The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu

Chapter 36

The Oak Tree

The New Year came and Kashiwagi’s condition had not improved. He knew how troubled his parents were and he knew that suicide was no solution, for he would be guilty of the grievous sin of having left them behind. He had no wish to live on. Since his very early years he had had high standards and ambitions and had striven in private matters and public to outdo his rivals by even a little. His wishes had once or twice been thwarted, however, and he had so lost confidence in himself that the world had come to seem unrelieved gloom. A longing to prepare for the next world had succeeded his ambitions, but the opposition of his pare kept him from following the mendicant way through the mountains an over the moors. He had delayed, and time had gone by. Then had come events, and for them he had only himself to blame, which had made it impossible for him to show his face in public. He did not blame the gods. His own deeds were working themselves out. A man does not have the thousand years of the pine, and he wanted to go now, while there were still those who might mourn for him a little, and perhaps even a sigh from her would be the reward for his burning passion. To die now and perhaps win the forgiveness of the man who must feel so aggrieved would be far preferable to living on and bringing sorrow and dishonor upon the lady and upon himself. In his last moments everything must disappear. Perhaps, because he had no other sins to atone for, a part of the affection with which Genji had once honored him might return.

The same thoughts, over and over, ran uselessly through his mind. And why, he asked himself in growing despair, had he so deprived himself of alternatives? His pillow threatened to float away on the river of his woes.

He took advantage of a slight turn for the better, when his parents and the others had withdrawn from his bedside, to get off a letter to the Third Princess.

“You may have heard that I am near death. It is natural that you should not care very much, and yet I am sad.” His hand was so uncertain that he gave up any thought of saying all that he would have wished to say.

“My thoughts of you: will they stay when I am gone

Like smoke that lingers over the funeral pyre?

“One word of pity will quiet the turmoil and light the dark road I am taking by my own choice.”

Unchastened, he wrote to Kojijū of his sufferings, at considerable length. He longed, he said, to see her lady one last time. She had from childhood been close to his house, in which she had near relatives. Although she had strongly disapproved of his designs upon a royal princess who should have been far beyond his reach, she was extremely sorry for him in what might be his last illness.

“Do answer him, please, my lady,” she said, in tears. “You must, just this once. It may be your last chance.”

“I am sorry for him, in a general sort of way. I am sorry for myself too. Any one of us could be dead tomorrow. But what happened was too awful. I cannot bear to think of it. I could not possibly write to him.”

She was not by nature a very careful sort of lady, but the great man to whom she was married had terrorized her with hints, always guarded, that he was displeased with her.

Kojijū insisted and pushed an inkstone towards her, and finally, very hesitantly, she set down an answer which Kojijū delivered under cover of evening.

Tō no Chūjō had sent to Mount Katsuragi for an ascetic famous as a worker of cures, and the spells and incantations in which he immersed himself might almost have seemed overdone. Other holy men were recommended and Tō no Chūjō‘s sons would go off to seek in mountain recesses men scarcely known in the city. Mendicants quite devoid of grace came crowding into the house. The symptoms did not point to any specific illness, but Kashiwagi would sometimes weep in great, racking sobs. The soothsayers were agreed that a jealous woman had taken possession of him. They might possibly be right, thought Tō no Chūjō. But whoever she was she refused to withdraw, and so it was that the search for healers reached into these obscure corners. The ascetic from Katsuragi, an impos- ing man with cold, forbidding eyes, intoned mystic spells in a somewhat threatening voice.

“I cannot stand a moment more of it,” said Kashiwagi. “I must have sinned grievously. These voices terrify me and seem to bring death even nearer.”

Slipping from bed, he instructed the women to tell his father that he was asleep and went to talk with Kojijū. Tō no Chūjō and the ascetic were conferring in subdued tones. Tō no Chūjō was robust and youthful for his years and in ordinary times much given to laughter. He told the holy man how it had all begun and how a respite always seemed to be followed by a relapse.

“Do please make her go away, whoever she might be,” he said entreatingly.

A hollow shell of his old self, Kashiwagi was meanwhile addressing Kojijū in a faltering voice sometimes interrupted by a suggestion of a laugh.

“Listen to them. They seem to have no notion that I might be ill because I misbehaved. If, as these wise men say, some angry lady has taken possession of me, then I would expect her presence to make me hate myself a little less. I can say that others have done much the same thing, made mistakes in their longing for ladies beyond their reach, and ruined their prospects. I can tell myself all this, but the torment goes on. I cannot face the world knowing that he knows. His radiance dazzles and blinds me. I would not have thought the misdeed so appalling, but since the evening when he set upon me I have so lost control of myself that it has been as if my soul were wandering loose. If it is still around the house somewhere, please lay a trap for it.”

She told him of the Third Princess, lost in sad thoughts and afraid of prying eyes. He could almost see the forlorn little figure. Did unhappy spirits indeed go wandering forth disembodied?

“I shall say no more of your lady. It has all passed as if it had never happened at all. Yet I would be very sorry indeed if it were to stand in the way of her salvation. I have only one wish left, to know that the consequences of the sad affair have been disposed of safely. I have my own interpretation of the dream I had that night and have had very great trouble keeping it to myself.”

Kojijū was frightened at the inhuman tenacity which these thoughts suggested. Yet she had to feel sorry for him. She was weeping bitterly.

He sent for a lamp and read the princess’s note. Though fragile and uncertain, the hand was interesting. “Your letter made me very sad, but I cannot see you. I can only think of you. You speak of the smoke that lingers on, and yet

“I wish to go with you, that we may see

Whose smoldering thoughts last longer, yours or mine.”

That was all, but he was grateful for it.

“The smoke — it will follow me from this world. What a useless, insubstantial affair it was!”

Weeping uncontrollably, he set about a reply. There were many pauses and the words were fragmentary and disconnected and the hand like the tracks of a strange bird.

“As smoke I shall rise uncertainly to the heavens,

And yet remain where my thoughts will yet remain.

“Look well, I pray you, into the evening sky. Be happy, let no one reprove you; and, though it will do no good, have an occasional thought for me.”

Suddenly worse again, he made his way tearfully back to his room. “Enough. Go while it is still early, please, and tell her of my last moments. I would not want anyone who already thinks it odd to think it even odder. What have I brought from other lives, I wonder, to make me so unhappy?”

Usually he kept her long after their business was finished, but today he dismissed her briefly. She was very sorry for him and did not want to go.

His nurse, who was her aunt, told Kojijū of his illness, weeping all the while.

Tō no Chūjō was in great alarm. “He had seemed better these last few days. Why the sudden change?”

“I cannot see why you are surprised,” replied his son. “I am dying. That is all.”

That evening the Third Princess was taken with severe pains.

Guessing that they were birth pangs, her women sent for Genji in great excitement. He came immediately. How vast and unconditional his joy would be, he thought, were it not for his doubts about the child. But no one must be allowed to suspect their existence. He summoned ascetics and put them to continuous spells and incantations, and he summoned all the monks who had made names for themselves as healers. The Rokujō mansion echoed with mystic rites. The princess was in great pain through the night and at sunrise was delivered of a child. It was a boy. Most unfortunate, thought Genji. It would not be easy to guard the secret if the resemblance to the father was strong. There were devices for keeping girls in disguise and of course girls did not have to appear in public as did boys. But there was the other side of the matter: given these nagging doubts from the outset, a boy did not require the attention which must go into rearing a girl.

But how very strange it all was! Retribution had no doubt come for the deed which had terrified him then and which he was sure would go on terrifying him to the end. Since it had come, all unexpectedly, in this world, perhaps the punishment would be lighter in the next.

Unaware of these thoughts, the women quite lost themselves in ministering to the child. Because it was born of such a mother in Genji’s late years, it must surely have the whole of his affection.

The ceremonies on the third night were of the utmost dignity and the gifts ranged out on trays and stands showed that everyone thought it an occasion demanding the best. On the fifth night the arrangements were Akikonomu’s. There were robes for the princess and, after their several ranks, gifts for her women too, all of which would have done honor to a state occasion. Ceremonial repast was laid out for fifty persons and there was feasting all through the house. The staff of the Reizei Palace, including Akikonomu’s personal chamberlain, was in attendance. On the seventh day the gifts and provisions came from the emperor himself and the ceremony was no less imposing than if it had taken place at court. Tō no Chūjō should have been among the guests of honor, but his other worries made it impossible for him to go beyond general congratulations. All the princes of the blood and court grandees were present. Genji was determined that there be no flaw in the observances, but he was not happy. He did not go out of his way to make his noble guests feel welcome, and there was no music.

The princess was tiny and delicate and still very frightened. She quite refused the medicines that were pressed upon her. In the worst of the crisis she had hoped that she might quietly die and so make her escape. Genji behaved with the strictest correctness and was determined to give no grounds for suspicion. Yet he somehow thought the babe repellent and was held by certain of the women to be rather chilly.

“He doesn’t seem to like it at all.” One of the old women interrupted her cooings. “And such a pretty little thing too. You’re almost afraid for it. And so late in his life, when he has had so few.”

The princess caught snatches of their conversation and seemed to see a future of growing coldness and aloofness. She knew that she too was to blame and she began to think of becoming a nun. Although Genji paid an occasional daytime visit, he never stayed the night.

“I feel the uncertainty of it all more than ever,” he said, pulling her curtains back. “I sometimes wonder how much time I have left. I have been occupied with my prayers and I have thought that you would not want to see people and so I have stayed away. And how are you? A little more yourself again? You have been through a great deal.”

“I almost feel that I might not live” She raised her head from her pillow. “But I know that it would be a very grave sin to die now. I rather think I might like to become a nun. I might begin to feel better, and even if I were to die I might be forgiven.” She seemed graver and more serious than before, and more mature.

“Quite out of the question — it would only invite trouble. What can have put the idea into your head? I could understand if you really were going to die, but of course you are not.”

But he was thinking that if she felt constrained to say such things, then the generous and humane course might be to let her become a nun. To require that she go on living as his wife would be cruel, and for him too things could not be the same again. He might hurt her and word of what he had done might get abroad and presently reach her royal father. Perhaps she was right: the present crisis could be her excuse. But then he thought of the long life ahead of her, as long as the hair which she was asking to have cut — and he thought that he could not bear to see her in a nun’s drab robes.

“No, you must be brave,” he said, urging medicine upon her. “There is nothing wrong with you. The lady in the east wing has recovered from a far worse illness. We really did think she was dead. The world is neither as cruel nor as uncertain as we sometimes think it.”

There was a rather wonderful calm in the figure before him, pale and thin and quite drained of strength. Her offense had been a grave one, but he thought that he had to forgive her.

Her father, the Suzaku emperor, heard that it had been an easy birth and longed to see her. His meditations were disturbed by reports that she was not making a good recovery.

She ate nothing and was weaker and more despondent. She wept as she thought of her father, whom she longed to see more intensely than at any time since she had left his house. She feared that she might not see him again. She spoke of her fears to Genji, who had an appropriate emissary pass them on to the Suzaku emperor. In an agony of sorrow and apprehension and fully aware of the impropriety, he stole from his mountain retreat under cover of darkness and came to her side.

Genji was surprised and awed by the visit.

“I had been determined not to have another glance at the vulgar world,” said the emperor, “but we all know how difficult it is for a father to throw off thoughts of his child. So I have let my mind wander from my prayers. If the natural order of things is to be reversed and she is to leave me, I have said to myself, then I must see her again. Otherwise the regret would be always with me. I have come in spite of what I know they all will say.”

There was quiet elegance in his clerical dress. Not wanting to attract attention, he had avoided the livelier colors permitted a priest. A model of clean simplicity, thought Genji, who had long wanted to don the same garb. Tears came easily, and he was weeping again.

“I do not think it is anything serious,” he said, “but for the last month and more she has been weak and has eaten very little.” He had a place set out for the emperor before the princess’s curtains. “I only wish we were better prepared for such an august visit.”

Her women dressed her and helped her to sit up.

“I feel like one of the priests you have on night duty,” said the emperor, pulling her curtains slightly aside. “I am embarrassed that my prayers seem to be having so little effect. I thought you might want to see me, and so here I am, plain and undecorated.”

She was weeping. “I do not think I shall live. May I ask you, while you are here, to administer vows?”

“A most admirable request, if you really mean it. But the fact that you are ill does not mean that you will die. Sometimes when a lady with years ahead of her takes vows she invites trouble, and the blame that is certain to go with it. We must not be hasty.” He turned to Genji. “But she really does seem to mean it. If this is indeed her last hour, we would certainly not want to deny her the support and comfort of religion, however briefly.”

“She has been saying the same thing for some days now, but I have suspected that an outside force has made her say it. And so I have refused to listen.”

“I would agree if the force seemed to be pulling in the wrong direction. But the pain and regret of refusing a last wish — I wonder.”

He had had unlimited confidence in Genji, thought the emperor, and indications that Genji had no deep love for the princess had been a con stant worry. Even now things did not seem to be going ideally well. He had been unable to discuss the matter with Genji. But now — might not a quiet separation be arranged, since there were no signs of a bitterness likely to become a scandal? Genji had no thought of withdrawing his support, it seemed clear, and so, taking his apparent willingness as the mark of his fidelity and himself showing no sign of resentment, might the emperor not even now make plans for disposing of his property, and appoint for her residence the fine Sanjō mansion which he had inherited from his father? He would know before he died that she had settled comfortably into the new life. However cold Genji might be he surely would not abandon her.

These thoughts must be tested.

“Suppose, then, while I am here, I administer the preliminary injunctions and give her the beginnings of a bond with the Blessed One.”

Regret and sorrow drove away the last of Genji’s resentment. He went inside the princess’s curtains. “Must you think of leaving me when I have so little time before me? Do please try to bear with me a little longer. You must take your medicine and have something to eat. What you propose is very admirable, no doubt, but do you think you are up to the rigors it demands? Wait until you are well again and we will give it a little thought.”

But she shook her head. He was making things worse.

Though she said nothing, he could imagine that he had hurt her deeply, and he was very sorry. He remonstrated with her all through the night and presently it was dawn.

“I do not want to be seen by daylight,” said the Suzaku emperor. He summoned the most eminent of her priests and had them cut her hair. And so they were ravaged, the thick, smooth tresses now at their very best. Genji was weeping bitterly. She was the emperor’s favorite, and she had been brought to this. His sleeves were wet with tears.

“It is done,” he said. “Be happy and work hard at your prayers.”

The sun would be coming up. The princess still seemed very weak and was not up to proper farewells.

“It is like a dream,” said Genji. “The memory of an earlier visit comes back and I am extremely sorry not to have received you properly. I shall call soon and offer apologies.”

He provided the emperor with an escort for the return journey.

“Fearing that I might go at any time,” said the emperor, “and that awful things might happen to her, I felt that I had to make provision for her. Though I knew that I was going against your deeper wishes in asking you to take responsibility, I have been at peace since you so generously agreed to do so. If she lives, it will not become her new vocation to remain in such a lively establishment. Yet I suspect that she would be lonely in a mountain retreat like my own. Do please go on seeing to her needs as seems appropriate.”

“It shames me that you should find it necessary at this late date to speak of the matter. I fear that I am too shaken to reply.” And indeed he did seem to be controlling himself only with difficulty.

In the course of the morning services the malignant spirit emerged, laughing raucously. “Well, here I am. You see what I have done. I was not at all happy, let me tell you, to see how happy you were with the lady you thought you had taken from me. So I stayed around the house for a while to see what I could do. I have done it and I will go.”

So she still had not left them! Genji was horrified, and regretted that they had let the princess take her vows. Though she now seemed a little more her old self she was very weak and not yet out of danger. Her women sighed and braced themselves for further efforts. Genji ordered that there be no slackening of the holy endeavors, and in general saw that nothing was left undone.

News of the birth seemed to push Kashiwagi nearer death. He was very sad for his wife, the Second Princess. It would be in bad taste for her to come visiting, however, and he feared that, whatever precautions were taken, she might suffer the embarrassment of being seen by his parents, who were always with him. He said that he would like to visit her, but they would not hear of it. He asked them, and others, to be good to her.

His mother-in-law had from the start been unenthusiastic about the match. Tō no Chūjō had pressed the suit most energetically, however, and, sensing ardor and sincerity, she had at length given her consent. After careful consideration the Suzaku emperor had agreed. Back in the days when he had been so worried about the Third Princess he had said that the Second Princess seemed nicely taken care of. Kashiwagi feared that he had sadly betrayed the trust.

“I hate to think of leaving her,” he said to his mother. “But life does not go as we wish it. Her resentment at the promises I have failed to keep must be very strong. Do please be good to her.”

“You say such frightening things. How long do you think I would survive if you were to leave me?”

She was weeping so piteously that he could say no more, and so he tried discussing the matter of the Second Princess with his brother Kōbai. Kashiwagi was a quiet, well-mannered youth, more father than brother to his youngest brothers, who were plunged into the deepest sorrow by these despairing remarks. The house rang with lamentations, which were echoed all through the court. The emperor ordered an immediate promotion to councillor of the first order.

“Perhaps,” he said, “he will now find strength to visit us.”

The promotion did not have that happy effect, however. He could only offer thanks from his sickbed. This evidence of the royal esteem only added to Tō no Chūjō‘s sorrow and regret.

A worried Yūgiri came calling, the first of them all to offer congratulations. The gate to Kashiwagi’s wing of the house was jammed with car- riages and there were crowds of well-wishers in his antechambers. Having scarcely left his bed since New Year, he feared that he would look sadly rumpled in the presence of such finery. Yet he hated to think that he might not see them again.

Yūgiri at least he must see. “Do come in,” he said, sending the priests away. “I know you will excuse my appearance.”

The two of them had always been the closest of friends, and Yūgiri’s sorrow was as if he were a brother. What a happy day this would have been in other years! But of course these wishful thoughts accomplished nothing.

“Why should it have happened?” he said, lifting a curtain. “I had hoped that this happy news might make you feel a little better.”

“I am very sorry indeed that I do not. I do not seem to be the man for such an honor.” Kashiwagi had put on a formal cap. He tried to raise his head but the effort was too much for him. He was wearing several pleasantly soft robes and lay with a quilt pulled over him. The room was in simple good taste and incenses and other details gave it a deep, quiet elegance. Kashiwagi was in fact rather carefully dressed, and great attention had obviously gone into all the appointments. One expects an invalid to look unkempt and even repulsive, but somehow in his case emaciation seemed to give a new fineness and delicacy. Yūgiri suffered with him as he struggled to sit up.

“But what a pleasant surprise,” said Yūgiri (though brushing away a tear). “I would have expected to find you much thinner after such an illness. I actually think you are better-looking than ever. I had assumed, somehow, that we would always be together and that we would go together, and now this awful thing has happened. And I do not even know why. We have been so close, you and I— it upsets me more than I can say to know nothing about the most important matter.”

“I could not tell you if I wanted to. There are no marked symptoms. I have wasted away in this short time and scarcely know what is happening. I fear that I may no longer be in complete control of myself. I have lingered on, perhaps because of all the prayers of which I am so unworthy, and in my heart I have only wanted to be done with it all.

“Yet for many reasons I find it hard to go. I have only begun to do something for my mother and father, and now I must cause them pain. I am also being remiss in my duties to His Majesty. And as I look back over my life I feel sadder than I can tell you to think how little I have accomplished, what a short distance I have come. But there is something besides all this that has disturbed me very much. I have kept it to myself and doubt that I should say anything now that the end is in sight. But I must. I cannot keep it to myself, and how am I to speak of it if not to you? I do have all these brothers, but for many reasons it would do no good even to hint of what is on my mind.

“There was a matter which put me at cross purposes with your esteemed father and for which I have long been making secret apology. I did not myself approve of what I had done and I fell into a depression that made me avoid people, and finally into the illness in which you now see me. It was all too clear on the night of the rehearsal at Rokujō that he had not forgiven me. I did not see how it would be possible to go on living with his anger. I rather lost control of myself and began having nervous disturbances, and so I have become what you see.

“I am sure that I never meant very much to him, but I for my part have been very dependent on him since I was very young. Now a fear of the slanders he may have heard is my strongest bond with this world and may be the greatest obstacle on my journey into the next. Please remember what I have said and if you find an opportunity pass on my apologies to him. If after I am gone he is able to forgive whatever I have done, the credit must be yours.”

He was speaking with greater difficulty. Yūgiri could think of details that seemed to fit into the story, but could not be sure exactly what the story had been.

“You are morbidly sensitive. I can think of no indication of displeasure on his part, and indeed he has been very worried about you and has said how he grieves for you. But why have you kept these things to yourself? I should surely have been the one to convey apologies in both directions, and now I suppose it is too late.” How he wished that they could go back a few years or months!

“I had long thought that when I was feeling a little better I must speak to you and ask your opinion. But of course it is senseless to go on thinking complacently about a life that could end today or tomorrow. Please tell no one of what I have said. I have spoken to you because I have hoped that you might find an opportunity to speak to him, very discreetly, of course. And if you would occasionally look in on the Second Princess. Do what you can, please, to keep her father from worrying about her.”

He wanted to say more, it would seem, but he was in ever greater pain. At last he motioned that he wanted Yūgiri to leave him. The priests and his parents and numerous others returned to his bedside. Weeping, Yūgiri made his way out through the confusion.

Kashiwagi’s sisters, one of them married to Yūgiri and another to the emperor, were of course deeply concerned. He had a sort of fraternal expansiveness that reached out to embrace everyone. For Tamakazura he was the only one in the family who really seemed like a brother. She too commissioned services.

They were not the medicine he needed. He went away like the foam upon the waters.

The Second Princess did not after all see him again. He had not been deeply in love with her, not, indeed, even greatly attached to her. Yet his behavior had been correct in every detail. He had been a gentle, considerate husband, making no demands upon her and giving no immediate cause for anger. Thinking sadly over their years together, she thought it strange that a man doomed to such a short life should have shown so little inclination to enjoy it. For her mother, the very worst had happened, though she had in a way expected it. Her daughter had married a commoner, and now everyone would find her plight very amusing.

Kashiwagi’s parents were shattered. The cruelest thing is to have the natural order upset. But of course it had happened, and complaining did no good. The Third Princess, now a nun, had thought him impossibly presumptuous and had not joined in the prayers, but even she was sorry. Kashiwagi had predicted the birth of the child. Perhaps their strange, sad union had been joined in another life. It was a depressing chain of thoughts, and she was soon in tears.

The Third Month came, the skies were pleasant and mild, and the little boy reached his fiftieth day. He had a fair, delicate skin and was already showing signs of precociousness. He was even trying to talk.

Genji came visiting. “And have you quite recovered? Whatever you say, it is a sad thing you have done. The occasion would be so much happier if you had not done it.” He seemed near tears. “It was not kind of you.”

He now came to see her every day and could not do enough for her.

“What are you so worried about?” he said, seeing that her women did not seem to know how fiftieth-day ceremonies should be managed in a nun’s household. “If it were a girl the fact that the mother is a nun might seem to invite bad luck and throw a pall over things. But with a boy it makes no difference.”

He had a little place set out towards the south veranda of the main hall and there offered the ceremonial rice cakes. The nurse and various other attendants were in festive dress and the array of baskets and boxes inside the blinds and out covered the whole range of colors — for the managers of the affair were uninhibited by a knowledge of the sad truth. They were delighted with everything, and Genji smarted and squirmed.

Newly risen from her sickbed, the princess found her heavy hair very troublesome and was having it brushed. Genji pulled her curtains aside and sat down. She turned shyly away, more fragile than ever. Because there had been such regrets for her lovely hair only a very little had been cut away, and only from the front could one see that it had been cut at all. Over several grayish singlets she wore a robe of russet. The profile which she showed him was charming, in a tiny, childlike way, and not at all that of a nun.

“Very sad, really,” said Genji. “A nun’s habit is depressing, there is no denying the fact. I had thought I might find some comfort in looking after you as always, and it will be a very long time before my tears have dried. I had thought that it might help to tax myself with whatever unwitting reasons I may have given you for dismissing me. Yes, it is very sad. How I wish it were possible to go back.

“If you move away I shall have to conclude that you really do reject me, with all your heart, and I do not see how I shall be able to face you again. Do please have a thought for me.”

“They tell me that nuns tend to be rather withdrawn from ordinary feelings, and I seem to have been short on them from the start. What am I to say?”

“You are not fair to yourself. We have had ample evidence of your feelings.” He turned to the little boy.

The nurse and the other attendants were all handsome, wellborn women whom Genji himself had chosen. He now summoned them for a conference.

“What a pity that I should have so few years left for him.”

He played with the child, fair-skinned and round as a ball, and bubbling with good spirits. He had only very dim memories of Yūgiri as a boy, but thought he could detect no resemblance. His royal grandchildren of course had their father’s blood in their veins and even now carried themselves with regal dignity, but no one would have described them as outstandingly handsome. This boy was beautiful, there was no other word for it. He was always laughing, and a very special light would come into his eyes which fascinated Genji. Was it Genji’s imagination that he looked like his father? Already there was a sort of tranquil poise that quite put one to shame, and the glow of the skin was unique.

The princess did not seem very much alive to these remarkable good looks, and of course almost no one else knew the truth. Genji was left alone to shed a tear for Kashiwagi, who had not lived to see his own son. How very unpredictable life is! But he brushed the tear away, for he did not want it to cloud a happy occasion.

“I think upon it in quiet,” he said softly, “and there is ample cause for lamentin.”

His own years fell short by ten of the poet’s fifty-eight, but he feared that he did not have many ahead of him. “Do not be like your father”: this, perhaps, was the admonition in his heart. He wondered which of the women might be in the princess’s confidence. He could not be sure, but they were no doubt laughing at him, whoever they were. Well, he could bear the ridicule, and a discussion of his responsibilities and hers in the sad affair would be more distressing for her than for him. He would say nothing and reveal nothing.

The little boy was charming, especially the smiling, happy eyes and mouth. Would not everyone notice the resemblance to the father? Genji thought of Kashiwagi, unable to show this secret little keepsake to his grieving parents, who had longed for at least a grandchild to remember him by. He thought how strange it was that a young man so composed and proud and ambitious should have destroyed himself. His resentment quite left him, and he was in tears.

“And how does he look to you?” Genji had taken advantage of a moment when there were no women with the princess. “It is very sad to think that in rejecting me you have rejected him too.”

She flushed.

“Yes, very sad,” he continued softly.

“Should someone come asking when the seed was dropped,

What shall it answer, the pine among the rocks?”

She lay with her head buried in a pillow. He saw that he was hurting her, and fell silent. But he would have liked to know what she thought of her own child. He did not expect mature discernment of her, but he would have liked to think that she was not completely indifferent. It was very sad indeed.

Yūgiri was sadder than the dead man’s brothers. He could not forget that last interview and the mysterious matters which Kashiwagi had been unable to keep to himself. What had he been trying to say? Yūgiri had not sought to press for more. The end had been in sight, and it would have been too unfeeling. Though not seriously ill, it would seem, the princess had simply and effortlessly taken her vows. Why, and why had Genji permitted them? On the very point of death Murasaki had pleaded that he let her become a nun, and he had quite refused to listen. So Yūgiri went on sifting through such details as he had. More than once he had seen Kashiwagi’s feelings go out of control. Kashiwagi had been calmer and more careful and deliberate than most young men, so quietly in possession of himself, indeed, that his reserve had made people uncomfortable. But he had had his weak side too. Might an excess of gentleness have been at the root of the trouble? Yūgiri found it hard to understand any excess that could make a man destroy himself. Kashiwagi had not done well by the princess, but for Yūgiri the wrong was of a more general nature. Perhaps there were conditions which Kashiwagi had brought with him from former lives — but Yūgiri found such a loss of control difficult to accept even so. He kept his thoughts to himself, saying nothing even to his wife, Kashiwagi’s sister. He wanted very much to see what effect those oblique hints might have on Genji, but found no occasion.

Tō no Chūjō and his wife seemed barely conscious of the passing days. All the details of the weekly memorial services, clerical robes and the like, were left to their sons. Kōbai, the oldest, gave particular attention to images and scriptures. When they sought to arouse their father for the services, his reply was as if he too might be dying.

“Do not come to me. I am as you see me, lost to this world. I would be an obstacle on his way through the next.”

For the Second Princess there was the added sorrow of not having been able to say goodbye. Sadly, day after day, she sat looking over the wide grounds of her mother’s Ichijō house, now almost deserted. The men of whom Kashiwagi had been fondest did continue to stop by from time to time. His favorite grooms and falconers seemed lost without him. Even now they were wandering disconsolately over the grounds. The sight of them, and indeed every small occurrence, summoned back the unextinguishable sadness. Kashiwagi’s belongings gathered dust. The lute and the japanese koto upon which he had so often played were silent and their strings were broken. The very air of the place spoke of sorrow and neglect. The princess gazed sadly out at the garden, where the trees wore the green haze of spring. The blossoms had none of them forgotten their proper season.

Late one morning, as dull as all the others, there was a vigorous shouting of outrunners and a procession came up to the gate.

“We had forgotten,” said one of the women. “It almost seemed for a moment that His Lordship had come back.”

The princess’s mother had thought that it would be one or more of Kashiwagi’s brothers, who were frequent callers, but the caller was in fact more stately and dignified than they. It was Yūgiri. He was offered a seat near the south veranda of the main hall. The princess’s mother herself came forward to receive him — it would have been impolite to send one of the women.

“I may assure you,” said Yūgiri, “that I have been sadder than if he were my brother. But there are restraints upon an outsider and I was able to offer only the most perfunctory condolences. He said certain things at the end that have kept your daughter very much on my mind. It is not a world in which any of us can feel secure, but until the day when it becomes clear which of us is to go first, I mean to exert myself in your behalf and hers in every way I can think of. Too much has been going on at court to let me follow my own inclinations and simply withdraw from things, and it would not have been very satisfying to look in on you and be on my way again. And so the days have gone by. I have heard that Tō no Chūjō is quite insane with grief. My own grief has only been less than his, and it has been deepened by the thought of the regret with which my friend must have left your daughter behind.”

His words were punctuated from time to time by a suggestion of tears. The old lady thought him very courtly and dignified and at the same time very approachable.

There were tears in her voice too, and when she had finished speaking she was weeping openly. “Yes, the sad thing is that it should all be so uncertain and fleeting. I am old and I have tried to tell myself that worse things have happened. But when I see her lost in grief, almost out of her mind, I cannot think what to do. It almost comes to seem that I am the really unlucky one, destined to see the end of two brief lives.

“You were close to him and you may have heard how little inclined I was to accept his proposal. But I did not want to go against his father’s wishes, and the emperor too seemed to have decided that he would make her a good husband. So I told myself that I must be the one who did not understand. And now comes this nightmare, and I must reprove myself for not having been truer to my very vague feelings. They did not of course lead me to expect anything so awful.

“I had thought, in my old-fashioned way, that unless there were really compelling reasons it was better that a princess not marry. And for her, poor girl, a marriage that should never have been has come to nothing. It would be better, I sometimes think, and people would not judge her harshly, if she were to let the smoke from her funeral follow his. Yet the possibility is not easy to accept, and I go on looking after her. It has been a source of very great comfort in all the gloom to have reports of your concern and sympathy. I do most sincerely thank you. I would not have called him an ideal husband, but it moves me deeply to learn that because you were so close to him you were chosen to hear his dying words, and that there were a few for her mixed in among them.”

She was weeping so piteously that Yūgiri too was in tears. “It may have been because he was strangely old for his years that he came at the end to seem so extremely despondent. I had been foolish enough to fear that too much enlightenment might destroy his humanity and to caution him against letting it take the joy out of him. I fear that I must have given him cause to think me superficial. But it is your daughter I am saddest for, though you may think it impertinent of me to say so.” His manner was warm and open. “Her grief and the waste seem worse than anything.”

This first visit was a short one.

He was five or six years younger than Kashiwagi, but a youthful receptivity had made Kashiwagi a good companion. Yūgiri had almost seemed the maturer of the two and certainly he was the more masculine, though his extraordinary good looks were also very youthful. He gave the young women who saw him off something happy to think about after all the sorrow.

There were cherry blossoms in the forward parts of the garden. “This year alone” — but the allusion did not seem a very apt one. “If we wish to see them,” he said softly, and added a poem of his own, not, however, as if he had a specific audience in mind.

“Although a branch of this cherry tree has withered,

It bursts into new bloom as its season comes.”

The old lady was prompt with her answer, which was sent out to him as he was about to leave:

“The willow shoots this spring, not knowing where

The petals may have fallen, are wet with dew.”

She had not perhaps been the deepest and subtlest of the Suzaku emperor’s ladies, but her talents had been much admired, and quite properly so, he thought.

He went next to Tō no Chūjō‘s mansion, where numerous sons were gathered. After putting himself in order Tō no Chūjō received him in the main drawing room. Sorrow had not destroyed his good looks, though his face was thin and he wore a bushy beard, which had been allowed to grow all during his son’s illness. He seemed to have been more affected by his son’s death than even by his mother’s. The sight of him came near reducing Yūgiri to tears, but he thought weeping the last thing the occasion called for. Tō no Chūjō was less successful at controlling his tears, for Yūgiri and the dead youth had been such very close friends. The talk was of the stubborn, lingering sadness, and as it moved on to other matters Yūgiri told of his interview with the Second Princess’s mother. This time the minister’s tears were like a sudden spring shower. Yūgiri took out a piece of notepaper on which he had jotted down the old lady’s poem.

“I’m afraid I can’t make it out,” said Tō no Chūjō, trying to see through his tears. The face once so virile and proud had been softened by grief. Though the poem was not a particularly distinguished one the image about the dew on the willow shoots seemed very apt and brought on a new flood of tears.

“The autumn your mother died I thought that sorrow could not be crueler. But she was a woman, and one does not see very much of women. They tend to have few friends and to stay out of sight. My sorrow was an entirely private matter. My son was not a remarkably successful man, but he did attract the emperor’s gracious notice and as he grew older he rose in rank and influence, and more and more people looked to him for support. After their various circumstances they were all upset by his death. Not of course that my grief has to do with prestige and influence. It is rather that I remember him before all this happened, and see what a dreadful loss it is. I wonder if I will ever be the same again.”

Looking up into an evening sky which had misted over a dull gray, he seemed to notice for the first time that the tips of the cherry branches were bare. He jotted down a poem on the same piece of notepaper, beside that of the princess’s mother.

“Drenched by the fall from these trees, I mourn for a child

Who should in the natural order have mourned for me.”

Yūgiri answered:

“I doubt that he who left us wished it so,

That you should wear the misty robes of evening.”

And Kashiwagi’s brother Kōbai:

“Bitter, bitter — whom can he have meant

To wear the misty robes ere the advent of spring?”

The memorial services were very grand. Kumoinokari, Yūgiri’s wife, helped with them, of course, and Yūgiri made them his own special concern.

He frequently visited the Ichijō mansion of the Second Princess. There was something indefinably pleasant about the Fourth Month sky and the trees were a lovely expanse of new green; but the house of sorrows was quiet and lonely, and for the ladies who lived there each new day was a new trial.

It was in upon this sadness that he came visiting. Young grasses had sprung up all through the garden, and in the shade of a rock or a tree, where the sand covering was thin, wormwood and other weeds had taken over as if asserting an old claim. The flowers that had been tended with such care were now rank and overgrown. He thought how clumps of grass now tidy and proper in the spring would in the autumn be a dense moor humming with insects, and he was in tears as he parted the dewy tangles and came up to the veranda. Rough blinds of mourning were hung all along the front of the house. Through them he could see gray curtains newly changed for the season. He had glimpses too of skirts that told of the presence of little page girls, very pretty and at the same time incongruously drab. A place was set out for him on the veranda, but the women protested that he should be treated with more ceremony. Vaguely unwell, the princess’s mother had been resting. He looked out into the garden as he talked with her women, and the indifference of the trees brought new pangs of sorrow. Their branches intertwined, an oak and a maple seemed younger than the rest. “How reassuring. What bonds from other lives do you suppose have brought them together?” Quietly, he came nearer the blinds.

“By grace of the tree god let the branch so close

To the branch that withered be close to the branch that lives.

“I think it very unkind of you to keep me outdoors.” He leaned forward and put a hand on the sill.

The women were in whispered conversation about the gentler Yūgiri they were being introduced to. Among them was one Shōshō, through whom came the princess’s answer.

“There may not be a god protecting the oak.

Think not, even so, its branches of easy access.

“There is a kind of informality that can suggest a certain shallowness.

He smiled. It was a point well taken. Sensing that her mother had come forward, he brought himself to attention.

“My days have been uninterrupted gloom, and that may be why I have not been feeling well.” She did indeed seem to be unwell. “I have been unable to think what to do next. You are very kind to come calling so often.”

“Your grief is quite understandable, but you should not let it get the better of you. Everything is determined in other lives, everything has its time and goes.”

The princess seemed to be a more considerable person than he had been led to expect. She had had wretched luck, belittled in the first instance for having married beneath her and now for having been left a widow. He thought he might find her interesting, and questioned the mother with some eagerness. He did not expect great beauty, but one could be fond of any lady who was not repulsively ugly. Beauty could sometimes make a man forget himself, and the more important thing was an equable disposition.

“You must learn to tell yourself that I am as near as he once was.” His manner fell short of the insinuating, perhaps, but his earnestness did carry overtones all the same.

He was very imposing and dignified in casual court dress.

“His Lordship had a gentle sort of charm,” one of the women would seem to have whispered to another. “There was no one quite like him, really, for quiet charm and elegance. But just see this gentleman, so vigorous and manly, all aglow with good looks. You want to squeal with delight the minute you set eyes on him. There was no one like the other gentleman and there can’t be many like this one either. If we need someone to look after us, well, we couldn’t do much better.”

“The grass first greens on the general’s grave,” he said to himself, very softly.

There was no one, in a world of sad happenings near and remote, who did not regret Kashiwagi’s passing. Besides the more obvious virtues, he had been possessed of a most extraordinary gentleness and sensitivity, and even rather improbable courtiers and women, even very old women, remembered him with affection and sorrow. The emperor felt the loss very keenly, especially when there were concerts. “If only Kashiwagi were here.” The remark became standard on such occasions. Genji felt sadder as time went by. For him the little boy was a memento he could share with no one else. In the autumn the boy began crawling about on hands and knees.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/murasaki-shikibu/tale-of-genji/chapter36.html

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