Japan’s classical and medieval periods roughly converge with the European Middle Ages that generally range from the fifth to fifteenth centuries. By the eighth century, the Yamato clan had taken control of Japan, and in 710 C.E. Nara became the first stable capital. During the Nara period (710-784 C.E.), Japan produced two historical chronicles that legitimize Yamato’s authority historically. Records of Ancient Matters (712 C.E.) connects the Yamato clan to Amaterasu, the sun goddess, and Chronicles of Japan (720 C.E.) explains the creation of the Japanese islands. Religiously and philosophically influential by this period were Shintoism (a polytheistic Japanese indigenous religion), Confucianism (which probably arrived in Japan in the fifth century), and Buddhism (adopted via China and Korea in the sixth century). During the Nara period, Japan also produced Florilegium of Cherished Airs (751 C.E.), the Chinese-style poetry of Japan’s earliest extant poetry anthology, and The Man’yōshū (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves) (ca. 8th century C.E.), the earliest vernacular poetry anthology.
Image 8.1: Byōdō-in’s Phoenix hall | A picture of Buddhist temple and Japanese National Treasure, Byōdō-in, built in the Heian period in the eleventh century
Author: User “663highland”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: CC BY 2.5
In 794 C.E., the emperor Kammu shifted his capital to Heian, modern-day Kyoto, to stop the involvement of the Buddhist clergy in Nara in the state affairs. In the tenth century, kana, the new phonetic writing system, was developed, which led to the flourishing of rich vernacular prose literature, especially by women writers, although literature was still created by and for the capital elite during the Heian period (794-1185 C.E.). Up to that point, Japan had borrowed Chinese characters for writing. Two of the noteworthy literary works of this time are The Tale of Genji (ca. 1010 C.E.) and The Pillow Book (ca. 1000 C.E.), written by prestigious court ladies, Murasaki Shikibu and Sei Shōnagon respectively. Lady Murasaki and others in the Heian court used a writing system called onnade, i.e., “woman’s hand,” which used Chinese characters, but modified them to be phonological, making composition much easier and thus facilitating writing. Also, waka, a poetic form consisting of thorty-one syllables, was an integral part of the lives of the aristocracy.
The prolonged civil war between the Heike and the Genji and the rise of the warrior class led to the dissolution of the Heian period in the second half of the twelfth century. These factors resulted in the establishment of a military state in Kamakura, southeast of modern-day Tokyo and ushered in the medieval age (1192–1600 C.E.) in Japan. Military clans dominated Japan until the restoration of imperial power in 1868 C.E. The battle between the Heike and the Genji is recorded in the well-known Japanese medieval tale The Tale of the Heike (ca. 1240 C.E.). The military rulers, or shoguns, became patrons of the arts beyond the imperial court. For example, the shoguns supported theatre performances, including Noh theatre. In this cultural milieu, Zeami Mokokiyo (1363-1443 C.E.) was able to produce numerous exemplary Noh plays. Although medieval Japanese literature is still connected to Heian values in many ways, it is also characterized by the influence of the warrior culture and diverse cultural elements beyond the imperial court.
As already indicated above, the selections in this chapter, The Tale of Genji and Zeami’s plays, are good examples of the Heian period and Medieval Japan under military rule, respectively. While marked by the different periods and their different literary characteristics, they also show shared literary, cultural, and religious values.
AS YOU READ, CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS:
In what specific ways do The Tale of Genji and Zeami’s plays reveal the characteristics of the Heian period and the Medieval Japan of military rule?
How does The Tale of Genji, a novel focusing on a prince and his legacy, reveal a woman’s perspective?
How might some of Zeami’s plays dramatize and even reconcile conflicts between opposites—e.g., warrior culture vs. Buddhism, warrior ethos vs. Heian aristocratic values, the past vs. the present, the dead vs. the living, etc.?
FOR MORE INFORMATION, SEE THE FOLLOWING SOURCES:
Written by Kyounghye Kwon
Appeared distinctively in the fourteenth century Japan
Noh (also spelled Nō, meaning “talent” or “skill”) theatre is a traditional Japanese theatrical form that came to have a distinctive form in the fourteenth century and continued to develop up to the Tokugawa period (1603-1867). Noh theatre, one of the oldest extant theatre forms in the world, has been handed down from generation to generation, keeping its early forms fairly intact. Unlike performers of Kabuki (another traditional Japanese theatrical form) who use elaborate makeup, Noh performers wear masks. Compared to typical western theatre, a Noh play is relatively short without a lot of action; instead, Noh performers emphasize sounds and movements as visual metaphors suggesting the story on stage. Traditionally, they were performed mainly for the warrior class, whereas currently this theatre is protected and supported at the national level. Zeami Motokiyo, along with his father, wrote many of the most exemplary Noh plays. Zeami also formulated the principles of the Noh theatre. There are five types of Noh plays: the plays about 1) gods, 2) warriors, 3) a female protagonist, 4) a madwoman in a contemporary setting, and 5) devils, monsters, and supernatural beings. Zeami’s play “Atsumori,” for example, belongs to the plays about warriors. It dramatizes a wellknown episode from The Tale of the Heike (ca. 1240 C.E.), a famous, medieval Japanese epic.
Written by Kyounghye Kwon
8.3.1 The Nō Plays of Japan
License: Public Domain
The theatre of the West is the last stronghold of realism. No one treats painting or music as mere transcripts of life. But even pioneers of stage-reform in France and Germany appear to regard the theatre as belonging to life and not to art. The play is an organized piece of human experience which the audience must as far as possible be allowed to share with the actors.
A few people in America and Europe want to go in the opposite direction. They would like to see a theatre that aimed boldly at stylization and simplification, discarding entirely the pretentious lumber of 19th century stageland. That such a theatre exists and has long existed in Japan has been well-known here for some time. But hitherto very few plays have been translated in such a way as to give the Western reader an idea of their literary value. It is only through accurate scholarship that the “soul of Nō” can be known to the West. Given a truthful rendering of the texts the American reader will supply for himself their numerous connotations, a fact which Japanese writers do not always sufficiently realize. The Japanese method of expanding a five-line poem into a long treatise in order to make it intelligible to us is one which obliterates the structure of the original design. Where explanations are necessary they have been given in footnotes. I have not thought it necessary to point out (as a Japanese critic suggested that I ought to have done) that, for example, the “mood” of Komachi is different from the “mood” of Kumasaka. Such differences will be fully apparent to the American reader, who would not be the better off for knowing the technical name of each kurai or class of Nō. Surely the Japanese student of Shakespeare does not need to be told that the kurai of “Hamlet” is different from that of “Measure for Measure”?
It would be possible to burden a book of this kind with as great a mass of unnecessary technicality as irritates us in a smart sale-catalogue of Japanese Prints. I have avoided such terms to a considerable extent, treating the plays as literature, not as some kind of Delphic mystery.
In this short introduction I shall not have space to give a complete description of modern Nō, nor a full history of its origins. But the reader of the translations will find that he needs some information on these points. I have tried to supply it as concisely as possible, sometimes in a schematic rather than a literary form.
These are some of the points about which an American reader may wish to know more:
The Nō Stage
The actual stage is about 18 feet square. On the boards of the back wall is painted a pine-tree; the other sides are open. A gallery (called hashigakari) leads to the green-room, from which it is separated by a curtain which is raised to admit the actor when he makes his entry. The audience sits either on two or three sides of the stage. The chorus, generally in two rows, sit (or rather squat) in the recess. The musicians sit in the recess at the back of the stage, the stick-drum nearest the “gallery,” then the two hand-drums and the flute. A railing runs round the musician’s recess, as also along the gallery. To the latter railing are attached three real pine-branches. The stage is covered by a roof of its own, imitating in form the roof of a Shintō temple.
The first actor who comes on to the stage (approaching from the gallery) is the waki or assistant. His primary business is to explain the circumstances under which the principal actor (called shite or “doer”) came to dance the central dance of the play. Each of these main actors (waki and shite) has “adjuncts” or “companions.”
Some plays need only the two main actors. Others use as many as ten or even twelve. The female rôles are of course taken by men. The waki is always a male rôle.
This consists of from eight to twelve persons in ordinary native dress seated in two rows at the side of the stage. Their sole function is to sing an actor’s words for him when his dance-movements prevent him from singing comfortably. They enter by a side-door before the play begins and remain seated till it is over.
Nearest to the gallery sits the “big-drum,” whose instrument rests on the ground and is played with a stick. This stickdrum is not used in all plays. Next comes a hand-drummer who plays with thimbled finger; next a second who plays with the bare hand. Finally, the flute. It intervenes only at stated intervals, particularly at the beginning, climax and end of plays.
Image 8.2: Taira no Atsumori | The samurai Atsumori plays a woodwind instrument.
Author: Kikuchi Yosai
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: Public Domain
Though almost wholly banishing other extrinsic aids, the Nō relies enormously for its effects on gorgeous and elaborate costume. Some references to this will be found in Oswald Sickert’s letters at the end of my book. Masks are worn only by the shite (principal actor) and his subordinates. The shite always wears a mask if playing the part of a woman or very old man. Young men, particularly warriors, are usually unmasked. In child-parts (played by boy-actors) masks are not worn. The reproduction of a female mask will be found on Plate I. The masks are of wood. Many of those still in use are of great antiquity and rank as important specimens of Japanese sculpture.
The properties of the Nō stage are of a highly conventionalized kind. An open frame-work represents a boat; another differing little from it denotes a chariot. Palace, house, cottage, hovel are all represented by four posts covered with a roof. The fan which the actor usually carries often does duty as a knife, brush or the like. Weapons are more realistically represented. The short-sword, belt-sword, pike, spear and Chinese broad-sword are carried; also bows and arrows.
Dancing and Acting
Every Nō play (with, I think, the sole exception of Hachi no Ki) includes a mai or dance, consisting usually of slow steps and solemn gestures, often bearing little resemblance to what is in America associated with the word “dance.” When the shite dances, his dance consists of five “movements” or parts; a “subordinate’s” dance consists of three. Both in the actors’ miming and in the dancing an important element is the stamping of beats with the shoeless foot.
The plays are written partly in prose, partly in verse. The prose portions serve much the same purpose as the iambics in a Greek play. They are in the Court or upper-class colloquial of the 14th century, a language not wholly dead to-day, as it is still the language in which people write formal letters.
The chanting of these portions is far removed from singing; yet they are not “spoken.” The voice falls at the end of each sentence in a monotonous cadence.
A prose passage often gradually heightens into verse. The chanting, which has hitherto resembled the intoning of a Roman Catholic priest, takes on more of the character of “recitativo” in opera, occasionally attaining to actual song. The verse of these portions is sometimes irregular, but on the whole tends to an alternation of lines of five and seven syllables.
The verse of the lyric portions is marked by frequent use of pivot-words and puns, particularly puns on placenames. The 14th century Nō-writer, Seami, insists that pivot-words should be used sparingly and with discretion. Many Nō-writers did not follow this advice; but the use of pivot-words is not in itself a decoration more artificial than rhyme, and I cannot agree with those European writers to whom this device appears puerile and degraded. Each language must use such embellishments as suit its genius.
Another characteristic of the texts is the use of earlier literary material. Many of the plays were adapted from dance-ballads already existing and even new plays made use of such poems as were associated in the minds of the audience with the places or persons named in the play. Often a play is written round a poem or series of poems, as will be seen in the course of this book.
This use of existing material exceeds the practice of Western dramatists; but it must be remembered that if we were to read Webster, for example, in editions annotated as minutely as the Nō-plays, we should discover that he was far more addicted to borrowing than we had been aware. It seems to me that in the finest plays this use of existing material is made with magnificent effect and fully justifies itself.
The reference which I have just made to dance-ballads brings us to another question. What did the Nō-plays grow out of?
Nō as we have it to-day dates from about the middle of the 14th century. It was a combination of many elements.
Sarugaku, a masquerade which relieved the solemnity of Shintō ceremonies. What we call Nō was at first called Sarugaku no Nō.
Dengaku, at first a rustic exhibition of acrobatics and jugglery; later, a kind of opera in which performers alternately danced and recited.
Various sorts of recitation, ballad-singing, etc.
The Chinese dances practised at the Japanese Court.
Nō owes its present form to the genius of two men. Kwanami Kiyotsugu (1333-1384 A. D.) and his son Seami Motokiyo (1363-1444 A. D.)
Kwanami was a priest of the Kasuga Temple near Nara. About 1375 the Shōgun Yoshimitsu saw him performing in a Sarugaku no Nō at the New Temple (one of the three great temples of Kumano) and immediately took him under his protection.
This Yoshimitsu had become ruler of Japan in 1367 at the age of ten. His family had seized the Shōgunate in 1338 and wielded absolute power at Kyōto, while two rival Mikados, one in the north and one in the south, held impotent and dwindling courts.
The young Shōgun distinguished himself by patronage of art and letters; and by his devotion to the religion of the Zen Sect. It is probable that when he first saw Kwanami he also became acquainted with the son Seami, then a boy of twelve.
A diary of the period has the following entry for the 7th day of the 6th month, 1368:
For some while Yoshimitsu has been making a favourite of a Sarugaku-boy from Yamato, sharing the same meat and eating from the same vessels. These Sarugaku people are mere mendicants, but he treats them as if they were Privy Counsellors.
From this friendship sprang the art of Nō as it exists to-day. Of Seami we know far more than of his father Kwanami. For Seami left behind him a considerable number of treatises and autobiographical fragments. These were not published till 1908 and have not yet been properly edited. They establish, among other things, the fact that Seami wrote both words and music for most of the plays in which he performed. It had before been supposed that the texts were supplied by the Zen priests. For other information brought to light by the discovery of Seami’s Works see Appendix II.
It is obvious that Seami was deeply imbued with the teachings of Zen, in which cult his patron Yoshimitsu may have been his master. The difficult term yūgen which occurs constantly in the Works is derived from Zen literature. It means “what lies beneath the surface”; the subtle as opposed to the obvious; the hint, as opposed to the statement. It is applied to the natural grace of a boy’s movements, to the restraint of a nobleman’s speech and bearing. “When notes fall sweetly and flutter delicately to the ear,” that is the yūgen of music. The symbol of yūgen is “a white bird with a flower in its beak.” “To watch the sun sink behind a flower-clad hill, to wander on and on in a huge forest with no thought of return, to stand upon the shore and gaze after a boat that goes hid by far-off islands, to ponder on the journey of wild-geese seen and lost among the clouds”—such are the gates to yūgen.
I will give a few specimens of Seami’s advice to his pupils:
The actor should not stare straight into the faces of the audience, but look between them. When he looks in the direction of the Daimyōs he must not let his eyes meet theirs, but must slightly avert his gaze.
At Palace-performances or when acting at a banquet, he must not let his eyes meet those of the Shōgun or stare straight into the Honourable Face. When playing in a large enclosure he must take care to keep as close as possible to the side where the Nobles are sitting; if in a small enclosure, as far off as possible. But particularly in Palace-performances and the like he must take the greatest pains to keep as far away as he possibly can from the August Presence.
Again, when the recitations are given at the Palace it is equally essential to begin at the right moment. It is bad to begin too soon and fatal to delay too long.
It sometimes happens that the “noble gentlemen” do not arrive at the theatre until the play has already reached its Development and Climax. In such cases the play is at its climax, but the noble gentlemen’s hearts are ripe only for Introduction. If they, ready only for Introduction, are forced to witness a Climax, they are not likely to get pleasure from it. Finally even the spectators who were there before, awed by the entry of the “exalted ones,” become so quiet that you would not know they were there, so that the whole audience ends by returning to the Introductory mood. At such a moment the Nō cannot possibly be a success. In such circumstances it is best to take Development-Nō and give it a slightly “introductory” turn. Then, if it is played gently, it may win the August Attention.
It also happens that one is suddenly sent for to perform at a Shōgunal feast or the like. The audience is already in a “climax-mood”; but “introductory” Nō must be played. This is a great difficulty. In such circumstances the best plan is to tinge the introduction with a nuance of “development.” But this must be done without “stickiness,” with the lightest possible touch, and the transition to the real Development and Climax must be made as quickly as possible.
In old times there were masters who perfected themselves in Nō without study. But nowadays the nobles and gentlemen have become so critical that they will only look with approbation on what is good and will not give attention to anything bad.
Their honourable eyes have become so keen that they notice the least defect, so that even a masterpiece that is as pearls many times polished or flowers choicely culled will not win the applause of our gentlemen to-day.
At the same time, good actors are becoming few and the Art is gradually sinking towards its decline. For this reason, if very strenuous study is not made, it is bound to disappear altogether.
When summoned to play before the noble gentlemen, we are expected to give the regular “words of good-wish” and to divide our performance into the three parts, Introduction, Development and Climax, so that the pre-arranged order cannot be varied . . . But on less formal occasions, when, for example, one is playing not at a Shōgunal banquet but on a common, everyday (yo no tsune) stage, it is obviously unnecessary to limit oneself to the set forms of “happy wish.”
One’s style should be easy and full of graceful yūgen, and the piece selected should be suitable to the audience. A ballad (ko-utai) or dance-song (kuse-mai) of the day will be best. One should have in one’s repertory a stock of such pieces and be ready to vary them according to the character of one’s audience.
In the words and gestures (of a farce, kyōgen) there should be nothing low. The jokes and repartee should be such as suit the august ears of the nobles and gentry. On no account must vulgar words or gestures be introduced, however funny they may be. This advice must be carefully observed.
Introduction, Development and Climax must also be strictly adhered to when dancing at the Palace. If the chanting proceeds from an “introductory-mood,” the dancing must belong to the same mood When one is suddenly summoned to perform at a riotous banquet, one must take into consideration the state of the noble gentlemen’s spirits.
In imitation there should be a tinge of the “unlike.” For if imitation be pressed too far it impinges on reality and ceases to give an impression of likeness. If one aims only at the beautiful, the “flower” is sure to appear. For example, in acting the part of an old man, the master actor tries to reproduce in his dance only the refinement and venerability of an old gentleman. If the actor is old himself, he need not think about producing an impression of old age....
The appearance of old age will often be best given by making all movements a little late, so that they come just after the musical beat. If the actor bears this in mind, he may be as lively and energetic as he pleases. For in old age the limbs are heavy and the ears slow; there is the will to move but not the corresponding capacity.
It is in such methods as this that true imitation lies. Youthful movements made by an old person are, indeed, delightful; they are like flowers blossoming on an old tree.
If, because the actor has noticed that old men walk with bent knees and back and have shrunken frames, he simply imitates these characteristics, he may achieve an appearance of decrepitude, but it will be at the expense of the “flower.” And if the “flower” be lacking there will be no beauty in his impersonation.
Women should be impersonated by a young actor It is very difficult to play the part of a Princess or lady-in-waiting, for little opportunity presents itself of studying their august behaviour and appearance. Great pains must be taken to see that robes and cloaks are worn in the correct way. These things do not depend on the actor’s fancy but must be carefully ascertained.
The appearance of ordinary ladies such as one is used to see about one is easy to imitate In acting the part of a dancing-girl, mad-woman or the like, whether he carry the fan or some fancy thing (a flowering branch, for instance) the actor must carry it loosely; his skirts must trail low so as to hide his feet; his knees and back must not be bent, his body must be poised gracefully. As regards the way he holds himself—if he bends back, it looks bad when he faces the audience; if he stoops, it looks bad from behind. But he will not look like a woman if he holds his head too stiffly. His sleeves should be as long as possible, so that he never shows his fingers.
Here the outward form is that of a ghost; but within is the heart of a man.
Such plays are generally in two parts. The beginning, in two or three sections, should be as short as possible. In the second half the shite (who has hitherto appeared to be a man) becomes definitely the ghost of a dead person.
Since no one has ever seen a real ghost from the Nether Regions, the actor may use his fancy, aiming only at the beautiful. To represent real life is far more difficult.
If ghosts are terrifying, they cease to be beautiful. For the terrifying and the beautiful are as far apart as black and white.
In plays where a lost child is found by its parents, the writer should not introduce a scene where they clutch and cling to one another, sobbing and weeping....
Plays in which child-characters occur, even if well done, are always apt to make the audience exclaim in disgust, “Don’t harrow our feelings in this way!”
In representing anger the actor should yet retain some gentleness in his mood, else he will portray not anger but violence.
In representing the mysterious (yūgen) he must not forget the principle of energy.
When the body is in violent action, the hands and feet must move as though by stealth. When the feet are in lively motion, the body must be held in quietness. Such things cannot be explained in writing but must be shown to the actor by actual demonstration.
It is above all in “architecture,” in the relation of parts to the whole, that these poems are supreme. The early writers created a “form” or general pattern which the weakest writing cannot wholly rob of its beauty. The plays are like those carved lamp-bearing angels in the churches at Seville; a type of such beauty was created by a sculptor of the sixteenth century that even the most degraded modern descendant of these masterpieces retains a certain distinction of form.
First comes the jidai or opening-couplet, enigmatic, abrupt. Then in contrast to this vague shadow come the hard outlines of the waki’s exposition, the formal naming of himself, his origin and destination. Then, shadowy again, the “song of travel,” in which picture after picture dissolves almost before it is seen.
But all this has been mere introduction—the imagination has been quickened, the attention grasped in preparation for one thing only—the hero’s entry. In the “first chant,” in the dialogue which follows, in the successive dances and climax, this absolute mastery of construction is what has most struck me in reading the plays.
Again, Nō does not make a frontal attack on the emotions. It creeps at the subject warily. For the action, in the commonest class of play, does not take place before our eyes, but is lived through again in mimic and recital by the ghost of one of the participants in it. Thus we get no possibility of crude realities; a vision of life indeed, but painted with the colours of memory, longing or regret.
In a paper read before the Japan Society in 1919 I tried to illustrate this point by showing, perhaps in too fragmentary and disjointed a manner, how the theme of Webster’s “Duchess of Malfi” would have been treated by a Nō writer. I said then (and the Society kindly allows me to repeat those remarks):
The plot of the play is thus summarized by Rupert Brooke in his “John Webster and the Elizabethan Drama”: “The Duchess of Malfi is a young widow forbidden by her brothers, Ferdinand and the Cardinal, to marry again. They put a creature of theirs, Bosola, into her service as a spy. The Duchess loves and marries Antonio, her steward, and has three children. Bosola ultimately discovers and reports this. Antonio and the Duchess have to fly. The Duchess is captured, imprisoned and mentally tortured and put to death. Ferdinand goes mad. In the last Act he, the Cardinal, Antonio and Bosola are all killed with various confusions and in various horror.”
Just as Webster took his themes from previous works (in this case from Painter’s “Palace of Pleasure”), so the Nō plays took theirs from the Romances or “Monogatari.” Let us reconstruct the “Duchess” as a Nō play, using Webster’s text as our “Monogatari.”
Great simplification is necessary, for the Nō play corresponds in length to one act of our five-act plays, and has no space for divagations. The comic is altogether excluded, being reserved for the kyōgen or farces which are played as interludes between the Nō.
The persons need not be more than two—the Pilgrim, who will act the part of waki, and the Duchess, who will be shite or Protagonist. The chorus takes no part in the action, but speaks for the shite while she is miming the more engrossing parts of her rôle.
The Pilgrim comes on to the stage and first pronounces in his Jidai or preliminary couplet, some Buddhist aphorism appropriate to the subject of the play. He then names himself to the audience thus (in prose):
“I am a pilgrim from Rome. I have visited all the other shrines of Italy, but have never been to Loretto. I will journey once to the shrine of Loretto.”
Then follows (in verse) the “Song of Travel” in which the Pilgrim describes the scenes through which he passes on his way to the shrine. While he is kneeling at the shrine, Shite (the Protagonist) comes on to the stage. She is a young woman dressed, “contrary to the Italian fashion,” in a loose-bodied gown. She carries in her hand an unripe apricot. She calls to the Pilgrim and engages him in conversation. He asks her if it were not at this shrine that the Duchess of Malfi took refuge. The young woman answers with a kind of eager exaltation, her words gradually rising from prose to poetry. She tells the story of the Duchess’s flight, adding certain intimate touches which force the priest to ask abruptly, “Who is it that is speaking to me?”
And the girl shuddering (or it is hateful to a ghost to name itself) answers: “Hazukashi ya! I am the soul of the Duke Ferdinand’s sister, she that was once called Duchess of Malfi. Love still ties my soul to the earth. Toburai tabi-tamaye! Pray for me, oh, pray for my release!”
Here closes the first part of the play. In the second the young ghost, her memory quickened by the Pilgrim’s prayers (and this is part of the medicine of salvation), endures again the memory of her final hours. She mimes the action of kissing the hand (vide Act IV, Scene 1), finds it very cold:
I fear you are not well after your travel. Oh! horrible! What witchcraft does he practise, that he hath left A dead man’s hand here?
And each successive scene of the torture is so vividly mimed that though it exists only in the Protagonist’s brain, it is as real to the audience as if the figure of dead Antonio lay propped upon the stage, or as if the madmen were actually leaping and screaming before them.
Finally she acts the scene of her own execution:
Heaven-gates are not so highly arched
As princes’ palaces; they that enter there
Must go upon their knees. [She kneels.]
Come, violent death,
Serve for mandragora to make me sleep!
Go tell my brothers, when I am laid out,
They then may feed in quiet.
[She sinks her head and folds her hands.]
The chorus, taking up the word “quiet,” chant a phrase from the Hokkekyō: Sangai Mu-an, “In the Three Worlds there is no quietness or rest.”
But the Pilgrim’s prayers have been answered. Her soul has broken its bonds: is free to depart. The ghost recedes, grows dimmer and dimmer, till at last
it vanishes from sight.
Image 8.3: Noh Stage | An illustration depicting a traditional Noh stage and the styles and positions of the performers.
Author: User “Toto-tarou”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: CC BY-SA 3.0
Note on Buddhism
The Buddhism of the Nō plays is of the kind called the “Greater Vehicle,” which prevails in China, Japan and Tibet. Primitive Buddhism (the “Lesser Vehicle”), which survives in Ceylon and Burma, centres round the person of Shākyamuni, the historical Buddha, and uses Pāli as its sacred language. The “Greater Vehicle,” which came into being about the same time as Christianity and sprang from the same religious impulses, to a large extent replaces Shākyamuni by a timeless, ideal Buddha named Amida, “Lord of Boundless Light,” perhaps originally a sun-god, like Ormuzd of the Zoroastrians. Primitive Buddhism had taught that the souls of the faithful are absorbed into Nirvāna, in other words into Buddha. The “Greater Vehicle” promised to its adherents an after-life in Amida’s Western Paradise. It produced scriptures in the Sanskrit language, in which Shākyamuni himself describes this Western Land and recommends the worship of Amida; it inculcated too the worship of the Bodhisattvas, half-Buddhas, intermediaries between Buddha and man. These Bodhisattvas are beings who, though fit to receive Buddhahood, have of their own free will renounced it, that they may better alleviate the miseries of mankind.
Chief among them is Kwannon, called in India Avalokiteshvara, who appears in the world both in male and female form, but it is chiefly thought of as a woman in China and Japan; Goddess of Mercy, to whom men pray in war, storm, sickness or travail.
The doctrine of Karma and of the transmigration of souls was common both to the earlier and later forms of Buddhism. Man is born to an endless chain of re-incarnations, each one of which is, as it were, the fruit of seed sown in that which precedes.
The only escape from this “Wheel of Life and Death” lies in satori, “Enlightenment,” the realization that material phenomena are thoughts, not facts.
Each of the four chief sects which existed in medieval Japan had its own method of achieving this Enlightenment.
The Amidists sought to gain satori by the study of the Hokke Kyō, called in Sanskrit Saddharma Pundarika Sūtra or “Scripture of the Lotus of the True Law,” or even by the mere repetition of its complete title “Myōhō Renge Hokke Kyō.” Others of them maintained that the repetition of the formula “Praise to Amida Buddha” (Namu Amida Butsu) was in itself a sufficient means of salvation.
Once when Shākyamuni was preaching before a great multitude, he picked up a flower and twisted it in his fingers. The rest of his hearers saw no significance in the act and made no response; but the disciple Kāshyapa smiled.
In this brief moment a perception of transcendental truth had flashed from Buddha’s mind to the mind of his disciple. Thus Kāshyapa became the patriarch of the Zen Buddhists, who believe that Truth cannot be communicated by speech or writing, but that it lies hidden in the heart of each one of us and can be discovered by “Zen” or contemplative introspection.
At first sight there would not appear to be any possibility of reconciling the religion of the Zen Buddhists with that of the Amidists. Yet many Zen masters strove to combine the two faiths, teaching that Amida and his Western Paradise exist, not in time or space, but mystically enshrined in men’s hearts.
Zen denied the existence of Good and Evil, and was sometimes regarded as a dangerous sophistry by pious Buddhists of other sects, as, for example, in the story of Shunkwan and in The Hōka Priests, where the murderer’s interest in Zen doctrines is, I think, definitely regarded as a discreditable weakness and is represented as the cause of his undoing.
The only other play, among those I have here translated, which deals much with Zen tenets, is Sotoba Komachi. Here the priests represent the Shingon Shū or Mystic Sect, while Komachi, as becomes a poetess, defends the doctrines of Zen. For Zen was the religion of artists; it had inspired the painters and poets of the Sung dynasty in China; it was the religion of the great art-patrons who ruled Japan in the fifteenth century.
It was in the language of Zen that poetry and painting were discussed; and it was in a style tinged with Zen that Seami wrote of his own art. But the religion of the Nō plays is predominantly Amidist; it is the common, average Buddhism of medieval Japan.
I have said that the priests in Sotoba Komachi represent the Mystic Sect. The followers of this sect sought salvation by means of charms and spells, corruptions of Sanskrit formulae. Their principal Buddha was Dainichi, “The Great Sun.” To this sect belonged the Yamabushi, mountain ascetics referred to in Tanikō and other plays.
Mention must be made of the fusion between Buddhism and Shintō. The Tendai Sect which had its headquarters on Mount Hiyei preached an eclectic doctrine which aimed at becoming the universal religion of Japan. It combined the cults of native gods with a Buddhism tolerant in dogma, but magnificent in outward pomp, with a leaning towards the magical practices of Shingon.
The Little Saint of Yokawa in the play Aoi no Uye is an example of the Tendai ascetic, with his use of magical incantations.
Hatsuyuki appeared in “Poetry,” Chicago, and is here reprinted with the editor’s kind permission.
Atsumori, Ikuta, and Tsunemasa
In the eleventh century two powerful clans, the Taira and the Minamoto, contended for mastery. In 1181 Kiyomori the chief of the Tairas died, and from that time their fortunes declined. In 1183 they were forced to flee from Kyōto, carrying with them the infant Emperor. After many hardships and wanderings they camped on the shores of Suma, where they were protected by their fleet.
Early in 1184 the Minamotos attacked and utterly routed them at the Battle of Ichi-no-Tani, near the woods of Ikuta. At this battle fell Atsumori, the nephew of Kiyomori, and his brother Tsunemasa.
When Kumagai, who had slain Atsumori, bent over him to examine the body, he found lying beside him a bamboo-flute wrapped in brocade. He took the flute and gave it to his son.
The bay of Suma is associated in the mind of a Japanese reader not only with this battle but also with the stories of Prince Genji and Prince Yukihira.
8.3.2 “Atsumori” from The Nō Plays of Japan
Seami, translated by Arthur Waley
License: Public Domain
THE PRIEST RENSEI (formerly the warrior Kumaga).
A YOUNG REAPER, who turns out to be the ghost of Atsumori.
Life is a lying dream, he only wakes
Who casts the World aside.
I am Kumagai no Naozane, a man of the country of Musashi.
I have left my home and call myself the priest Rensei; this I have done because of my grief at the death of Atsumori, who fell in battle by my hand. Hence it comes that I am dressed in priestly guise.And now I am going down to Ichi-no-Tani to pray for the salvation of Atsumori’s soul.
[He walks slowly across the stage, singing a song descriptive of his journey.]
I have come so fast that here I am already at Ichi-no-Tani, in the country of Tsu.
Truly the past returns to my mind as though it were a thing of to-day.
But listen! I hear the sound of a flute coming from a knoll of rising ground. I will wait here till the flute-player passes, and ask him to tell me the story of this place.
To the music of the reaper’s flute
No song is sung
But the sighing of wind in the fields.
They that were reaping,
Reaping on that hill,
Walk now through the fields
Homeward, for it is dusk.
Short is the way that leads
From the sea of Suma back to my home.
This little journey, up to the hill
And down to the shore again, and up to the hill—
This is my life, and the sum of hateful tasks.
If one should ask me I too would answer
That on the shores of Suma I live in sadness.
Yet if any guessed my name,
Then might I too have friends.
But now from my deep misery
Even those that were dearest
Are grown estranged.
Here must I dwell abandoned
To one thought’s anguish:
That I must dwell here.
Hey, you reapers! I have a question to ask you.
Is it to us you are speaking? What do you wish to know?
Was it one of you who was playing on the flute just now?
Yes, it was we who were playing.
It was a pleasant sound, and all the pleasanter because one does not look for such music from men of your condition.
Unlooked for from men of our condition, you say!
Have you not read:—
“Do not envy what is above you
Nor despise what is below you”?
Moreover the songs of woodmen and the flute-playing of herdsmen,
Flute-playing even of reapers and songs of wood-fellers
Through poets’ verses are known to all the world.
Wonder not to hear among us
The sound of a bamboo-flute.
You are right. Indeed it is as you have told me.
Songs of woodmen and flute-playing of herdsmen...
Flute-playing of reapers...
Songs of wood-fellers...
Guide us on our passage through this sad world.
And the flute...
And music of many instruments...
These are the pastimes that each chooses to his taste.
Of floating bamboo-wood
Many are the famous flutes that have been made;
Little-Branch and Cicada-Cage,
And as for the reaper’s flute, Its name is Green-leaf;
On the shore of Sumiyoshi
The Corean flute they play.
And here on the shore of Suma
On Stick of the Salt-kilns
The fishers blow their tune.
How strange it is! The other reapers have all gone home, but you alone stay loitering here. How is that?
How is it, you ask? I am seeking for a prayer in the voice of the evening waves. Perhaps you will pray the Ten Prayers for me?
I can easily pray the Ten Prayers for you, if you will tell me who you are.
To tell you the truth—I am one of the family of Lord Atsumori.
One of Atsumori’s family? How glad I am!
Then the priest joined his hands [he kneels down] and prayed:—
Praise to Amida Buddha!
“If I attain to Buddhahood,
In the whole world and its ten spheres
Of all that dwell here none shall call on my name
And be rejected or cast aside.”
“Oh, reject me not!
One cry suffices for salvation,
Yet day and night
Your prayers will rise for me.
Happy am I, for though you know not my name,
Yet for my soul’s deliverance
At dawn and dusk henceforward I know that you will pray.”
So he spoke. Then vanished and was seen no more.
[Here follows the Interlude between the two Acts, in which a recitation concerning Atsumori’s death takes place. These interludes are subject to variation and are not considered part of the literary text of the play.]
Since this is so, I will perform all night the rites of prayer for the dead, and calling upon Amida’s name will pray again for the salvation of Atsumori.
[The ghost of Atsumori appears, dressed as a young warrior.]
Would you know who I am
That like the watchmen at Suma Pass
Have wakened at the cry of sea-birds roaming
Upon Awaji shore?
Listen, Rensei. I am Atsumori.
How strange! All this while I have never stopped beating my gong and performing the rites of the Law. I cannot for a moment have dozed, yet I thought that Atsumori was standing before me. Surely it was a dream.
Why need it be a dream?
It is to clear the karma of my waking life that
I am come here in visible form before you.
Is it not written that one prayer will wipe away ten thousand sins?
Ceaselessly I have performed the ritual of the
Holy Name that clears all sin away.
After such prayers, what evil can be left?
Though you should be sunk in sin as deep...
As the sea by a rocky shore,
Yet should I be salved by prayer.
And that my prayers should save you...
This too must spring
From kindness of a former life.
Once enemies ...
In truth may we be named...
Friends in Buddha’s Law.
There is a saying, “Put away from you a wicked friend; summon to your side a virtuous enemy.” For you it was said, and you have proven it true.
And now come tell with us the tale of your confession, while the night is still dark.
He bids the flowers of Spring
Mount the tree-top that men may raise their eyes
And walk on upward paths;
He bids the moon in autumn waves be drowned
In token that he visits laggard men
And leads them out from valleys of despair.
Now the clan of Taira, building wall to wall,
Spread over the earth like the leafy branches of a great tree:
Yet their prosperity lasted but for a day;
It was like the flower of the convolvulus.
There was none to tell them
That glory flashes like sparks from flint-stone,
Oh wretched, the life of men!
When they were on high they afflicted the humble;
When they were rich they were reckless in pride.
And so for twenty years and more
They ruled this land.
But truly a generation passes like the space of a dream.
The leaves of the autumn of Juyei
Were tossed by the four winds;
Scattered, scattered (like leaves too) floated their ships.
And they, asleep on the heaving sea, not even in dreams
Went back to home.
Caged birds longing for the clouds,—
Wild geese were they rather, whose ranks are broken
As they fly to southward on their doubtful journey.
So days and months went by; Spring came again
And for a little while
Here dwelt they on the shore of Suma
At the first valley.
From the mountain behind us the winds blew down
Till the fields grew wintry again.
Our ships lay by the shore, where night and day
The sea-gulls cried and salt waves washed on our sleeves.
We slept with fishers in their huts
On pillows of sand.
We knew none but the people of Suma.
And when among the pine-trees
The evening smoke was rising,
Brushwood, as they call it,
Brushwood we gathered
And spread for carpet.
Sorrowful we lived
On the wild shore of Suma,
Till the clan Taira and all its princes
Were but villagers of Suma.
But on the night of the sixth day of the second month
My father Tsunemori gathered us together.
“To-morrow,” he said, “we shall fight our last fight.
To-night is all that is left us.”
We sang songs together, and danced.
Yes, I remember; we in our siege-camp
Heard the sound of music
Echoing from your tents that night;
There was the music of a flute...
The bamboo-flute! I wore it when I died.
We heard the singing...
Songs and ballads...
Singing to one measure.
First comes the Royal Boat.
The whole clan has put its boats to sea.
He will not be left behind;
He runs to the shore.
But the Royal Boat and the soldiers’ boats
Have sailed far away.
What can he do?
He spurs his horse into the waves.
He is full of perplexity.
He looks behind him and sees
That Kumagai pursues him;
He cannot escape.
Then Atsumori turns his horse
Knee-deep in the lashing waves,
And draws his sword.
Twice, three times he strikes; then, still saddled,
In close fight they twine; roll headlong together
Among the surf of the shore.
So Atsumori fell and was slain, but now the
Wheel of Fate Has turned and brought him back.
[Atsumori rises from the ground and advances toward the Priest with uplifted sword.]
“There is my enemy,” he cries, and would strike,
But the other is grown gentle
And calling on Buddha’s name
Has obtained salvation for his foe;
So that they shall be re-born together
On one lotus-seat.
“No, Rensei is not my enemy.
Pray for me again, oh pray for me again.”
8.3.3 “Ikuta” from The Nō Plays of Japan
Zembō Motoyasu (1453-1532),
translated by Arthur Waley
License: Public Domain
PRIEST (a follower of Hōnen Shōnin).
I am one that serves Hōnen Shōnin of Kurodani; and as for this child here,—once when Hōnen was on a visit to the Temple of Kamo he saw a box lying under a trailing fir-tree; and when he raised the lid, what should he find inside but a lovely man-child one year old! It did not seem to be more than a common foundling, but my master in his compassion took the infant home with him. Ever since then he has had it in his care, doing all that was needful for it; and now the boy is over ten years old.
But it is a hard thing to have no father or mother, so one day after his preaching the Shōnin told the child’s story. And sure enough a young woman stepped out from among the hearers and said it was her child. And when he took her aside and questioned her, he found that the child’s father was Taira no Atsumori, who had fallen in battle at Ichi-no-Tani years ago. When the boy was told of this, he longed earnestly to see his father’s face, were it but in a dream, and the Shōnin bade him go and pray at the shrine of Kamo. He was to go every day for a week, and this is the last day.
That is why I have brought him out with me.
But here we are at the Kamo shrine.
Pray well, boy, pray well!
How fills my heart with awe
When I behold the crimson palisade
Of this abode of gods!
Oh may my heart be clean
As the River of Ablution;
And the God’s kindness deep
As its unfathomed waters. Show to me,
Though it were but in dream,
My father’s face and form.
Is not my heart so ground away with prayer,
So smooth that it will slip
Unfelt into the favour of the gods?
But thou too, Censor of our prayers,
God of Tadasu, on the gods prevail
That what I crave may be!
How strange! While I was praying I fell half-asleep and had a wonderful dream.
Tell me your wonderful dream.
A strange voice spoke to me from within the Treasure Hall, saying, “If you are wanting, though it were but in a dream, to see your father’s face, go down from here to the woods of Ikuta in the country of Settsu.” That is the marvellous dream I had.
It is indeed a wonderful message that the God has sent you. And why should I go back at once to Kurodani? I had best take you straight to the forest of Ikuta. Let us be going.
PRIEST [describing the journey]
From the shrine of Kamo,
From under the shadow of the hills,
We set out swiftly;
Past Yamazaki to the fog-bound
Shores of Minasé;
And onward where the gale
Tears travellers’ coats and winds about their bones.
“Autumn has come to woods where yesterday
We might have plucked the green.”
To Settsu, to those woods of Ikuta
Lo! We are come.
We have gone so fast that here we are already at the woods of Ikuta in the country of Settsu. I have heard tell in the Capital of the beauty of these woods and the river that runs through them. But what I see now surpasses all that I have heard.
Look! Those meadows must be the Downs of Ikuta. Let us go nearer and admire them.
But while we have been going about looking at one view and another, the day has dusked.
I think I see a light over there. There must be a house. Let us go to it and ask for lodging.
ATSUMORI [speaking from inside a hut]
Beauty, perception, knowledge, motion, consciousness,—
The Five Attributes of Being,—
All are vain mockery.
How comes it that men prize
So weak a thing as body?
For the soul that guards it from corruption
Suddenly to the night-moon flies,
And the poor naked ghost wails desolate
In the autumn wind.
Oh! I am lonely. I am lonely!
How strange! Inside that grass-hut I see a young soldier dressed in helmet and breastplate. What can he be doing there?
Oh foolish men, was it not to meet me that you came to this place? I am—oh! I am ashamed to say it,—I am the ghost of what once was ... Atsumori.
Atsumori? My father...
And lightly he ran,
Plucked at the warrior’s sleeve,
And though his tears might seem like the long woe
Of nightingales that weep,
Yet were they tears of meeting-joy,
Of happiness too great for human heart.
So think we, yet oh that we might change
This fragile dream of joy
Into the lasting love of waking life!
To see this child, born after me,
Darling that should be gay as a flower,
Walking in tattered coat of old black cloth.
Child, when your love of me
Led you to Kamo shrine, praying to the God
That, though but in a dream,
You might behold my face,
The God of Kamo, full of pity, came
To Yama, king of Hell.
King Yama listened and ordained for me
A moment’s respite, but hereafter, never.
“The moon is sinking.
Come while the night is dark,” he said,
“I will tell my tale.”
When the house of Taira was in its pride,
When its glory was young,
Among the flowers we sported,
Among birds, wind and moonlight;
With pipes and strings, with song and verse
We welcomed Springs and Autumns.
Till at last, because our time was come,
Across the bridges of Kiso a host unseen
Swept and devoured us.
Then the whole clan
Our lord leading
Fled from the City of Flowers.
By paths untrodden
To the Western Sea our journey brought us.
Lakes and hills we crossed
Till we ourselves grew to be like wild men.
At last by mountain ways—
We too tossed hither and thither like its waves—
To Suma came we,
To the First Valley and the woods of Ikuta.
And now while all of us,
We children of Taira, were light of heart
Because our homes were near,
Suddenly our foes in great strength appeared.
Noriyori, Yoshitsune,—their hosts like clouds,
Like mists of spring.
For a little while we fought them,
But the day of our House was ended,
Our hearts weakened
That had been swift as arrows from the bowstring.
We scattered, scattered; till at last
To the deep waters of the Field of Life.
We came, but how we found there Death, not Life,
What profit were it to tell?
Who is that?
[Pointing in terror at a figure which he sees off the stage.]
Can it be Yama’s messenger? He comes to tell me that I have out-stayed my time. The Lord of Hell is angry: he asks why I am late?
So he spoke. But behold
Suddenly black clouds rise,
Earth and sky resound with the clash of arms;
Flash fierce sparks from brandished spears.
The Shura foes who night and day
Come thick about me!
He waves his sword and rushes among them,
Hither and thither he runs slashing furiously;
Fire glints upon the steel.
But in a little while
The dark clouds recede;
The demons have vanished,
The moon shines unsullied;
The sky is ready for dawn.
Oh! I am ashamed.... And the child to see me so....
“To see my misery!
I must go back.
Oh pray for me; pray for me
When I am gone,” he said,
And weeping, weeping,
Dropped the child’s hand.
He has faded; he dwindles
Like the dew from rush-leaves
Of hazy meadows.
His form has vanished.
8.3.4 “Tsunemasa” from The Nō Plays of Japan
Seami, translated by Arthur Waley
License: Public Domain
I am Gyōkei, priest of the imperial temple Ninnaji. You must know that there was a certain prince of the House of Taira named Tsunemasa, Lord of Tajima, who since his boyhood has enjoyed beyond all precedent the favour of our master the Emperor. But now he has been killed at the Battle of the Western Seas.
It was to this Tsunemasa in his lifetime that the Emperor had given the lute called Green Hill. And now my master bids me take it and dedicate it to Buddha, performing a liturgy of flutes and strings for the salvation of Tsunemasa’s soul. And that was my purpose in gathering these musicians together.
Truly it is said that strangers who shelter under the same tree or draw water from the same pool will be friends in another life. How much the more must intercourse of many years, kindness and favour so deep...
Surely they will be heard,
The prayers that all night long
With due performance of rites
I have reverently repeated in this Palace
For the salvation of Tsunemasa
And for the awakening of his soul.
And, more than all, we dedicate
The lute Green Hill for this dead man;
While pipe and flute are joined to sounds of prayer.
For night and day the Gate of Law
Stands open and the Universal Road
Rejects no wayfarer.
TSUNEMASA [speaking off the stage]
“The wind blowing through withered trees: rain from a cloudless sky.
The moon shining on level sands: frost on a summer’s night.”
Frost lying... but I, because I could not lie at rest,
Am come back to the World for a while,
Like a shadow that steals over the grass.
I am like dews that in the morning
Still cling to the grasses. Oh pitiful the longing
That has beset me!
How strange! Within the flame of our candle that is burning low because the night is far spent, suddenly I seemed to see a man’s shadow dimly appearing. Who can be here?
TSUNEMASA [his shadow disappearing]
I am the ghost of Tsunemasa. The sound of your prayers has brought me in visible shape before you.
“I am the ghost of Tsunemasa,” he said, but when I looked to where the voice had sounded nothing was there, neither substance nor shadow!
Only a voice,
A dim voice whispers where the shadow of a man Visibly lay, but when I looked
It had vanished—
This flickering form ...
Like haze over the fields.
Only as a tricking magic,
A bodiless vision,
Can he hover in the world of his lifetime,
By this name we call him, yet of the body
That men named so, what is left but longing?
What but the longing to look again, through the wall of death,
On one he loved?
“Sooner shall the waters in its garden cease to flow
Than I grow weary of living in the Palace of my Lord.”
Like a dream he has come,
Like a morning dream.
How strange! When the form of Tsunemasa had vanished, his voice lingered and spoke to me! Am I dreaming or waking? I cannot tell. But this I know,—that by the power of my incantations I have had converse with the dead. Oh! marvellous potency of the Law!
It was long ago that I came to the Palace. I was but a boy then, but all the world knew me; for I was marked with the love of our Lord, with the favour of an Emperor. And, among many gifts, he gave to me once while I was in the World this lute which you have dedicated. My fingers were ever on its strings.
Plucking them even as now
This music plucks at your heart;
The sound of the plectrum, then as now
Divine music fulfilling
The vows of Sarasvati.
But this Tsunemasa,
Was he not from the days of his childhood pre-eminent
In faith, wisdom, benevolence,
Honour and courtesy; yet for his pleasure
Ever of birds and flowers,
Of wind and moonlight making
Ballads and songs to join their harmony
To pipes and lutes? So springs and autumns passed he.
But in a World that is as dew,
As dew on the grasses, as foam upon the waters,
What flower lasteth?
For the dead man’s sake we play upon this lute Green Hill that he loved when he was in the World. We follow the lute-music with a concord of many instruments.
And while they played the dead man stole up behind them. Though he could not be seen by the light of the candle, they felt him pluck the lute-strings....
It is midnight. He is playing Yabanraku, the dance of midnight-revel. And now that we have shaken sleep from our eyes...
The sky is clear, yet there is a sound as of sudden rain....
Rain beating carelessly on trees and grasses. What season’s music ought we to play?
No. It is not rain. Look! At the cloud’s fringe
The moon undimmed
Hangs over the pine-woods of Narabi Hills.
It was the wind you heard;
The wind blowing through the pine-leaves
Pattered, like the falling of winter rain.
O wonderful hour!
“The big strings crashed and sobbed
Like the falling of winter rain.
And the little strings whispered secretly together.
The first and second string
Were like a wind sweeping through pine-woods,
The third and fourth string
Were like the voice of a caged stork
Crying for its little ones at night
In low, dejected notes.”
The night must not cease.
The cock shall not crow
And put an end to his wandering.
“One note of the phœnix-flute
Shakes the autumn clouds from the mountain-side.”
The phœnix and his mate swoop down
Charmed by its music, beat their wings
And dance in rapture, perched upon the swaying boughs
Of kiri and bamboo.
Oh terrible anguish!
For a little while I was back in the World and my heart set on its music, on revels of midnight. But now the hate is rising in me....
The shadow that we saw before is still visible. Can it be Tsunemasa?
Oh! I am ashamed; I must not let them see me. Put out your candle.
“Let us turn away from the candle and watch together
The midnight moon.”
Lo, he who holds the moon,
The god Indra, in battle appeareth
Warring upon demons.
Fire leaps from their swords,
The sparks of their own anger fall upon them like rain.
To wound another he draws his sword,
But it is from his own flesh
That the red waves flow;
Like flames they cover him.
“Oh, I am ashamed of the woes that consume me.
No man must see me.
I will put out the candle!” he said;
For a foolish man is like a summer moth that flies into the flame.
The wind that blew out the candle
Carried him away.
In the darkness his ghost has vanished.
The shadow of his ghost has vanished.
Sei Shonagon (966–1025)
Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book (Makura no Soshi) is the private journal of a lady-in-waiting to the Empress of Japan written during the 990s. Sei served her empress during the late Heian Period (a particularly vibrant time for Japanese arts and the beginning of Japan’s feudal age) and was a contemporary of another lady-in-waiting, Murasaki Shikibu, author of the Tale of Genji (also in this anthology). Both Sei and Murasaki wrote about court life, but unlike Murasaki’s epic romance, Sei’s journal entries offer a more personal and informal glimpse into the life of a woman at court. The selections in this anthology are meant to showcase the variety of Sei’s musings and anecdotes.
8.4.1 Questions to consider while reading this selection:
What can we infer about the rules of etiquette at the Japanese court?
How would you categorize and characterize the different types of entries in the Pillow Book?
What can we infer about the rules for love affairs?
What is Sei’s tone, and what does it reflect about her attitude toward herself, the court, and people?
Would you have liked Sei? What kind if friend do you think she would be?
Written by Rhonda L. Kelley
8.4.2 The Pillow-Book of Sei Shonagon
Sei Shonagon , translated by Ivan Morris
License: Fair Use. © Ivan Morris 1969. All rights reserved.
Especially Delightful Is the First Day
Especially delightful is the first day of the First Month, when the mists so often shroud the sky. Everyone pays great attention to his appearance and dresses with the utmost care. What a pleasure it is to see them all offer their congratulations to the Emperor and celebrate their own new year!
This is the day when members of the nobility who live outside the Palace arrive in their magnificently decorated carriages to admire the blue horses. As the carriages are drawn over the ground-beam of the Central Gate, there is always a tremendous bump, and the heads of the women passengers are knocked together; the combs fall out of their hair, and may be smashed to pieces if the owners are not careful. I enjoy the way everyone laughs when this happens.
I remember one occasion when I visited the Palace to see the procession of blue horses. Several senior courtiers were standing outside the guard-house of the Left Division; they had borrowed bows from the escorts, and, with much laughter, were twanging them to make the blue horses prance. Looking through one of the gates of the Palace enclosure, I could dimly make out a garden fence, near which a number of ladies, several of them from the Office of Grounds, went to and fro. What lucky women, I thought, who could walk about the Nine-Fold Enclosure as though they had lived there all their lives! Just then the escorts passed close to my carriage, remarkably close, in fact, considering the vastness of the Palace grounds, and I could actually see the texture of their faces. Some of them were not properly powdered; here and there their skin showed through unpleasantly like the dark patches of earth in a garden where the snow has begun to melt. When the horses in the procession reared wildly, I shrank into the back of my carriage and could no longer see what was happening.
It is fascinating to see what happens during the period of appointments. However snowy and icy it may be, candidates of the Fourth and Fifth Ranks come to the Palace with their official requests. Those who are still young and merry seem full of confidence. For the candidates who are old and white-haired things do not go so smoothly. Such men have to apply for help from people with influence at Court; some of them even visit ladies-in-waiting in their quarters and go to great lengths in pointing out their own merits. If young women happen to be present, they are greatly amused. As soon as the candidates have left, they mimic and deride them, something that the old men cannot possibly suspect as they scurry from one part of the Palace to another, begging everyone, “Please present my petition favourably to the Emperor” and “Pray inform Her Majesty about me.” It is not so bad if they finally succeed, but it really is rather pathetic when all their efforts prove in vain.
Things That Have Lost Their Power
A woman who has taken off her false locks to comb the short hair that remains. A large tree that has been blown down in a gale and lies on its side with its roots in the air. The retreating figure of a sumo wrestler who has been defeated in a match. A man of no importance reprimanding an attendant.
A woman, who is angry with her husband about some trifling matter, leaves home and goes somewhere to hide. She is certain that he will rush about looking for her; but he does nothing of the kind and shows the most infuriating indifference. Since she cannot stay away forever, she swallows her pride and returns.
The face of a child drawn on a melon.
A baby of two or so is crawling, rapidly along the ground. With his sharp eyes he catches sight of a tiny object and, picking it up with his pretty little fingers, takes it to show to a grown-up person.
A baby sparrow that comes hopping up when one imitates the squeak of a mouse; or again, when one has tied it with a thread round its leg and its parents bring insects or worms and pop them in its mouth: delightful!
One picks up a pretty baby and holds him for a while in one’s arms; while one is fondling him, he clings to one’s neck and then falls asleep.
Pretty, white chicks who are still not fully fledged and look as if their clothes are too short for them; cheeping loudly, they follow one on their long legs, or walk close to the mother hen.
When I Make Myself Imagine
When I make myself imagine what it is like to be one of those women who live at home, faithfully serving their husbands, women who have not a single exciting prospect in life yet who believe that they are perfectly happy, I am filled with scorn. Often they are of quite good birth, yet have had no opportunity to find out what the world is like. I wish they could live for a while in our society, even if it should mean taking service as Attendants, so that they might come to know the delights it has to offer.
I cannot bear men who believe that women serving in the Palace are bound to be frivolous and wicked. Yet I suppose their prejudice is understandable. After all, women at Court do not spend their time hiding modestly behind fans and screens, but walk about, looking openly at people they chance to meet. Yes, they see everyone face to face, not only ladies-in-waiting like themselves, but even Their Imperial Majesties (whose august names I hardly dare mention), High Court Nobles, senior courtiers, and other gentlemen of high rank. In the presence of such exalted personages, the women in the Palace are all equally brazen, whether they be the maids of ladies-in-waiting, or the relations of Court ladies who have come to visit them, or housekeepers, or latrine-cleaners, or women who are of no more value than a roof-tile or a pebble. Small wonder that the young men regard them as immodest! Yet are the gentlemen themselves any less so? They are not exactly bashful when it comes to looking at the great people in the Palace. No, everyone at Court is much the same in this respect.
Women who have served in the Palace, but who later get married and live at home, are called Madam and receive the most respectful treatment. To be sure, people often consider that these women, who have displayed their faces to all and sundry during their years at Court, are lacking in feminine grace. How proud they must be, nevertheless, when they are styled Assistant Attendants, or summoned to the Palace for occasional duty, or ordered to serve as Imperial envoys during the Kamo Festival! Even those who stay at home lose nothing by having served at Court. In fact they make very good wives. For example, if they are married to a provincial governor and their daughter is chosen to take part in the Gosechi dances, they do not have to disgrace themselves by acting like provincials and asking other people about procedure. They themselves are well versed in the formalities, which is just as it should be.
A dog howling in the daytime. A lying-in room when the baby has died. A cold, empty brazier. An ox-driver who hates his oxen.
A letter arrives from the provinces, but no gift accompanies it. It would be bad enough if such a letter reached one in the provinces from someone in the capital; but then at least it would have interesting news about goings-on in society, and that would be a consolation.
One has written a letter, taking pains to make it as attractive as possible, and now one impatiently awaits the reply. “Surely the messenger should be back by now,” one thinks. Just then he returns; but in his hand he carries, not a reply, but one’s own letter, still twisted or knotted as it was sent, but now so dirty and crumpled that even the ink-mark on the outside has disappeared. “Not at home,” announces the messenger, or else, “They said they were observing a day of abstinence and would not accept it.” Oh, how depressing!
Again, one has sent one’s carriage to fetch someone who had said he would definitely pay one a visit on that day. Finally it returns with a great clatter, and the servants hurry out with cries of “Here they come!” But next one hears the carriage being pulled into the coach-house, and the unfastened shafts clatter to the ground. “What does this mean?” one asks. “The person was not at home,” replies the driver, “and will not be coming.” So saying, he leads the ox back to its stall, leaving the carriage in the coach-house.
With much bustle and excitement a young man has moved into the house of a certain family as the daughter’s husband. One day he fails to come home, and it turns out that some high-ranking Court lady has taken him as her lover. How depressing! “Will he eventually tire of the woman and come back to us?” his wife’s family wonders ruefully.
The nurse who is looking after a baby leaves the house, saying that she will be back presently. Soon the child starts crying for her. One tries to comfort it by games and other diversions, and even sends a message to the nurse telling her to return immediately. Then comes her reply: “I am afraid that I cannot be back this evening.” This is not only depressing; it is no less than hateful. Yet how much more distressed must be the young man who has sent a messenger to fetch a lady friend and who awaits her arrival in vain!
It is quite late at night and a woman has been expecting a visitor. Hearing finally a stealthy tapping, she sends her maid to open the gate and lies waiting excitedly. But the name announced by the maid is that of someone with whom she has absolutely no connection. Of all the depressing things this is by far the worst.
One has sent a friend a verse that turned out fairly well. How depressing when there is no reply-poem! Even in the case of love poems, people should at least answer that they were moved at receiving the message, or something of the sort; otherwise they will cause the keenest disappointment.
Someone who lives in a bustling, fashionable household receives a message from an elderly person who is behind the times and has very little to do; the poem, of course, is old-fashioned and dull. How depressing!
One needs a particularly beautiful fan for some special occasion and instructs an artist, in whose talents one has full confidence, to decorate one with an appropriate painting. When the day comes and the fan is delivered, one is shocked to see how badly it has been painted. Oh, the dreariness of it!
A man has moved in as a son-in-law; yet even now, after some five years of marriage, the lying-in room has remained as quiet as on the day of his arrival.
An elderly couple who have several grown-up children, and who may even have some grandchildren crawling about the house, are taking a nap in the daytime. The children who see them in this state are overcome by a forlorn feeling, and for other people it is all very depressing.
Persistent rain on the last day of the year.
One has been observing a period of fast, but neglects it for just one day: most depressing.
One is in a hurry to leave, but one’s visitor keeps chattering away. If it is someone of no importance, one can get rid of him by saying, “You must tell me all about it next time”; but, should it be the sort of visitor whose presence commands one’s best behaviour, the situation is hateful indeed.
A man who has nothing in particular to recommend him discusses all sorts of subjects at random as though he knew everything.
A man with whom one is having an affair keeps singing the praises of some woman he used to know. Even if it is a thing of the past this can be very annoying. How much more so if he is still seeing the woman! (Yet sometimes I find that it is not as unpleasant as all that.)
The sound of dogs when they bark for a long time in chorus is ominous and hateful.
A lover who is leaving at dawn announces that he has to find his fan and his paper. “I know I put them somewhere last night,” he says. Since it is pitch dark, he gropes about the room, bumping into the furniture and muttering, “Strange! Where on earth can they be?” Finally he discovers the objects. He thrusts the paper into the breast of his robe with a great rustling sound; then he snaps open his fan and busily fans away with it. Only now is he ready to take his leave. What charmless behaviour! Hateful is an understatement.
Equally disagreeable is the man who, when leaving in the middle of the night, takes care to fasten the cord of his head-dress. This is quite unnecessary; he could perfectly well put it gently on his head without tying the cord. And why must he spend time adjusting his cloak or hunting costume? Does he really think someone may see him at this time of night and criticise him for not being impeccably dressed?
A good lover will behave as elegantly at dawn as at any other time. He drags himself out of bed with a look of dismay on his face. The lady urges him on: “Come, my friend, it’s getting light. You don’t want anyone to find you here.” He gives a deep sigh, as if to say that the night has not been nearly long enough and that it is agony to leave. Once up, he does not instantly pull on his trousers. Instead he comes close to the lady and whispers whatever was left unsaid during the night. Even when he is dressed, he still lingers, vaguely pretending to be fastening his sash.
Presently he raises the lattice, and the two lovers stand together by the side door while he tells her how he dreads the coming day, which will keep them apart; then he slips away. The lady watches him go, and this moment of parting will remain among her most charming memories.
Indeed, one’s attachment to a man depends largely on the elegance of his leave-taking.
Things That Make One’s Heart Beat Faster
Sparrows feeding their young. To pass a place where babies are playing. To sleep in a room where some fine incense has been burnt. To notice that one’s elegant Chinese mirror has become a little cloudy.
To see a gentleman stop his carriage before one’s gate and instruct his attendants to announce his arrival. To wash one’s hair, make one’s toilet, and put on scented robes; even if not a soul sees one, these preparations still produce an inner pleasure.
It is night and one is expecting a visitor. Suddenly one is startled by the sound of raindrops, which the wind blows against the shutters.
Things That Arouse a Fond Memory of the Past
Dried hollyhock. To find a piece of deep violet or grape-coloured material that has been pressed between the pages of a notebook.
It is a rainy day and one is feeling bored. To pass the time, one starts looking through some old papers. And then one comes across the letters of a man one used to love.
Last year’s paper fan. A night with a clear moon.
Chinese brocade. A sword with a decorated scabbard. The grain of the wood in a Buddhist statue. Long flowering branches of beautifully coloured wisteria entwined about a pine tree.
Despite his low station, a Chamberlain of the Sixth Rank is a splendid thing. To think that he is allowed yellowish-green robes of figured material and cloth that even young noblemen of the finest families are forbidden to wear! A mere Assistant or Subordinate Official in the Emperor’s Private Office, who is the son of a commoner and who has gone completely unnoticed while serving under gentlemen of rank with official posts, becomes splendid beyond words after being appointed Chamberlain.
One has gone to a house and asked to see someone; but the wrong person appears, thinking that it is he who is wanted; this is especially awkward if one has brought a present.
One has allowed oneself to speak badly about someone without really intending to do so; a young child who has overheard it all goes and repeats what one has said in front of the person in question.
Someone sobs out a pathetic story. One is deeply moved; but it so happens that not a single tear comes to one’s eyes, most awkward. Though one makes one’s face look as if one’s going to cry, it is no use: not a single tear will come. Yet there are times when, having heard something happy, one feels the tears streaming out.
Things That Give a Clean Feeling
An earthen cup. A new metal bowl. A rush mat. The play of the light on water as one pours it into a vessel. A new wooden chest.
Things That Give an Unclean Feeling
A rat’s nest. Someone who is late in washing his hands in the morning. White snivel, and children who sniffle as they walk. The containers used for oil. Little sparrows.
A person who does not bathe for a long time even though the weather is hot. All faded clothes give me an unclean feeling, especially those that have glossy colours.
THE TALE OF GENJI
Composed ca. 1010 C.E.
Murasaki Shikibu (ca. 978-1014 C.E.)
The Tale of Genji, regarded as the world’s first novel, is a Japanese monogatari (i.e., a long, Japanese, fictional narrative of different literary elements), written by Murasaki Shikibu, an eleventh-century court lady. Written in the Heian period (794-1185 C.E.) in Japan, when Chinese was the serious scholarly language and prose was considered inferior to poetry, The Tale of Genji revealed a vast knowledge of both Chinese and Japanese poetry in graceful prose. The novel is about Prince Genji and his legacy in fifty-four chapters and entails about eight hundred waka (a poetic form consisting of 31 syllables) courtly poems. It sheds light on the aristocratic culture in early Heian Japan and conveys sensitive narratives about human emotions and natural beauty. The first complete English translation (1925-33 C.E.) was by Arthur Waley, and other English translations include Edward Seidensticker’s (1976) and Royall Tyler’s (2001).
Written by Kyounghye Kwon
8.5.1 The Tale of Genji
Murasaki Shikibu, translated by Suyematz Kenchio Compiled and edited by Rhonda L. Kelley
License: CC BY-SA 4.0
THE CHAMBER OF KIRI2
In the reign of a certain Emperor, whose name is unknown to us, there was, among the Niogo and Kôyi3 of the Imperial Court, one who, though she was not of high birth, enjoyed the full tide of Royal favor. Hence her superiors, each one of whom had always been thinking—”I shall be the one,” gazed upon her disdainfully with malignant eyes, and her equals and inferiors were more indignant still.
Such being the state of affairs, the anxiety which she had to endure was great and constant, and this was probably the reason why her health was at last so much affected, that she was often compelled to absent herself from Court, and to retire to the residence of her mother.
Her father, who was a Dainagon,4 was dead; but her mother, being a woman of good sense, gave her every possible guidance in the due performance of Court ceremony, so that in this respect she seemed but little different from those whose fathers and mothers were still alive to bring them before public notice, yet, nevertheless, her friendliness made her oftentimes feel very diffident from the want of any patron of influence.
These circumstances, however, only tended to make the favor shown to her by the Emperor wax warmer and warmer, and it was even shown to such an extent as to become a warning to after-generations. There had been instances in China in which favoritism such as this had caused national disturbance and disaster; and thus the matter became a subject of public animadversion,5 and it seemed not improbable that people would begin to allude even to the example of Yô-ki-hi.6
In due course, and in consequence, we may suppose, of the Divine blessing on the sincerity of their affection, a jewel of a little prince was born to her. The first prince who had been born to the Emperor was the child of Kokiden-Niogo,7 the daughter of the Udaijin (a great officer of State). Not only was he first in point of age, but his influence on his mother’s side was so great that public opinion had almost unanimously fixed upon him as heir-apparent. Of this the Emperor was fully conscious, and he only regarded the new-born child with that affection which one lavishes on a domestic favorite. Nevertheless, the mother of the first prince had, not unnaturally, a foreboding that unless matters were managed adroitly her child might be superseded by the younger one. She, we may observe, had been established at Court before any other lady, and had more children than one. The Emperor, therefore, was obliged to treat her with due respect, and reproaches from her always affected him more keenly than those of any others.
Image 8.4: Murasaki Shikibu | Statue of Lady Murasaki kneeling down, holding folds of fabric.
Author: User “FlickreviewR”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: CC BY-SA 2.0
To return to her rival. Her constitution was extremely delicate, as we have seen already, and she was surrounded by those who would fain lay bare, so to say, her hidden scars. Her apartments in the palace were Kiri-Tsubo (the chamber of Kiri); so called from the trees that were planted around. In visiting her there the Emperor had to pass before several other chambers, whose occupants universally chafed when they saw it. And again, when it was her turn to attend upon the Emperor, it often happened that they played off mischievous pranks upon her, at different points in the corridor, which leads to the Imperial quarters. Sometimes they would soil the skirts of her attendants, sometimes they would shut against her the door of the covered portico, where no other passage existed; and thus, in every possible way, they one and all combined to annoy her.
The Emperor at length became aware of this, and gave her, for her special chamber, another apartment, which was in the Kôrô-Den, and which was quite close to those in which he himself resided. It had been originally occupied by another lady who was now removed, and thus fresh resentment was aroused.
When the young Prince was three years old the Hakamagi8 took place. It was celebrated with a pomp scarcely inferior to that which adorned the investiture of the first Prince. In fact, all available treasures were exhausted on the occasion. And again the public manifested its disapprobation. In the summer of the same year the Kiri-Tsubo-Kôyi became ill, and wished to retire from the palace. The Emperor, however, who was accustomed to see her indisposed, strove to induce her to remain. But her illness increased day by day; and she had drooped and pined away until she was now but a shadow of her former self. She made scarcely any response to the affectionate words and expressions of tenderness which her Royal lover caressingly bestowed upon her. Her eyes were half-closed: she lay like a fading flower in the last stage of exhaustion, and she became so much enfeebled that her mother appeared before the Emperor and entreated with tears that she might be allowed to leave. Distracted by his vain endeavors to devise means to aid her, the Emperor at length ordered a Te-gruma9 to be in readiness to convey her to her own home, but even then he went to her apartment and cried despairingly: “Did not we vow that we would neither of us be either before or after the other even in travelling the last long journey of life? And can you find it in your heart to leave me now?” Sadly and tenderly looking up, she thus replied, with almost failing breath:—
“Since my departure for this dark journey,
Makes you so sad and lonely,
Fain would I stay though weak and weary,
And live for your sake only!” 10
“Had I but known this before—”
She appeared to have much more to say, but was too weak to continue. Overpowered with grief, the Emperor at one moment would fain accompany her himself, and at another moment would have her remain to the end where she then was.
At the last, her departure was hurried, because the exorcism for the sick had been appointed to take place on that evening at her home, and she went. The child Prince, however, had been left in the Palace, as his mother wished, even at that time, to make her withdrawal as privately as possible, so as to avoid any invidious observations on the part of her rivals. To the Emperor the night now became black with gloom. He sent messenger after messenger to make inquiries, and could not await their return with patience. Midnight came, and with it the sound of lamentation. The messenger, who could do nothing else, hurried back with the sad tidings of the truth. From that moment the mind of the Emperor was darkened, and he confined himself to his private apartments.
He would still have kept with himself the young Prince now motherless, but there was no precedent for this, and it was arranged that he should be sent to his grandmother for the mourning. The child, who understood nothing, looked with amazement at the sad countenances of the Emperor, and of those around him. All separations have their sting, but sharp indeed was the sting in a case like this.
Now the funeral took place. The weeping and wailing mother, who might have longed to mingle in the same flames,11 entered a carriage, accompanied by female mourners. The procession arrived at the cemetery of Otagi, and the solemn rites commenced. What were then the thoughts of the desolate mother? The image of her dead daughter was still vividly present to her—still seemed animated with life. She must see her remains become ashes to convince herself that she was really dead. During the ceremony, an Imperial messenger came from the Palace, and invested the dead with the title of Sammi. The letters patent were read, and listened to in solemn silence. The Emperor conferred this title now in regret that during her lifetime he had not even promoted her position from a Kôyi to a Niogo, and wishing at this last moment to raise her title at least one step higher. Once more several tokens of disapprobation were manifested against the proceeding. But, in other respects, the beauty of the departed, and her gracious bearing, which had ever commanded admiration, made people begin to think of her with sympathy. It was the excess of the Emperor’s favor which had created so many detractors during her lifetime; but now even rivals felt pity for her; and if any did not, it was in the Koki-den. “When one is no more, the memory becomes so dear,” may be an illustration of a case such as this.
Some days passed, and due requiem services were carefully performed. The Emperor was still plunged in thought, and no society had attractions for him. His constant consolation was to send messengers to the grandmother of the child, and to make inquiries after them. It was now autumn, and the evening winds blew chill and cold. The Emperor—who, when he saw the first Prince, could not refrain from thinking of the younger one—became more thoughtful than ever; and, on this evening, he sent Yugei-no Miôbu12 to repeat his inquiries. She went as the new moon just rose, and the Emperor stood and contemplated from his veranda the prospect spread before him. At such moments he had usually been surrounded by a few chosen friends, one of whom was almost invariably his lost love. Now she was no more. The thrilling notes of her music, the touching strains of her melodies, stole over him in his dark and dreary reverie.
The Miôbu arrived at her destination; and, as she drove in, a sense of sadness seized upon her.
The owner of the house had long been a widow; but the residence, in former times, had been made beautiful for the pleasure of her only daughter. Now, bereaved of this daughter, she dwelt alone; and the grounds were overgrown with weeds, which here and there lay prostrated by the violence of the winds; while over them, fair as elsewhere, gleamed the mild lustre of the impartial moon. The Miôbu entered, and was led into a front room in the southern part of the building. At first the hostess and the messenger were equally at a loss for words. At length the silence was broken by the hostess, who said:—
“Already have I felt that I have lived too long, but doubly do I feel it now that I am visited by such a messenger as you.” Here she paused, and seemed unable to contend with her emotion.
“When Naishi-no-Ske returned from you,” said the Miôbu, “she reported to the Emperor that when she saw you, face to face, her sympathy for you was irresistible. I, too, see now how true it is!” A moment’s hesitation, and she proceeded to deliver the Imperial message:—
“The Emperor commanded me to say that for some time he had wandered in his fancy, and imagined he was but in a dream; and that, though he was now more tranquil, he could not find that it was only a dream. Again, that there is no one who can really sympathize with him; and he hopes that you will come to the Palace, and talk with him. His Majesty said also that the absence of the Prince made him anxious, and that he is desirous that you should speedily make up your mind. In giving me this message, he did not speak with readiness. He seemed to fear to be considered unmanly, and strove to exercise reserve. I could not help experiencing sympathy with him, and hurried away here, almost fearing that, perhaps, I had not quite caught his full meaning.”
So saying, she presented to her a letter from the Emperor. The lady’s sight was dim and indistinct. Taking it, therefore, to the lamp, she said, “Perhaps the light will help me to decipher,” and then read as follows, much in unison with the oral message: “I thought that time only would assuage my grief; but time only brings before me more vividly my recollection of the lost one. Yet, it is inevitable. How is my boy? Of him, too, I am always thinking. Time once was when we both hoped to bring him up together. May he still be to you a memento of his mother!”
Such was the brief outline of the letter, and it contained the following:—
“The sound of the wind is dull and drear
Across Miyagi’s13 dewy lea,
And makes me mourn for the motherless deer
That sleeps beneath the Hagi tree.”
She put gently the letter aside, and said, “Life and the world are irksome to me; and you can see, then, how reluctantly I should present myself at the Palace. I cannot go myself, though it is painful to me to seem to neglect the honored command. As for the little Prince, I know not why he thought of it, but he seems quite willing to go. This is very natural. Please to inform his Majesty that this is our position. Very possibly, when one remembers the birth of the young Prince, it would not be well for him to spend too much of his time as he does now.”
Then she wrote quickly a short answer, and handed it to the Miôbu. At this time her grandson was sleeping soundly.
“I should like to see the boy awake, and to tell the Emperor all about him, but he will already be impatiently awaiting my return,” said the messenger. And she prepared to depart.
“It would be a relief to me to tell you how a mother laments over her departed child. Visit me, then, sometimes, if you can, as a friend, when you are not engaged or pressed for time. Formerly, when you came here, your visit was ever glad and welcome; now I see in you the messenger of woe. More and more my life seems aimless to me. From the time of my child’s birth, her father always looked forward to her being presented at Court, and when dying he repeatedly enjoined me to carry out that wish. You know that my daughter had no patron to watch over her, and I well knew how difficult would be her position among her fellow-maidens. Yet, I did not disobey her father’s request, and she went to Court. There the Emperor showed her a kindness beyond our hopes. For the sake of that kindness she uncomplainingly endured all the cruel taunts of envious companions. But their envy ever deepening, and her troubles ever increasing, at last she passed away, worn out, as it were, with care. When I think of the matter in that light, the kindest favors seem to me fraught with misfortune. Ah! that the blind affection of a mother should make me talk in this way!”
“The thoughts of his Majesty may be even as your own,” said the Miôbu. “Often when he alluded to his overpowering affection for her, he said that perhaps all this might have been because their love was destined not to last long. And that though he ever strove not to injure any subject, yet for Kiri-Tsubo, and for her alone, he had sometimes caused the ill-will of others; that when all this has been done, she was no more! All this he told me in deep gloom, and added that it made him ponder on their previous existence.”
The night was now far advanced, and again the Miôbu rose to take leave. The moon was sailing down westward and the cool breeze was waving the herbage to and fro, in which numerous mushi were plaintively singing.14 The messenger, being still somehow unready to start, hummed—
“Fain would one weep the whole night long,
As weeps the Sudu-Mushi’s song,
Who chants her melancholy lay,
Till night and darkness pass away.”
As she still lingered, the lady took up the refrain—
“To the heath where the Sudu-Mushi sings,
From beyond the clouds15 one comes from on high
And more dews on the grass around she flings,
And adds her own, to the night wind’s sigh.”
A Court dress and a set of beautiful ornamental hairpins, which had belonged to Kiri-Tsubo, were presented to the Miôbu by her hostess, who thought that these things, which her daughter had left to be available on such occasions, would be a more suitable gift, under present circumstances, than any other.
On the return of the Miôbu she found that the Emperor had not yet retired to rest. He was really awaiting her return, but was apparently engaged in admiring the Tsubo-Senzai—or stands of flowers—which were placed in front of the palaces, and in which the flowers were in full bloom. With him were four or five ladies, his intimate friends, with whom he was conversing. In these days his favorite topic of conversation was the “Long Regret.”16 Nothing pleased him more than to gaze upon the picture of that poem, which had been painted by Prince Teishi-In, or to talk about the native poems on the same subject, which had been composed, at the Royal command, by Ise, the poetess, and by Tsurayuki, the poet. And it was in this way that he was engaged on this particular evening.
To him the Miôbu now went immediately, and she faithfully reported to him all that she had seen, and she gave to him also the answer to his letter. That letter stated that the mother of Kiri-Tsubo felt honored by his gracious inquiries, and that she was so truly grateful that she scarcely knew how to express herself. She proceeded to say that his condescension made her feel at liberty to offer to him the following:—
“Since now no fostering love is found,
And the Hagi tree is dead and sere,
The motherless deer lies on the ground,
Helpless and weak, no shelter near.”
The Emperor strove in vain to repress his own emotion; and old memories, dating from the time when he first saw his favorite, rose up before him fast and thick. “How precious has been each moment to me, but yet what a long time has elapsed since then,” thought he, and he said to the Miôbu, “How often have I, too, desired to see the daughter of the Dainagon in such a position as her father would have desired to see her. ‘Tis in vain to speak of that now!”
A pause, and he continued, “The child, however, may survive, and fortune may have some boon in store for him; and his grandmother’s prayer should rather be for long life.”
The presents were then shown to him. “Ah,” thought he, “could they be the souvenirs sent by the once lost love,” as he murmured—
“Oh, could I find some wizard sprite,
To bear my words to her I love,
Beyond the shades of envious night,
To where she dwells in realms above!”
Now the picture of beautiful Yô-ki-hi, however skilful the painter may have been, is after all only a picture. It lacks life and animation. Her features may have been worthily compared to the lotus and to the willow of the Imperial gardens, but the style after all was Chinese, and to the Emperor his lost love was all in all, nor, in his eyes, was any other object comparable to her. Who doubts that they, too, had vowed to unite wings, and intertwine branches! But to what end? The murmur of winds, the music of insects, now only served to cause him melancholy.
In the meantime, in the Koki-Den was heard the sound of music. She who dwelt there, and who had not now for a long time been with the Emperor, was heedlessly protracting her strains until this late hour of the evening.
How painfully must these have sounded to the Emperor!
“Moonlight is gone, and darkness reigns
E’en in the realms ‘above the clouds,
‘Ah! how can light, or tranquil peace,
Shine o’er that lone and lowly home!”
Thus thought the Emperor, and he did not retire until “the lamps were trimmed to the end!” The sound of the night watch of the right guard17 was now heard. It was five o’clock in the morning. So, to avoid notice, he withdrew to his bedroom, but calm slumber hardly visited his eyes. This now became a common occurrence.
When he rose in the morning he would reflect on the time gone by when “they knew not even that the casement was bright.” But now, too, he would neglect “Morning Court.” His appetite failed him. The delicacies of the socalled “great table” had no temptation for him. Men pitied him much. “There must have been some divine mystery that predetermined the course of their love,” said they, “for in matters in which she is concerned he is powerless to reason, and wisdom deserts him. The welfare of the State ceases to interest him.” And now people actually began to quote instances that had occurred in a foreign Court.
Weeks and months had elapsed, and the son of Kiri-Tsubo was again at the Palace. In the spring of the following year the first Prince was proclaimed heir-apparent to the throne. Had the Emperor consulted his private feelings, he would have substituted the younger Prince for the elder one. But this was not possible, and, especially for this reason:—There was no influential party to support him, and, moreover, public opinion would also have been strongly opposed to such a measure, which, if effected by arbitrary power, would have become a source of danger. The Emperor, therefore, betrayed no such desire, and repressed all outward appearance of it. And now the public expressed its satisfaction at the self-restraint of the Emperor, and the mother of the first Prince felt at ease.
In this year, the mother of Kiri-Tsubo departed this life. She may not improbably have longed to follow her daughter at an earlier period; and the only regret to which she gave utterance, was that she was forced to leave her grandson, whom she had so tenderly loved.
From this time the young Prince took up his residence in the Imperial palace; and next year, at the age of seven, he began to learn to read and write under the personal superintendence of the Emperor. He now began to take him into the private apartments, among others, of the Koki-den, saying, “The mother is gone! now at least, let the child be received with better feeling.” And if even stony-hearted warriors, or bitter enemies, if any such there were, smiled when they saw the boy, the mother of the heir-apparent, too, could not entirely exclude him from her sympathies. This lady had two daughters, and they found in their half-brother a pleasant playmate. Everyone was pleased to greet him, and there was already a winning coquetry in his manners, which amused people, and made them like to play with him. We need not allude to his studies in detail, but on musical instruments, such as the flute and the koto,18 he also showed great proficiency.
About this time there arrived an embassy from Corea, and among them was an excellent physiognomist. When the Emperor heard of this, he wished to have the Prince examined by him. It was, however, contrary to the warnings of the Emperor Wuda, to call in foreigners to the Palace. The Prince was, therefore, disguised as the son of one Udaiben, his instructor, with whom he was sent to the Kôro-Kwan, where foreign embassies are entertained.
When the physiognomist saw him, he was amazed, and, turning his own head from side to side, seemed at first to be unable to comprehend the lines of his features, and then said, “His physiognomy argues that he might ascend to the highest position in the State, but, in that case, his reign will be disturbed, and many misfortunes will ensue. If, however, his position should only be that of a great personage in the country, his fortune may be different.”
This Udaiben was a clever scholar. He had with the Corean pleasant conversations, and they also interchanged with one another some Chinese poems, in one of which the Corean said what great pleasure it had given him to have seen before his departure, which was now imminent, a youth of such remarkable promise. The Coreans made some valuable presents to the Prince, who had also composed a few lines, and to them, too, many costly gifts were offered from the Imperial treasures.
In spite of all the precautions which were taken to keep all this rigidly secret, it did, somehow or other, become known to others, and among those to the Udaijin, who, not unnaturally, viewed it with suspicion, and began to entertain doubts of the Emperor’s intentions. The latter, however, acted with great prudence. It must be remembered that, as yet, he had not even created the boy a Royal Prince. He now sent for a native physiognomist, who approved of his delay in doing so, and whose observations to this effect, the Emperor did not receive unfavorably. He wisely thought to be a Royal Prince, without having any influential support on the mother’s side, would be of no real advantage to his son. Moreover, his own tenure of power seemed precarious, and he, therefore, thought it better for his own dynasty, as well as for the Prince, to keep him in a private station, and to constitute him an outside supporter of the Royal cause.
And now he took more and more pains with his education in different branches of learning; and the more the boy studied, the more talent did he evince—talent almost too great for one destined to remain in a private station. Nevertheless, as we have said, suspicions would have been aroused had Royal rank been conferred upon him, and the astrologists, whom also the Emperor consulted, having expressed their disapproval of such a measure, the Emperor finally made up his mind to create a new family. To this family he assigned the name of Gen, and he made the young Prince the founder of it.19
Some time had now elapsed since the death of the Emperor’s favorite, but he was still often haunted by her image. Ladies were introduced into his presence, in order, if possible, to divert his attention, but without success.
There was, however, living at this time a young Princess, the fourth child of a late Emperor. She had great promise of beauty, and was guarded with jealous care by her mother, the Empress-Dowager. The Naishi-no-Ske, who had been at the Court from the time of the said Emperor, was intimately acquainted with the Empress and familiar with the Princess, her daughter, from her very childhood. This person now recommended the Emperor to see the Princess, because her features closely resembled those of Kiri-Tsubo.
“I have now fulfilled,” she said, “the duties of my office under three reigns, and, as yet, I have seen but one person who resembles the departed. The daughter of the Empress-Dowager does resemble her, and she is singularly beautiful.”
“There may be some truth in this,” thought the Emperor, and he began to regard her with awakening interest.
This was related to the Empress-Dowager. She, however, gave no encouragement whatever to the idea, “How terrible!” she said. “Do we not remember the cruel harshness of the mother of the Heir-apparent, which hastened the fate of Kiri-Tsubo!”
While thus discountenancing any intimacy between her daughter and the Emperor, she too died, and the princess was left parentless. The Emperor acted with great kindness, and intimated his wish to regard her as his own daughter. In consequence of this her guardian, and her brother, Prince Hiôb-Kiô, considering that life at Court would be better for her and more attractive for her than the quiet of her own home, obtained for her an introduction there.
She was styled the Princess Fuji-Tsubo (of the Chamber of Wistaria), from the name of the chamber which was assigned to her.
There was, indeed, both in features and manners a strange resemblance between her and Kiri-Tsubo. The rivals of the latter constantly caused pain both to herself and to the Emperor; but the illustrious birth of the Princess prevented any one from ever daring to humiliate her, and she uniformly maintained the dignity of her position. And to her alas! the Emperor’s thoughts were now gradually drawn, though he could not yet be said to have forgotten Kiri-Tsubo.
The young Prince, whom we now style Genji (the Gen), was still with the Emperor, and passed his time pleasantly enough in visiting the various apartments where the inmates of the palace resided. He found the companionship of all of them sufficiently agreeable; but beside the many who were now of maturer years, there was one who was still in the bloom of her youthful beauty, and who more particularly caught his fancy, the Princess Wistaria. He had no recollection of his mother, but he had been told by Naishi-no-Ske that this lady was exceedingly like her; and for this reason he often yearned to see her and to be with her.
The Emperor showed equal affection to both of them, and he sometimes told her that he hoped she would not treat the boy with coldness or think him forward. He said that his affection for the one made him feel the same for the other too, and that the mutual resemblance of her own and of his mother’s face easily accounted for Genji’s partiality to her. And thus as a result of this generous feeling on the part of the Emperor, a warmer tinge was gradually imparted both to the boyish humor and to the awakening sentiment of the young Prince.
The mother of the Heir-apparent was not unnaturally averse to the Princess, and this revived her old antipathy to Genji also. The beauty of her son, the Heir-apparent, though remarkable, could not be compared to his, and so bright and radiant was his face that Genji was called by the public Hikal-Genji-no-Kimi (the shining Prince Gen).
When he attained the age of twelve the ceremony of Gembuk20 (or crowning) took place. This was also performed with all possible magnificence. Various fêtes, which were to take place in public, were arranged by special order by responsible officers of the Household. The Royal chair was placed in the Eastern wing of the Seiriô-Den, where the Emperor dwells, and in front of it were the seats of the hero of the ceremony and of the Sadaijin, who was to crown him and to regulate the ceremonial.
About ten o’clock in the forenoon Genji appeared on the scene. The boyish style of his hair and dress excellently became his features; and it almost seemed matter for regret that it should be altered. The Okura-Kiô-Kurahito, whose office it was to rearrange the hair of Genji, faltered as he did so. As to the Emperor, a sudden thought stole into his mind. “Ah! could his mother but have lived to have seen him now!” This thought, however, he at once suppressed. After he had been crowned the Prince withdrew to a dressing-room, where he attired himself in the full robes of manhood. Then descending to the Court-yard he performed a measured dance in grateful acknowledgment. This he did with so much grace and skill that all present were filled with admiration; and his beauty, which some feared might be lessened, seemed only more remarkable from the change. And the Emperor, who had before tried to resist them, now found old memories irresistible.
Sadaijin had by his wife, who was a Royal Princess, an only daughter. The Heir-apparent had taken some notice of her, but her father did not encourage him. He had, on the other hand, some idea of Genji, and had sounded the Emperor on the subject. He regarded the idea with favor, and especially on the ground that such a union would be of advantage to Genji, who had not yet any influential supporters.
Now all the Court and the distinguished visitors were assembled in the palace, where a great festival was held; Genji occupied a seat next to that of the Royal Princess. During the entertainment, Sadaijin whispered something several times into his ear, but he was too young and diffident to make any answer.
Sadaijin was now summoned before the daïs of the Emperor, and, according to custom, an Imperial gift, a white Ô-Uchiki (grand robe), and a suit of silk vestments were presented to him by a lady. Then proffering his own winecup, the Emperor addressed him thus:—
“In the first hair-knot21 of youth,
Let love that lasts for age be bound!”
This evidently implied an idea of matrimony. Sadaijin feigned surprise and responded:—
“Aye! if the purple22 of the cord,
I bound so anxiously, endure!”
He then descended into the Court-yard, and gave expression to his thanks in the same manner in which Genji had previously done. A horse from the Imperial stables and a falcon from the Kurand-Dokoro23 were on view in the yard, and were now presented to him. The princes and nobles were all gathered together in front of the grand staircase, and appropriate gifts were also presented to each one of them. Among the crowd baskets and trays of fruits and delicacies were distributed by the Emperor’s order, under the direction of Udaiben; and more rice-cakes and other things were given away now than at the Gembuk of the Heir-apparent.
In the evening the young Prince went to the mansion of the Sadaijin, where the espousal with the young daughter of the latter was celebrated with much splendor. The youthfulness of the beautiful boy was well pleasing to Sadaijin; but the bride, who was some years older than he was, and who considered the disparity in their age to be unsuitable, blushed when she thought of it.
Not only was this Sadaijin himself a distinguished personage in the State, but his wife was also the sister of the Emperor by the same mother, the late Empress; and her rank therefore was unequivocal. When to this we add the union of their daughter with Genji, it was easy to understand that the influence of Udaijin, the grandfather of the Heir-apparent, and who therefore seemed likely to attain great power, was not after all of very much moment.
Sadaijin had several children. One of them, who was the issue of his Royal wife, was the Kurand Shiôshiô.
Udaijin was not, for political reasons, on good terms with this family; but nevertheless he did not wish to estrange the youthful Kurand. On the contrary, he endeavored to establish friendly relations with him, as was indeed desirable, and he went so far as to introduce him to his fourth daughter, the younger sister of the Koki-Den.
Genji still resided in the palace, where his society was a source of much pleasure to the Emperor, and he did not take up his abode in a private house. Indeed, his bride, Lady Aoi (Lady Hollyhock), though her position insured her every attention from others, had few charms for him, and the Princess Wistaria much more frequently occupied his thoughts. “How pleasant her society, and how few like her!” he was always thinking; and a hidden bitterness blended with his constant reveries.
The years rolled on, and Genji being now older was no longer allowed to continue his visits to the private rooms of the Princess as before. But the pleasure of overhearing her sweet voice, as its strains flowed occasionally through the curtained casement, and blended with the music of the flute and koto, made him still glad to reside in the Palace. Under these circumstances he seldom visited the home of his bride, sometimes only for a day or two after an absence of five or six at Court.
His father-in-law, however, did not attach much importance to this, on account of his youth; and whenever they did receive a visit from him, pleasant companions were invited to meet him, and various games likely to suit his taste were provided for his entertainment.
In the Palace, Shigeisa, his late mother’s quarters, was allotted to him, and those who had waited on her waited on him. The private house, where his grandmother had resided, was beautifully repaired for him by the Shuri Takmi—the Imperial Repairing Committee—in obedience to the wishes of the Emperor. In addition to the original loveliness of the landscape and the noble forest ranges, the basin of the lake was now enlarged, and similar improvements were effected throughout with the greatest pains. “Oh, how delightful would it not be to be in a place like that which such an one as one might choose!” thought Genji within himself.
We may here also note that the name Hikal Genji is said to have been originated by the Corean who examined his physiognomy.
THE BROOM-LIKE TREE
Hikal24 Genji—the name is singularly well known, and is the subject of innumerable remarks and censures. Indeed, he had many intrigues in his lifetime, and most of them are vividly preserved in our memories. He had always striven to keep all these intrigues in the utmost secrecy, and had to appear constantly virtuous. This caution was observed to such an extent that he scarcely accomplished anything really romantic, a fact which Katano-noShiôshiô25 would have ridiculed.
Even with such jealous watchfulness, secrets easily transpire from one to another; so loquacious is man! Moreover, he had unfortunately from nature a disposition of not appreciating anything within easy reach, but of directing his thought in undesirable quarters, hence sundry improprieties in his career.
Now, it was the season of continuous rain (namely, the month of May), and the Court was keeping a strict Monoimi.26 Genji, who had now been made a Chiûjiô,27 and who was still continuing his residence in the Imperial Palace, was also confined to his apartments for a considerable length of time. His father-in-law naturally felt for him, and his sons were sent to bear him company. Among these, Kurand Shiôshiô, who was now elevated to the post of Tô-no-Chiûjiô, proved to be the most intimate and interesting companion. He was married to the fourth daughter of the Udaijin, but being a man of lively disposition, he, too, like Genji, did not often resort to the mansion of the bride. When Genji went to the Sadaijin’s he was always his favorite associate; they were together in their studies and in their sports, and accompanied each other everywhere. And so all stiffness and formality were dispensed with, and they did not scruple to reveal their secrets to each other.
It was on an evening in the above-mentioned season. Rain was falling drearily. The inhabitants of the Palace had almost all retired, and the apartment of Genji was more than usually still. He was engaged in reading near a lamp, but at length mechanically put his book aside, and began to take out some letters and writings from a bureau which stood on one side of the room. Tô-no-Chiûjiô happened to be present, and Genji soon gathered from his countenance that he was anxious to look over them.
“Yes,” said Genji; “some you may see, but there may be others!”
“Those others,” retorted Tô-no-Chiûjiô, “are precisely those which I wish to see; ordinary ones, even your humble servant may have received. I only long to look upon those which may have been written by fair hands, when the tender writer had something to complain of, or when in twilight hour she was outpouring all her yearning!”
Being so pressed, Genji allowed his brother-in-law to see them all. It is, however, highly probable that any very sacred letters would not have been loosely deposited in an ordinary bureau; and these would therefore seem, after all, to have been of second-rate importance.
“What a variety,” said Tô-no-Chiûjiô, as he turned them over, and he asked several questions guessingly about this or that. About some he guessed correctly, about others he was puzzled and suspicious.28 Genji smiled and spoke little, only making some obscure remark, and continuing as he took the letters: “but you, surely, must have collected many. Will not you show me some? And then my bureau also may open more easily.”
“You do not suppose that I have any worth reading, do you?” replied Tô-no-Chiûjiô. “I have only just now discovered,” continued he, “how difficult it is to meet with a fair creature, of whom one can say, ‘This is, indeed, the one; here is, at last, perfection.’ There are, indeed, many who fascinate; many who are ready with their pens, and who, when occasion may require, are quick at repartee. But how often such girls as these are conceited about their own accomplishments, and endeavor unduly to disparage those of others! There are again some who are special pets of their parents, and most jealously watched over at home. Often, no doubt, they are pretty, often graceful; and frequently they will apply themselves with effect to music and to poetry, in which they may even attain to special excellence. But then, their friends will keep their drawbacks in the dark, and eulogize their merits to the utmost. If we were to give full credence to this exaggerated praise, we could not but fail in every single instance to be more or less disappointed.”
So saying Tô-no-Chiûjiô paused, and appeared as if he were ashamed of having such an experience, when Genji smilingly remarked, “Can any one of them, however, exist without at least one good point?”
“Nay, were there any so little favored as that, no one would ever be misled at all!” replied Tô-no-Chiûjiô, and he continued, “In my opinion, the most and the least favored are in the same proportion. I mean, they are both not many. Their birth, also, divides them into three classes. Those, however, who are especially well born, are often too jealously guarded, and are, for the most part, kept secluded from the outside gaze, which frequently tends to make their deportment shy and timid. It is those of the middle class, who are much more frequently seen by us, who afford us most chance of studying their character. As for the lower class, it would be almost useless to trouble ourselves with them.”
Thus Tô-no-Chiûjiô appeared to be thoroughly at home in his description of the merits of the fair sex, which made Genji amused, and he said: “But how do you define the classes you have referred to, and classify them into three? Those who are of high birth sink sometimes in the social scale until the distinction of their rank is forgotten in the abjectness of their present position. Others, again, of low origin, rise to a high position, and, with self-important faces and in ostentatious residences, regard themselves as inferior to none. Into what class will you allot these?”
Just at this moment the Sama-no-Kami29 and Tô Shikib-no-Jiô30 joined the party. They came to pay their respects to Genji, and both of them were gay and light-hearted talkers. So Tô-no-Chiûjiô now made over the discussion to them, and it was carried to rather questionable lengths.
“However exalted a lady’s position may be,” said Sama-no-Kami, “if her origin is an unenviable one, the estimation of the public for her would be widely different from that which it shows to those who are naturally entitled to it. If, again, adverse fortune assails one whose birth is high, so that she becomes friendless and helpless, degradation here will meet our eyes, though her heart may still remain as noble as ever. Examples of both of these are very common. After much reflection, I can only come to the conclusion that both of them should be included in the middle class. In this class, too, must be included many daughters of the Duriô,31 who occupy themselves with local administration. These ladies are often very attractive, and are not seldom introduced at Court and enjoy high favor.”
“And successes depend pretty much upon the state of one’s fortune, I fancy,” interrupted Genji, with a placid smile.
“That is a remark very unlikely to fall from the lips of a champion of romance,” chimed in Tô-no-Chiûjiô.
“There may be some,” resumed Sama-no-Kami, “who are of high birth, and to whom public respect is duly paid, yet whose domestic education has been much neglected. Of a lady such as this we may simply remark, ‘Why, and how, is it that she is so brought up?’ and she would only cause discredit to her class. There are, of course, some who combine in themselves every perfection befitting their position. These best of the best are, however, not within every one’s reach. But, listen! Within an old dilapidated gateway, almost unknown to the world, and overgrown with wild vegetation, perchance we might find, shut up, a maiden charming beyond imagination. Her father might be an aged man, corpulent in person, and stern in mien, and her brothers of repulsive countenance; but there, in an uninviting room, she lives, full of delicacy and sentiment, and fairly skilled in the arts of poetry or music, which she may have acquired by her own exertions alone, unaided. If there were such a case, surely she deserves our attention, save that of those of us who themselves are highly exalted in position.”
So saying, Sama-no-Kami winked slyly at Shikib-no-Jiô. The latter was silent: perhaps he fancied that Sama-no-Kami was speaking in the above strain, with a hidden reference to his (Shikib’s) sisters, who, he imagined, answered the description.
Meantime, Genji may have thought, “If it is so difficult to choose one even from the best class, how can—Ah!” and he began to close his eyes and doze. His dress was of soft white silk, partly covered by the naoshi,32 worn carelessly, with its cord left loose and untied. His appearance and bearing formed quite a picture.
Meanwhile, the conversation went on about different persons and characters, and Sama-no-Kami proceeded: “It is unquestionable that though at first glance many women appear to be without defects, yet when we come to the actual selection of any one of them, we should seriously hesitate in our choice.
“Let me illustrate my meaning by reference to the numerous public men who may be aspiring to fulfil the duties of several important posts. You will at once recognize the great difficulty there would be in fixing upon the individual statesman under whose guardianship the empire could best repose. And supposing that, if at last, by good fortune, the most able man were designated, even then we must bear in mind that it is not in the power of one or two individuals, however gifted they may be, to carry on the whole administration of the kingdom alone. Public business can only be tranquilly conducted when the superior receives the assistance of subordinates, and when the subordinate yields a becoming respect and loyalty to his superior, and affairs are thus conducted in a spirit of mutual conciliation. So, too, it is in the narrow range of the domestic circle. To make a good mistress of that circle, one must possess, if our ideal is to be fully realized, many important qualifications. Were we to be constantly indulging in the severity of criticism, always objecting to this or that, a perfect character would be almost unattainable. Men should therefore bear with patience any trifling dissatisfaction which they may feel, and strive constantly to keep alive, to augment, and to cherish, the warmth of their early love. Only such a man as this can be called faithful, and the partner of such a man alone can enjoy the real happiness of affection. How unsatisfactory to us, however, seems the actual world if we look round upon it. Still more difficult must it be to satisfy such as you who seek your companions but from among the best!
“How varied are the characters and the dispositions of women! Some who are youthful and favored by Nature strive almost selfishly to keep themselves with the utmost reserve. If they write, they write harmlessly and innocently; yet, at the same time, they are choice in their expressions, which have delicate touches of bewitching sentiment. This might possibly make us entertain a suddenly conceived fancy for them; yet they would give us but slight encouragement. They may allow us just to hear their voices, but when we approach them they will speak with subdued breath, and almost inaudibly. Beware, however, lest among these you chance to encounter some astute artiste, who, under a surface that is smooth, conceals a current that is deep. This sort of lady, it is true, generally appears quite modest; but often proves, when we come closer, to be of a very different temperament from what we anticipated. Here is one drawback to be guarded against.
“Among characters differing from the above, some are too full of sentimental sweetness—whenever occasion offers them romance they become spoilt. Such would be decidedly better if they had less sentiment, and more sense.
“Others, again, are singularly earnest—too earnest, indeed—in the performance of their domestic duty; and such, with their hair pushed back,33 devote themselves like household drudges to household affairs. Man, whose duties generally call him from home all the day, naturally hears and sees the social movements both of public and private life, and notices different things, both good and bad. Of such things he would not like to talk freely with strangers, but only with someone closely allied to him. Indeed, a man may have many things in his mind which cause him to smile or to grieve. Occasionally something of a political nature may irritate him beyond endurance. These matters he would like to talk over with his fair companion, that she might soothe him, and sympathize with him. But a woman as above described is often unable to understand him, or does not endeavor to do so; and this only makes him more miserable. At another time he may brood over his hopes and aspirations; but he has no hope of solace. She is not only incapable of sharing these with him, but might carelessly remark, ‘What ails you?’ How severely would this try the temper of a man!
“If, then, we clearly see all these, the only suggestion I can make is that the best thing to do is to choose one who is gentle and modest, and strive to guide and educate her according to the best ideal we may think of. This is the best plan; and why should we not do so? Our efforts would not be surely all in vain. But no! A girl whom we thus educate, and who proves to be competent to bear us company, often disappoints us when she is left alone. She may then show her incapability, and her occasional actions may be done in such an unbecoming manner that both good and bad are equally displeasing. Are not all these against us men?—Remember, however, that there are some who may not be very agreeable at ordinary times, yet who flash occasionally upon us with a potent and almost irresistible charm.”
Thus Sama-no-Kami, though eloquent, not having come to one point or another, remained thoughtful for some minutes, and again resumed:—
“After all, as I have once observed, I can only make this suggestion: That we should not too much consider either birth or beauty, but select one who is gentle and tranquil, and consider her to be best suited for our last haven of rest. If, in addition, she is of fair position, and is blessed with sweetness of temper, we should be delighted with her, and not trouble ourselves to search or notice any trifling deficiency. And the more so as, if her conscience is clear and pure, calmness and serenity of features can naturally be looked for.
“There are women who are too diffident, and too reserved, and carry their generosity to such an extent as to pretend not to be aware even of such annoyances as afford them just grounds of complaint. A time arrives when their sorrows and anxieties become greater than they can bear. Even then, however, they cannot resort to plain speaking, and complain. But, instead thereof, they will fly away to some remote retreat among the mountain hamlets, or to some secluded spot by the seaside, leaving behind them some painful letter or despairing verses, and making themselves mere sad memories of the past. Often when a boy I heard such stories read by ladies, and the sad pathos of them even caused my tears to flow; but now I can only declare such deeds to be acts of mere folly. For what does it all amount to? Simply to this: That the woman, in spite of the pain which it causes her, and discarding a heart which may be still lingering towards her, takes to flight, regardless of the feelings of others—of the anguish, and of the anxiety, which those who are dearest to her suffer with her. Nay, this act of folly may even be committed simply to test the sincerity of her lover’s affection for her. What pitiable subtlety!
“Worse than this, the woman thus led astray, perhaps by ill advice, may even be beguiled into more serious errors. In the depth of her despairing melancholy she will become a nun. Her conscience, when she takes the fatal vow, may be pure and unsullied, and nothing may seem able to call her back again to the world which she forsook. But, as time rolls on, some household servant or aged nurse brings her tidings of the lover who has been unable to cast her out of his heart, and whose tears drop silently when he hears aught about her. Then, when she hears of his affections still living, and his heart still yearning, and thinks of the uselessness of the sacrifice she has made voluntarily, she touches the hair34 on her forehead, and she becomes regretful. She may, indeed, do her best to persevere in her resolve, but if one single tear bedews her cheek, she is no longer strong in the sanctity of her vow. Weakness of this kind would be in the eyes of Buddha more sinful than those offences which are committed by those who never leave the lay circle at all, and she would eventually wander about in the ‘wrong passage.’35
“But there are also women, who are too self-confident and obtrusive. These, if they discover some slight inconsistency in men, fiercely betray their indignation and behave with arrogance. A man may show a little inconsistency occasionally, but yet his affection may remain; then matters will in time be come right again, and they will pass their lives happily together. If, therefore, the woman cannot show a tolerable amount of patience, this will but add to her unhappiness. She should, above all things, strive not to give way to excitement; and when she experiences any unpleasantness, she should speak of it frankly but with moderation. And if there should be anything worse than unpleasantness she should even then complain of it in such a way as not to irritate the men. If she guides her conduct on principles such as these, even her very words, her very demeanor, may in all probability increase his sympathy and consideration for her. One’s self-denial and the restraint which one imposes upon one’s self, often depend on the way in which another behaves to us. The woman who is too indifferent and too forgiving is also inconsiderate. Remember ‘the unmoored boat floats about.’ Is it not so?”
Tô-no-Chiûjiô quickly nodded assent, as he said, “Quite true! A woman who has no strength of emotion, no passion of sorrow or of joy, can never be holders of us. Nay even jealousy, if not carried to the extent of undue suspicion, is not undesirable. If we ourselves are not in fault, and leave the matter alone, such jealousy may easily be kept within due bounds. But stop”—added he suddenly—”Some women have to bear, and do bear, every grief that they may encounter with unmurmuring and suffering patience.”
So said Tô-no-Chiûjiô, who implied by this allusion that his sister was a woman so circumstanced. But Genji was still dozing, and no remark came from his lips.
Sama-no-Kami had been recently made a doctor of literature, and (like a bird) was inflating his feathers, so Tô-no-Chiûjiô, willing to draw him out as much as possible, gave him every encouragement to proceed with his discourse.
Again, therefore, he took up the conversation, and said, “Call to your mind affairs in general, and judge of them. Is it not always true that reality and sincerity are to be preferred to merely artificial excellence? Artisans, for instance, make different sorts of articles, as their talents serve them. Some of them are keen and expert, and cleverly manufacture objects of temporary fashion, which have no fixed or traditional style, and which are only intended to strike the momentary fancy. These, however, are not the true artisans. The real excellence of the true artisan is tested by those who make, without defects or sensational peculiarities, articles to decorate, we will say, some particular building, in conformity with correct taste and high æsthetic principles. Look for another instance at the eminence which has been attained by several of the artists of the Imperial College of Painting. Take the case of draughtsmen in black ink. Pictures, indeed, such as those of Mount Horai,36 which has never been beheld by mortal eye, or of some raging monstrous fish in a rough sea, or of a wild animal of some far-off country, or of the imaginary face of the demon, are often drawn with such striking vividness that people are startled at the sight of them. These pictures, however, are neither real nor true. On the other hand, ordinary scenery, of familiar mountains, of calm streams of water, and of dwellings just before our eyes, may be sketched with an irregularity so charming, and with such excellent skill, as almost to rival Nature. In pictures such as these, the perspective of gentle mountain slopes, and sequestered nooks surrounded by leafy trees, are drawn with such admirable fidelity to Nature that they carry the spectator in imagination to something beyond them. These are the pictures in which is mostly evinced the spirit and effectiveness of the superior hand of a master; and in these an inferior artist would only show dullness and inefficiency.
“Similar observations are applicable to handwriting.37 Some people boldly dash away with great freedom and endless flourishes, and appear at the first glance to be elegant and skillful. But that which is written with scrupulous neatness, in accordance with the true rules of penmanship, constitutes a very different handwriting from the above. If perchance the upstrokes and downstrokes do not, at first sight, appear to be fully formed, yet when we take it up and critically compare it with writing in which dashes and flourishes predominate, we shall at once see how much more of real and sterling merit it possesses.
“Such then is the nature of the case in painting, in penmanship, and in the arts generally. And how much more then are those women undeserving of our admiration, who though they are rich in outward and in fashionable display, attempting to dazzle our eyes, are yet lacking in the solid foundations of reality, fidelity, and truth! Do not, my friends, consider me going too far, but let me proceed to illustrate these observations by my own experience.”
So saying, Sama-no-Kami advanced his seat, and Genji awoke. Tô-no-Chiûjiô was quite interested in the conversation, and was keeping his eye upon the speaker, leaning his cheek upon his hand. This long discourse of Sama-no-Kami reminds us of the preacher’s sermon, and amuses us. And it seems that, on occasions like these, one may easily be carried away by circumstances, until he is willing to communicate even his own private affairs.
“It was at a time,” continued Sama-no-Kami, “when I was in a still more humble position, that there was a girl to whom I had taken a fancy. She was like one of those whom I described in the process of my discourse; not a regular beauty. Although for this reason my youthful vanity did not allow me to pledge myself to her forever, I still considered her a pleasant companion. Nevertheless, from occasional fits of restlessness, I roamed often here and there. This she always resented fiercely, and with so much indignation that I sighed for a sweeter temper and more moderation. Indeed, there were times when her suspicion and spitefulness were more than I could endure. But my irritation was generally calmed down, and I even felt sorry myself, when I reflected how strong and devoted her affection for me was, in spite of the mean state of my circumstances. As to her general character, her only endeavor seemed to be to do everything for my sake, even what was beyond her powers, while she struggled to perfect herself in anything in which she might be deficient, and took the most faithful care of all my interests, striving constantly and earnestly to please me. She appeared at first even too zealous, but in time became more moderate. She seemed as if she felt uneasy lest her plain face should cause me displeasure, and she even denied herself the sight of other people, in order to avoid unbecoming comment.
“As time went by, the more I became accustomed to observe how really simple-hearted she was, the more I sympathized with her. The one thing that I could not bear, however, was that jealousy of hers. Sincere and devoted as she is, thought I, is there no means of ridding her of this jealous weakness? Could I but do that, it would not matter even if I were to alarm her a little. And I also thought that since she was devoted to me, if I showed any symptoms of getting tired of her, she would, in all probability, be warned by it. Therefore, I purposely behaved to her with great coolness and heartlessness. This she resented as usual. I then said to her, that though our affection had been of old date, I should not see her again; ‘if you wish to sever from me you may suspect me as much as you like. If you prefer to enjoy long happiness with me in future, be modest and patient in trifling matters. If you can only be so, how can I do otherwise than love you? My position also may in time be improved, and then we may enjoy greater happiness!’
“In saying this, I thought I had managed matters very ingeniously. Without meaning it, however, I had in fact spoken a little too harshly. She replied, with a bitter smile, that ‘to put up with a life of undistinguished condition, even though with faint hopes of future promotion, was not a thing about which we ought to trouble ourselves, but that it was indeed a hard task to pass long wearisome days in waiting until a man’s mind should be restored to a sense of propriety. And that for this reason we had, perhaps, better separate at once.’
“This she said with such sarcastic bitterness that I was irritated and stung to the quick, and overwhelmed her with a fresh torrent of reproaches. At this juncture she gave way to an uncontrollable fit of passion, and snatching up my hand, she thrust my little finger into her mouth and bit off the end of it. Then, notwithstanding my pain, I became quite cool and collected, and calmly said, ‘insulted and maimed as I have now been, it is most fitting that I should absent myself for the future from polite society. Office and title would ill become me now. Your spite has now left me without spirit to face the world in which I should be ridiculed, and has left me no alternative but to withdraw my maimed person from the public gaze!’ After I had alarmed her by speaking in this exalted strain, I added, ‘to-day we meet for the last time,’ and bending these fingers (pointing to them as she spoke) I made the farewell remark:—
When on my fingers, I must say
I count the hours I spent with thee,
Is this, and this alone, I pray
The only pang you’ve caused to me?
You are now quits with me,’ At the instant I said so, she burst into tears and without premeditation, poured forth the following:—
‘From me, who long bore grievous harms,
From that cold hand and wandering heart,
You now withdraw your sheltering arms,
And coolly tell me, we must part.’
“To speak the truth, I had no real intention of separating from her altogether. For some time, however, I sent her no communication, and was passing rather an unsettled life. Well! I was once returning from the palace late one evening in November, after an experimental practice of music for a special festival in the Temple of Kamo. Sleet was falling heavily. The wind blew cold, and my road was dark and muddy. There was no house near where I could make myself at home. To return and spend a lonely night in the palace was not to be thought of. At this moment a reflection flashed across my mind. ‘How cold must she feel whom I have treated so coldly,’ thought I, and suddenly became very anxious to know what she felt and what she was about. This made me turn my steps towards her dwelling, and brushing away the snow that had gathered on my shoulders I trudged on: at one moment shyly biting my nails, at another thinking that on such a night at least all her enmity towards me might be all melted away. I approached the house. The curtains were not drawn, and I saw the dim light of a lamp reflected on the windows. It was even perceivable that a soft quilt was being warmed and thrown over the large couch. The scene was such as to give you the notion that she was really anticipating that I might come at least on such an evening. This gave me encouragement, but alas! she whom I hoped to see was not at home. I was told she had gone to her parents that very evening. Previous to that time, she had sent me no sad verses, no conciliatory letter, and this had already given birth to unpleasant feelings on my part. And at this moment, when I was told that she had gone away, all these things seemed to have been done almost purposely, and I involuntarily began to suspect that her very jealousy had only been assumed by her on purpose to cause me to become tired of her.
“As I reflected what our future might be after such an estrangement as this, I was truly depressed. I did not, however, give up all hope, thinking that she would not be so determined as to abandon me forever. I had even carefully selected some stuff for a dress for her. Some time, however, passed away without anything particularly occurring. She neither accepted nor refused the offers of reconciliation which I made to her. She did not, it is true, hide herself away like any of those of whom I have spoken before. But, nevertheless, she did not evince the slightest symptom of regret for her previous conduct.
“At last, after a considerable interval, she intimated to me that her final resolve was not to forgive me any more if I intended in future to behave as I had done before; but that, on the other hand, she should be glad to see me again if I would thoroughly change my habits, and treat her with the kindness which was her due. From this I became more convinced that she still entertained longings for me. Hence, with the hope of warning her a little more, I made no expressions of any intention to make a change in my habits, and I tried to find out which of us had the most patience.
“While matters were in this state, she, to my great surprise, suddenly died, perhaps broken-hearted.
“I must now frankly confess that she certainly was a woman in whom a man might place his confidence. Often, too, I had talked with her on music and on poetry, as well as on the more important business of life, and I found her to be by no means wanting in intellect and capability. She had too the clever hands of Tatyta-himè38 and Tanabata.39
“When I recall these pleasant memories my heart still clings to her endearingly.”
“Clever in weaving, she may have been like Tanabata, that is but a small matter,” interposed Tô-no-Chiûjiô, “we should have preferred to have seen your love as enduring as Tanabata’s.40 Nothing is so beautiful as the brilliant dyes spread over the face of Nature, yet the red tints of autumn are often not dyed to a color so deep as we desire, because of the early drying of the dew, so we say, ‹such is the uncertain fate of this world,›” and so saying, he made a sign to Sama-no-Kami to go on with his story. He went on accordingly.
“About that time I knew another lady. She was on the whole a superior kind of person. A fair poetess, a good musician, and a fluent speaker, with good enunciation, and graceful in her movements. All these admirable qualities I noticed myself, and heard them spoken of by others. As my acquaintance with her commenced at the time when I was not on the best of terms with my former companion, I was glad to enjoy her society. The more I associated with her the more fascinating she became.
“Meanwhile my first friend died, at which I felt truly sorry, still I could not help it, and I therefore paid frequent visits to this one. In the course of my attentions to her, however, I discovered many unpleasant traits. She was not very modest, and did not appear to be one whom a man could trust. On this account, I became somewhat disappointed, and visited her less often. While matters were on this footing I accidentally found out that she had another lover to whom she gave a share of her heart.
“It happened that one inviting moonlight evening in October, I was driving out from home on my way to a certain Dainagon. On the road I met with a young noble who was going in the same direction. We therefore drove together, and as we were journeying on, he told me that ‘someone might be waiting for him, and he was anxious to see her’; well! by and by we arrived at the house of my lady-love. The bright reflection of the waters of an ornamental lake was seen through crevices in the walls; and the pale moon, as she shed her full radiance over the shimmering waves, seemed to be charmed with the beauty of the scene. It would have been heartless to pass by with indifference, and we both descended from the carriage, without knowing each other’s intention.
“This youth seems to have been ‘the other one’; he was rather shy. He sat down on a mat of reeds that was spread beside a corridor near the gateway; and, gazing up at the sky, meditated for some moments in silence. The chrysanthemums in the gardens were in full bloom, whose sweet perfume soothed us with its gentle influence; and round about us the scarlet leaves of the maple were falling, as ever and anon they were shaken by the breeze. The scene was altogether romantic.
“Presently, he took a flute out of his bosom and played. He then whispered, ‘Its shade is refreshing.’
“In a few minutes the fair one struck up responsively on a sweet-toned wagon (a species of koto).
“The melody was soft and exquisite, in charming strains of modern music, and admirably adapted to the lovely evening. No wonder that he was fascinated; he advanced towards the casement from which the sounds proceeded, and glancing at the leaves scattered on the ground, whispered in invidious tones, ‘Sure no strange footsteps would ever dare to press these leaves.’ He then culled a chrysanthemum, humming, as he did so:—
‘Even this spot, so fair to view
With moon, and Koto’s gentle strain,
Could make no other lover true,
As me, thy fond, thy only swain.’41
“‘Wretched!’ he exclaimed, alluding to his poetry; and then added, ‘One tune more! Stay not your hand when one is near, who so ardently longs to hear you.’ Thus, he began to flatter the lady, who, having heard his whispers, replied thus, in a tender, hesitating voice:—
‘Sorry I am my voice too low
To match thy flute’s far sweeter sound;
Which mingles with the winds that blow
The Autumn leaves upon the ground.’
“Ah! she little thought I was a silent and vexed spectator of all this flirtation. She then took up a soh (another kind of koto with thirteen strings) and tuned it to a Banjiki key (a winter tune), and played on it still more excellently. Though an admirer of music, I cannot say that these bewitching melodies gave me any pleasure under the peculiar circumstances I stood in.
“Now, romantic interludes, such as this, might be pleasant enough in the case of maidens who are kept strictly in Court service, and whom we have very little opportunity of meeting with, but even there we should hesitate to make such a one our life companion. How much less could one ever entertain such an idea in a case like my own? Making, therefore, that evening’s experience a ground of dissatisfaction I never saw her more.
“Now, gentlemen, let us take into consideration these two instances which have occurred to myself and see how equally unsatisfactory they are. The one too jealous, the other too forward. Thus, early in life, I found out how little reliance was to be placed on such characters. And now I think so still more; and this opinion applies more especially to the latter of the two. Dewdrops on the ‘Hagi flower’ of beauty so delicate that they disappear as soon as we touch them—hailstones on the bamboo grass that melt in our hand as soon as we prick them—appear at a distance extremely tempting and attractive. Take my humble advice, however, and go not near them. If you do not appreciate this advice now, the lapse of another seven years will render you well able to understand that such adventures will only bring a tarnished fame.”
Thus Sama-no-Kami admonished them, and Tô-no-Chiûjiô nodded as usual. Genji slightly smiled; perhaps he thought it was all very true, and he said, “Your twofold experience was indeed disastrous and irritating!”
“Now,” said Tô-no-Chiûjiô, “I will tell you a story concerning myself. It was the evil fortune of Sama-no-Kami to meet with too much jealousy in one of the ladies to whom he might otherwise have given his heart; while he could feel no confidence in another owing to flirtations. It was my hard lot to encounter an instance of excessive diffidence. I once knew a girl whose person was altogether pleasing, and although I, too, had no intention, as Sama-no-Kami said, of forming an everlasting connection with her, I nevertheless took a great fancy to her. As our acquaintance was prolonged, our mutual affection grew warmer. My thoughts were always of her, and she placed entire confidence in me. Now, when complete confidence is placed by one person in another, does not Nature teach us to expect resentment when that confidence is abused? No such resentment, however, seemed under any circumstances to trouble her. When I very seldom visited her, she showed no excitement or indignation, but behaved and looked as if we had never been separated from each other. This patient silence was more trying to me than reproaches. She was parentless and friendless. For this reason responsibility weighed more heavily on me. Abusing her gentle nature, however, I frequently neglected her. About this time, moreover, a certain person who lived near her, discovered our friendship, and frightened her by sending, through some channel, mischief-making messages to her. This I did not become aware of till afterwards, and, it seems, she was quite cast down and helpless. She had a little one for whose sake, it appears, she was additionally sad. One day I unexpectedly received a bunch of Nadeshiko42 flowers. They were from her.”
At this point Tô-no-Chiûjiô became gloomy.
“And what,” inquired Genji, “were the words of her message?”
“Sir! nothing but the verse,
Forgot may be the lowly bed
From which these darling flowerets spring,
Still let a kindly dew be shed,
Upon their early nurturing.
“No sooner had I read this than I went to her at once. She was gentle and sedate as usual, but evidently absent and preoccupied. Her eyes rested on the dew lying on the grass in the garden, and her ears were intent upon the melancholy singing of the autumn insects. It was as if we were in a real romance. I said to her:—
When with confused gaze we view
The mingled flowers on gay parterre,
Amid their blooms of radiant hue
The Tokonatz,43 my love, is there.
And avoiding all allusion to the Nadeshiko flowers, I repeatedly endeavored to comfort the mother’s heart. She murmured in reply:—
‘Ah! Flower already bent with dew,
The winds of autumn cold and chill
Will wither all thy beauteous hue,
And soon, alas, unpitying kill.’
Thus she spoke sadly. But she reproached me no further. The tears came involuntarily into her eyes. She was, however, apparently sorry for this, and tried to conceal them. On the whole she behaved as if she meant to show that she was quite accustomed to such sorrows. I certainly deeply sympathized with her, yet still further abusing her patience. I did not visit her again for some time; but I was punished. When I did so she had flown, leaving no traces behind her. If she is still living she must needs be passing a miserable existence.
“Now, if she had been free from this excessive diffidence, this apathy of calmness, if she had complained when it was necessary, with becoming warmth and spirit, she need never have been a wanderer, and I would never have abused her confidence. But, as I said before, a woman who has no strength of emotion, no passionate bursts of sorrow or of joy, can never retain a dominion over us.
“I loved this woman without understanding her nature; and I am constantly, but in vain, trying to find her and her little darling, who was also very lovely; and often I think with grief and pain that, though I may succeed in forgetting her, she may possibly not be able to forget me, and, surely, there must be many an evening when she is disquieted by sad memories of the past.
“Let us now sum up our experiences, and reflect on the lessons which they teach us. One who bites your finger will easily estrange your affection by her violence. Falseness and forwardness will be the reproach of some other, in spite of her melodious music and the sweetness of her songs. A third, too self-contained and too gentle, is open to the charge of a cold silence, which oppresses one, and cannot be understood.
“Whom, then, are we to choose? All this variety, and this perplexing difficulty of choice, seems to be the common lot of humanity. Where, again, I say, are we to go to find the one who will realize our desires? Shall we fix our aspirations on the beautiful goddess, the heavenly Kichijiô?44 Ah! this would be but superstitious and impracticable.”
So mournfully finished Tô-no-Chiûjiô; and all his companions, who had been attentively listening, burst simultaneously into laughter at his last allusion.
“And now, Shikib, it is your turn. Tell us your story,” exclaimed Tô-no-Chiûjiô, turning to him.
“What worth hearing can your humble servant tell you?”
“Go on; be quick; don’t be shy; let us hear!”
Shikib-no-Jiô, after a little meditation, thus began:—
“When I was a student at the University, I met there with a woman of very unusual intelligence. She was in every respect one with whom, as Sama-no-Kami has said, you could discuss affairs, both public and private. Her dashing genius and eloquence were such that all ordinary scholars would find themselves unable to cope with her, and would be at once reduced to silence. Now, my story is as follows:—
“I was taking lessons from a certain professor, who had several daughters, and she was one of them. It happened by some chance or other I fell much into her society. The professor, who noticed this, once took up a wine-cup in his hand, and said to me, ‘Hear what I sing about two choices.’45
“This was a plain offer put before me, and thenceforward I endeavored, for the sake of his tuition, to make myself as agreeable as possible to his daughter. I tell you frankly, however, that I had no particular affection for her, though she seemed already to regard me as her victim. She seized every opportunity of pointing out to me the way in which we should have to steer, both in public and private life. When she wrote to me she never employed the effeminate style of the Kana,46 but wrote, oh! so magnificently! The great interest which she took in me induced me to pay frequent visits to her; and, by making her my tutor, I learned how to compose ordinary Chinese poems. However, though I do not forget all these benefits, and though it is no doubt true that our wife or daughter should not lack intelligence, yet, for the life of me, I cannot bring myself to approve of a woman like this. And still less likely is it that such could be of any use to the wives of high personages like yourselves. Give me a lovable nature in lieu of sharpness! I quite agree with Sama-no-Kami on this point.”
“What an interesting woman she must have been,” exclaimed Tô-no-Chiûjiô, with the intention of making Shikib go on with his story.
This he fully understood, and, making a grimace, he thus proceeded:—
“Once when I went to her after a long absence—a way we all have, you know—she did not receive me openly as usual, but spoke to me from behind a screen. I surmised that this arose from chagrin at my negligence, and I intended to avail myself of this opportunity to break with her. But the sagacious woman was a woman of the world, and not like those who easily lose their temper or keep silence about their grief. She was quite as open and frank as Sama-no-Kami would approve of. She told me, in a low clear voice, ‘I am suffering from heartburn, and I cannot, therefore, see you face to face; yet, if you have anything important to say to me, I will listen to you.’ This was, no doubt, a plain truth; but what answer could I give to such a terribly frank avowal? ‘Thank you,’ said I, simply; and I was just on the point of leaving, when, relenting, perhaps, a little, she said aloud, ‘Come again soon, and I shall be all right.’ To pass this unnoticed would have been impolite; yet I did not like to remain there any longer, especially under such circumstances: so, looking askance, I said—
Here I am, then why excuse me, is my visit all in vain:
And my consolation is, you tell me, come again?
No sooner had I said this than she dashed out as follows with a brilliancy of repartee which became a woman of her genius:—
‘If we fond lovers were, and meeting every night,
I should not be ashamed, were it even in the light!’
“Nonsense, nonsense!” cried Genji and the others, who either were, or pretended to be, quite shocked. “Where can there be such a woman as that? She must have been a devil! Fearful! fearful!” And, snapping their fingers with disapproving glances, they said, “Do tell us something better—do give us a better story than that.”
Shikib-no-Jiô, however, quietly remarked: “I have nothing else to relate,” and remained silent.
Hereupon a conversation took place to the following effect:—
“It is a characteristic of thoughtless people—and that, without distinction of sex—that they try to show off their small accomplishments. This is, in the highest degree, unpleasant. As for ladies, it may not, indeed, be necessary to be thorough master of the three great histories, and the five classical texts; yet they ought not to be destitute of some knowledge of both public and private affairs, and this knowledge can be imperceptibly acquired without any regular study of them, which, though superficial, will yet be amply sufficient to enable them to talk pleasantly about them with their friends. But how contemptible they would seem if this made them vain of it! The Manna47 style and pedantic phrases were not meant for them; and, if they use them, the public will only say, ‘would that they would remember that they are women and not men,› and they would only incur the reproach of being pedants, as many ladies, especially among the aristocracy, do. Again, while they should not be altogether unversed in poetical compositions, they should never be slaves to them, or allow themselves to be betrayed into using strange quotations, the only consequence of which would be that they would appear to be bold when they ought to be reserved, and abstracted when very likely they have practical duties to attend to. How utterly inappropriate, for instance, it would be on the May festival48 if, while the attention of all present was concentrated on the solemnity of the occasion, the thoughts of these ladies were wandering on their own poetical imaginations about ‹sweet flags;› or if, again, on the Ninth-day festival,49 when all the nobles present were exercising their inventive faculties on the subject of Chinese poems, they were to volunteer to pour forth their grand ideas on the dew-laid flowers of the chrysanthemum, thus endeavoring to rival their opponents of the stronger sex. There is a time for everything; and all people, but more especially women, should be constantly careful to watch circumstances, and not to air their accomplishments at a time when nobody cares for them. They should practise a sparing economy in displaying their learning and eloquence, and should even, if circumstances require, plead ignorance on subjects with which they are familiar.”
As to Genji, even these last observations seemed only to encourage his reverie still to run upon a certain one, whom he considered to be the happy medium between the too much and the too little; and, no definite conclusion having been arrived at through the conversation, the evening passed away.
The long-continued rainy weather had now cleared up bright and fine, and the Prince Genji proceeded to the mansion of his father-in-law, where Lady Aoi, his bride, still resided with him. She was in her private suite of apartments, and he soon joined her there. She was dignified and stately, both in manners and demeanor, and everything about her bore traces of scrupulous neatness.
“Such may be one of those described by Sama-no-Kami, in whom we may place confidence,” he thought, as he approached her. At the same time, her lofty queenliness caused him to feel a momentary embarrassment, which he at once tried to hide by chatting with the attendant maid. The air was close and heavy, and he was somewhat oppressed by it. His father-in-law happened to pass by the apartment. He stopped and uttered a few words from behind the curtain which overhung the door. “In this hot weather,” said Genji, in a low tone, “what makes him come here?” and did not give the slightest encouragement to induce his father-in-law to enter the room; so he passed along. All present smiled significantly, and tittered. “How indiscreet!” exclaimed Genji, glancing at them reprovingly, and throwing himself back on a kiô-sok (arm-stool), where he remained calm and silent.
It was, by no means, becoming behavior on the part of the Prince.
The day was drawing to an end when it was announced that the mansion was closed in the certain celestial direction of the Naka-gami (central God).50 His own mansion in Nijiô (the one mentioned as being repaired in a previous chapter) was also in the same line of direction.
“Where shall I go then?” said Genji, and without troubling himself any further, went off into a doze. All present expressed in different words their surprise at his unusual apathy. Thereupon someone reported that the residence of Ki-no-Kami, who was in waiting on the Prince, on the banks of the middle river (the River Kiôgok) had lately been irrigated by bringing the stream into its gardens, making them cool and refreshing.
“That’s very good, especially on such a close evening,” exclaimed Genji, rousing himself, and he at once intimated to Ki-no-Kami his desire of visiting his house. To which the latter answered simply, “Yes.” He did not, however, really like the Prince’s visit, and was reluctantly telling his fellow attendants that, owing to a certain circumstance which had taken place at Iyo-no-Kami’s51 residence, his wife (Ki-no-Kami›s stepmother) had taken up her abode with him that very evening, and that the rooms were all in confusion.
Genji heard all this distinctly, but he would not change his mind, and said, “That is all the better! I don’t care to stay in a place where no fair statue dwells; it is slow work.”
Being thus pressed, no alternative remained for the Ki-no-Kami, and a messenger was dispatched to order the preparation of apartments for the Prince. Not long after this messenger had gone, Genji started on his way to the house of Ki-no-Kami, whose mild objections against this quick proceeding were not listened to.
He left the mansion as quietly as possible, even without taking formal leave of its master, and his escort consisted of a few favorite attendants.
The “eastern front room” in the “dwelling quarters” was wide open, and a temporary arrangement was made for the reception of the Prince, who arrived there very quickly. The scene of the garden struck him before anything else. The surface of the lake sparkled with its glittering waters. The hedges surrounded it in rustic beauty, and luxuriant shrubs grew in pleasing order. Over all the fair scene the breeze of evening swept softly, summer insects sang distinctly here and there, and the fireflies hovered about in mazy dances.
The escort took up its quarters in a position which overlooked the stream of water which ran beneath the corridor, and here began to take cups of saké. The host hastened to order also some refreshment to be prepared for Genji.
The latter was meanwhile gazing abstractedly about him, thinking such a place might belong to the class which Sama-no-Kami fairly placed in the middle category. He knew that the lady who was under the same roof was a young beauty of whom he had heard something before, and he was looking forward to a chance of seeing her.
He then noticed the rustling of a silken dress escaping from a small boudoir to the right, and some youthful voices, not without charm, were also heard, mingled with occasional sounds of suppressed laughter. The casement of the boudoir had been, until a short time before, open, but was pulled down by order of Ki-no-Kami, who, perhaps, doubted the propriety of its being as it was, and now only allowed a struggling light to issue through the paper of the “sliding screen!” He proceeded to one side of his room that he might see what could be seen, but there was no chance. He still stood there that he might be able, at least, to catch some part of the conversation. It seems that this boudoir adjoined the general family room of the female inmates, and his ears were greeted by some faint talking. He inclined his head attentively, and heard them whispering probably about himself.
Image 8.5: Tale of Genji Toyokuni utagawa Print | A man with an umbrella and a woman with a broom stand against a snowy background.
Author: Utagawa Kunisada
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: Public Domain
“Is it not a pity that the fate of so fine a prince should be already fixed?” said one voice.
“Yet he loses no opportunity of availing himself of the favors of fortune,” added another.
These remarks may have been made with no serious intention, but as to Genji, he, even in hearing them, could not help thinking of a certain fair image of which he so fondly dreamt. At the same time feeling a thrill on reflecting that, if this kind of secret were to be discovered and discussed in such a manner, what could be done.
He then heard an observation in delicate allusion to his verse which he had presented to the Princess Momo-zono (peach-gardens) with the flowers of Asagao (morning-glory, or convolvulus).
“What cautious beauties they are to talk in that way! But I wonder if their forms when seen will answer to the pictures of my fancy,” thought Genji, as he retired to his original position, for he could hear nothing more interesting.
Ki-no-Kami presently entered the room, brought in some fruits, trimmed the lamp, and the visitor and host now began to enjoy a pleasant leisure.
“What has become of the ladies? Without some of them no society is cheerful,” observed Genji.
“Who can there be to meet such wishes?” said the Ki-no-Kami to himself, but took no notice of Genji’s remark.
There were several boys in the house who had followed Ki-no-Kami into the room. They were the sons and brothers of Ki-no-Kami. Among them there was one about twelve or thirteen, who was nicer-looking than the others. Genji, of course, did not know who they all were, and accordingly made inquiries. When he came to the last-mentioned boy, Ki-no-Kami replied:—
“He is the youngest son of the late Lord Yemon, now an orphan, and, from his sister’s connections, he is now staying here. He is shrewd and unlike ordinary boys. His desire is to take Court service, but he has as yet no patron.”
“What a pity! Is, then, the sister you mentioned your stepmother?”
“Yes, sir, it is so.”
“What a good mother you have got. I once overheard the Emperor, to whom, I believe, a private application had been some time made in her behalf, referring to her, said, ‘What has become of her?’ Is she here now?” said Genji; and lowering his voice, added, “How changeable are the fortunes of the world!”
“It is her present state, sir. But, as you may perceive, it differs from her original expectation. Changeable indeed are the fortunes of this world, especially so the fortunes of women!”
“Does Iyo respect her? Perhaps he idolizes her, as his master.”
“That is a question, perhaps, as a private master. I am the foremost to disapprove of this infatuation on his part.”
“Are you? Nevertheless he trusts her to such a one as you. He is a kind father! But where are they all?”
“All in their private apartments.”
Genji by this time apparently desired to be alone, and Ki-no-Kami now retired with the boys. All the escort were already slumbering comfortably, each on his own cool rush mat, under the pleasant persuasion of saké.
Genji was now alone. He tried to doze, but could not. It was late in the evening, and all was still around. His sharpened senses made him aware that the room next but one to his own was occupied, which led him to imagine that the lady of whom he had been speaking might be there. He rose softly, and once more proceeded to the other side of the room to listen to what he might overhear. He heard a tender voice, probably that of Kokimi, the boy spoken of before, who appeared to have just entered the room, saying:—
“Are you here?”
To which a female voice replied, “Yes, dear, but has the visitor yet retired?” And the same voice added—
“Ah! so near, and yet so far!”
“Yes, I should think so, he is so nice-looking, as they say.”
“Were it daytime I would see him, too,” said the lady in a drowsy voice.
“I shall go to bed, too! But what a bad light,” said the boy, and Genji conjectured that he had been trimming the lamp.
The lady presently clapped her hands for a servant, and said, “Where is Chiûjiô, I feel lonely, I wish to see her.”
“Madam, she is in the bath now, she will be here soon,” replied the servant.
“Suppose I pay my visit to her, too? What harm! no harm, perhaps,” said Genji to himself. He withdrew the fastening of the intervening door, on the other side there was none, and it opened. The entrance to the room where the lady was sitting was only screened by a curtain, with a glimmering light inside. By the reflection of this light he saw travelling trunks and bags all scattered about; through these he groped his way and approached the curtain. He saw, leaning on a cushion, the small and pretty figure of a lady, who did not seem to notice his approach, probably thinking it was Chiûjiô, for whom she had sent. Genji felt nervous, but struggling against the feeling, startled the lady by saying:—
“Chiûjiô was called for, I thought it might mean myself, and I come to offer you my devoted services.” This was really an unexpected surprise, and the lady was at a loss.
“It is, of course, natural,” he said, “you should be astonished at my boldness, but pray excuse me. It is solely from my earnest desire to show at such an opportunity the great respect for you which I have felt for a very long time.”
He was clever enough to know how to speak, and what to say, under all circumstances, and made the above speech in such an extremely humble and insinuating manner that the demon himself could not have taken offence, so she forbore to show any sudden resentment. She had, however, grave doubts as to the propriety of his conduct, and felt somewhat uncomfortable, saying shyly, “Perhaps you have made a mistake!”
“No, certainly not,” he replied. “What mistake can I have made? On the other hand, I have no wish to offend you. The evening, however, is very irksome, and I should feel obliged if you would permit me to converse with you.” Then gently taking her hand he pressed her to return with him to his lonely apartment.
She was still young and weak, and did not know what was most proper to do under these circumstances, so half yielding, half reluctantly was induced to be led there by him.
At this juncture Chiûjiô, for whom she had sent previously, entered the room. Upon which Genji exclaimed “Ha!”
Chiûjiô stared with astonishment at him, whom she at once recognized as the Prince, by the rich perfume which he carried about him.
“What does this mean?” thought Chiûjiô. She could still do nothing. Had he been an ordinary personage she would have immediately seized him. Even in that case, however, there was enough room to doubt whether it would not have been better to avoid any violent steps lest it might have given rise to a disagreeable family scandal, hence Chiûjiô was completely perplexed and mechanically followed them.
Genji was too bold to fear bystanders, a common fault with high personages, and coolly closed the door upon her saying, “She will soon return to you.”
The lady being placed in such an awkward position, and not knowing what Chiûjiô might imagine, became, as it were, bewildered. Genji was, however, as artful and insinuating as might be expected in consoling her, though we do not know where he had learnt his eloquence. This was really trying for her, and she said, “Your condescension is beyond my merit. I cannot disregard it. It is, however, absolutely necessary to know ‘Who is who.’”
“But such ignorance,” he a little abashed, rejoined “as not to know ‘Who is who,’ is the very proof of my inexperience. Were I supposed to understand too well, I should indeed be sorry. You have very likely heard how little I mix in the world. This perhaps is the very reason why you distrust me. The excess of the blindness of my mind seems strange even to myself.”
He spoke thus insinuatingly. She, on her part, feared that if his fascinating address should assume a warmer tone it would be still more trying for her and more difficult to withstand, so she determined, however hard she might appear, not to give any encouragement to his feelings, and showed therefore a coolness of manner. To her meek character there was thus added a firm resolution, and it seemed like a young bamboo reed with its strength and tenderness combined, difficult to bend! Still she felt the struggle very keenly, and tears moistened her eyes.
Genji could not help feeling touched. Not knowing exactly how to soothe her, he exclaimed, “What makes you treat me so coolly? It is true we are not old acquaintances, but it does not follow that this should prevent us from becoming good friends. Please don’t discompose yourself like one who does not know the world at all: it pierces my heart.”
This speech touched her, and her firmness began to waver.
“Were my position what it once was,” said she, “and I received such attention, I might, however unworthy, have been moved by your affection, but as my position in life is now changed, its unsatisfactory condition often makes me dream of a happiness I cannot hope to enjoy.” Hereupon she remained silent for some moments, and looked as if she meant to say that she could no longer help thinking of the line:—
Don’t tell anyone you’ve seen my home.
But these few moments of silence agitated the pure waters of her virtuous mind, and the sudden recollection of her aged husband, whom she did not generally think much about, occurred tenderly to her memory. She shuddered at the idea of his seeing her in such a dilemma as this, even in a dream, and without a word fled back to her apartment, and Genji was once more alone.
Now the chanticleer began to proclaim the coming day, and the attendants rose from their couches, some exclaiming “How soundly we have slept,” others, “Let us get the carriage ready.”
Ki-no-Kami also came out saying, “Why so early, no need of such hurry for the Prince.”
Genji also arose, and putting on his naoshi, went out on a balcony on the southern side of the house, where he leaned upon the wooden balustrade and meditated as he looked round him.
It appears that people were peeping out of the casement on the western side, probably being anxious to catch a glimpse of the Prince, whose figure was indistinctly to be seen by them from the top of a short screen standing within the trellis. Among these spectators there was one who perhaps might have felt a thrill run through her frame as she beheld him. It was the very moment when the sky was being tinted by the glowing streaks of morn, and the moon’s pale light was still lingering in the far distance. The aspect of the passionless heavens becomes radiant or gloomy in response to the heart of him who looks upon it. And to Genji, whose thoughts were secretly occupied with the events of the evening, the scene could only have given rise to sorrowful emotions.
Reflecting how he might on some future occasion convey a message to the lady, and looking back several times, he presently quitted the house and returned to the mansion of his father-in-law.
During some days succeeding the above events, he was staying at the mansion with his bride. His thoughts, however, were now constantly turning to the lady on the bank of the middle river. He therefore summoned Ki-noKami before him, and thus addressed him:—
“Cannot you let me have the boy, the son of the late Chiûnagon52 whom I saw the other day? He is a nice lad, and I wish to have him near at hand. I will also introduce him to the Emperor.”
“I receive your commands. I will talk with his sister, and see if she consents to it,” replied Ki-no-Kami with a bow.
These last words alluding to the object which occupied his thoughts caused Genji to start, but he said with apparent calmness—
“Has the lady presented you yet with a brother or a sister?”
“No, sir, not yet; she has been married now these two years, but it seems she is always thinking she is not settled in the way her parents desired, and is not quite contented with her position.”
“What a pity! I heard, however, she was a very good lady. Is it so?”
“Yes, I quite believe so; but hitherto we have lived separately, and were not very cordial, which, as all the world knows, is usual in such relationship.”
After the lapse of five or six days the boy Kokimi was brought to him. He was not tall or handsome but very intelligent, and in manners perfectly well-bred. Genji treated him with the greatest kindness, at which, in his boyish mind, he was highly delighted. Genji now asked him many questions about his sister, to which he gave such answers as he could, but often with shyness and diffidence. Hence Genji was unable to take him into his confidence, but by skillfully coaxing and pleasing him, he ventured to hand him a letter to be taken to his sister. The boy, though he possibly guessed at its meaning, did not trouble himself much, but taking it, duly delivered it to his sister. She became confused and thoughtful as she took it, and fearing what the boy might think, opened the letter and held it before her face as she read, in order to conceal the expression of her countenance.
It was a long one, and among other things contained the following lines:—
I had a dream, a dream so sweet,
Ah! would that I could dream again;
Alas, no sleep these eyes will greet,
And so I strive to dream in vain!
It was beautifully written, and as her eyes fell upon the passionate words, a mist gathered over them, and a momentary thought of her own life and position once more flashed over her mind, and without a word of comment to the boy, she retired to rest.
A few days afterwards Kokimi was again invited to join the Prince. Thereupon he asked his sister to give him an answer to the Prince’s letter.
“Tell the Prince,” she said, “there is no one here who reads such letters.”
“But,” said the boy, “he does not expect such an answer as this! How can I tell him so?”
At first, she half-resolved to explain everything to Kokimi, and to make him thoroughly understand why she ought not to receive such letters, but the effort was too painful, so she simply said, “It is all the better for you not to talk in that way. If you think it so serious why should you go to him at all?”
“Yet, how can I disobey his commands to go back?” exclaimed the boy, and so he returned to Genji without any written answer to him.
“I was weary of waiting for you. Perhaps you, too, had forgotten me,” said Genji, when he saw the boy, who was, however, silent and blushed. “And what answer have you brought me?” continued Genji, and then the boy replied in the exact words which his sister had used.
“What?” cried Genji: and continued, “Perhaps you may not know, so I will tell you. I knew your sister before she knew Iyo. But she likes to treat me so because she thinks she has got a very good friend in Iyo; but do you be like a brother to me. The days of Iyo will be probably fewer than mine.”
He now returned to the Palace taking Komini with him, and, going to his dressing-room, attired him nicely in the Court style; in a word, he treated him as a parent would do.
By the boy’s assistance several more letters were conveyed to his sister. Her resolution, however, remained unshaken.
“If one’s heart were once to deviate from the path,” she reflected, “the only end we could expect would be a damaged reputation and misery for life: the good and the bad result from one’s self!”
Thus thinking, she resolved to return no answer. She might, indeed, have admired the person of Genji, and probably did so, yet, whenever such feelings came into her mind, the next thought that suggested itself was, “What is the use of such idle admiration?”
Meanwhile, Genji was often thinking of paying a visit to the house where she was staying, but he did not consider it becoming to do so, without some reasonable pretext, more especially as he would have been sorry, and for her sake more than his own, to draw a suspicion upon her.
It happened, however, after a prolonged residence at the Court, that another occasion of closing the Palace in the certain celestial line of direction arrived. Catching at this opportunity he left the Palace, and suddenly turning out of his road, went straight to Ki-no-Kami’s residence, with the excuse that he had just discovered the above fact on his way. Ki-no-Kami surprised at this unexpected visit, had only to bow before him, and acknowledge the honor of his presence. The boy, Kokimi, was already there before him, having been secretly informed of his intention beforehand, and he attended on him as usual in his apartment on his arrival.
The lady, who had been told by her brother that the Prince earnestly desired to see her, knew well how dangerous it was to approach an inviting flower growing on the edge of a precipice. She was not, of course, insensible to his coming in such a manner, with an excuse for the sake of seeing her, but she did not wish to increase her dreamlike inquietude by seeing him. And again, if he ventured to visit her apartment, as he did before, it might be a serious compromise for her.
For these reasons she retired while her brother was with Genji, to a private chamber of Chiûjiô, her companion, in the rear of the main building, under the pretense that her own room was too near that of the Prince, besides she was indisposed and required “Tataki,”53 which she desired to have done in a retired part of the house.
Genji sent his attendants very early to their own quarters, and then, through Kokimi, requested an interview with the lady. Kokimi at first was unable to find her, till after searching everywhere, he, at last, came to the apartment of Chiûjiô, and with great earnestness endeavored to persuade her to see Genji, in an anxious and half trembling voice, while she replied in a tone slightly angry, “What makes you so busy? Why do you trouble yourself? Boys carrying such messages are highly blamable.”
After thus daunting him, she added, more mildly, “Tell the Prince I am somewhat indisposed, and also that some friends are with me, and I cannot well leave them now.” And she again cautioned the boy not to be too officious, and sent him away from her at once.
Yet, at the bottom of her heart, different feelings might have been struggling from those which her words seemed to express, and some such thoughts as these shaped themselves to her mind: “Were I still a maiden in the home of my beloved parents, and occasionally received his visits there, how happy might I not be? How trying to act as if no romantic sentiment belonged to my heart!”
Genji, who was anxiously waiting to know how the boy would succeed in persuading his sister, was soon told that all his efforts were in vain. Upon hearing this he remained for some moments silent, and then relieved his feelings with a long-drawn sigh, and hummed:—
“The Hahaki-gi54 distant tree
Spreads broom-like o’er the silent waste;
Approach, how changed its shape we see,
In vain we try its shade to taste.”
The lady was unable to sleep, and her thoughts also took the following poetic shape:—
Too like the Hahaki-gi tree,
Lonely and humble, I must dwell,
Nor dare to give a thought to thee,
But only sigh a long farewell.
All the other inmates of the house were now in a sound slumber, but sleep came not to Genji’s eyes. He did, indeed, admire her immovable and chaste nature, but this only drew his heart more towards her. He was agitated. At one moment he cried, “Well, then!” at another, “However!” “Still!” At last, turning to the boy, he passionately exclaimed, “Lead me to her at once!”
Kokimi calmly replied, “It is impossible, too many eyes are around us!”
Genji with a sigh then threw himself back on the cushion, saying to Kokimi, “You, at least, will be my friend, and shall share my apartment!”
Which means, “The Romance of Genji.” (All footnotes are from the Project Gutenberg edition of Kenchio’s translation, unless otherwise noted).↩
The beautiful tree, called Kiri, has been named Paulownia Imperialis, by botanists.↩
Official titles held by Court ladies.↩
The name of a Court office.↩
criticism or censure (RLK)↩
A celebrated and beautiful favorite of an Emperor of the Thang dynasty in China, whose administration was disturbed by a rebellion, said to have been caused by the neglect of his duties for her sake.↩
A Niogo who resided in a part of the Imperial palace called “Koki-den.”↩
The Hakamagi is the investiture of boys with trousers, when they pass from childhood to boyhood. In ordinary cases, this is done when about five years old, but in the Royal Family, it usually takes place earlier.↩
A carriage drawn by hands. Its use in the Court-yard of the Palace was only allowed to persons of distinction.↩
This is the first of the tanka or short poems that courtiers either speak or write to another. (RLK)↩
Cremation was very common in these days.↩
A Court lady, whose name was Yugei, holding an office called “Miôbu.”↩
Miyagi is the name of a field which is famous for the Hagi or Lespedeza, a small and pretty shrub, which blooms in the Autumn. In poetry it is associated with deer, and a male and female deer are often compared to a lover and his love, and their young to their children.↩
In Japan there is a great number of “mushi” or insects, which sing in herbage grass, especially in the evenings of Autumn. They are constantly alluded to in poetry.↩
In Japanese poetry, persons connected with the Court, are spoken of as “the people above the clouds.”↩
A famous Chinese poem, by Hak-rak-ten. The heroine of the poem was Yô-ki-hi, to whom we have made reference before. The story is, that after death she became a fairy, and the Emperor sent a magician to find her. The works of the poet Peh-lo-tien, as it is pronounced by modern Chinese, were the only poems in vogue at that time. Hence, perhaps, the reason of its being frequently quoted.↩
There were two divisions of the Imperial guard, right and left.↩
The general name for a species of musical instrument resembling the zither, but longer.↩
In these days Imperial Princes were often created founders of new families, and with some given name, the Gen being one most frequently used. These Princes had no longer a claim to the throne.↩
The ceremony of placing a crown or coronet upon the head of a boy. This was an ancient custom observed by the upper and middle classes both in Japan and China, to mark the transition from boyhood to youth.↩
Before the crown was placed upon the head at the Gembuk, the hair was gathered up in a conical form from all sides of the head, and then fastened securely in that form with a knot of silken cords of which the color was always purple.↩
The color of purple typifies, and is emblematical of, love.↩
A body of men who resembled “Gentlemen-at-arms,” and a part of whose duty it was to attend to the falcons.↩
A hero of an older fiction, who is represented as the perfect ideal of a gallant.↩
A fast observed when some remarkable or supernatural event took place, or on the anniversary of days of domestic misfortune.↩
A general of the Imperial Guards.↩
Love letters generally are not signed or are signed with a fancy name.↩
Left Master of the Horse.↩
Secretary to the Master of Ceremonies.↩
Deputy-governors of provinces. In those days these functionaries were greatly looked down upon by the Court nobles, and this became one of the causes of the feudal system.↩
The naoshi is an outer attire. It formed part of a loose and unceremonious Court dress.↩
This alludes to a common habit of women, who push back their hair before commencing any task.↩
Some kinds of nuns did not shave their heads, and this remark seems to allude to the common practice of women who often involuntarily smooth their hair before they see people, which practice comes, no doubt, from the idea that the beauty of women often depends on the tidiness of their hair.↩
This means that her soul, which was sinful, would not go at once to its final resting-place, but wander about in unknown paths.↩
A mountain spoken of in Chinese literature. It was said to be in the Eastern Ocean, and people of extraordinary long lives, called Sennin, were supposed to dwell there.↩
In China and Japan handwriting is considered no less an art than painting.↩
An ideal woman patroness of the art of dyeing.↩
The weaver, or star Vega. In the Chinese legend she is personified as a woman always engaged in weaving.↩
In the same legend, it is said that this weaver, who dwells on one side of the Milky Way in the heavens, meets her lover—another star called Hikoboshi, or the bull-driver—once every year, on the evening of the seventh day of the seventh month. He dwelt on the other side of the Milky Way, and their meeting took place on a bridge, made by birds (jays), by the intertwining of their wings. It was this which gave rise to the popular festival, which takes place on this day, both in China and Japan.↩
Little darlings—a kind of pink.↩
The Tokonatz (everlasting summer) is another name for the pink, and it is poetically applied to the lady whom we love.↩
A female divinity in Indian mythology.↩
From the Chinese poet Hak-rak-ten, who was mentioned before. He says in one of his poems: “Once upon a time a certain host invited to his abode a clever match-maker. When the guests were assembled he poured forth wine into a beautiful jar, and said to all present, ‘drink not for a moment, but hear what I say about the two choices, daughters of the rich get married soon, but snub their husbands, daughters of the poor get married with difficulty but dearly love their mothers-in-law.’”↩
A soft style of Japanese writing commonly used by ladies.↩
A stiff and formal style of Japanese writing.↩
The fifth of May is one of the five important national festivals. A solemn celebration of this fête used to be performed at Court. It is sometimes called the festival of the “Sweet Flags,”—calami aromatici—because it was held at the season when those beautiful water-plants were in the height of perfection.↩
Another of the five above-mentioned. It was held on the ninth of September, and it was customary on the occasion for rhymes to be given out to those present, wherewith to compose Chinese poems. It was sometimes called the “Chrysanthemum Festival,” for the same reason that the celebration of the fifth of May was termed the “Sweet Flag Festival.”↩
This is an astrological superstition. It is said that when this God is in any part of the compass, at the time being, it is most unlucky to proceed towards it, and to remain in the same line of its direction.↩
The deputy governor of the province Iyo; he is supposed to be in the province at this time, leaving his young wife and family behind.↩
The father of Kokimi seems to have been holding the office Yemon-no-Kami as well as Chiûnagon.↩
Tataki, or Amma, a sort of shampooing, a very common medical treatment in Japan.↩
Hahaki-gi, the broom-like tree, is said to have been a certain tree growing in the plain of Sonohara, so called from its shape, which, at a distance, looked like a spreading broom, but when one comes near, its appearance was totally changed.↩