The Tale Of Genji

By Murasaki Shikibu
Translated by Royall Tyler


Public Domain
Translation copyright © 2001 Royall Tyler.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0-670-03020-1

Chapter One


The Paulownia Pavilion

* * *

Kiri means "paulownia tree" and tsubo "a small garden between palace buildings." Kiritsubo is therefore the name for the palace pavilion that has a paulownia in its garden. The Emperor installs Genji's mother there, so that readers have always called her Kiritsubo no Koi (the Kiritsubo Intimate), although the text does not.

In a certain reign (whose can it have been?) someone of no very great rank, amongall His Majesty's Consorts and Intimates, enjoyed exceptional favor. Those otherswho had always assumed that pride of place was properly theirs despised her as adreadful woman, while the lesser Intimates were unhappier still. The way she waitedon him day after day only stirred up feeling against her, and perhaps this growingburden of resentment was what affected her health and obliged her often to withdrawin misery to her home; but His Majesty, who could less and less do withouther, ignored his critics until his behavior seemed bound to be the talk of all.

    From this sad spectacle the senior nobles and privy gentlemen could onlyavert their eyes. Such things had led to disorder and ruin even in China, they said,and as discontent spread through the realm, the example of Yokihi came more andmore to mind, with many a painful consequence for the lady herself; yet she trustedin his gracious and unexampled affection and remained at court.

    The Grand Counselor, her father, was gone, and it was her mother, a ladyfrom an old family, who saw to it that she should give no less to court events thanothers whose parents were both alive and who enjoyed general esteem; but lackinganyone influential to support her, she often had reason when the time came tolament the weakness of her position.

    His Majesty must have had a deep bond with her in past lives as well, for shegave him a wonderfully handsome son. He had the child brought in straightaway,for he was desperate to see him, and he was astonished by his beauty. His elder son,born to his Consort the daughter of the Minister of the Right, enjoyed powerfulbacking and was feted by all as the undoubted future Heir Apparent, but he couldnot rival his brother in looks, and His Majesty, who still accorded him all due respect,therefore lavished his private affection on the new arrival.

    Her rank had never permitted her to enter His Majesty's common service.His insistence on keeping her with him despite her fine reputation and her noblebearing meant that whenever there was to be music or any other sort of occasion,his first thought was to send for her. Sometimes, after oversleeping a little, he wouldcommand her to stay on with him, and this refusal to let her go made her seem todeserve contempt; but after the birth he was so attentive that the mother of hisfirstborn feared that he might appoint his new son Heir Apparent over her own.This Consort, for whom he had high regard, had been the first to come to him, andit was she whose reproaches most troubled him and whom he could least bear tohurt, for she had given him other children as well.

    Despite her faith in His Majesty's sovereign protection, so many belittled herand sought to find fault with her that, far from flourishing, she began in her distressto waste away. She lived in the Kiritsubo. His Majesty had to pass many others onhis constant visits to her, and no wonder they took offense. On the far too frequentoccasions when she went to him, there might be a nasty surprise awaiting heralong the crossbridges and bridgeways, one that horribly fouled the skirts of thegentlewomen who accompanied her or who came forward to receive her; or, thevictim of a conspiracy between those on either side, she might find herself lockedin a passageway between two doors that she could not avoid, and be unable to goeither forward or back. Seeing how she suffered from such humiliations, endlesslymultiplied as circumstances favored her enemies' designs, His Majesty had the Intimatelong resident in the Koroden move elsewhere and gave it to her instead, forwhen he wanted to have her nearby. The one evicted nursed a particularly implacablegrudge.

    In the child's third year his father gave him a donning of the trousers just asimpressive as his firstborn's, marshaling for the purpose all the treasures in the CourtRepository and the Imperial Stores. This only provoked more complaints, but as theboy grew, he revealed such marvels of beauty and character that no one could resenthim. The discerning could hardly believe their eyes, and they wondered thatsuch a child should have ever been born.

    In the summer of that year His Majesty's Haven became unwell, but he refusedher leave to withdraw. He felt no alarm, since her health had long been fragile,and he only urged her to be patient a little longer. However, she worsened daily,until just five or six days later she was so weak that her mother's tearful entreaties atlast persuaded him to release her. In fear of suffering some cruel humiliation evennow, she left the child behind and stole away.

    His Majesty, who could no longer keep her by him, suffered acutely to thinkthat he could not even see her off. There she lay, lovely and ever so dear, but terriblythin now and unable to tell him of her deep trouble and sorrow because she lingeredin a state of semiconsciousness—a sight that drove from his mind all notionof time past or to come and reduced him simply to assuring her tearfully, in everyway he knew, how much he loved her.

    When she still failed to respond but only lay limp and apparently fainting,with the light dying from her eyes, he had no idea what to do. Even after issuing adecree to allow her the privilege of a hand carriage, he went in to her again andcould not bring himself to let her go. "You promised never to leave me, not even atthe end," he said, "and you cannot abandon me now! I will not let you!"

    She was so touched that she managed to breathe:

"Now the end has come, and I am filled with sorrow that our ways must part:
the path I would rather take is the one that leads to life.

If only I had known ..."

    She seemed to have more to say but to be too exhausted to go on, which onlydecided him, despite her condition, to see her through to whatever might follow.He consented only unwillingly to her departure when urgently reminded that excellenthealers were to start prayers for her that evening at her own home.

    With his heart too full for sleep, he anxiously awaited dawn. He expresseddeep concern even before his messenger had time to come back from her house.Meanwhile, the messenger heard lamenting and learned that just past midnight shehad breathed her last, and he therefore returned in sorrow. This news put HisMajesty in such a state that he shut himself away, wholly lost to all around him.

    He still longed to see his son, but the child was soon to withdraw, for noprecedent authorized one in mourning to wait upon the Emperor. The boy did notunderstand what the matter was, and he gazed in wonder at the sobbing gentlewomenwho had served his mother and at His Majesty's streaming tears. Such partingsare sad at the best of times, and his very innocence made this one movingbeyond words.

    Now it was time to proceed with the customary funeral. Her mother longedwith many tears to rise with her daughter's smoke into the sky, and she insisted onjoining the gentlewomen in their carriage in the funeral cortége. What grief shemust have known on reaching Otagi, where the most imposing rite was under way!

    "With her body plain to see before me," she said, "I feel that she is still aliveeven though she is not, and I will therefore watch her turn to ash to learn that she isreally gone."

    She spoke composedly enough, but a moment later she was racked by such aparoxysm of grief that she nearly fell from the carriage. "Oh, I knew it!" the gentlewomencried to each other, not knowing how to console her.

    A messenger came from the palace, followed by an imperial envoy who read aproclamation granting the deceased the third rank. It was very sad. His Majesty hadnever even named her a Consort, but it pained him not to have done so, and he hadwished at least to raise her a step in dignity. Even this made many resent her further,but the wiser ones at last understood that her loveliness in looks and bearing, and hersweet gentleness of temper, had made her impossible actually to dislike. It was HisMajesty's unbecoming penchant for her, so his gentlewomen now understood, thathad made some treat her with cold disdain, and they remembered her fondly for thewarmth and kindness of her disposition. It was a perfectexample of "Now she is gone."

    As the dreary days slipped by, His Majesty saw carefully to each succeedingmemorial service. The passage of time did so little torelieve his sorrow that he called none of his ladies towait on him after dark but instead passed day and nightin weeping, and even those who merely witnessed his state foundthe autumn very dewy indeed.

    "She meant so much to him that even dead she is a blight on one's existence"summed up the sentiments of the Kokiden Consort, as merciless as ever, on thesubject. The mere sight of his elder son would only remind His Majesty how muchhe preferred the younger, and he would then send a trusted gentlewoman or nurseto find out how he was getting on.

    At dusk one blustery and suddenly chilly autumn day, His Majesty, assailedmore than ever by memories, dispatched the gentlewoman dubbed Yugei noMyobu to his love's home; then, after she had left under a beautiful eveningmoon, he lapsed again into reverie. He felt her there beside him, just as she had alwaysbeen on evenings like this when he had called for music, and when her touchon her instrument, or her least word to him, had been so much her own; except thathe would have preferred even to this vivid dream her simple reality in the dark.

    Myobu had no sooner arrived and gone in through the gate than desolationtouched her. The mother had kept the place up, despite being a widow, and she hadlived nicely enough out of fond concern for her only daughter, but alas, now thatgrief had laid her low, the weeds grew tall and looked cruelly blown about by thewinds, until only moonlight slipped smoothly through their tangles.

    She had Myobu alight on the south side of the house. At first she could notspeak. "I keep wishing that I had not lived so long," she said at last, "and I am soashamed now to see someone from His Majesty struggle all the way to me throughthese weeds!" She wept as though it were truly more than she could bear.

    "The Dame of Staff told His Majesty how desperately sorry for you she feltafter her visit here, and how heartbroken she was," Myobu replied; "and even I, whopretend to no delicacy of feeling, understand what she meant all too well." Then,after composing herself a little, she delivered His Majesty's message.

    "`For a time I was sure that I must be dreaming, but now that the turmoil inmy mind has subsided, what I still find acutely painful is to have no one with whomto talk over what needs to be done. Would you be kind enough to visit me privately?I am anxious about my son and disturbed that he should be surroundedevery day by such grieving. Please come soon.'

    "He kept breaking into tears and never really managed to finish, but he knewall too well, as I could see, that to another he might not be looking very brave, andI felt so much for him that I hurried off to you before I had actually heard all he hadto say." Then Myobu gave her His Majesty's letter.

    "Though tears darken my eyes," the lady said, "by the light of his most wiseand gracious words ..." And she began to read.

    "I had thought that time might bring consolations to begin lightening mysorrow, but as the passing days and months continue to disappoint me, I hardlyknow how to bear my grief. Again and again my thoughts go to the little boy, andit troubles me greatly that I cannot look after him with you. Do come and see mein memory of days now gone ..." He had written with deep feeling and had addedthe poem:

"Hearing the wind sigh, burdening with drops of dew all Miyagi Moor,
my heart helplessly goes out to the little
hagi frond."

But she could not read it to the end.

    "Now that I know how painful it is to live long," she said, "I am ashamed toimagine what that pine must think of me, and for that reason especially I wouldnot dare to frequent His Majesty's Seat. It is very good indeed of him to favor mewith these repeated invitations, but I am afraid that I could not possibly bring myselfto go. His son, on the other hand, seems eager to do so, although I am not surejust how much he understands, and while it saddens me that he should feel that way,I cannot blame him. Please let His Majesty know these, my inmost thoughts. I fearthat the child's dignity will suffer if he remains here, for I am a creature of misfortune,and it would be wrong for him to stay."

    The little boy was asleep. "I had wanted to see him so that I could report onhim to His Majesty," Myobu said as she prepared to hasten away, "but I am expectedback. It must be very late by now."

    "I would so like to talk to you longer, to lift a little of the unbearable darknessfrom my heart," she replied. "Please come to see me on your own, too, wheneveryou wish. You always used to visit at happy, festive times, and seeing you here nowon so sad an errand reminds one how very painful life is. We had such hopes for herfrom the time she was born, and my husband, the late Grand Counselor, kept urgingme almost until his last breath to achieve his ambition for her and have her serveHis Majesty. `Do not lose heart and give up,' he said, `just because I am gone.' So Idid send her, although I felt that if she had to enter palace service without anyoneto support her properly, it might be wiser to refrain; because what mattered to mewas to honor his last wishes. Unfortunately, His Majesty became far more fond thanwas right of someone who did not deserve that degree of favor, but she seems tohave borne the disgraceful treatment she received and to have continued servinghim until the growing burden of others' jealousy, and the increasing unpleasantnessto which she was subjected, led her to break down as she did; and that is why I wishthat His Majesty had not cared for her so much. I suppose I only say that, though,because her loss has plunged me into such terrible shadows ..." Her voice trailedoff and she wept.

    By now it was very late. "His Majesty feels as you do," Myobu assured her. "Inow understand,' he says, `how damaging my love for her really was, because theway I insisted despite my better judgment on favoring her to the point of scandalmeant that it could not have gone on very long. I had no wish to offend anyone,and yet because of her I provoked resentment in those whom I should not havehurt, only to lose her in the end and to linger on inconsolable, a sorrier spectaclenow than I ever made of myself before. I wish I knew what in my past lives couldhave brought all this upon me.' This is what he says again and again, and as he doesso, he is never far from weeping."

    Myobu talked on and at last said tearfully, "It is now very late, and I must notlet the night go by without bringing His Majesty your answer." She hastily preparedto return to the palace.

    The moon was setting in a beautifully clear sky, the wind had turned distinctlycold, and the crickets crying from among the grasses seemed to be calling her toweep with them, until she could hardly bear to leave this house of humble misery.

"Bell crickets may cry until they can cry no more, but not so for me,
for all through the endless night my tears will fall on and on,"

she said. She could not get into her carriage.

"Here where crickets cry more and more unhappily in thinning grasses
you who live above the clouds bring still heavier falls of dew.

I would soon have been blaming you," the answer came.

    This was no time for pretty parting gifts, and she gave Myobu instead, in herdaughter's memory, some things that she had saved for just such an occasion: a setof gowns and some accessories that her daughter had used to put up her hair.

    The young gentlewomen who had served her daughter were of course saddenedby the loss of their mistress, but they missed the palace now they wereused to it, and memories of His Majesty moved them to urge that his son shouldmove there as quickly as possible; but she felt sure that people would disapprove ifone as ill-fated as herself were to accompany him, and since she also knew howmuch she worried whenever he was out of sight, she could not bring herself to lethim go.

    Myobu felt a pang of sympathy when she found that His Majesty had not yetretired for the night. The garden court was in its autumn glory, and on the pretextof admiring it he had quietly called into attendance four or five of his most engaginggentlewomen, with whom he was now conversing. Lately he had been spending allhis time examining illustrations of "The Song of Unending Sorrow" commissionedby Emperor Uda, with poems by Ise and Tsurayuki; and other poems as well, innative speech or in Chinese, as long as they were on that theme, which was theconstant topic of his conversation.

    He questioned Myobu carefully about her visit, and she told him in privatehow sad it had been. Then he read the lady's reply. She had written, "Your Majesty'swords inspire such awe that I am unworthy to receive them; confusion overwhelmsme in the presence of sentiments so gracious.

"Ever since that tree whose boughs took the cruel winds withered and was lost
my heart is sorely troubled for the little
hagi frond,"

and so on—a rather distracted letter, although His Majesty understood how upsetshe still was and no doubt forgave her. He struggled in vain to control himself,despite his resolve to betray no strong emotion. A rush of memories even broughtback the days when he had first known his love, and he was shocked to realize howlong he had already been without her, when once he had so disliked her briefestabsence.

    "I had wanted her mother to feel it was worthwhile to have her enter my service,"he said, "as the late Grand Counselor at his death had urged her to do. Whata shame!" He felt very sorry. "At any rate, I should be able to do something for myson, as long as he grows up properly. She must take care that she lives to see it."

    Myobu showed him the gifts she had received. If only this were the hairpinthat she sent back from beyond, he thought; but, alas, it was not. He murmured,

"O that I might find a wizard to seek her out, that I might then know
at least from distant report where her dear spirit has gone."

    A superb artist had done the paintings of Yokihi, but the brush can conveyonly so much, and her picture lacked the breath of life. The face, so like the lotusesin the Taieki Lake or the willows by the Mio Palace, was no doubt strikingly beautifulin its Chinese way, but when he remembered how sweet and dear his love hadbeen, he found himself unable to compare her to flowers or birdsong. Morning andevening he had assured her that they would share a wing in flight as birds or theirbranches as trees, but then she had died, and the resulting vanity of his promisesfilled him with unending sorrow.

    The sound of the wind and the calling of crickets only deepened his melancholy,and meanwhile he heard the Kokiden Consort, who had not come for solong now to wait on him after dark, making the best of a beautiful moon by playingmusic far into the night. He did not like it and wished it would stop. Those gentlewomenand privy gentlemen who knew his mood found that it grated upon theirears. The offender, willful and abrasive, seemed determined to behave as thoughnothing had happened.

    The moon set.

"When above the clouds tears in a veil of darkness hide the autumn moon,
bow could there be light below among the humble grasses?"

His Majesty murmured, his thoughts going to the lady whom Myobu had recentlyleft, and he stayed up until the lamp wicks had burned out.

    It must have been the hour of the Ox, because he heard the Right Gate Watchreporting for duty. He then retired to his curtained bed, for he did not wish to makehimself conspicuous, but still he could not sleep. He remembered when morning came,and it was time to rise, how once he had not even known that daybreak was uponhim, and again he seemed likely to miss his morning session in council.

    He only went through the motions of breaking his fast and took no greater interestin his midday meal, until all who served him grieved to see his state. Those inclose attendance upon him, ladies and gentlemen alike, murmured anxiously abouthow disturbing it all was. Perhaps he had been fated to love her, but for him to haveignored the reproofs and the anger of so many, to have flouted for her sake the standardsof proper conduct, and even now to ignore public affairs as he was doing—this,they all whispered, was most unfortunate, and they cited in this connectionevents in the land beyond the sea.

    In time the little boy went to join his father in the palace. He was turning outto be so handsome that he hardly seemed of this world at all, and for His Majestythis aroused a certain dread. The next spring, when His Majesty was to designatethe Heir Apparent, he longed to pass over his elder son in favor of his younger, butsince the younger lacked support, and since in any case the world at large wouldnever accept such a choice, he desisted for the boy's sake and kept his desire to himself."He could hardly go that far," people assured one another, "no matter how devotedto him he may be." The Kokiden Consort was relieved.

    As for the grandmother, she remained inconsolable and wished only to joinher daughter, which no doubt is why she, too, to His Majesty's boundless sorrow, atlast passed away. The boy was then entering his sixth year. This time he understoodwhat had happened, and he cried. Toward the end, she who had been close to himfor so long spoke again and again of how sad she was to leave him.

    Now the boy was permanently in attendance at the palace. When he reachedhis seventh year, His Majesty had him perform his first reading, which he carried offwith such unheard-of brilliance that his father was frankly alarmed. "Surely none ofyou can dislike him now," he said; "after all, he no longer has a mother. Please be niceto him." When he took him to the Kokiden, the Consort there let him straightthrough her blinds and would not release him, for the sight of him would havebrought smiles to the fiercest warrior, even an enemy one. She had given His Majestytwo daughters, but by no stretch of the imagination could either be compared withhim. Nor did any other imperial lady hide from him, because he was already so charminglydistinguished in manner that they found him a delightful and challenging playmate.Naturally he applied himself to formal scholarship, but he also set the heavensringing with the music of stringsand flute. In fact, if I were to list allthe things at which he excelled, Iwould only succeed in makinghim sound absurd.