Poem on the Theme of Snow

Artist: Musō Soseki (Japanese, 1275–1351)

Period: Nanbokuchō period (1336–92)

Date: 14th century

Culture: Japan

Medium: Hanging scroll; ink on paper

Dimensions: Image: 11 3/4 x 32 1/2 in. (29.8 x 82.6 cm)
Overall with mounting: 48 7/8 x 38 in. (124.1 x 96.5 cm)
Overall with knobs: 48 7/8 x 40 1/4 in. (124.1 x 102.2 cm)

Classification: Calligraphy

Credit Line: Gift of Sylvan Barnet and William Burto, in honor of Maxwell K. Hearn, 2011

Accession Number: 2011.534


Musō Soseki, the expert calligrapher of this verse, was one of the most influential Zen priests of the fourteenth century, having trained under the Chinese émigré Yishan Yining (Japanese: Issan Ichinei; 1247–1317). He received the special imperial designation “National Master Musō.” As a rule, Musō ’s calligraphic works are executed in an elegant cursive script, reflecting the influence of his Chinese master. The highly stylized characters in this piece suggest that Musō had carefully studied classical examples. The verse reads:

From heaven fall icy petals;
In the sky not a spot of blue remains.
A dusting of jade covers the ground
And buries the blue mountains.
The sun rises over the mountain peak.
The chill pierces my bones.
Silence prevails.

—Trans. Edwin Cranston