tale of Genji 源氏物語

Chapter 9


With the new reign Genji’s career languished, and since he must be the more discreet about his romantic adventures as he rose in rank, he had less to amuse him. Everywhere there were complaints about his aloofness.

As if to punish him, there was one lady who continued to cause him pain with her own aloofness. Fujitsubo saw more of the old emperor, now abdicated, than ever. She was always at his side, almost as if she were a common housewife. Annoyed at this state of affairs, Kokiden did not follow the old emperor when he left the main palace. Fujitsubo was happy and secure. The concerts in the old emperor’s palace attracted the attention of the whole court, and altogether life was happier for the two of them than while he had reigned. Only one thing was lacking: he greatly missed the crown prince, Fujitsubo’s son, and worried that he had no strong backers. Genji, he said, must be the boy’s adviser and guardian. Genji was both pleased and embarrassed.

And there was the matter of the lady at Rokujō . With the change of reigns, her daughter, who was also the daughter of the late crown prince, had been appointed high priestess of the Ise Shrine. No longer trusting Genji’s affections, the Rokujō lady had been thinking that, making the girl’s youth her excuse, she too would go to Ise.

The old emperor heard of her plans. “The crown prince was so very fond of her,” he said to Genji, in open displeasure. “It is sad that you should have made light of her, as if she were any ordinary woman. I think of the high priestess as one of my own children, and you should be good to her mother, for my sake and for the sake of the dead prince. It does you no good to abandon yourself to these affairs quite as the impulse takes you.”

It was perfectly true, thought Genji. He waited in silence.

“You should treat any woman with tact and courtesy, and be sure that you cause her no embarrassment. You should never have a woman angry with you.”

What would his father think if he were to learn of Genji’s worst indiscretion? The thought made Genji shudder. He bowed and withdrew.

The matter his father had thus reproved him for did no good for either of them, the woman or Genji himself. It was a scandal, and very sad for her. She continued to be very much on his mind, and yet he had no thought of making her his wife. She had grown cool toward him, worried about the difference in their ages. He made it seem that it was because of her wishes that he stayed away. Now that the old emperor knew of the affair the whole court knew of it. In spite of everything, the lady went on grieving that he had not loved her better.

There was another lady, his cousin Princess Asagao. Determined that she would not share the plight of the Rokujō lady, she refused even the briefest answer to his notes. Still, and he thought her most civil for it, she was careful to avoid giving open offense.

At Sanjō, his wife and her family were even unhappier about his infidelities, but, perhaps because he did not lie to them, they for the most part kept their displeasure to themselves. His wife was with child and in considerable distress mentally and physically. For Genji it was a strange and moving time. Everyone was delighted and at the same time filled with apprehension, and all manner of retreats and abstinences were prescribed for the lady. Genji had little time to himself. While he had no particular wish to avoid the Rokujō lady and the others, he rarely visited them.

At about this time the high priestess of Kamo resigned. She was replaced by the old emperor’s third daughter, whose mother was Kokiden. The new priestess was a favorite of both her brother, the new emperor, and her mother, and it seemed a great pity that she should be shut off from court life; but no other princess was qualified for the position. The installation ceremonies, in the austere Shinto tradition, were of great dignity and solemnity. Many novel details were added to the Kamo festival in the Fourth Month, so that it was certain to be the finest of the season. Though the number of high courtiers attending the princess at the lustration was limited by precedent, great care was taken to choose handsome men of good repute. Similar care was given to their uniforms and to the uniform trappings of their horses. Genji was among the attendants, by special command of the new emperor. Courtiers and ladies had readied their carriages far in advance, and Ichijo was a frightening crush, without space for another vehicle. The stands along the way had been appointed most elaborately. The sleeves that showed beneath the curtains fulfilled in their brightness and variety all the festive promise.

Genji’s wife seldom went forth on sightseeing expeditions and her pregnancy was another reason for staying at home.

But her young women protested. “Really, my lady, it won’t be much fun sneaking off by ourselves. Why, even complete strangers - why, all the country folk have come in to see our lord! They’ve brought their wives and families from the farthest provinces. It will be too much if you make us stay away.”

Her mother, Princess Omiya, agreed. “You seem to be feeling well enough, my dear, and they will be very disappointed if you don’t take them.”

And so carriages were hastily and unostentatiously decked out, and the sun was already high when they set forth. The waysides were by now too crowded to admit the elegant Sanjō procession. Coming upon several fine carriages not attended by grooms and footmen, the Sanjō men commenced clearing a space. Two palm-frond carriages remained, not new ones, obviously belonging to someone who did not wish to attract attention. The curtains and the sleeves and aprons to be glimpsed beneath them, some in the gay colors little girls wear, were in very good taste.

The men in attendance sought to defend their places against the Sanjō invaders. “We aren’t the sort of people you push around.”

There had been too much drink in both parties, and the drunken ones were not responsive to the efforts of their more mature and collected seniors to restrain them.

The palm-frond carriages were from the Rokujō house of the high priestess of Ise. The Rokujō lady had come quietly to see the procession, hoping that it might make her briefly forget her unhappiness. The men from Sanjō had recognized her, but preferred to make it seem otherwise.

“They can’t tell us who to push and not to push,“ said the more intemperate ones to their fellows. “They have General Genji to make them feel important.”

Among the newcomers were some of Genji’s men. They recognized and felt a little sorry for the Rokujō lady, but, not wishing to become involved, they looked the other way. presently all the Sanjō carriages were in place. The Rokujō lady, behind the lesser ones, could see almost nothing. Quite aside from her natural distress at the insult, she was filled with the bitterest chagrin that, having refrained from display, she had been recognized. The stools for her carriage shafts had been broken and the shafts propped on the hubs of perfectly strange carriages, a most undignified sight. It was no good asking herself why she had come. She thought of going home without seeing the procession, but there was no room for her to pass; and then came word that the procession was approaching, and she must, after all, see the man who had caused her such unhappiness. How weak is the heart of a woman! perhaps because this was not “the bamboo by the river Hinokuma,” he passed without stopping his horse or looking her way; and the unhappiness was greater than if she had stayed at home.

Genji seemed indifferent to all the grandly decorated carriages and all the gay sleeves, such a flood of them that it was as if ladies were stacked in layers behind the carriage curtains. Now and again, however, he would have a smile and a glance for a carriage he recognized. His face was solemn and respectful as he passed his wife’s carriage. His men bowed deeply, and the Rokujō lady was in misery. She had been utterly defeated.

She whispered to herself:

“A distant glimpse of the River of Lustration.
His coldness is the measure of my sorrow.”

She was ashamed of her tears. Yet she thought how sorry she would have been if she had not seen that handsome figure set off to such advantage by the crowds.

The high courtiers were, after their several ranks, impeccably dressed and caparisoned and many of them were very handsome; but Genji’s radiance dimmed the strongest lights. Among his special attendants was a guards officer of the Sixth Rank, though attendants of such standing were usually reserved for the most splendid royal processions. His retinue made such a fine procession itself that every tree and blade of grass along the way seemed to bend forward in admiration.

It is not on the whole considered good form for veiled ladies of no mean rank and even nuns who have withdrawn from the world to be jostling and shoving one another in the struggle to see, but today no one thought it out of place. Hollow-mouthed women of the lower classes, their hair tucked under their robes, their hands brought respectfully to their foreheads, were hopping about in hopes of catching a glimpse. plebeian faces were wreathed in smiles which their owners might not have enjoyed seeing in mirrors, and daughters of petty provincial officers of whose existence Genji would scarcely have been aware had set forth in carriages decked out with the most exhaustive care and taken up posts which seemed to offer a chance of seeing him. There were almost as many things by the wayside as in the procession to attract one’s attention.

And there were many ladies whom he had seen in secret and who now sighed more than ever that their station was so out of keeping with his. Prince Shikibu viewed the procession from a stand. Genji had matured and did indeed quite dazzle the eye, and the prince thought with foreboding that some god might have noticed, and was making plans to spirit the young man away. His daughter, Princess Asagao, having over the years found Genji a faithful correspondent, knew how remarkably steady his feelings were. She was aware that attentions moved ladies even when the donor was a most ordinary man; yet she had no wish for further intimacy. As for her women, their sighs of admiration were almost deafening.

No carriages set out from the Sanjō mansion on the day of the festival proper.

Genji presently heard the story of the competing carriages. He was sorry for the Rokujō lady and angry at his wife. It was a sad fact that, so deliberate and fastidious, she lacked ordinary compassion. There was indeed a tart, forbidding quality about her. She refused to see, though it was probably an unconscious refusal, that ladies who were to each other as she was to the Rokujō lady should behave with charity and forbearance. It was under her influence that the men in her service flung themselves so violently about. Genji sometimes felt uncomfortable before the proud dignity of the Rokujō lady, and he could imagine her rage and humiliation now.

He called upon her. The high priestess, her daughter, was still with her, however, and, making reverence for the sacred sakaki tree her excuse, she declined to receive him.

She was right, of course. Yet he muttered to himself: “Why must it be so? Why cannot the two of them be a little less prickly?”

It was from his Nijō mansion, away from all this trouble, that he set forth to view the festival proper. Going over to Murasaki’s rooms in the west wing, he gave Koremitsu instructions for the carriages.

“And are all our little ladies going too?” he asked. He smiled with pleasure at Murasaki, lovely in her festive dress. “We will watch it together.” He stroked her hair, which seemed more lustrous than ever. “It hasn’t been trimmed in a very long time. I wonder if today would be a good day for it.” He summoned a soothsayer and while the man was investigating told the “little ladies” to go on ahead. They too were a delight, bright and fresh, their hair all sprucely trimmed and flowing over embroidered trousers.

He would trim Murasaki’s hair himself, he said. “But see how thick it is. The scissors get all tangled up in it. Think how it will be when you grow up. Even ladies with very long hair usually cut it here at the forehead, and you’ve not a single lock of short hair. A person might even call it untidy.”

The joy was more than a body deserved, said Shōnagon, her nurse.

“May it grow to a thousand fathoms,“ said Genji.

“Mine it shall be, rich as the grasses beneath
The fathomless sea, the thousand-fathomed sea.”

Murasaki took out brush and paper and set down her answer:

“It may indeed be a thousand fathoms deep.
How can I know, when it restlessly comes and goes?”

She wrote well, but a pleasant girlishness remained.

Again the streets were lined in solid ranks. Genji’s party pulled up near the cavalry grounds, unable to find a place.

“Very difficult,“ said Genji. “Too many of the great ones hereabouts.”

A fan was thrust from beneath the blinds of an elegant ladies’ carriage that was filled to overflowing.

“Suppose you pull in here,“ said a lady. “I would be happy to relinquish my place.”

What sort of adventuress might she be? The place was indeed a good one. He had his carriage pulled in.

“How did you find it? I am consumed with envy.”

She wrote her reply on a rib of a tastefully decorated fan:

“Ah, the fickleness! It summoned me
To a meeting, the heartvine now worn by another.

“The gods themselves seemed to summon me, though of course I am not admitted to the sacred precincts.”

He recognized the hand: that of old Naishi, still youthfully resisting the years.

Frowning, he sent back:

“Yes, fickleness, this vine of the day of meeting,
Available to all the eighty clans.”

It was her turn to reply, this time in much chagrin:

“Vine of meeting indeed! A useless weed,
A mouthing, its name, of empty promises.”

Many ladies along the way bemoaned the fact that, apparently in feminine company, he did not even raise the blinds of his carriage. Such a stately figure on the day of the lustration - today it should have been his duty to show himself at his ease. The lady with him must surely be a beauty.

A tasteless exchange, thought Genji. A more proper lady would have kept the strictest silence, out of deference to the lady with him.

For the Rokujō lady the pain was unrelieved. She knew that she could expect no lessening of his coldness, and yet to steel herself and go off to Ise with her daughter - she would be lonely, she knew, and people would laugh at her. They would laugh just as heartily if she stayed in the city. Her thoughts were as the fisherman’s bob at Ise. Her very soul seemed to jump wildly about, and at last she fell physically ill.

Genji discounted the possibility of her going to Ise. “It is natural that you should have little use for a reprobate like myself and think of discarding me. But to stay with me would be to show admirable depths of feeling.”

These remarks did not seem very helpful. Her anger and sorrow increased. A hope of relief from this agony of indecision had sent her to the river of lustration, and there she had been subjected to violence.

At Sanjō, Genji’s wife seemed to be in the grip of a malign spirit. It was no time for nocturnal wanderings. Genji paid only an occasional visit to his own Nijō mansion. His marriage had not been happy, but his wife was important to him and now she was carrying his child. He had prayers read in his Sanjō rooms. Several malign spirits were transferred to the medium and identified themselves, but there was one which quite refused to move. Though it did not cause great pain, it refused to leave her for so much as an instant. There was something very sinister about a spirit that eluded the powers of the most skilled exorcists. The Sanjō people went over the list of Genji’s ladies one by one. Among them all, it came to be whispered, only the Rokujō lady and the lady at Nijō seemed to have been singled out for special attentions, and no doubt they were jealous. The exorcists were asked about the possibility, but they gave no very informative answers. Of the spirits that did announce themselves, none seemed to feel any deep enmity toward the lady. Their behavior seemed random and purposeless. There was the spirit of her dead nurse, for instance, and there were spirits that had been with the family for generations and had taken advantage of her weakness.

The confusion and worry continued. The lady would sometimes weep in loud wailing sobs, and sometimes be tormented by nausea and shortness of breath.

The old emperor sent repeated inquiries and ordered religious services. That the lady should be worthy of these august attentions made the possibility of her death seem even more lamentable. Reports that they quite monopolized the attention of court reached the Rokujō mansion, to further embitter its lady. No one can have guessed that the trivial incident of the carriages had so angered a lady whose sense of rivalry had not until then been strong.

Not at all herself, she left her house to her daughter and moved to one where Buddhist rites would not be out of place. Sorry to hear of the move, Genji bestirred himself to call on her. The neighborhood was a strange one and he was in careful disguise. He explained his negligence in terms likely to make it seem involuntary and to bring her forgiveness, and he told her of Aoi’s illness and the worry it was causing him.

“I have not been so very worried myself, but her parents are beside themselves. It has seemed best to stay with her. It would relieve me enormously if I thought you might take a generous view of it all.” He knew why she was unwell, and pitied her.

They passed a tense night. As she saw him off in the dawn she found that her plans for quitting the city were not as firm as on the day before. Her rival was of the highest rank and there was this important new consideration; no doubt his affections would finally settle on her. She herself would be left in solitude, wondering when he might call. The visit had only made her unhappier. In upon her gloom, in the evening, came a letter.

“Though she had seemed to be improving, she has taken a sudden and drastic turn for the worse. I cannot leave her.”

The usual excuses, she thought. Yet she answered:

“I go down the way of love and dampen my sleeves,
And go yet further, into the muddy fields. A pity the well is so shallow.”

The hand was the very best he knew. It was a difficult world, which refused to give satisfaction. Among his ladies there was none who could be dismissed as completely beneath consideration and none to whom he could give his whole love.

Despite the lateness of the hour, he got off an answer: “You only wet your sleeves - what can this mean? That your feelings are not of the deepest, I should think.

“ You only dip into the shallow waters,
And I quite disappear into the slough?

“Do you think I would answer by letter and not in person if she were merely indisposed?”

The malign spirit was more insistent, and Aoi was in great distress. Unpleasant rumors reached the Rokujō lady, to the effect that it might be her spirit or that of her father, the late minister. Though she had felt sorry enough for herself, she had not wished ill to anyone; and might it be that the soul of one so lost in sad thoughts went wandering off by itself? She had, over the years, known the full range of sorrows, but never before had she felt so utterly miserable. There had been no release from the anger since the other lady had so insulted her, indeed behaved as if she did not exist. More than once she had the same dream: in the beautifully appointed apartments of a lady who seemed to be a rival she would push and shake the lady, and flail at her blindly and savagely. It was too terrible. Sometimes in a daze she would ask herself if her soul had indeed gone wandering off. The world was not given to speaking well of people whose transgressions had been far slighter. She would be notorious. It was common enough for the spirits of the angry dead to linger on in this world. She had thought them hateful, and it was her own lot to set a hateful example while she still lived. She must think no more about the man who had been so cruel to her. But so to think was, after all, to think.

The high priestess, her daughter, was to have been presented at court the year before, but complications had required postponement. It was finally decided that in the Ninth Month she would go from court to her temporary shrine. The Rokujō house was thus busy preparing for two lustrations, but its lady, lost in thought, seemed strangely indifferent. A most serious state of affairs - the priestess’s attendants ordered prayers. There were no really alarming symptoms. She was vaguely unwell, no more. The days passed. Genji sent repeated inquiries, but there was no relief from his worries about another invalid, a more important one.

It was still too early for Aoi to be delivered of her child. Her women were less than fully alert; and then, suddenly, she was seized with labor pains. More priests were put to more strenuous prayers. The malign spirit refused to move. The most eminent of exorcists found this stubbornness extraordinary, and could not think what to do. Then, after renewed efforts at exorcism, more intense than before, it commenced sobbing as if in pain.

“Stop for a moment, please. I want to speak to General Genji.”

It was as they had thought. The women showed Genji to a place at Aoi’s curtains. Thinking - for she did seem on the point of death - that Aoi had last words for Genji, her parents withdrew. The effect was grandly solemn as priests read from the Lotus Sutra in hushed voices. Genji drew the curtains back and looked down at his wife. She was heavy with child, and very beautiful. Even a man who was nothing to her would have been saddened to look at her. Long, heavy hair, bound at one side, was set off by white robes, and he thought her lovelier than when she was most carefully dressed and groomed.

He took her hand. “How awful. How awful for you.“ He could say no more.

Usually so haughty and forbidding, she now gazed up at him with languid eyes that were presently filled with tears. How could he fail to be moved? This violent weeping, he thought, would be for her parents, soon to be left behind, and perhaps, at this last leave-taking, for him too.

“You mustn’t fret so. It can’t be as bad as you think. And even if the worst comes, we will meet again. And your good mother and father: the bond between parents and children lasts through many lives. You must tell yourself that you will see them again.”

“No, no. I was hurting so, I asked them to stop for a while. I had not dreamed that I would come to you like this. It is true: a troubled soul will sometimes go wandering off.” The voice was gentle and affectionate.

“Bind the hem of my robe, to keep it within,
The grieving soul that has wandered through the skies.”

It was not Aoi’s voice, nor was the manner hers. Extraordinary - and then he knew that it was the voice of the Rokujō lady. He was aghast. He had dismissed the talk as vulgar and ignorant fabrication, and here before his eyes he had proof that such things did actually happen. He was horrified and repelled.

“You may say so. But I don’t know who you are. Identify yourself.”

It was indeed she. “Aghast“ - is there no stronger word? He waved the women back.

Thinking that these calmer tones meant a respite from pain, her mother came with medicine; and even as she drank it down she gave birth to a baby boy. Everyone was delighted, save the spirits that had been transferred to mediums. Chagrined at their failure, they were raising a great stir, and all in all it was a noisy and untidy scene. There was still the afterbirth to worry about. Then, perhaps because of all the prayers, it too was delivered. The grand abbot of Hiei and all the other eminent clerics departed, looking rather pleased with themselves as they mopped their foreheads. Sure that the worst was past after all the anxious days, the women allowed themselves a rest.

The prayers went on as noisily as ever, but the house was now caught up in the happy business of ministering to a pretty baby. It hummed with excitement on each of the festive nights. Fine and unusual gifts came from the old emperor and from all the princes and high courtiers. Ceremonies honoring a boy baby are always interesting.

The Rokujō lady received the news with mixed feelings. She had heard that her rival was critically ill, and now the crisis had passed. She was not herself. The strangest thing was that her robes were permeated with the scent of the poppy seeds burned at exorcisms. She changed clothes repeatedly and even washed her hair, but the odor persisted. She was overcome with self-loathing. And what would others be thinking? It was a matter she could discuss with no one. She could only suffer in distraught silence.

Somewhat calmer, Genji was still horrified at the unsolicited remarks he had had from the possessive spirit. He really must get off a note to the Rokujō lady. Or should he have a talk with her? He would find it hard to be civil, and he did not wish to hurt her. In the end he made do with a note.

Aoi’s illness had been critical, and the strictest vigil must be continued. Genji had been persuaded to stop his nocturnal wanderings. He still had not really talked to his wife, for she was still far from normal. The child was so beautiful as to arouse forebodings, and preparations were already under way for a most careful and elaborate education. The minister was pleased with everything save the fact that his daughter had still not recovered. But he told himself that he need not worry. A slow convalescence was to be expected after so serious an illness.

Especially around the eyes, the baby bore a strong resemblance to the crown prince, whom Genji suddenly felt an intense longing to see. He could not sit still. He had to be off to court.

“I have been neglecting my duties,“ he said to the women, “and am feeling rather guilty. I think today I will venture out. It would be good if I might see her before I go. I am not a stranger, you know.”

“Quite true, sir. You of all people should be allowed near. She is badly emaciated, I fear, but that is scarcely a reason for her to hide herself from you.”

And so a place was set out for him at her bedside. She answered from time to time, but in a very weak voice. Even so little, from a lady who had been given up for dead, was like a dream. He told her of those terrible days. Then he remembered how, as if pulling back from a brink, she had begun talking to him so volubly and so eagerly. A shudder of revulsion passed over him.

“There are many things I would like to say to you, but you still seem very tired.”

He even prepared medicine for her. The women were filled with admiration. When had he learned to be so useful?

She was sadly worn and lay as if on the border of death, pathetic and still lovely. There was not a tangle in her lustrous hair. The thick tresses that poured over her pillows seemed to him quite beyond compare. He gazed down at her, thinking it odd that he should have felt so dissatisfied with her over the years.

“I must see my father, but I am sure I will not be needed long. How nice if we could always be like this. But your mother is with you so much, I have not wanted to seem insistent. You must get back your strength and move back to your own rooms. Your mother pampers you too much. That may be one reason why you are so slow getting well.”

As he withdrew in grand court dress she lay looking after him as she had not been in the habit of doing.

There was to be a conference on promotions and appointments. The minister too set off for court, in procession with all his sons, each of them with a case to plead and determined not to leave his side.

The Sanjō mansion was almost deserted. Aoi was again seized with a strangling shortness of breath; and very soon after a messenger had been sent to court she was dead. Genji and the others left court, scarcely aware of where their feet were taking them. Appointments and promotions no longer concerned them. Since the crisis had come at about midnight there was no possibility of summoning the grand abbot and his suffragans. Everyone had thought that the worst was over, and now of course everyone was stunned, dazed, wandering aimlessly from room to room, hardly knowing a door from a wall. Messengers crowded in with condolences, but the house was in such confusion that there was no one to receive them. The intensity of the grief was almost frightening. Since malign spirits had more than once attacked the lady, her father ordered the body left as it was for two or three days in hopes that she might revive. The signs of death were more and more pronounced, however, and, in great anguish, the family at length accepted the truth. Genji, who had private distress to add to the general grief, thought he knew as well as anyone ever would what unhappiness love can bring. Condolences even from the people most important to him brought no comfort. The old emperor, himself much grieved, sent a personal message; and so for the minister there was new honor, happiness to temper the sorrow. Yet there was no relief from tears.

Every reasonable suggestion was accepted toward reviving the lady, but, the ravages of death being ever more apparent, there was finally no recourse but to see her to Toribe Moor. There were many heartrending scenes along the way. The crowds of mourners and priests invoking the holy name quite overflowed the wide moor. Messages continued to pour in, from the old emperor, of course, and from the empress and crown prince the great houses as well.

The minister was desolate. “Now in my last years to be left behind by a daughter who should have had so many years before her.” Now one could see him without sharing his sorrow.

Grandly the services went on through the night, and as dawn came over the sky the mourners turned back to the city, taking with them only a handful of ashes. Funerals are common enough, but Genji, who had not been present at many, was shaken as never before. Since it was late in the Eighth Month a quarter moon still hung in a sky that would have brought melancholy thoughts in any case; and the figure of his father-in-law, as if groping in pitch darkness, seemed proper to the occasion and at the same time indescribably sad.

A poem came to his lips as he gazed up into the morning sky:

“Might these clouds be the smoke that mounts from her pyre?
They fill my heart with feelings too deep for words.”

Back at Sanjō, he was unable to sleep. He thought over their years together. Why had he so carelessly told himself that she would one day understand? Why had he allowed himself silly flirtations, the smallest of them sure to anger her? He had let her carry her hostility to the grave. The regrets were strong, but useless.

It was as if in a trance that he put on the dull gray mourning robes. Had she outlived him, it occurred to him, hers would have been darker gray.

“Weeds obey rules. Mine are the shallower hue.
But tears plunge my sleeves into the deepest wells.”

He closed his eyes in prayer, a handsomer man in sorrow than in happiness. He intoned softly: “Hail, Samantabhadra, in whose serene thoughts all is contained.” The invocation seemed more powerful than from the mouth of the most reverend priest.

There were tears in his eyes as he took the little boy up in his arms. “What would we have to remember her by?” he whispered to himself. The sorrow would be worse if he did not have this child.

Princess Omiya took to her bed in such a sad state that services were now commenced for her. The preparations for memorial rites were the sadder for the fact that there had been so little warning. Parents grieve at the loss of the most ill-favored child, and the intensity of the grief in this case was not to be wondered at. The family had no other daughters. It was as if - it was worse than if the jewels upon the silken sleeve had been shattered to bits.

Genji did not venture forth even to Nijō . He passed his days in tears and in earnest prayer. He did, it is true, send off a few notes. The high priestess of Ise had moved to a temporary shrine in the guards’ quarters of the palace. Making the girl’s ritual purity her excuse, the Rokujō lady refused to answer. The world had not been kind to him, and now, gloomier than ever, he thought that if he had not had this new bond with the world he would have liked to follow what had for so long been his deepest inclinations and leave it entirely behind. But then he would think of the girl Murasaki at Nijō . He slept alone. Women were on duty nearby, but still he was lonely. Unable to sleep, he would say to himself: “In autumn, of all the seasons.” Summoning priests of good voice, he would have them chant the holy name; and the dawn sky would be almost more than he could bear.

In one of those late-autumn dawns when the very sound of the wind seems to sink to one’s bones, he arose from a lonely, sleepless bed to see the garden enshrouded in mist. A letter was brought in, on dark blue-gray paper attached to a half-opened bud of chrysanthemum. In the best of taste, he thought. The hand was that of the Rokujō lady.

“Do you know why I have been so negligent?

“I too am in tears, at the thought of her sad, short life.
Moist the sleeves of you whom she left behind.”

“These autumn skies make it impossible for me to be silent.”

The hand was more beautiful than ever. He wanted to fling the note away from him, but could not. It seemed to him altogether too disingenuous. Yet he could not bring himself to sever relations. Poor woman, she seemed marked for notoriety. No doubt Aoi had been fated to die. But anger rose again. Why had he seen and heard it all so clearly, why had it been paraded before him? Try though he might, he could not put his feelings toward the woman in order. He debated at great length, remembering too that perhaps he should hold his tongue out of respect for the high priestess.

But he finally decided that the last thing he wanted was to seem cold and insensitive. His answer was on soft, quiet purple. “You for your part will understand, I am sure, the reasons for this inexcusably long silence. You have been much on my mind, but I have thought it best to keep my distance.

“We go, we stay, alike of this world of dew.
We should not let it have such a hold upon us.

“You too should try to shake loose. I shall be brief, for perhaps you will not welcome a letter from a house of mourning.”

Now back at Rokujō, she waited until she was alone to read the letter. Her conscience told her his meaning all too clearly. So he knew. It was too awful. Surely no one had been more cruelly treated by fate than herself. What would the old emperor be thinking? He and her late husband, the crown prince, were brothers by the same mother, and they had been very close. The prince had asked his protection for their daughter, and he had replied that he would look upon the girl as taking the place of her father. He had repeatedly invited the lady and her daughter to go on living in the palace, but she held to a demanding view of the proprieties. And so she had found herself in this childish entanglement, and had succeeded in making a very bad name for herself. She was still not feeling well.

In fact, the name she had made for herself was rather different. She had long been famous for her subtlety and refinement, and when her daughter moved to another temporary shrine, this one to the west of the city, all the details were tasteful and in the latest fashion. Genji was not surprised to hear that the more cultivated of the courtiers were making it their main business to part the dew-drenched grasses before the shrine. She was a lady of almost too good taste. If, wanting no more of love, she were to go with her daughter to Ise, he would, after all, miss her.

The memorial services were over, but Genji remained in seclusion for seven weeks. Pitying him in the unaccustomed tedium, Tō no Chūjō would come and divert him with the latest talk, serious and trivial; and it seems likely that old Naishi was cause for a good laugh now and then.

“You mustn’t make fun of dear old Granny,“ said Genji; but he found stories of the old lady unfailingly amusing.

They would go over the list of their little adventures, on the night of a misty autumn moon, just past full, and others; and their talk would come around to the evanescence of things and they would shed a few tears.

On an evening of chilly autumn rains, Tō no Chūjō again came calling. He had changed to lighter mourning and presented a fine, manly figure indeed, enough to put most men to shame. Genji was at the railing of the west veranda, looking out over the frostbitten garden. The wind was high and it was as if his tears sought to compete with the driven rain.

“Is she the rain, is she the clouds? Alas, I cannot say.”

He sat chin in hand. Were he himself the dead lady, thought Tō no Chūjō, his soul would certainly remain bound to this world. He came up to his friend. Genji, who had not expected callers, quietly smoothed his robes, a finely glossed red singlet under a robe of a deeper gray than Tō no Chūjō’s. It was the modest, conservative sort of dress that never seems merely dull.

Tō no Chūjō too looked up at the sky.

“Is she the rain? Where in these stormy skies,
To which of these brooding clouds may I look to find her?

Neither can I say,” he added, as if to himself.

“It is a time of storms when even the clouds
To which my lady has risen are blotted away.”

Genji’s grief was clearly unfeigned. Very odd, thought Tō no Chūjō. Genji had so often been reproved by his father for not being a better husband, and the attentions of his father-in-law had made him very uncomfortable. There were circumstances, having largely to do with his nearness to Princess Omiya, which kept him from leaving Aoi completely; and so he had continued to wait upon her, making little attempt to hide his dissatisfaction. Tō no Chūjō had more than once been moved to pity him in this unhappy predicament. And now it seemed that she had after all had a place in his affections, that he had loved and honored her. Tō no Chūjō’s own sorrow was more intense for the knowledge. It was as if a light had gone out.

Gentians and wild carnations peeped from the frosty tangles. After Tō no Chūjō had left, Genji sent a small bouquet by the little boy’s nurse, Saisho, to Princess Omiya, with this message:

“Carnations at the wintry hedge remind me
Of an autumn which we leave too far behind.
Do you not think them a lovely color?”

Yes, the smiling little “wild carnation“ he now had with him was a treasure.

The princess, less resistant to tears than the autumn leaves to the winds, had to have someone read Genji’s note to her.

She sent this answer:

“I see them, and my sleeves are drenched afresh,
The wild carnations at the wasted hedge.”

It was a dull time. He was sure that his cousin Princess Asagao, despite her past coolness, would understand his feelings on such an evening. He had not written in a long time, but their letters had always been irregularly spaced. His note was on azure Chinese paper.

“Many a desolate autumn have I known,
But never have my tears flowed as tonight.
Each year brings rains of autumn.”

His writing was more beautiful all the time, said her women, and see what pains he had taken. She must not leave the note unanswered.

She agreed. “I knew how things must be on Mount Ouchi, but what was I to say?

“I knew that the autumn mists had faded away,
And looked for you in the stormy autumn skies.”

That was all. It was in a faint hand which seemed to him - his imagination, perhaps - to suggest deep, mysterious things. We do not often find in this world that the actuality is better than the anticipation, but it was Genji’s nature to be drawn to retiring women. A woman might be icy cold, he thought, but her affections, once awakened, were likely to be strengthened by the memory of the occasions that had called for reluctant sympathy. The affected, overrefined sort of woman might draw attention to herself, but it had a way of revealing flaws she was herself unaware of. He did not wish to rear his Murasaki after such a model. He had not forgotten to ask himself whether she would be bored and lonely without him, but he thought of her as an orphan he had taken in and did not worry himself greatly about what she might be thinking or doing, or whether she might be resentful of his outside activities.

Ordering a lamp, he summoned several of the worthier women to keep him company. He had for some time had his eye on one Chūnagon, but for the period of mourning had put away amorous thoughts. It seemed most civilized of him.

He addressed them affectionately, though with careful politeness. “I have felt closer to you through these sad days. If I had not had you with me I would have been lonelier than I can think. We need not brood over what is finished, but I fear that difficult problems lie ahead of us.”

They were in tears. “It has left us in the blackest darkness,” said one of them, “and the thought of how things will be when you are gone is almost too much to bear.” She could say no more.

Deeply touched, Genji looked from one to another. “When I am gone - how can that be? You must think me heartless. Be patient, and you will see that you are wrong. Though of course life is very uncertain.” Tears came to his eyes as he looked into the lamplight. They made him if anything handsomer, thought the women.

Among them was a little girl, an orphan, of whom Aoi had been especially fond. He quite understood why the child should now be sadder than any of the others. “You must let me take care of you, Ateki.” She broke into a violent sobbing. In her tiny singlet, a very dark gray, and her black cloak and straw-colored trousers, she was a very pretty little thing indeed.

Over and over again he asked the women to be patient. “Those of you who have not forgotten - you must bear the loneliness and do what you can for the boy. I would find it difficult to come visiting if you were all to run off.”

They had their doubts. His visits, they feared, would be few and far between. Life would indeed be lonely.

Avoiding ostentation, the minister distributed certain of Aoi’s belongings to her women, after their several ranks: little baubles and trinkets, and more considerable mementos as well.

Genji could not remain forever in seclusion. He went first to his father’s palace. His carriage was brought up, and as his retinue gathered an autumn shower swept past, as if it knew its time, and the wind that summons the leaves blew a great confusion of them to the ground; and for the sorrowing women the sleeves that had barely had time to dry were damp all over again. Genji would go that night from his father’s palace to Nijō . Thinking to await him there, his aides and equerries went off one by one. Though this would not of course be his last visit, the gloom was intense.

For the minister and Princess Omiya, all the old sorrow came back. Genji left a note for the princess: “My father has asked to see me, and I shall call upon him today. When I so much as set foot outside this house, I feel new pangs of grief, and I ask myself how I have survived so long. I should come in person to take my leave, I know, but I fear that I would quite lose control of myself. I must be satisfied with this note.”

Blinded with tears, the princess did not answer.

The minister came immediately. He dabbed at his eyes, and the women were weeping too. There seemed nothing in the least false about Genji’s own tears, which gave an added elegance and fineness of feature.

At length controlling himself, the minister said: “An old man’s tears have a way of gushing forth at the smallest provocation, and I am unable to stanch the flow. Sure that I must seem hopelessly senile and incontinent, I have been reluctant to visit your royal father. If the subject arises, perhaps you can explain to him how matters are. It is painful, at the end of your life, to be left behind by a child.” He spoke with great difficulty.

Genji was weeping only less openly. “We all of course know the way of the world, that we cannot be sure who will go first and who will remain behind, but the shock of the specific instance is all the same hard to bear. I am sure that my father will understand.”

“Well, then, perhaps you should go before it is too dark. There seems to be no letting up of the rain.”

Genji looked around at the rooms he was about to leave. Behind curtains, through open doors, he could see some thirty women in various shades of gray, all weeping piteously.

“I have consoled myself,” said the minister, “with the thought that you are leaving someone behind in this house whom you cannot abandon, and that you will therefore find occasion to visit in spite of what has happened; but these not very imaginative women are morbid in their insistence that you are leaving your old home for good. It is natural that they should grieve for the passing of the years when they have seen you on such intimate and congenial terms, indeed that they should grieve more than for the loss of their lady. You were never really happy with her, but I was sure that things would one day improve, and asked them to hope for the not perhaps very hopeful. This is a sad evening.”

“You have chosen inadequate grounds for lamenting, sir. I may once have neglected you and your good lady, in the days when I too thought that a not very happy situation would improve. What could persuade me to neglect you now? You will see presently that I am telling you the truth.”

He left. The minister came back into the house. All the furnishings and decorations were as they had been, and yet everything seemed lifeless and empty. At the bed curtains were an inkstone which Genji had left behind and some bits of paper on which he had practiced his calligraphy. Struggling to hold back the tears, the minister looked at them. There were, it seemed, some among the younger women who were smiling through their tears. Genji had copied and thrown away highly charged passages from old poems, Chinese and Japanese, in both formal and cursive scripts. Magnificent writing, thought the minister, looking off into space. It was cruel that Genji should now be a stranger.

“The old pillow, the old bed: with whom shall I share them now?“ It was a verse from Po Chu-i. Below it Genji had written a verse of his own:

“Weeping beside the pillow of one who is gone,
I may not go, so strong the ties, myself.”

“The flower is white with frost.” It was another phrase from the same poem, and Genji had set down another of his own:

“The dust piles on the now abandoned bed.
How many dew-drenched nights have I slept alone!”

With these jottings were several withered carnations, probably from the day he had sent flowers to Princess Omiya.

The minister took them to her. “The terrible fact, of course, is that she is gone, but I tell myself that sad stories are far from unheard of in this world. The bond between us held for such a short time that I find myself thinking of the destinies we bring with us into this world. Hers was to stay a short time and to cause great sorrow. I have somehow taken comfort in the thought. But I have missed her more each day, and now the thought that he will be no more than a stranger is almost too much to bear. A day or two without him was too much, and now he has left us for good. How am I to go on?”

He could not control the quaver in his voice. The older of the women had broken into unrestrained sobbing. It was in more ways than one a cold evening.

The younger women were gathered in clusters, talking of things which had somehow moved them. No doubt, they said, Genji was right in seeking to persuade them of the comfort they would find in looking after the boy. What a very fragile little keepsake he was, all the same. Some said they would go home for just a few days and come again, and there were many emotional scenes as they said goodbye.

Genji called upon his father, the old emperor.

“You have lost a great deal of weight,” said the emperor, with a look of deep concern. “Because you have been fasting, I should imagine.” He pressed food on Genji and otherwise tried to be of service. Genji was much moved by these august ministrations.

He then called upon the empress, to the great excitement of her women.

“There are so many things about it that still make me weep,” she sent out through Omyobu. “I can only imagine how sad a time it has been for you.”

“One knows, of course,” he sent back, “that life is uncertain; but one does not really know until the fact is present and clear. Your several messages have given me strength.” He seemed in great anguish, the sorrow of bereavement compounded by the sorrow he always felt in her presence. His dress, an unpatterned robe and a gray singlet, the ribbons of his cap tied up in mourning, seemed more elegant for its want of color.

He had been neglecting the crown prince. Sending in apologies, he made his departure late in the night.

The Nijō mansion had been cleaned and polished for his return. The whole household assembled to receive him. The higher-ranking ladies had sought to outdo one another in dress and grooming. The sight of them made him think of the sadly dejected ladies at Sanjō. Changing to less doleful clothes, he went to the west wing. The fittings, changed to welcome the autumn, were fresh and bright, and the young women and little girls were all very pretty in autumn dress. Shōnagon had taken care of everything.

Murasaki too was dressed to perfection. “You have grown,” he said, lifting a low curtain back over its frame.

She looked shyly aside. Her hair and profile seemed in the lamplight even more like those of the lady he so longed for.

He had worried about her, he said, coming nearer. “I would like to tell you everything, but it is not a very lucky sort of story. Maybe I should rest awhile in the other wing. I won’t be long. From now on you will never be rid of me. I am sure you will get very bored with me.”

Shōnagon was pleased but not confident. He had so many wellborn ladies, another demanding one was certain to take the place of the one who was gone. She was a dry, unsentimental sort.

Genji returned to his room. Asking Chūjō to massage his legs, he lay down to rest. The next morning he sent off a note for his baby son. He gazed on and on at the answer, from one of the women, and all the old sadness came back.

It was a tedious time. He no longer had any enthusiasm for the careless night wanderings that had once kept him busy. Murasaki was much on his mind. She seemed peerless, the nearest he could imagine to his ideal. Thinking that she was no longer too young for marriage, he had occasionally made amorous overtures; but she had not seemed to understand. They had passed their time in games of Go and hentsugi. She was clever and she had many delicate ways of pleasing him in the most trivial diversions. He had not seriously thought of her as a wife. Now he could not restrain himself. It would be a shock, of course.

What had happened? Her women had no way of knowing when the line had been crossed. One morning Genji was up early and Murasaki stayed on and on in bed. It was not at all like her to sleep so late. Might she be unwell? As he left for his own rooms, Genji pushed an inkstone inside her bed curtains.

At length, when no one else was near, she raised herself from her pillow and saw beside it a tightly folded bit of paper. Listlessly she opened it. There was only this verse, in a casual hand:

“Many have been the nights we have spent together
Purposelessly, these coverlets between us.”

She had not dreamed he had anything of the sort on his mind. What a fool she had been, to repose her whole confidence in so gross and unscrupulous a man.

It was almost noon when Genji returned. “They say you’re not feeling well. What can be the trouble? I was hoping for a game of Go.”

She pulled the covers over her head. Her women discreetly withdrew. He came up beside her.

“What a way to behave, what a very unpleasant way to behave. Try to imagine, please, what these women are thinking.”

He drew back the covers. She was bathed in perspiration and the hair at her forehead was matted from weeping.

“Dear me. This does not augur well at all.“ He tried in every way he could think of to comfort her, but she seemed genuinely upset and did not offer so much as a word in reply.

“Very well. You will see no more of me. I do have my pride.”

He opened her writing box but found no note inside. Very childish of her - and he had to smile at the childishness. He stayed with her the whole day, and he thought the stubbornness with which she refused to be comforted most charming.

Boar-day sweets were served in the evening. Since he was still in mourning, no great ceremony attended upon the observance. Glancing over the varied and tastefully arranged foods that had been brought in cypress boxes to Murasaki’s rooms only, Genji went out to the south veranda and called Koremitsu.

“We will have more of the same tomorrow night,“ he said, smiling “though not in quite such mountains. This is not the most propitious day.”

Koremitsu had a quick mind. “Yes, we must be careful to choose lucky days for our beginnings.” And, solemnly and deliberately: “How many rat-day sweets am I asked to provide?”

“Oh, I should think one for every three that we have here.”

Koremitsu went off with an air of having informed himself adequately. A clever and practical young fellow, thought Genji.

Koremitsu had the nuptial sweets prepared at his own house. He told no one what they signified.

Genji felt like a child thief. The role amused him and the affection he now felt for the girl seemed to reduce his earlier affection to the tiniest mote. A man’s heart is a very strange amalgam indeed! He now thought that he could not bear to be away from her for a single night.

The sweets he had ordered were delivered stealthily, very late in the night. A man of tact, Koremitsu saw that Shōnagon, an older woman, might make Murasaki uncomfortable, and so he called her daughter.

“Slip this inside her curtains, if you will,“ he said, handing her an incense box. “You must see that it gets to her and to no one else. A solemn celebration. No carelessness permitted.”

She thought it odd. “Carelessness? Of that quality I have had no experience.”

“The very word demands care. Use it sparingly.”

Young and somewhat puzzled, she did as she was told. It would seem that Genji had explained the significance of the incense box to Murasaki.

The women had no warning. When the box emerged from the curtains the next morning, the pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place. Such numbers of dishes - when might they have been assembled? - and stands with festooned legs, bearing sweets of a most especial sort. All in all, a splendid array. How very nice that he had gone to such pains, thought Shōnagon. He had overlooked nothing. She wept tears of pleasure and gratitude.

“But he really could have let us in on the secret,” the women whispered to one another. “What can the gentleman who brought them have thought?”

When he paid the most fleeting call on his father or put in a brief appearance at court, he would be impossibly restless, overcome with longing for the girl. Even to Genji himself it seemed excessive. He had resentful letters from women with whom he had been friendly. He was sorry, but he did not wish to be separated from his bride for even a night. He had no wish to be with these others and let it seem that he was indisposed.

“I shall hope to see you when this very difficult time has passed.”

Kokiden took note of the fact that her sister Oborozukiyo, the lady of the misty Moon, seemed to have fond thoughts of Genji.

“Well, after all,” said her father, the Minister of the Right, “he has lost the lady most important to him. If what you suggest with such displeasure comes to pass, I for one will not be desolate.”

“She must go to court,” thought Kokiden. “If she works hard, she can make a life for herself there.”

Genji had reciprocated the fond thoughts and was sorry to hear that she might be going to court; but he no longer had any wish to divide his affections. Life was short, he would settle them upon one lady. He had aroused quite enough resentment in his time.

As for the Rokujō lady, he pitied her, but she would not make a satisfactory wife. And yet, after all, he did not wish a final break. He told himself that if she could put up with him as he had been over the years, they might be of comfort to each other.

No one even knew who Murasaki was. It was as if she were without place or identity. He must inform her father, he told himself. Though avoiding display, he took great pains with her initiation ceremonies. She found this solicitude, though remarkable, very distasteful. She had trusted him, she had quite entwined herself about him. It had been inexcusably careless of her. She now refused to look at him, and his jokes only sent her into a more sullen silence. She was not the old Murasaki. He found the change both sad and interesting.

“My efforts over the years seem to have been wasted. I had hoped that familiarity would bring greater affection, and I was wrong.”

On New Year’s Day he visited his father and the crown prince. He went from the palace to the Sanjō mansion. His father-in-law, for whom the New Year had not brought a renewal of spirits, had been talking sadly of things gone by. He did not want this kind and rare visit to be marred by tears, but he was perilously near weeping. Perhaps because he was now a year older, Genji seemed more dignified and mature, and handsomer as well. In Aoi s rooms the unexpected visit reduced her women to tears. The little boy had grown. He sat babbling and laughing happily, the resemblance to the crown prince especially strong around the eyes and mouth. All the old fears came back which his own resemblance to the crown prince had occasioned. Nothing in the rooms had been changed. On a clothes rack, as always, robes were laid out for Genji; but there were none for Aoi.

A note came from Princess Omiya. “I had become rather better at controlling my tears, but this visit has quite unsettled me. Here are your New Year robes. I have been so blinded with tears these last months that I fear the colors will not please you. Do, today at least, put them on, inadequate though they may be.”

Yet others were brought in. A good deal of care had clearly gone into the weaving and dyeing of the singlets which she wished him to wear today. Not wanting to seem ungrateful, he changed into them. He feared that she would have been very disappointed if he had not come.

“I am here,” he sent back, “that you may see for yourself whether or not spring has come. I find myself reduced to silence by all the memories.

“Yet once again I put on robes for the new,
And tears are falling for all that went with the old. I cannot contain them.”

She sent back:

“The New Year brings renewal, I know, and yet
The same old tears still now from the same old woman.”

The grief was still intense for both of them.


The Sacred Tree