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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Title: Plants of the Four Seasons
Date: commissioned for a New Year, ca. 1810s
Medium: Color woodblock print
Dimensions: 7 7/8 x 7 1/16 inches (20 x 18 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Joanna Haab Schoff, Class of 1955
Object Number: 2011.017.021
Label Text: Harukaze ni The spring wind
Eda wo tawamete Bends the branches
Hana no iro no Gathering the gold
Kogane matomeshi Of the color of its flowers
Noki no rengyo ̄ The forsythia under the eaves
—Omoshirotei Hisamichi

One of the common poetic tropes of early kyōka was to shadow the natural world with worldly economic interests, parodying the idealism of classical verse, written by aristocrats who allowed no place in poetry for petty financial concerns. In this idyllic spring scene, the “weighted” word gold suggests a return to worldly economic thoughts, as the poet implicitly compares the value of the natural scene to the social evaluation of this precious metal. At the level of nature, the branches are swayed by the spring breezes, which allow the forsythia to catch the light of the sunrise and turn gold, matomeshi suggesting “completion” or “fulfillment.” But at the social level, conveyed in the translation here, these winds are personified, actively bending the gold-heavy branches to collect their riches.

Forsythia, moreover, is written with characters meaning “continuous sunrise,” thus allowing the last lines to read “collect gold in the morning’s endless sunrise.” The pigments of the forsythia in the image, now oxidized, must once have been a rich golden color. Although the verse mentions spring, the combination in the image seems to cover many seasons, with faint purple violets, two prominent, embossed irises, one in full bloom, a branch of maple, fallen leaves, and budding and blooming camellias, representing the movement of the seasons in the order listed.

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.