The Tales of Ise is a compilation of more than one hundred
brief, lyrical episodes, written in the late ninth to early tenth
centuries. The climax of each episode is one or more 31-syllable
poem that encapsulates the mood. These poems are characterized
by an appreciation of nature’s beauty and a melancholy awareness
of the transience of life.
These screens present seventeen episodes, with a poem brushed
onto the gold cloud above. There is no set order for “reading”
the screens—the eye is supposed to wander at leisure, recognizing
the scenes pictured and re-experiencing the emotions they evoke.
The early seventeenth century saw a number of printed publications
of the Tales of Ise, amid a continuing revival of interest
in the forms of classical culture.