligrapher. This small painting was separated from a group of twelve representing plants and animals symbolic of the twelve months, each inscribed with two poems. The poems were taken from the Shǔigusŏ, a collection of verse by the influential poet and calligrapher Fujiwara Teika (1162–1241).
    For the sixth month, the poems celebrate tokonatsu (wild pinks) and the cormorant, a bird used for night fishing:

    Ōkata no
    hikage ni itō
    minazuki no
    sora sae oshiki
    tokonatsu no hana

    Mijika yo no
    ukawa ni noboru
    kagaribi no
    hayaku sugiyuku
    minazuki no sora

    Even though most people
    dread the sixth month,
    since the sun is so bright,
    if wild pinks are in bloom
    then it does have its charms.

    On these short summer nights,
    flames in iron baskets
    on cormorant fishing boats
    pass by quickly and light up
    the sky of the sixth month.

    —Trans. John T. Carpenter