The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu

Chapter 33

Wisteria Leaves

Yūgiri thought himself odd that he should be so gloomy when everyone else was so caught up in the excitement. His singleness of purpose had come to seem obsessive. Now there appeared a possibility that Tō no Chūjō was prepared to look the other way — and so why did he not slip through? But no. An air of cool indifference had served him well thus far and it must be maintained to the end. It cost him a great deal. As for Kumoinokari, she feared that if the rumors her father had brought were true, then this indifference was not feigned; and so even as they turned from each other they went on thinking about each other.

Calm and resolute on the surface, Tō no Chūjō suspected that he was no longer in control of his daughter’s affairs. If on the assumption that the reports about Prince Nakatsukasa’s daughter were true he were to begin thinking of other arrangements for Kumoinokari, the man to whom he turned would hardly feel flattered, nor was Tō no Chūjō‘s own dignity likely to emerge unimpaired. There would be talk and there might be incidents. Well, he had made a mistake, and that fact could not be kept secret. He must surrender and hope to do so with some dignity.

But he must wait for the proper occasion. He could not step forth and make a great show of welcoming Yūgiri as his own. That would be too utterly ridiculous. The time would come, however. A surface calm hid these tensions.

The anniversary of Princess Omiya’s death fell on the twentieth of the Third Month. Tō no Chūjō attended memorial services at the Gokurakuji Temple, south of the city. All of his sons were with him, a very grand entourage indeed. As handsome as any of them, Yūgiri was also of the party. Though he had avoided Tō no Chūjō since the days when the latter had treated him so badly, he had not let the smallest sign of his resentment show. Tō no Chūjō was increasingly aware of it all the same.

Genji too commissioned memorial services, and Yūgiri solemnly busied himself with services of his own.

As they returned from the Gokurakuji in the evening, cherry petals were drifting through the spring haze. In a reminiscent mood, Tō no Chūjō intoned lines from the anthologies. Yūgiri was no less moved by the beauty of the evening. It looked like rain, someone said. Yūgiri did not seem to hear.

Tō no Chūjō (one may imagine that it was with some apprehension) tugged at his sleeve.

“Why are you angry with me? Might this not be the occasion to forgive me, whatever I may have done? I think I have a right myself to complain, that you should have cast me aside in my declining years.”

“Grandmother’s last instructions,” said Yūgiri, very politely, “were that I look to you for advice and support. But you have not seemed to welcome my presence.”

Suddenly there was a downpour. They hurried home in twos and threes.

What could have produced this sudden change? The words themselves had seemed casual enough, but they came from a man before whom Yūgiri seldom felt comfortable. He lay awake all night asking what they could mean.

Perhaps his patience had been rewarded. Tō no Chūjō seemed to be relenting. He continued to seek a proper occasion, neither too ostentatious nor too casual, for a reconciliation.

Early in the Fourth Month the wisteria at Tō no Chūjō‘s veranda came into profuse bloom, of a subtly richer hue than most wisteria. He arranged a concert, thinking that it must not go unnoticed. As the colors mounted richer in the twilight, he sent Kashiwagi with a note.

“It was a pity that we were not permitted a more leisurely talk under the cherry blossoms. If you are free, I would be most honored to see you.

“Come join me in regrets for the passing of spring

And wisteria now aglow in the evening light.”

It was attached to a magnificent spray of the flower.

Restraining his excitement at the letter awaited so long, Yūgiri sent back a polite answer:

“I grope my way through the gathering shades of evening

With no great hopes of coming upon wisteria.”

“I am not sure I have struck the right note,” he said to Kashiwagi. “Would you look it over, please?”

“All that is required of you is that you come with me.”

“You are far too grand an escort.”

He sent Kashiwagi ahead and went to show Genji the letter.

“I think he must have his reasons,” said Genji, who seemed pleased with himself. “I had thought that he was not showing proper respect towards his late mother, but this changes things.”

“I doubt that it is so very important. Everyone says that his wisteria is very fine this year. I imagine that he was bored and arranged a concert in its honor.”

“He sent a very special messenger, in any event. You must go.”

And so a nervous Yūgiri had his father’s blessing.

“It would not do to overdress,” Genji continued. “A magenta would be all right, I suppose, if you were not yet on the council or if you were between offices. Do please dress very carefully.” He sent one of Yūgiri’s men with a fine robe and several singlets from his own wardrobe.

Yūgiri did take great care with his dress. Tō no Chūjō had begun to grow restless when finally he arrived. Seven or eight of Tō no Chūjō‘s sons, led by Kashiwagi, came out to receive him. They were all very handsome, but Yūgiri was even handsomer, with a calm dignity that rather put them to shame. Tō no Chūjō showed him to his place. It was clear that the preparations for receiving him had been thorough.

“Be sure that you get a good look at him,” Tō no Chūjō had said to his wife and her young women as he changed to formal dress. “He is completely in control of himself. In that respect I think he is more than his father’s equal, though of course Genji is so handsome that a smile from him can make you think all the world’s problems have been solved. I doubt that anyone minds very much if he sometimes seems a little flippant in his treatment of public affairs. Yūgiri is a sterner sort and he has studied hard. I for one would have trouble finding anything wrong with him, and I suspect that most people Would have the same trouble.”

Dispensing with the stiffer formalities, he turned immediately to the matter of honoring his wisteria.

“There is much to be said for cherry blossoms, but they seem so flighty. They are so quick to run off and leave you. And then just when your regrets are the strongest the wisteria comes into bloom, and it blooms on into the summer. There is nothing quite like it. Even the color is somehow companionable and inviting.” He was still a very handsome man. His smile said a great deal.

Though the lavender was not very apparent in the moonlight, he worked hard at admiring it. The wine flowed generously and there was music. Pretending to be very drunk and to have lost all thought for the proprieties, he pressed wine upon Yūgiri, who, though sober and cautious as always, found it hard to refuse.

“Everyone agrees that your learning and accomplishments are more than we deserve in this inferior day of ours. I should think you might have the magnanimity to put up with old dotards like myself. Do you have in your library a tract you can refer to in the matter of filial piety? I must lodge a complaint that you who are so much better informed than most about the teachings of the sages should in your treatment of me have shown indifference to their high principles.” Through drunken tears — might one call them? — came these adroit hints.

“You do me a very grave injustice, sir. I think of you as heir to all the ages, and so important that no sacrifice asked of me could be too great. I am a lazy, careless man, but I cannot think what I might have done to displease you.”

The moment had come, thought Tō no Chūjō. “Underleaves of wisteria,” he said, smiling. Kashiwagi broke off an unusually long and rich spray of wisteria and presented it to Yūgiri with a cup of wine. Seeing that his guest was a little puzzled, Tō no Chūjō elaborated upon the reference with a poem of his own:

“Let us blame the wisteria, of too pale a hue,

Though the pine has let itself be overgrown.”

Taking a careful though elegant sip from the cup that was pressed upon him, Yūgiri replied:

“Tears have obscured the blossoms these many springs,

And now at length they open full before me.”

He poured for Kashiwagi, who replied:

“Wisteria is like the sleeve of a maiden,

Lovelier when someone cares for it.”

Cup followed cup, and it would seem that poem followed poem with equal rapidity; and in the general intoxication none were superior to these.

The light of the quarter-moon was soft and the pond was a minor, and the wisteria was indeed very beautiful, hanging from a pine of medium height that trailed its branches far to one side. It did not have to compete with the lusher green of summer.

Kōbai, in his usual good voice, sang “The Fence of Rushes,” very softly.

“What an odd one to have chosen,” Tō no Chūjō said, laughing. Also in fine voice, he joined in the refrain, changing the disturbed house into “a house of eminence.” The merriment was kept within proper bounds and all the old enmity vanished.

Yūgiri pretended to be very drunk. “I am not feeling at all well,” he said to Kashiwagi, “and doubt very much that I can find my way home. Let me borrow your room.”

“Find him a place to rest, my young lord,” said Tō no Chūjō. “I am afraid that in these my declining years I do not hold my liquor well and may create a disturbance. I shall leave you.” He withdrew.

“Are you saying that you mean to pass one night among the flowers?” said Kashiwagi. “It is a difficult task you assign your guide.”

“The fickle flowers, watched over by the steadfast pine? Please, sir — do not let any hint of the inauspicious creep into the conversation.”

Kashiwagi was satisfied, though he did not think that he had risen to the occasion as wittily as he might have. He had a very high opinion of Yūgiri and would not have wished the affair to end otherwise. With no further misgivings he showed his friend to Kumoinokari’s room.

For Yūgiri it was a waking dream. He had waited, long and well. Kumoinokari was very shy but more beautiful than when, all those years before, he had last seen her. He too was satisfied.

“I knew that people were laughing,” he said, “but I let them laugh, and so here we are. Your chief claim to distinction through it all, if I may say so, has been your chilliness. You heard the song your brother was singing, I suppose. It was not kind of him. The fence of rushes — I would have liked to answer with the one about the Kawaguchi Barrier.”

This, she thought, required comment: “Deplorable.

“So shallow a river, flowing out to sea.

Why did so stout a fence permit it to pass?”

He thought her delightful.

“Shallowness was one, but only one,

Among the traits that helped it pass the barrier.

“The length of the wait has driven me mad, raving mad. At this point I understand nothing.” Intoxication was his excuse for a certain fretful disorderliness. He appeared not to know that dawn was approaching.

The women were very reluctant to disturb him.

“He seems to sleep a confident and untroubled sleep,” said Tō no Chūjō.

He did, however, leave before it was full daylight. Even his yawns were handsome.

His note was delivered later in the morning with the usual secrecy. She had trouble answering. The women were poking one another jocularly and the arrival of Tō no Chūjō added to her embarrassment. He glanced at the note.

“Your coldness serves to emphasize my own inadequacy, and makes me feel that the best solution might be to expire.

“Do not reprove me for the dripping sleeves

The whole world sees. I weary of wringing them dry.”

It may have seemed somewhat facile.

“How his writing has improved.” Tō no Chūjō smiled. The old resent- ments had quite disappeared. “He will be impatient for an answer, my dear.”

But he saw that his presence had an inhibiting effect and withdrew.

Kashiwagi ordered wine and lavish gifts for the messenger, an assistant guards commander who was among Yūgiri’s most trusted attendants. He was glad that he no longer had to do his work in secret.

Genji thought his son more shiningly handsome than ever this morning. “And how are you? Have you sent off your letter? The most astute and sober of men can stumble in the pursuit of a lady, and you have shown your superiority in refusing to be hurried or to make a nuisance of yourself. Tō no Chūjō was altogether too stern and uncompromising. I wonder what people are saying now that he has surrendered. But you must not gloat and you must be on your best behavior. You may think him a calm, unruffled sort of man, but he has a strain of deviousness that does not always seem entirely manly and does not make him the easiest person in the world to get along with.” Genji went on giving advice, it will be seen, though he was delighted with the match.

They looked less like father and son than like brothers, the one not a great deal older than the other. When they were apart people were sometimes not sure which was which, but when they were side by side distinctive traits asserted themselves. Genji was wearing an azure robe and under it a singlet of a Chinese white with the pattern in clear relief, sprucely elegant as always. Yūgiri’s robe was of a somewhat darker blue, with a rich saffron and a softly figured white showing at the sleeves. No bridegroom could have been more presentable.

A procession came in bearing a statue of the infant Buddha. It was followed somewhat tardily by priests. In the evening little girls brought offerings from the several Rokujō ladies, as splendid as anything one would see at court. The services too were similar, the chief difference being the rather curious one that more care and expense would seem to have gone into these at Rokujō.

Yūgiri was impatient to be on his way. He dressed with very great care. He had had his little dalliances, it would seem, none of them very important to him, and there were ladies who felt pangs of jealousy as they saw him off. But he had been rewarded for years of patience, and the match was of the sort the poet called “watertight.” Tō no Chūjō liked him much better now that he was one of the family. It was not pleasant to have been the loser, of course, but his extraordinary fidelity over the years made it difficult to hold grudges. Kumoinokari was now in a position of which her sister at court might be envious. Her stepmother could not, it is true, restrain a certain spitefulness, but it was not enough to spoil the occasion. Her real mother, now married to the Lord Inspector, was delighted.

The presentation of the Akashi girl at court had been fixed for late in the Fourth Month.

Murasaki went with Genji to the Miare festival, which preceded the main Kamo festival. She invited the other Rokujō ladies to join them, but they declined, fearing that they might look like servants. Her procession was rather quiet and very impressive for the fact, twenty carriages simply appointed and a modest number of outrunners and guards. She paid her respects at the shrine very early on the morning of the festival proper and took a place in the stands. The array of carriages was imposing, large numbers of women having come with her from the other Rokujō households. Guessing from considerable distances whose lady she would be, people looked on in wondering admiration.

Genji remembered another Kamo festival and the treatment to which the Rokujō lady, mother of the present empress, had been subjected. “My wife was a proud and willful woman who proved to be wanting in common charity. And see how she suffered for her pride — how bitterness was heaped upon her.” He drew back from speaking too openly about the horrible conclusion to the rivalry. “The son of the one lady is crawling ahead in the ordinary service, and the heights to which the daughter of the other has risen bring on an attack of vertigo. Life is uncertain for all of us. We can only hope to have things our way for a little while. I worry about you, my dear, and how it will be for you when I am gone.”

He went to speak to some courtiers of the higher ranks who had gathered before the stands. They had come from Tō no Chūjō‘s mansion with Kashiwagi, who represented the inner guards. Koremitsu’s daughter too had come as a royal legate. A much admired young lady, she was showered with gifts from the emperor, the crown prince, and Genji, among others. Yūgiri managed to get a note through the cordons by which she was surrounded. He had seen her from time to time and she had been pained to learn of his marriage to so fine a lady.

“This sprig of — what is it called? — this sprig in my cap.

So long it has been, I cannot think of the name.”

One wonders what it may have meant to her. She answered, even in the confusion of being seen into her carriage.

“The scholar armed with laurel should know its name.

He wears it, though he may not speak of it.

“Not everyone, perhaps — but surely an erudite man like you?”

Not a very remarkable poem, he thought, but better than his own.

Rumor had it that they were still meeting in secret.

It was assumed that Murasaki would go to court with the Akashi girl. She could not stay long, however, and she thought that the rime had come for the girl’s real mother to be with her. It was sad for them both, mother and daughter, that they had been kept apart for so long. The matter had been on Murasaki’s conscience and she suspected that it had been troubling the girl as well.

“Suppose you send the Akashi lady with the child,” she said to Genji. “She is still so very young. She ought to have an older woman with her. There are limits to what a nurse can do, and I would be much happier about leaving her if I knew that her mother would be taking my place.”

How very thoughtful of her, thought Genji. The Akashi lady was of course delighted at the suggestion. Her last wish was being granted. She threw herself into the preparations, none of the other ladies more energetically. The long separation had been especially cruel for the girl’s grand-mother, the old Akashi nun. The pleasure of watching the girl grow up, her last attachment to this life, had been denied her.

It was late in the night when the Akashi girl and Murasaki rode to court in a hand-drawn carriage. The Akashi lady did not want to follow on foot with the lesser ladies. She was not concerned for her own dignity, but feared that an appearance of inferiority would flaw the gem which Genji had polished so carefully. Though Genji had wanted the ceremonies to be simple, they seemed to take on brilliance of their own accord. Murasaki must now give up the child who had been her whole life. How she wished that she had had such a daughter, someone to be with in just such circumstances as these! The same thought was for Genji and Yūgiri the only shadow upon the occasion.

Leaving on the third day, Murasaki met the Akashi lady, who had come to replace her.

“You see what a fine young lady she has become,” said Murasaki, “and the sight of her makes you very aware, I am sure, of how long I have had her with me. I hope that we shall be friends.”

It was the first note of intimacy between them. Murasaki could see why Genji had been so strongly drawn to the Akashi lady, and the latter was thinking how few rivals Murasaki had in elegance and dignity. She quite deserved her place of eminence. It seemed to the Akashi lady the most remarkable good fortune that she should be in such company. The old feelings of inferiority came back as she saw Murasaki leave court in a royal carriage, as if she were one of the royal consorts.

The girl was like a doll. Gazing upon her as if in a dream, the Akashi lady wept, and could not agree with the poet that tears of joy resemble tears of sorrow. It had seemed all these years that she had been meat for sorrow. Now she wanted to live on for joy. The god of Sumiyoshi had been good to her.

The girl was very intelligent and the most careful attention had been given to her education, and the results were here for the world to admire. The crown prince, in his boyish way, was delighted with her. Certain rivals made sneering remarks about her mother, but she did not let them bother her. Alert and discerning, she brought new dignity to the most ordinary occasion. Her household offered the young gallants new challenges, for not one of her women was unworthy to be in her service.

Murasaki visited from time to rime. She and the Akashi lady were now on the best of terms, though no one could have accused the latter of trying to push herself forward. She was always a model of reserve and diffidence.

Genji had numbered the girl’s presentation at court among the chief concerns of his declining years, which he feared might not be numerous. Now her position was secure. Yūgiri, who had seemed to prefer the unsettled bachelor’s life, was most happily married. The time had come, thought Genji, to do what he wanted most to do. Though it saddened him to think of leaving Murasaki, she and Akikonomu were good friends and she was still the most important person in the Akashi girl’s life. As for the lady of the orange blossoms, her life was not perhaps very exciting, but Yūgiri could be depended on to take care of her. Everything seemed in order.

Genji would be forty next year. Preparations were already under way at court and elsewhere to celebrate the event. In the autumn he was accorded benefices equivalent to those of a retired emperor. His life had seemed full enough already and he would have preferred to decline the honor. All the old precedents were followed, and he was so hemmed in by retainers and formalities that it became almost impossible for him to go to court. The emperor had his own secret reason for dissatisfaction: public opinion apparently would not permit him to abdicate in favor of Genji.

Tō no Chūjō now became chancellor and Yūgiri was promoted to middle councillor. He so shone with youthful good looks when he went to thank the emperor that Tō no Chūjō was coming to think Kumoinokari, away from the cruel competition at court, the most fortunate of his daughters.

Yūgiri had not forgotten her nurse’s scorn for his blue sleeves. One day he handed the nurse a chrysanthemum delicately tinged by frost.

“Did you suspect by so much as a mist of dew

That the azure bloom would one day be a deep purple?

“I have not forgotten,” he added with a bright, winning smile.

She was both pleased and confused.

“What mist of dew could possibly fail to find it,

Though pale its hue, in so eminent a garden?”

She was now behaving, one might almost have said, like his mother-in-law.

His new circumstances had made the Nijō house seem rather cramped. He moved into his grandmother’s Sanjō house, which was of course a place of fond memories. It had been neglected since her death and extensive repairs were necessary. His grandmother’s rooms, redecorated, became his own personal rooms. The garden badly needed pruning. The shrubbery was out of control and a “sheaf of grass” did indeed threaten to take over the garden. He had the weeds cleared from the brook, which gurgled pleasantly once more.

He was sitting out near the veranda with Kumoinokari one beautiful evening. Memories of their years apart were always with them, though she, at least, would have preferred not to remember that all these women had had their thoughts in the matter. Yūgiri had summoned various women who had lived in odd corners of the house since Princess Omiya’s death. It was for them a very happy reunion.

Said Yūgiri:

“Clearest of brooks, you guard these rocks, this house.

Where has she gone whose image you once reflected?”

And Kumoinokari:

“We see the image no more. How is it that

These pools among the rocks yet seem so happy?”

Having heard that the garden was in its autumn glory, Tō no Chūjō stopped by on his way from court. New life had come to the sedate old house, not much changed from his mother’s day. A slight flush on his cheeks, Yūgiri too was thinking of the old princess. Yes, said Tō no Chūjō to himself, they were a well-favored pair, one of them, he might add, more so than the other. While Kumoinokari was distinguished but not unique, Yūgiri was without rivals. The old women were having a delightful time, and the conversation flowed on and on.

Tō no Chūjō looked at the poems that lay scattered about. “I would like to ask these same questions of your brook,” he said, brushing away a tear, “but I rather doubt that you would welcome my senile meanderings.

“The ancient pine is gone. That need not surprise us —

For see how gnarled and mossy is its seedling.”

Saishō, Yūgiri’s old nurse, was not quite ready to forget old grievances. It was with a somewhat satisfied look that she said:

“I now am shaded by two splendid trees

Whose roots were intertwined when they were seedlings.”

It was an old woman’s poem. Yūgiri was amused, and Kumoinokari embarrassed.

The emperor paid a state visit to Rokujō late in the Tenth Month. Since the colors were at their best and it promised to be a grand occasion, the Suzaku emperor accepted the invitation of his brother, the present emperor, to join him. It was a most extraordinary event, the talk of the whole court. The preparations, which occupied the full attention of everyone at Rokujō, were unprecedented in their complexity and in the attention to brilliant detail.

Arriving late in the morning, the royal party went first to the equestrian grounds, where the inner guards were mustered for mounted review in the finery usually reserved for the iris festival. There were brocades spread along the galleries and arched bridges and awnings over the open places when, in early afternoon, the party moved to the southeast quarter. The royal cormorants had been turned out with the Rokujō cormorants on the east lake, where there was a handsome take of small fish. Genji hoped that he was not being a fussy and overzealous host, but he did not want a single moment of the royal progress to be dull. The autumn leaves were splendid, especially in Akikonomu’s southwest garden. Walls had been taken down and gates opened, and not so much as an autumn mist was permitted to obstruct the royal view. Genji showed his guests to seats on a higher level than his own. The emperor ordered this mark of inferiority dispensed with, and thought again what a satisfaction it would be to honor Genji as his father.

The lieutenants of the inner guards advanced from the east and knelt to the left and right of the stairs before the royal seats, one presenting the take from the pond and the other a brace of fowl taken by the royal falcons in the northern hills. Tō no Chūjō received the royal command to prepare and serve these delicacies. An equally interesting repast had been laid out for the princes and high courtiers. The court musicians took their places in late afternoon, by which time the wine was having its effect. The concert was quiet and unpretentious and there were court pages to dance for the royal guests. It was as always the excursion to the Suzaku Palace so many years before that people remembered. One of Tō no Chūjō’s sons, a boy of ten or so, danced “Our Gracious Monarch” most elegantly. The emperor took off a robe and laid it over his shoulders, and Tō no Chūjō himself descended into the garden for ritual thanks.

Remembering how they had danced “Waves of the Blue Ocean” on that other occasion, Genji sent someone down to break off a chrysanthemum, which he presented to his friend with a poem:

“Though time has deepened the hue of the bloom at the hedge,

I do not forget how sleeve brushed sleeve that autumn.”

He himself had done better than most, thought Tō no Chūjō, but Genji had no rivals. No doubt it had all been fated. An autumn shower passed, as if sensing that the moment was right.

“A purple cloud is this chrysanthemum,

A beacon star which shines upon us all.

And grows brighter and brighter.”

The evening breeze had scattered leaves of various tints to make the ground a brocade as rich and delicate as the brocades along the galleries. The dancers were young boys from the best families, prettily dressed in coronets and the usual gray-blues and roses, with crimsons and lavenders showing at their sleeves. They danced very briefly and withdrew under the autumn trees, and the guests regretted the approach of sunset. The formal concert, brief and unassuming, was followed by impromptu music in the halls above, instruments having been brought from the palace collection. As it grew livelier a koto was brought for each of the emperors and a third for Genji. The Suzaku emperor was delighted to hear “the Uda monk” again after so many years and be assured that its tone was as fine as ever.

“This aged peasant has known many autumn showers

And not before seen finer autumn colors.”

This suggestion that the day was uniquely glorious must not, thought the emperor, go unchallenged:

“Think you these the usual autumn colors?

Our garden brocade imitates an earlier one.”

He was handsomer as the years went by, and he and Genji might have been mistaken for twins. And here was Yūgiri beside them — one stopped in amazement upon seeing the same face yet a third time. Perhaps it was one’s imagination that Yūgiri had not quite the emperor’s nobility of feature. His was in any event the finer glow of youth.

He was unsurpassed on the flute. Among the courtiers who serenaded the emperors from below the stairs Kōbai had the finest voice. It was cause for general rejoicing that the two houses should be so close.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09