Sunday Poetry – Lady Murasaki

I started reading The Tale of Genji on Friday night & I’m enjoying it very much. My only problem is that the book is so heavy. As soon as I sit down in this chilly weather, either Lucky or Phoebe are waiting to jump up on my lap. I managed nearly two hours unencumbered reading time yesterday though as both cats were fast asleep. I’d been out shopping, did some housework & they were both still snoozing – Lucky under her blanket & Phoebe curled up on my bed – so I made myself a coffee & settled down with Genji. I’ve read about five chapters & I’m starting to recognize characters & feel in tune with the style. I deliberately didn’t read the Introduction & background in my edition as I just wanted to plunge in. I may go back & read all that now that I’ve made a start – maybe next time the girls are asleep?

The characters converse in very formal, circumscribed ways, often through two line poems.  At the age of 17, Genji, the son of the Emperor & a very beautiful young man, has fallen in love with Utsusemi, the wife of an official. She is horrified by his advances & only piques his interest more by being so elusive. He recruits her young brother to his household so that he will be able to use him as a go-between. One of the poems he sends her refers to the robe he has taken from her room & which he keeps with him as a keepsake, as a cicada shell.

Underneath this tree, where the molting cicada shed her empty shell,
my longing still goes to her, for all I know her to be.

Utsusemi is secretly pleased with Genji’s devotion although she knows that nothing can come of it. She writes a response to the poem on the same sheet of paper,

Just as drops of dew settle on cicada wings, concealed in this tree,
secretly, O secretly, these sleeves are wet with my tears.

7 thoughts on “Sunday Poetry – Lady Murasaki

  1. You're welcome. I read another 100pp yesterday & it's very appropriate to grey, rainy afternoons (which yesterday was). Once the rhythm of the language takes over, it's very easy to just keep reading.


  2. are you reading a translation? i read the arthur waley one and greatly enjoyed it, although i always wonder how much of the Japanese flavor comes through into English…


  3. I'm reading the Penguin Deluxe edition which is translated by Royall Tyler. I've heard good things about the Waley translation & another by Seidensticker. The Tyler reads very smoothly & there are lots of footnotes which I'm finding really helpful. Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to read it in Japanese?


  4. It's such a beautiful book! I know what you mean about its being heavy. Last year I was able to find the new Dennis Washburn translation at a Kindle sale for only $2.99 so that has proved a godsend. And I am so glad you're reading it, so I'm not alone (though it will take me all summer).


  5. I'm about halfway through now & still loving it, even though I get confused by the changes of title for almost every character. I can also only read it when the cats are otherwise occupied because it's too heavy to hold up for long when there's a cat on my lap.


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