Suzuki Harunobu, Parting Lovers

detail of Magpie Bridge

Suzuki Harunobu, ca. 1724-70

Parting Lovers (Magpie Bridge)

a courtesan in a white robe helps a young man put on his black kaori coat, his black kosode is decorated with the genjimon for chapter forty-eight from The Tale of Genji, a simple lacquer inro hangs from his waist, both figures are enhanced with karazuri ('blind printing' or gauffrage); the poem in the upper cartouche with the poet identified at the far right, Chunagon (the first two characters unclear; signed Suzuki Harunobu ga; ca. 1768

chuban tate-e 10 5/8 by 8 1/8 in., 27.1 by 20.5 cm

The pairing of one figure in white and the other in black is a subtle visual reference to the black and white coloring of the magpie bird, the subject of the poem in the cartouche.

Kasagi no
Wataseru Hashi ni
Oku shimo no
Shiroki wo Mireba
Yo zo fuke ni keru

The night must be growing late
For I notice the bridge
Spanned by magpies
White with frost

The author of the poem is Chunagon Yakamochi (Otomo no Yakamochi, 718-785) the compiler of the first Imperial anthology of poems, the Man'yoshu, and one of the Thirty-Six Immortal Poets (Sanjurokkasen). The verse suggests the poet is yearning to meet a lover across the Magpie Bridge, which was located on the Imperial grounds. The term came from a Chinese legend that a bridge formed of magpies allowed two stars to meet on the evening of the seventh day of the seventh month. The poem was included in the anthology of waka poetry Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each) compiled by Fujiwara no Teika (Sadaie, 1162-1241).

The classic love poem was popular in the genre of ukiyo-e. For example, Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) included it in his series, The Hundred Poems as Told to the Nurse (Hakunin isshu uba ga etoki), circa 1835-36, with a composition that stretches the literary reference to a fantastical landscape as imagined by an illiterate wet nurse.

Margaret Gentles, The Clarence Buckingham Collection, Volume II, Art Institute of Chicago, 1965, p. 108, no. 177 (and poem translation)



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site last updated
October 21, 2021

Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
ph: (212) 585-0474
fx: (212) 585-0475