The Rokujō lady was more and more despondent as the time neared for her daughter’s departure. Since the death of Aoi, who had caused her such pain, Genji’s visits, never frequent, had stopped altogether. They had aroused great excitement among her women and now the change seemed too sudden. Genji must have very specific reasons for having turned against her – there was no explaining his extreme coldness otherwise. She would think no more about him. She would go with her daughter. There were no precedents for a mother’s accompanying a high priestess to Ise, but she had as her excuse that her daughter would be helpless without her. The real reason, of course, was that she wanted to flee these painful associations.
In spite of everything, Genji was sorry when he heard of her decision. He now wrote often and almost pleadingly, but she thought a meeting out of the question at this late date. She would risk disappointing him rather than have it all begin again.
She occasionally went from the priestess’s temporary shrine to her Rokujō house, but so briefly and in such secrecy that Genji did not hear of the visits. The temporary shrine did not, he thought, invite casual visits. Although she was much on his mind, he let the days and months go by. His father, the old emperor, had begun to suffer from recurrent aches and cramps, and Genji had little time for himself. Yet he did not want the lady to go off to Ise thinking him completely heartless, nor did he wish to have a name at court for insensitivity. He gathered his resolve and set off for the shrine.
It was on about the seventh of the Ninth Month. The lady was under great tension, for their departure was imminent, possibly only a day or two away. He had several times asked for a word with her. He need not go inside, he said, but could wait on the veranda. She was in a torment of uncertainty but at length reached a secret decision: she did not want to seem like a complete recluse and so she would receive him through curtains.
It was over a reed plain of melancholy beauty that he made his way to the shrine. The autumn flowers were gone and insects hummed in the wintry tangles. A wind whistling through the pines brought snatches of music to most wonderful effect, though so distant that he could not tell what was being played. Not wishing to attract attention, he had only ten outrunners, men who had long been in his service, and his guards were in subdued livery. He had dressed with great care. His more perceptive men saw how beautifully the melancholy scene set him off, and he was having regrets that he had not made the journey often. A low wattle fence, scarcely more than a suggestion of an enclosure, surrounded a complex of board-roofed buildings, as rough and insubstantial as temporary shelters.
The shrine gates, of unfinished logs, had a grand and awesome dignity for all their simplicity, and the somewhat forbidding austerity of the place was accentuated by clusters of priests talking among themselves and coughing and clearing their throats as if in warning. It was a scene quite unlike any Genji had seen before. The fire lodge glowed faintly. It was all in all a lonely, quiet place, and here away from the world a lady already deep in sorrow had passed these weeks and months. Concealing himself outside the north wing, he sent in word of his arrival. The music abruptly stopped and the silence was broken only by a rustling of silken robes.
Though several messages were passed back and forth, the lady herself did not come out.
“You surely know that these expeditions are frowned upon. I find it very curious that I should be required to wait outside the sacred paling. I want to tell you everything, all my sorrows and worries.”
He was right, said the women. It was more than a person could bear, seeing him out there without even a place to sit down. What was she to do? thought the lady. There were all these people about, and her daughter would expect more mature and sober conduct. No, to receive him at this late date would be altogether too undignified. Yet she could not bring herself to send him briskly on his way. She sighed and hesitated and hesitated again, and it was with great excitement that he finally heard her come forward.
“May I at least come up to the veranda?“ he asked, starting up the stairs.
The evening moon burst forth and the figure she saw in its light was handsome beyond describing.
Not wishing to apologize for all the weeks of neglect, he pushed a branch of the sacred tree in under the blinds.
“With heart unchanging as this evergreen,
This sacred tree, I enter the sacred gate.”
“You err with your sacred tree and sacred gate.
No beckoning cedars stand before my house.”
“Thinking to find you here with the holy maidens,
I followed the scent of the leaf of the sacred tree.”
Though the scene did not encourage familiarity, he made bold to lean inside the blinds.
He had complacently wasted the days when he could have visited her and perhaps made her happy. He had begun to have misgivings about her, his ardor had cooled, and they had become the near strangers they were now. But she was here before him, and memories flooded back. He thought of what had been and what was to be, and he was weeping like a child.
She did not wish him to see her following his example. He felt even sadder for her as she fought to control herself, and it would seem that even now he urged her to change her plans. Gazing up into a sky even more beautiful now that the moon was setting, he poured forth all his pleas and complaints, and no doubt they were enough to erase the accumulated bitterness. She had resigned herself to what must be, and it was as she had feared. Now that she was with him again she found her resolve wavering.
Groups of young courtiers came up. It was a garden which aroused romantic urges and which a young man was reluctant to leave.
Their feelings for each other, Genji’s and the lady’s, had run the whole range of sorrows and irritations, and no words could suffice for all they wanted to say to each other. The dawn sky was as if made for the occasion. Not wanting to go quite yet, Genji took her hand, very gently.
“A dawn farewell is always drenched in dew,
But sad is the autumn sky as never before.”
A cold wind was blowing, and a pine cricket seemed to recognize the occasion. It was a serenade to which a happy lover would not have been deaf. Perhaps because their feelings were in such tumult, they found that the poems they might have exchanged were eluding them.
At length the lady replied:
“An autumn farewell needs nothing to make it sadder.
Enough of your songs, O crickets on the moors!”
It would do no good to pour forth all the regrets again. He made his departure, not wanting to be seen in the broadening daylight. His sleeves were made wet along the way with dew and with tears.
The lady, not as strong as she would have wished, was sunk in a sad reverie. The shadowy figure in the moonlight and the perfume he left behind had the younger women in a state only just short of swooning.
“What kind of journey could be important enough, I ask you,“ said one of them, choking with tears, “to make her leave such a man?”
His letter the next day was so warm and tender that again she was tempted to reconsider. But it was too late: a return to the old indecision would accomplish nothing. Genji could be very persuasive even when he did not care a great deal for a woman, and this was no ordinary parting. He sent the finest travel robes and supplies, for the lady and for her women as well. They were no longer enough to move her. It was as if the thought had only now come to her of the ugly name she seemed fated to leave behind.
The high priestess was delighted that a date had finally been set. The novel fact that she was taking her mother with her gave rise to talk, some sympathetic and some hostile. Happy are they whose place in the world puts them beneath such notice! The great ones of the world live sadly constricted lives.
On the sixteenth there was a lustration at the Katsura River, splendid as never before. Perhaps because the old emperor was so fond of the high priestess, the present emperor appointed a retinue of unusually grand rank and good repute to escort her to Ise. There were many things Genji would have liked to say as the procession left the temporary shrine, but he sent only a note tied with a ritual cord. “To her whom it would be blasphemy to address in person,” he wrote on the envelope.
“I would have thought not even the heavenly thunderer strong enough.
“If my lady the priestess, surveying her manifold realms,
Has feelings for those below, let her feel for me.
“I tell myself that it must be, but remain unconvinced.”
There was an answer despite the confusion, in the hand of the priestess’s lady of honor:
“If a lord of the land is watching from above,
This pretense of sorrow will not have escaped his notice.”
Genji would have liked to be present at the final audience with the emperor, but did not relish the role of rejected suitor. He spent the day in gloomy seclusion. He had to smile, however, at the priestess’s rather knowing poem. She was clever for her age, and she interested him. Difficult and unconventional relationships always interested him. He could have done a great deal for her in earlier years and he was sorry now that he had not. But perhaps they would meet again – one never knew in this world.
A great many carriages had gathered, for an entourage presided over by ladies of such taste was sure to be worth seeing. It entered the palace in midafternoon. As the priestess’s mother got into her state palanquin, she thought of her late father, who had had ambitious plans for her and prepared her with the greatest care for the position that was to be hers; and things could not have gone more disastrously wrong. Now, after all these years, she came to the palace again. She had entered the late crown prince’s household at sixteen and at twenty he had left her behind; and now, at thirty, she saw the palace once more.
“The things of the past are always of the past.
I would not think of them. Yet sad is my heart.”
The priestess was a charming, delicate girl of fourteen, dressed by her mother with very great care. She was so compelling a little figure, indeed, that one wondered if she could be long for this world. The emperor was near tears as he put the farewell comb in her hair.
The carriages of their ladies were lined up before the eight ministries to await their withdrawal from the royal presence. The sleeves that flowed from beneath the blinds were of many and marvelous hues, and no doubt there were courtiers who were making their own silent, regretful farewells.
The procession left the palace in the evening. It was before Genji’s mansion as it turned south from Nijō to Doin. Unable to let it pass without a word, Genji sent out a poem attached to a sacred branch:
“You throw me off; but will they not wet your sleeves,
The eighty waves of the river Suzuka?”
It was dark and there was great confusion, and her answer, brief and to the point, came the next morning from beyond Osaka Gate.
“And who will watch us all the way to Ise,
To see if those eighty waves have done their work?”
Her hand had lost none of its elegance, though it was a rather cold and austere elegance.
The morning was an unusually sad one of heavy mists. Absently he whispered to himself:
“I see her on her way. Do not, O mists,
This autumn close off the Gate of the Hill of Meeting.”
He spent the day alone, sunk in a sad reverie entirely of his own making, not even visiting Murasaki. And how much sadder must have been the thoughts of the lady on the road!
From the Tenth Month alarm for the old emperor spread through the whole court. The new emperor called to inquire after him. Weak though he was, the old emperor asked over and over again that his son be good to the crown prince. And he spoke too of Genji:
“Look to him for advice in large things and in small, just as you have until now. He is young but quite capable of ordering the most complicated public affairs. There is no office of which he need feel unworthy and no task in all the land that is beyond his powers. I reduced him to common rank so that you might make full use of his services. Do not, I beg of you, ignore my last wishes.”
He made many other moving requests, but it is not a woman’s place to report upon them. Indeed I feel rather apologetic for having set down these fragments.
Deeply moved, the emperor assured his father over and over again that all of his wishes would be respected. The old emperor was pleased to see that he had matured into a man of such regal dignity. The interview was necessarily a short one, and the old emperor was if anything sadder than had it not taken place.
The crown prince had wanted to come too, but had been persuaded that unnecessary excitement was to be avoided and had chosen another day. He was a handsome boy, advanced for his years. He had longed to see his father, and now that they were together there were no bounds to his boyish delight. Countless emotions assailed the old emperor as he saw the tears in Fujitsubo’s eyes. He had many things to say, but the boy seemed so very young and helpless. Over and over again he told Genji what he must do, and the well-being of the crown prince dominated his remarks. It was late in the night when the crown prince made his departure. With virtually the whole court in attendance, the ceremony was only a little less grand than for the emperor’s visit. The old emperor looked sadly after the departing procession. The visit had been too short.
Kokiden too wanted to see him, but she did not want to see Fujitsubo. She hesitated, and then, peacefully, he died. The court was caught quite by surprise. He had, it was true, left the throne, but his influence had remained considerable. The emperor was young and his maternal grandfather, the Minister of the Right, was an impulsive, vindictive sort of man. What would the world be like, asked courtiers high and low, with such a man in control?
For Genji and Fujitsubo, the question was even crueler. At the funeral no one thought it odd that Genji should stand out among the old emperor’s sons, and somehow people felt sadder for him than for his brothers. The dull mourning robes became him and seemed to make him more deserving of sympathy than the others. Two bereavements in successive years had informed him of the futility of human affairs. He thought once more of leaving the world. Alas, too many bonds still tied him to it.
The old emperor’s ladies remained in his palace until the forty-ninth day services were over. Then they went their several ways. It was the twentieth of the Twelfth Month, and skies which would in any case have seemed to mark the end of things were for Fujitsubo without a ray of sunlight. She was quite aware of Kokiden’s feelings and knew that a world at the service of the other lady would be difficult to live in. But her thoughts were less of the future than of the past. Memories of her years with the old emperor never left her. His palace was no longer a home for his ladies, however, and presently all were gone.
Fujitsubo returned to her family palace in Sanjō. Her brother, Prince Hyōbu, came for her. There were flurries of snow, driven by a sharp wind. The old emperor’s palace was almost deserted. Genji came to see them off and they talked of old times. The branches of the pine in the garden were brown and weighed down by snow.
The prince’s poem was not an especially good one, but it suited the occasion and brought tears to Genji’s eyes:
“Withered the pine whose branches gave us shelter?
Now at the end of the year its needles fall.”
The pond was frozen over. Genji’s poem was impromptu and not, perhaps, among his best:
“Clear as a mirror, these frozen winter waters.
The figure they once reflected is no more.”
This was Omyobu’s poem:
“At the end of the year the springs are silenced by ice.
And gone are they whom we saw among the rocks.”
There were other poems, but I see no point in setting them down.
The procession was as grand as in other years. Perhaps it was only in the imagination that there was something forlorn and dejected about it. Fujitsubo’s own Sanjō palace now seemed like a wayside inn. Her thoughts were on the years she had spent away from it.
The New Year came, bringing no renewal. Life was sad and subdued. Sadder than all the others, Genji was in seclusion. During his father’s reign, of course, and no less during the years since, the New Year appointments had brought such streams of horses and carriages to his gates that there had been room for no more. Now they were deserted. Only a few listless guards and secretaries occupied the offices. His favorite retainers did come calling, but it was as if they had time on their hands. So, he thought, life was to be.
In the Second Month, Kokiden’s sister Oborozukiyo, she of the misty moon, was appointed wardress of the ladies’ apartments, replacing a lady who in grief at the old emperor’s death had become a nun. The new wardress was amiable and cultivated, and the emperor was very fond of her.
Kokiden now spent most of her time with her own family. When she was at court she occupied the Plum Pavilion. She had turned her old Kokiden Pavilion over to Oborozukiyo, who found it a happy change from her rather gloomy and secluded rooms to the north. Indeed it quite swarmed with ladies-in-waiting. Yet she could not forget that strange encounter with Genji, and it was on her initiative that they still kept up a secret correspondence. He was very nervous about it, but excited (for such was his nature) by the challenge which her new position seemed to offer.
Kokiden had bided her time while the old emperor lived, but she was a willful, headstrong woman, and now it seemed that she meant to have her revenge. Genji’s life became a series of defeats and annoyances. He was not surprised, and yet, accustomed to being the darling of the court, he found the new chilliness painful and preferred to stay at home. The Minister of the Left, his father-in-law, was also unhappy with the new reign and seldom went to court. Kokiden remembered all too well how he had refused his daughter to the then crown prince and offered her to Genji instead. The two ministers had never been on good terms.
The Minister of the Left had had his way while the old emperor lived, and he was of course unhappy now that the Minister of the Right was in control. Genji still visited Sanjō and was more civil and attentive than ever to the women there, and more attentive to the details of his son’s education. He went far beyond the call of ordinary duty and courtesy, thought the minister, to whom he was as important as ever. His father’s favorite son, he had had little time to himself while his father lived; but it was now that he began neglecting ladies with whom he had been friendly. These flirtations no longer interested him. He was soberer and quieter, altogether a model young man.
The good fortune of the new lady at Nijō was by now at court. Her nurse and others of her women attributed it to of the old nun, her grandmother. Her father now correspond as he wished. He had had high hopes for his daughters by his principal wife, and they were not doing well, to the considerable chagrin and envy, it seems, of the wife. It was a situation made to order for the romancers.
In mourning for her father, the old emperor, the high priestess of Kamo resigned and Princess Asagao took her place. It was not usual for the granddaughter rather than the daughter of an emperor to hold the position, but it would seem that there were no completely suitable candidates for the position. The princess had continued over the years to interest Genji, who now regretted that she should be leaving his world. He still saw Chūjō, her woman, and he still wrote to the princess. Not letting his changed circumstances worry him unnecessarily, he sought to beguile the tedium by sending off notes here and there.
The emperor would have liked to follow his father’s last injunctions and look to Genji for support, but he was young and docile and unable to impose his will. His mother and grandfather had their way, and it was not at all to his liking.
For Genji one distasteful incident followed another. Oborozukiyo relieved the gloom by letting him know that she was still fond of him. Though fraught with danger, a meeting was not difficult to arrange. Homage to the Five Lords was to begin and the emperor would be in retreat. Genji paid his visit, which was like a dream. Chunagon contrived to admit him to the gallery of the earlier meeting. There were many people about and the fact that he was nearer the veranda than usual was unfortunate. Since women who saw him morning and night never tired of him, how could it be an ordinary meeting for one who had seen so little of him? Oborozukiyo was at her youthful best. It may be that she was not as calm and dignified as she might have been, but her young charms were enough to please him all the same.
It was near dawn. Almost at Genji’s elbow a guardsman announced himself in loud, vibrant tones. Another guardsman had apparently slipped in with one of the ladies hereabouts and this one had been dispatched to surprise him. Genji was both amused and annoyed. “The first hour of the tiger!” There were calls here and there as guardsmen flushed out intruders.
The lady was sad, and more beautiful for the sadness, as she recited a poem:
“They say that it is dawn, that you grow weary.
I weep, my sorrows wrought by myself alone.”
“You tell me that these sorrows must not cease?
My sorrows, my love will neither have an ending.”
He made his stealthy way out. The moon was cold in the faint beginnings of dawn, softened by delicate tracings of mist. Though in rough disguise, he was far too handsome not to attract attention. A guards officer, brother of Lady Shokyoden, had emerged from the Wisteria Court and was standing in the shadow of a latticed fence. If Genji failed to notice him, it was unfortunate.
Always when he had been with another lady he would think of the lady who was so cold to him. Though her aloofness was in its way admirable, he could not help resenting it. Visits to court being painful, Fujitsubo had to worry from afar about her son the crown prince. Though she had no one to turn to except Genji, whom she depended on for everything, she was tormented by evidence that his unwelcome affections were unchanged. Even the thought that the old emperor had died without suspecting the truth filled her with terror, which was intensified by the thought that if rumors were to get abroad, the results, quite aside from what they might mean for Fujitsubo herself, would be very unhappy for the crown prince. She even commissioned religious services in hopes of freeing herself from Genji’s attentions and she exhausted every device to avoid him. She was appalled, then, when one day he found a way to approach her. He had made his plans carefully and no one in her household was aware of them. The result was for her an unrelieved nightmare.
The words with which he sought to comfort her were so subtle and clever that I am unable to transcribe them, but she was unmoved. After a time she was seized with sharp chest pains. Omyobu and Ben hurried to her side. Genji was reeling from the grim determination with which she had repulsed him. Everything, past and future, seemed to fall away into darkness. Scarcely aware of what he was doing, he stayed on in her apartments even though day was breaking. Several other women, alerted to the crisis, were now up and about. Omyobu and Ben bundled a half-conscious Genji into a closet. They were beside themselves as they pushed his clothes in after him. Fujitsubo was now taken with fainting spells. Prince Hyōbu and her chamberlain were sent for. A dazed Genji listened to the excitement from his closet.
Towards evening Fujitsubo began to feel rather more herself again. She had not the smallest suspicion that Genji was still in the house, her women having thought it best to keep the information from her. She came out to her sitting room. Much relieved, Prince Hyōbu departed. The room was almost empty. There were not many women whom she liked to have in her immediate presence and the others kept out of sight. Omyobu and Ben were wondering how they might contrive to spirit Genji away. He must not be allowed to bring on another attack.
The closet door being open a few inches, he slipped out and made his way between a screen and the wall. He looked with wonder at the lady and tears came to his eyes. Still in some pain, she was gazing out at the garden. Might it be the end? she was asking herself. Her profile was lovely beyond description. The women sought to tempt her with sweets, which were indeed most temptingly laid out on the lid of a decorative box, but she did not look at them. To Genji she was a complete delight as she sat in silence, lost in deeply troubled meditations. Her hair as it cascaded over her shoulders, the lines of her head and face, the glow of her skin, were to Genji irresistibly beautiful. They were very much like each other, she and Murasaki. Memories had dimmed over the years, but now the astonishing resemblance did a little to dispel his gloom. The dignity that quite put one to shame also reminded him of Murasaki. He could hardly think of them as two persons, and yet, perhaps because Fujitsubo had been so much in his thoughts over the years, there did after all seem to be a difference. Fujitsubo’s was the calmer and more mature dignity. No longer in control of himself, he slipped inside her curtains and pulled at her sleeve. So distinctive was the fragrance that she recognized him immediately. In sheer terror she sank to the floor.
If she would only look at him! He pulled her towards him. She turned to flee, but her hair became entangled in her cloak as she tried to slip out of it. It seemed to be her fate that everything should go against her!
Deliriously, Genji poured forth all the resentment he had kept to himself; but it only revolted her.
“I am not feeling well. Perhaps on another occasion I will be better able to receive you.”
Yet he talked on. Mixed in with the flow were details which did, after all, seem to move her. This was not of course their first meeting, but she had been determined that there would not be another. Though avoiding explicit rejoinder, she held him off until morning. He could not force himself upon her. In her quiet dignity, she left him feeling very much ashamed of himself.
“If I may see you from time to time and so drive away a little of the gloom, I promise you that I shall do nothing to offend you.”
The most ordinary things have a way of moving people who are as they were to each other, and this was no ordinary meeting. It was daylight. Omyobu and Ben were insistent and Fujitsubo seemed barely conscious.
“ I think I must die,” he said in a final burst of passion.“ I cannot bear the thought of having you know that I still exist. And if I die my love for you will be an obstacle on my way to salvation.
“If other days must be as this has been,
I still shall be weeping two and three lives hence.
And the sin will be yours as well.”
“Remember that the cause is in yourself
Of a sin which you say I must bear through lives to come.”
She managed an appearance of resignation which tore at his heart. It was no good trying her patience further. Half distraught, he departed.
He would only invite another defeat if he tried to see her again. She must be made to feel sorry for him. He would not even write to her. He remained shut up at Nijō, seeing neither the emperor nor the crown prince, his gloom spreading discomfort through the house and making it almost seem that he had lost the will to live. “I am in this world but to see my woes increase.” He must leave it behind – but there was the dear girl who so needed him. He could not abandon her.
Fujitsubo had been left a near invalid by the encounter. Omyobu and Ben were saddened at Genji’s withdrawal and refusal to write. Fujitsubo too was disturbed: it would serve the crown prince badly if Genji were to turn against her, and it would be a disaster if, having had enough of the world, he were to take holy orders. A repetition of the recent incident would certainly give rise to rumors which would make visits to the palace even more distasteful. She was becoming convinced that she must relinquish the title that had aroused the implacable hostility of Kokiden. She remembered the detailed and emphatic instructions which the old emperor had left behind. Everything was changed, no shadow remained of the past. She might not suffer quite as cruel a fate as Lady Ch’i, but she must doubtless look forward to contempt and derision. She resolved to become a nun. But she must see the crown prince again before she did. Quietly, she paid him a visit.
Though Genji had seen to all her needs in much more complicated matters than this one, he pleaded illness and did not accompany her to court. He still made routine inquiries as civility demanded. The women who shared his secret knew that he was very unhappy, and pitied him.
Her little son was even prettier than when she had last seen him. He clung to her, his pleasure in her company so touching that she knew how difficult it would be to carry through her resolve. But this glimpse of court life told her more clearly than ever that it was no place for her, that the things she had known had vanished utterly away. She must always worry about Kokiden, and these visits would be increasingly uncomfortable; and in sum everything caused her pain. She feared for her son’s future if she continued to let herself be called empress.
“What will you think of me if I do not see you for a very long time and become very unpleasant to look at?”
He gazed up at her. “Like Shikibu?“ He laughed. “But why should you ever look like her?”
She wanted to weep. “Ah, but Shikibu is old and wrinkled. That is not what I had in mind. I meant that my hair would be shorter and I would wear black clothes and look like one of the priests that say prayers at night. And I would see you much less often.”
“I would miss you,“ he said solemnly, turning away to hide his tears. The hair that fell over his shoulders was wonderfully lustrous and the glow in his eyes, warmer as he grew up, was almost enough to make one think he had taken Genji’s face for a mask. Because his teeth were slightly decayed, his mouth was charmingly dark when he smiled. One almost wished that he had been born a girl. But the resemblance to Genji was for her like the flaw in the gem. All the old fears came back.
Genji too wanted to see the crown prince, but he wanted also to make Fujitsubo aware of her cruelty. He kept to himself at Nijō. Fearing that his indolence would be talked about and thinking that the autumn leaves would be at their best, he went off to the Ujii Temple, to the north of the city, over which an older brother of his late mother presided. Borrowing the uncle’s cell for fasting and meditation, he stayed for several days.
The fields, splashed with autumn color, were enough to make him forget the city. He gathered erudite monks and listened attentively to their discussions of the scriptures. Though he would pass the night in the thoughts of the evanescence of things to which the setting was so conducive, he would still, in the dawn moonlight, remember the lady who was being so cruel to him. There would be a clattering as the priests put new flowers before the images, and the chrysanthemums and the falling leaves of varied tints, though the scene was in no way dramatic, seemed to offer asylum in this life and hope for the life to come. And what a purposeless life was his!
“All who invoke the holy name shall be taken unto Lord Amitabha and none shall be abandoned,“ proclaimed Genji’s uncle in grand, lingering tones, and Genji was filled with envy. Why did he not embrace the religious life? He knew (for the workings of his heart were complex) that the chief reason was the girl at Nijō.
He had been away from her now for an unusually long time. She was much on his mind and he wrote frequently. “I have come here,” he said in one of his letters, “to see whether I am capable of leaving the world. The serenity I had hoped for eludes me and my loneliness only grows. There are things I have yet to learn. And have you missed me?” It was on heavy Michinoku paper. The hand, though casual, was strong and distinguished.
“In lodgings frail as the dew upon the reeds
I left you, and the four winds tear at me.”
It brought tears to her eyes. Her answer was a verse on a bit of white paper:
“Weak as the spider’s thread upon the reeds,
The dew-drenched reeds of autumn, I blow with the winds.”
He smiled. Her writing had improved. It had come to resemble his, though it was gentler and more ladylike. He congratulated himself on having such a perfect subject for his pedagogical endeavors.
The Kamo Shrines were not far away. He got off a letter to Princess Asagao, the high priestess. He sent it through Chūjō, with this message for Chūjō herself: “A traveler, I feel my heart traveling yet further afield; but your lady will not have taken note of it, I suppose.”
This was his message for the princess herself:
“The gods will not wish me to speak of them, perhaps,
But I think of sacred cords of another autumn.
‘Is there no way to make the past the present?’”
He wrote as if their relations might permit of a certain intimacy. His note was on azure Chinese paper attached most solemnly to a sacred branch from which streamed ritual cords.
Chūjō’s answer was courteous and leisurely. 00“We live a quiet life here, and I have time for many stray thoughts, among them thoughts of you and my lady.”
There was a note from the princess herself, tied with a ritual cord:
“Another autumn – what can this refer to?
A secret hoard of thoughts of sacred cords?
And in more recent times?”
The hand was not perhaps the subtlest he had seen, but it showed an admirable mastery of the cursive style, and interested him. His heart leaped (most blasphemously) at the thought of a beauty of feature that would doubtless have outstripped the beauty of her handwriting.
He remembered that just a year had passed since that memorable night at the temporary shrine of the other high priestess, and (blasphemously again) he found himself berating the gods, that the fates of his two cousins should have been so strangely similar. He had had a chance of successfully wooing at least one of the ladies who were the subjects of these improper thoughts, and he had procrastinated; and it was odd that he should now have these regrets. When, occasionally, Princess Asagao answered, her tone was not at all unfriendly, though one might have taxed her with a certain inconsistency.
He read the sixty Tendai fascicles and asked the priests for explanations of difficult passages. Their prayers had brought this wondrous radiance upon their monastery, said even the lowliest of them, and indeed Genji’s presence seemed to bring honor to the Blessed One himself. Though he quietly thought over the affairs of the world and was reluctant to return to it, thoughts of the lady at Nijō interfered with his meditations and made it seem useless to stay longer. His gifts were lavish to all the several ranks in the monastery and to the mountain people as well; and so, having exhausted the possibilities of pious works, he made his departure. The woodcutters came down from the hills and knelt by the road to see him off. Still in mourning, his carriage draped in black, he was not easy to pick out, but from the glimpses they had they thought him a fine figure of a man indeed.
Even after this short absence Murasaki was more beautiful and more sedately mature. She seemed to be thinking about the future and what they would be to each other. Perhaps it was because she knew all about his errant ways that she had written of the “reeds of autumn.” She pleased him more and more and it was with deeper affection than ever that he greeted her.
He had brought back autumn leaves more deeply tinted by the dews than the leaves in his garden. Fearing that people might be remarking upon his neglect of Fujitsubo, he sent a few branches as a routine gift, and with them a message for Omyobu:
“The news, which I received with some wonder, of your lady’s visit to the palace had the effect of making me want to be in retreat for a time. I have rather neglected you, I fear. Having made my plans, I did not think it proper to change them. I must share my harvest with you. A sheaf of autumn leaves admired in solitude is like ‘damasks worn in the darkness of the night.’ Show them to your lady, please, when an occasion presents itself.”
They were magnificent. Looking more closely, Fujitsubo saw hidden in them a tightly folded bit of paper. She flushed, for her women were watching. The same thing all over again! So much more prudent and careful now, he was still capable of unpleasant surprises. Her women would think it most peculiar. She had one of them put the leaves in a vase out near the veranda.
Genji was her support in private matters and in the far more important matter of the crown prince’s well-being. Her clipped, businesslike notes left him filled with bitter admiration at the watchfulness with which she eluded his advances. People would notice if he were suddenly to terminate his services, and so he went to the palace on the day she was to return to her family.
He first called on the emperor, whom he found free from court business and happy to talk about recent and ancient events. He bore a strong resemblance to their father, though he was perhaps handsomer, and there was a gentler, more amiable cast to his features. The two brothers exchanged fond glances from time to time. The emperor had heard, and himself had had reason to suspect, that Genji and Oborozukiyo were still seeing each other. He told himself, however, that the matter would have been worth thinking about if it had only now burst upon the world, but that it was not at all strange or improper that old friends should be interested in each other. He saw no reason to caution Genji. He asked Genji’s opinion about certain puzzling Chinese texts, and as the talk naturally turned to little poems they had sent and received he remarked on the departure of the high priestess for Ise. How pretty she had been that day! Genji told of the dawn meeting at the temporary shrine.
It was a beautiful time, late in the month. A quarter moon hung in the sky. One wanted music on nights like this, said the emperor.
“Her Majesty is leaving the palace this evening,” said Genji, “and I was thinking of calling on her. Father left such detailed instructions and there is no one to look after her. And then of course there is the crown prince.”
“Yes, Father did worry a great deal about the crown prince. Indeed one of his last requests was that I adopt him as my own son. He is, I assure you, much on my mind, but one must worry about seeming partial and setting a precedent. He writes remarkably well for his age, making up for my own awkward scrawl and general incompetence.”
“He is a clever child, clever beyond his years. But he is very young.”
As he withdrew, a nephew of Kokiden happened to be on his way to visit a younger sister. He was on the winning side and saw no reason to hide his light. He stopped to watch Genji’s modest retinue go by.
“A white rainbow crosses the sun,” he grandly intoned. “The crown prince trembles.”
Genji was startled but let the matter pass. He was aware that Kokiden’s hostility had if anything increased, and her relatives had their ways of making it known. It was unpleasant, but one was wise to look the other way.
“It is very late, I fear,” he sent in to Fujitsubo. “I have been with the emperor.”
On such nights his father’s palace would have been filled with music. The setting was the same, but there was very little left by which to remember the old reign.
Omyobu brought a poem from Fujitsubo:
“Ninefold mists have risen and come between us.
I am left to imagine the moon beyond the clouds.”
She was so near that he could feel her presence. His bitterness quite left him and he was in tears as he replied:
“The autumn moon is the autumn moon of old.
How cruel the mists that will not let me see it.
The poet has told us that mists are as unkind as people, and so I suppose that I am not the first one so troubled.”
She had numerous instructions for her son with which to delay her farewell. He was too young to pay a great deal of attention, however, and she drew little comfort from this last interview. Though he usually went to bed very early, tonight he seemed determined to stay up for her departure. He longed to go with her, but of course it was impossible.
That objectionable nephew of Kokiden’s had made Genji wonder what people really thought of him. Life at court was more and more trying. Days went by and he did not get off a note to Oborozukiyo. The late autumn skies warned of the approach of winter rains. A note came from her, whatever she may have meant by thus taking the initiative:
“Anxious, restless days. A gust of wind,
And yet another, bringing no word from you.”
It was a melancholy season. He was touched that she should have ventured to write. Asking the messenger to wait, he selected a particularly fine bit of paper from a supply he kept in a cabinet and then turned to selecting brush and ink. All very suggestive, thought the women. Who might the lady be?
“I had grown thoroughly weary of a one-sided correspondence, and now – ‘So long it has been that you have been waiting too?’
“Deceive yourself not into thinking them autumn showers,
The tears I weep in hopeless longing to see you.
“Let our thoughts of each other drive the dismal rains from our minds.”
One may imagine that she was not the only lady who tried to move him, but his answers to the others were polite and perfunctory.
Fujitsubo was making preparations for a solemn reading of the Lotus Sutra, to follow memorial services on the anniversary of the old emperor’s death. There was a heavy snowfall on the anniversary, early in the Eleventh Month.
This poem came from Genji:
“We greet once more the day of the last farewell,
And when, in what snows, may we hope for a day of meeting?”
It was a sad day for everyone.
This was her reply:
“To live these months without him has been sorrow.
But today seems to bring a return of the days of old.”
The hand was a casual one, and yet – perhaps he wished it so – he thought it uniquely graceful and dignified. Though he could not expect from her the bright, modern sort of elegance, he thought that there were few who could be called her rivals. But today, with its snow and its memories, he could not think of her. He lost himself in prayer.
The reading took place toward the middle of the Twelfth Month. All the details were perfection, the scrolls to be dedicated on each of the several days, the jade spindles, the mountings of delicate silk, the brocade covers. No one was surprised, for she was a lady who on far less important occasions thought no detail too trivial for her attention. The wreaths and flowers, the cloths for the gracefully carved lecterns – they could not have been outdone in paradise itself. The reading on the first day was dedicated to her father, the late emperor, on the second to her mother, the empress, and on the third to her husband. The third day brought the reading of the climactic fifth scroll. High courtiers gathered in large numbers, though aware that the dominant faction at court would not approve. The reader had been chosen with particular care, and though the words themselves, about firewood and the like, were familiar, they seemed grander and more awesome than ever before. The princes made offerings and Genji seemed far handsomer than any of his brothers. It may be that I remark too frequently upon the fact, but what am I to do when it strikes me afresh each time I see him?
On the last day, Fujitsubo offered prayers and vows of her own. In the course of them she announced her intention of becoming a nun. The assembly was incredulous. Prince Hyōbu and Genji were visibly shaken. The prince went into his sister’s room even before the services were over. She made it very clear, however, that her decision was final. In the quiet at the end of the reading she summoned the grand abbot of Hiei and asked that he administer the vows. As her uncle, the bishop of Yokawa, approached to trim her hair, a stir spread through the hall, and there were unpropitious sounds of weeping. It is strangely sad even when old and unremarkable people leave the world, and how much sadder the sudden departure of a lady so young and beautiful. Her brother was sobbing openly. Saddened and awed by what had just taken place, the assembly dispersed.
The old emperor’s sons, remembering what Fujitsubo had been to their father, offered words of sympathy as they left. For Genji it was as if darkness had settled over the land. Still in his place, he could think of nothing to say. He struggled to control himself, for an excess of sorrow was certain to arouse curiosity. When Prince Hyōbu had left he went in to speak to Fujitsubo. The turmoil was subsiding and the women, in little clusters, were sniffling and dabbing at their eyes. The light from a cloudless moon flooded in, silver from the snow in the garden.
Genji somehow managed to fight back the tears that welled up at the memories the scene brought back. “What are you thinking of, taking us so by surprise?”
She replied, as always, through Omyobu: “It is something on which I deliberated for a very long time. I did not want to attract attention. It might have weakened my resolve.”
From her retreat came poignant evidence of sorrow. There was a soft rustling of silk as her women moved diffidently about. The wind had risen. The mysterious scent of “dark incense” drifted through the blinds, to mingle with the fainter incense from the altars and Genji’s own perfume and bring thoughts of the Western Paradise.
A messenger came from the crown prince. At the memory of their last interview her carefully maintained composure quite left her, and she was unable to answer. Genji set down an answer in her place. It was a difficult time, and he was afraid that he did not express himself well.
“My heart is with her in the moonlight above the clouds,
And yet it stays with you in this darker world.
“I am making excuses. Such resolve leaves me infinitely dissatisfied with myself. ”
That was all. There were people about, and he could not even begin to describe his turbulent thoughts.
Fujitsubo sent out a note:
“Though I leave behind a world I cannot endure,
My heart remains with him, still of that world.
And will be muddied by it.”
It would seem to have been largely the work of her sensitive women. Numb with sorrow, Genji made his way out.
Back at Nijō he withdrew to his own rooms, where he spent a sleepless night. In a world that had become in every way distasteful, he too still thought of the crown prince. The old emperor had hoped that at least the boy’s mother would stay with him, and now, driven away, she would probably feel constrained to relinquish her title as well. What if Genji were to abandon the boy? All night the question chased itself through his mind.
He turned to the work of fitting out the nunnery and hurried to have everything ready by the end of the year. Omyobu had followed her lady in taking vows. To her too, most feelingly, he sent gifts and assurances of his continuing esteem.
A complete description of such an event has a way of seeming overdone, and much has no doubt been left out; which is a pity, since many fine poems are sure to be exchanged at such times.
He felt more at liberty now to call on her, and sometimes she would come out and receive him herself. The old passions were not dead, but there was little that could be done to satisfy them now.
The New Year came. The court was busy with festive observances, the emperor’s poetry banquet and the carols. Fujitsubo devoted herself to her beads and prayers and tried to ignore the echoes that reached her. Thoughts of the life to come were her strength. She put aside all the old comforts and sorrows. Leaving her old chapel as it was, she built a new one some distance to the south of the west wing, and there she took up residence, and lost herself in prayer and meditation.
Genji came calling and saw little sign that the New Year had brought new life. Her palace was silent and almost deserted. Only her nearest confidantes were still with her, and even they (or perhaps it was his imagination) seemed downcast and subdued. The white horses, which her entire household came out to see, brought a brief flurry of the old excitement. High courtiers had once gathered in such numbers that there had seemed room for no more, and it was sad though understandable that today they gathered instead at the mansion of the Minister of the Right, across the street. Genji was as kind and attentive as ever, and to the women, shedding unnoticed tears, he seemed worth a thousand of the others.
Looking about him at these melancholy precincts, Genji was at first unable to speak. They had become in every way a nunnery: the blinds and curtains, all a drab gray-green, glimpses of gray and yellow sleeves-melancholy and at the same time quietly, mysteriously beautiful. He looked out into the garden. The ice was melting from the brook and pond, and the willow on the bank, as if it alone were advancing boldly into spring, had already sent out shoots. “Uncommonly elegant fisherfolk,“ he whispered, himself an uncommonly handsome figure.
“Briny my sleeves at the pines of Urashima
As those of the fisherfolk who take the sea grass.”
Her reply was faint and low, from very near at hand, for the chapel was small and crowded with holy objects:
“How strange that waves yet come to Urashima,
When all the things of old have gone their way.”
He tried not to weep. He would have preferred not to show his tears to nuns who had awakened to the folly of human affairs. He said little more.
“What a splendid gentleman he has become,” sobbed one of the old women. “Back in the days when everything was going his way, when the whole world seemed to be his, we used to hope that something would come along to jar him just a little from his smugness. But now look at him, so calm and sober and collected. There is something about him when he does the smallest little thing that tugs at a person’s heart. It’s all too sad.” Fujitsubo too thought a great deal about the old days.
The spring promotions were announced, and they brought no happiness to Fujitsubo’s household. Promotions that should have come in the natural order of things or because of her position were withheld. It was unreasonable to argue that because she had become a nun she was no longer entitled to the old emoluments; but that was the argument all the same. For her people, the world was a changed place. Though there were times when she still had regrets, not for herself but for those who depended upon her, she turned ever more fervently to her prayers, telling herself that the security of her son was the important thing. Her secret worries sometimes approached real terror. She would pray that by way of recompense for her own sufferings his burden of guilt be lightened, and in the prayer she would find comfort.
Genji understood and sympathized. The spring lists had been no more satisfying for his people than for hers. He remained in seclusion at Nijō.
And it was a difficult time for the Minister of the Left. Everything was changed, private and public. He handed in his resignation, but the emperor, remembering how his father had looked to the minister as one of the men on whom the stability of the reign depended and how just before his death he had asked especially that the minister’s services be retained, said that he could not dispense with such estimable services. He declined to accept the resignation, though it was tendered more than once. Finally the minister withdrew to the seclusion of his Sanjō mansion, and the Minister of the Right was more powerful and prosperous every day. With the retirement of a man who should have been a source of strength, the emperor was helpless. People of feeling all through the court joined him in his laments.
Genji’s brothers-in-law, the sons of the Minister of the Left, were all personable and popular young men, and life had been pleasant for them. Now they too were in eclipse. On Tō no Chūjō’s rare visits to his wife, the fourth daughter of the Minister of the Right, he was made to feel all too clearly that she was less than delighted with him and that he was not the minister’s favorite son-in-law. As if to emphasize the point, he too was omitted from the spring lists. But he was not one to fret over the injustice. Genji’s setbacks seemed to him evidence enough that public life was insecure, and he was philosophic about his own career. He and Genji were constant companions in their studies and in such diversions as music. Now and then something of their madcap boyhood rivalry seemed almost to come back.
Genji paid more attention than in other years to the semiannual readings of holy scriptures and commissioned several unscheduled readings as well. He would summon learned professors who did not have much else to do and beguile the tedium of his days composing Chinese poetry and joining in contests of rhyme guessing and the like. He seldom went to court. This indolent life seems to have aroused a certain amount of criticism.
On an evening of quiet summer rain when the boredom was very great, Tō no Chūjō came calling and brought with him several of the better collections of Chinese poetry. Going into his library, Genji opened cases he had not looked into before and chose several unusual and venerable collections. Quietly he sent out invitations to connoisseurs of Chinese poetry at court and in the university. Dividing them into teams of the right and of the left, he set them to a rhyme-guessing contest. The prizes were lavish. As the rhymes became more difficult even the erudite professors were sometimes at a loss, and Genji would dazzle the assembly by coming up with a solution which had eluded them. The meeting of so many talents in one person – it was the wonder of the day, and it told of great merits accumulated in previous lives.
Two days later Tō no Chūjō gave a banquet for the victors. Though it was a quiet, unostentatious affair, the food was beautifully arranged in cypress boxes. There were numerous gifts and there were the usual diversions, Chinese poetry and the like. Here and there below the veranda a solitary rose was coming into bloom, more effective, in a quiet way, than the full bloom of spring or autumn. Several of the guests presently took up instruments and began an impromptu concert. One of Tō no Chūjō’s little sons, a boy of eight or nine who had just this year been admitted to the royal presence, sang for them in fine voice and played on the shō pipes. A favorite of Genji, who often joined him in a duet, the boy was Tō no Chūjō’s second son and a grandson of the Minister of the Right. He was gifted and intelligent and very handsome as well, and great care had gone into his education. As the proceedings grew noisier he sang “Takasago” in a high, clear voice. Delighted, Genji took off a singlet and presented it to him. A slight flush from drink made Genji even handsomer than usual. His skin glowed through his light summer robes. The learned guests looked up at him from the lower tables with eyes that had misted over. “I might have met the first lily of spring“ – the boy had come to the end of his song. Tō no Chūjō offered Genji a cup of wine and with it a verse:
“I might have met the first lily of spring, he says.
I look upon a flower no less pleasing.”
Smiling, Genji took the cup:
“The plant of which you speak bloomed very briefly.
It opened at dawn to wilt in the summer rains, and is not what it used to be.”
Though Tō no Chūjō did not entirely approve of this garrulity, he continued to press wine upon his guest.
There seem to have been numerous other poems; but Tsurayuki has warned that it is in bad taste to compose under the influence of alcohol and that the results are not likely to have much merit, and so I did not trouble myself to write them down. All the poems, Chinese and Japanese alike, were in praise of Genji. In fine form, he said as if to himself: “I am the son of King Wen, the brother-of King Wu.” It was magnificent. And what might he have meant to add about King Ch’eng? At that point, it seems, he thought it better to hold his tongue. Prince Sochi, who could always be counted upon to enliven these gatherings, was an accomplished musician and a witty and good-humored adversary for Genji.
Oborozukiyo was spending some time with her family. She had had several attacks of malaria and hoped that rest and the services of priests might be beneficial. Everyone was pleased that this treatment did indeed prove effective. It was a rare opportunity. She made certain arrangements with Genji and, though they were complicated, saw him almost every night. She was a bright, cheerful girl, at her youthful best, and a small loss of weight had made her very beautiful indeed. Because her sister, Kokiden, also happened to be at home, Genji was in great apprehension lest his presence be detected. It was his nature to be quickened by danger, however, and with elaborate stealth he continued his visits. Although it would seem that, as the number increased, several women of the house began to suspect what was happening, they were reluctant to play informer to the august lady. The minister had no suspicions.
Then one night toward dawn there came a furious thunderstorm. The minister’s sons and Kokiden’s women were rushing about in confusion. Several women gathered trembling near Oborozukiyo’s bed curtains. Genji was almost as frightened, for other reasons, and unable to escape. Daylight came. He was in a fever, for a crowd of women had by now gathered outside the curtains. The two women who were privy to the secret could think of nothing to do.
The thunder stopped, the rain quieted to showers. The minister went first to Kokiden’s wing and then, his approach undetected because of the rain on the roof, to Oborozukiyo’s. He marched jauntily up the gallery and lifted a blind.
“How did you come through it all? I was worried about you and meant to look in on you. Have the lieutenant and Her Majesty’s vice-chamberlain been here?”
A cascade of words poured forth. Despite the precariousness of his situation, Genji could not help smiling at the difference between the two ministers. The man could at least have come inside before he commenced his speech.
Flushed and trembling, Oborozukiyo slipped through the bed curtains. The minister feared that she had had a relapse.
“My, but you do look strange. It’s not just malaria, it’s some sort of evil spirit, I’m sure of it, a very stubborn one. We should have kept those priests at it.”
He caught sight of a pale magenta sash entwined in her skirts. And something beside the curtain too, a wadded bit of paper on which he could see traces of writing.
“What might this be?“ he asked in very great surprise. “Not at all something that I would have expected to find here. Let me have it. Give it to me, now. Let me see what it is.”
The lady glanced over her shoulder and saw the incriminating objects. And now what was she to do? One might have expected a little more tact and forbearance from a man of parts. It was an exceedingly difficult moment, even if she was his own daughter. But he was a headstrong and not very thoughtful man, and all sense of proportion deserted him. Snatching at the paper, he lifted the bed curtains. A gentleman was lying there in dishabille. He hid his face and sought to pull his clothes together. Though dizzy with anger, the minister pulled back from a direct confrontation. He took the bit of paper off to the main hall.
Oborozukiyo was afraid she would faint and wished she might expire on the spot. Genji was of course upset too. He had gone on permitting himself these heedless diversions and now he faced a proper scandal. But the immediate business was to comfort the lady.
It had always been the minister’s way to keep nothing to himself, and now the crotchetiness of old age had been added in ample measure to this effusiveness. Why should he hold back? He poured out for Kokiden the full list of his complaints.
“It is Genji’s handwriting,” he said, after describing what he had just seen. I was careless and I let it all get started several years ago. But Genji is Genji, and I forgave everything and even hoped I might have him as a son-in-law. I was not happy of course that he did not seem to take her very seriously, and sometimes he did things that seemed completely outrageous; but I told myself that these things happen. I was sure that His Majesty would overlook a little blemish or two and take her in, and so I went back to my original plan and sent her off to court. I wasn’t happy – who would have been? – that the affair had made him feel a little odd about her and kept her from being one of his favorites. And now I really do think I’ve been misused. Boys will do this sort of thing, I know, but it’s really too much. They say he’s still after the high priestess of Kamo and gets off secret letters to her, and something must be going on there too. He is a disgrace to his brother’s reign and a disgrace in general, to himself and everyone else too. But I would have expected him to be cleverer about it. One of the brighter and more talented people of our day, everyone says. I simply would not have expected it of him.”
Of an even more choleric nature, Kokiden spoke in even stronger terms. “My son is emperor, to be sure, but no one has ever taken him seriously. The old Minister of the Left refused to let him have that prize daughter of his and then gave her to a brother who was hardly out of swaddling clothes and wasn’t even a prince any more. And my sister: we had thought of letting His Majesty have her, and did anyone say anything at all to Genji when he had everyone laughing at the poor thing? Oh, no he was to be just everyone’s son-in-law, it seemed. Well, we had to make do and found a place for her. I was sorry, of course, but I hoped she might work hard and still make a decent career, and someday teach that awful boy a lesson. And now see what she has done. She has let him get the better of her. I think it very likely indeed that something is going on between him and the high priestess. The sum and substance of it all is that we must be careful. He is waiting very eagerly for the next reign to come.”
The minister was beginning to feel a little sorry for Genji and to regret that he had come to her with his story. “Well, be that as it may, I mean to speak to no one else of what has happened. You would be wise not to tell His Majesty. I imagine she is presuming on his kindness and is sure he will forgive even this. Tell her to be more careful, and if she isn’t, well, I suppose I’ll have to take responsibility.”
But it did not seem that he had quieted her anger. “That awful boy” had come into a house where she and her sister were living side by side. It was a deliberate insult. She was angrier and angrier. It would seem that the time had come for her to lay certain plans.