The Poetry of Art: “After the Snow” by Linda Pastan

Woodblock printing was a popular art form in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868). The technique involves turning paintings into woodblock prints, a highly delicate and time-consuming process. The prints depicting themes from everyday life such as domestic and travel scenes, the seasons, kabuki actors, and female beauties (geishas and courtesans). Known as Ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the floating world”, these dreamy artworks reference the Buddhist notion of transience – that everything in this world merely floats by and are soon gone.

Utagawa Hiroshige, Atagoshita, Yabu-koji (Yabu Street below Atago), 1857, 36 x 24 cm, from the series, “One Hundred Views of Famous Places in Edo”. This painting depicts pedestrians walking in the snow in a street alongside a canal below Mount Atago. Hiroshige (1797 – 1858) is considered the last great master of the Ukiyo-e tradition.

“After the Snow (below) is a lovely poem by the American poet, Linda Pastan who uses the Ukiyo-e imagery to evoke the atmosphere of a winter scene.

After the Snow (Linda Pastan)

I’m inside
a Japanese woodcut,

snow defining
every surface:

of tree limbs

like pages
of inked calligraphy;

one sparrow,
high on a branch,

brief as
a haiku.

in the Maryland woods

far from Kyoto,
I enter Kyoto

Linda Pastan (b. 1932) is an American poet. She was born in New York but lived most of her life in Potomac, Michigan. Pastan’s poems feature quiet lyrics that explore the drama and depth of ordinary life. She is the author of over 15 books and essays. Among her many awards are the Dylan Thomas award, a Pushcart Prize, the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry, the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, and the Ruth Lily Poetry Prize, in 2003. She served as Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1991 to 1995. The above poem is from her 2015 publication, Insomnia (W.W. Norton).

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