The Art of Rengetsu (“Lotus Moon”)

Ōtagaki Rengetsu (2/10/1791 – 12/10/1875):  Poetry, Bowls and Scrolls

My body is renewed
Living deep in the mountains
The mountain spring of Kameno’o
In the fields, in the mountains, I was enthralled
A wooden beam’s soot
Two poems, two scrolls
Rengetsu’s Biography

Wooden Beam
Ōtagaki Rengetsu (太田垣 蓮月, February 10, 1791 – December 10, 1875) was a Buddhist nun who is widely regarded to have been one of the greatest Japanese poets of the 19th century. She was also a skilled potter and painter and expert calligrapher (not to mention one of the great beauties of her day). Born into a samurai family with the surname Tōdō, she was adopted at a young age by the Ōtagaki family. She was a lady in waiting at Kameoka castle from age 7 to 16, when she was married. However, her husband died in 1823.Ōtagaki joined the temple Chion-in and became a nun, taking Rengetsu (“Lotus Moon”) as her Buddhist name. She remained at the Chion-in for nearly ten years, and lived in a number of other temples for the following three decades, until 1865, when she settled at the Jinkō-in where she lived out the rest of her life.Though best known as a waka poet, Rengetsu was also accomplished at dance, sewing, some of the martial arts, and Japanese tea ceremony. She admired — and studied under — a number of great poets, including Ozawa Roan and Ueda Akinari, and later in her life became a close friend and mentor to the artist Tomioka Tessai. A number of Tessai’s works, though painted by him, feature calligraphy by Rengetsu.[Wikipedia]

What Wikipedia fails to mention is that, although her first marriage was to an abusive man, she had three lovely children by him: all of whom were dead by the time he died. Then she married happily — but when she was pregnant with her second child, her wonderful second husband also died. By the time she was forty-one, and a nomadic, homeless nun, these two children (and her beloved adopted father) were dead as well. Thus she lost everything she cared about in the world: and this is when her art really took off. She stayed on the move as her art became ever more popular, as she didn’t want to get lost in the crowds that came to buy her work. What a powerful woman!


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