Calligraphy in One Line


Calligraphy in One Line

calligraphy / Edo

By Date Masamune (1567–1636)

Edo period, 17th century

Ink on paper


This is a line from a poem by the Tang-dynasty (618–907) Chinese poet Du Fu, as written by the 17th-century feudal lord Date Masamune.

Masamune was blind in his right eye. It must have been difficult for him to judge distance when he set brush to paper. That may be why he preferred to begin his calligraphy with a powerful horizontal stroke from right to left. Applying pressure to the paper in this way would have helped keep his brushwork steady.

The slanting lines that extend toward the bottom-left in the second and fourth characters create a sharp impression. Despite employing sweeping diagonal strokes like these, the composition as a whole forms a single, straight, vertical line.

This line of calligraphy was written from top to bottom. Nevertheless, try to follow its strokes with your eyes, using variations in the shade of the ink to guess what order Masamune wrote the characters in. Even in the blank spaces, don’t you begin to see paths where his brush left the paper and moved to the start of his next stroke? You may be able to vicariously experience the time Masamune spent facing the paper, brush in hand.

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