This lightly brushed image of a fox garbed as a Buddhist nun acquires a clever, perhaps personal dimension in the poem that the nun Rengetsu inscribed in her much-admired script. The delicate vivacity of its classic style well suits her vision of a long-standing superstition holding that foxes transform themselves into human form to bewitch the unwary, particularly at twilight.
as is his nature
at twilight in these fields of Sagano...
is he displaying his tail
as if it were a plume of silver grass?
Sagano* no hara no
ono ga obana* ya
hana to misu ran.
*There is a play of word and image. The word obana, written with characters meaning "tail-flower," is classic poetic diction for autumn plumes of susuki, the tall grasses painted here to signify Sagano, a place name often used in poetry as a pun on saga, "one's nature." (Source The MET)
Otagaki Rengetsu (1791-1875)
Ink and color on paper, dated 1867
30 x 45.9 cm (11 3/4 x 18 in.)
Mounting 123 x 52 cm (48 1/2 x 20 1/2 in.)