Thursday, September 21

On reflection though, probably ink is toxic

A few years ago I read a translation of a famous story by Tanizaki Jun’ichirō called “Yume no ukihashi”—“The Floating Bridge of Dreams” (a reference to the last chapter of The Tale of Genji). There was one brief passage that stuck with me at the time:
Years later, after I was grown up, I came across this line of Chinese verse:
When she washes the inkstone,
the fish come to swallow ink.
Even as a child I thought how pleasant it would be if the fish in our pond came gliding playfully around her beautiful feet, instead of coming only when we fed them. (translation by Howard Hibbet)
The other day I remembered this fragment for some reason, and decided to track down the story to see the original:
後年私は大人になつてから、
洗硯魚呑墨(硯を洗へば魚墨を呑む)
と云ふ句を何かで見かけたが、その池の鯉や鮒どもは麩にばかり寄つて来ないで、この美しい足の周囲で戯れたらいゝのにと、子供心にもそんなことを思つた。
Like, I guess, every Tanizaki story, the foot fetish is always lurking just above the surface, but I really liked this scrap of poetry he quoted, and decided to track it down. If you put the characters in the quotation above into Google, you will get lots of Japanese and Korean sites about tea connoisseurship, as it’s apparently a very classy catch phrase to hang in the tokonoma of your tea room. (I eventually figured out that the character for “swallow” was giving me trouble—it’s subtly different in contemporary Japanese, and apparently that was enough to keep Google from seeing Chinese pages carrying the poem.) The source poem I finally located was the following, by the Song poet Wei Ye (960-1019):
書友人屋壁 魏野

達人輕祿位 居處傍林泉
洗硯魚吞墨 烹茶鶴避烟
閑惟歌聖代 老不恨流年
靜想閑來者 還應我最偏

Written on the wall of a friend’s house

This great man disdains wealth and rank,
Rather by a woodland spring he dwells.
Washing his ink stone, the fish swallow ink;
When he boils tea, cranes flee the smoke.
Idle, but for singing of a golden age,
Old, he does not begrudge the passing years.
But quietly thinking on his idle visitor,
He may yet consider me the hermit.
There appear to be numerous variant texts of this poem, so I’ve used the one from Li E’s Songshi jishi 宋詩紀事.

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