A String of Flowers, Untied...: Love Poems from The Tale of Genji Paperback – 26 Dec 2002
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"Fluff up the pillows, light up the incense and settle in with this exotic, erotic masterpiece. These graceful tanka will enchant readers now just as they did a thousand years ago." -Leza Lowitz, editor of A Long Rainy Season: Haiku & Tanka and author of Yoga Poems
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The book itself is a delight to hold and behold. Lavender was the color of young love at its freshest and most fragrant. It also reflects the royal purple color, a refined compliment as when lavender sleeves darken from tears. The cover is like a brocade, with lavender and white wistaria against a background of the blue of cornflowers in a mist. The pages are generously laid-out, a vertical border of wistaria on each with a subtle spray of bamboo for the headings of the 33 chapters.
One enters this lovely book through the anterooms of an introduction explaining how the poems and text intertwine, an exceptionally helpful cast of characters with such names as "Lady of the Beautiful View" with whom Prince Genji intertwines. The reader exits, gently, through a courtyard of information on the tanka form In this version, the tanka involves seven lines, 5-7-5-7-7 syllables, a metre older than the written Japanese language, an art form still vibrantly practiced today.
Most valuably, for entering the palace of the text is learning more of the allusiveness, ambiguity, and multiplicity of meanings of the tanka. "A string of flowers, untied," for example, can refer to loosening the cord of one's sleeping garment, a prelude to love; it evokes virginal floweration; and a string or sequence of poems. The marginal notes on almost every page explain these allusions but leave other associations open for the reader's own attunement.
There are 33 chapters in the primary text of "Genji" confidently ascribed to Lady Murasaki Shikubu of the Heian Court in Kyoto, around 1100. Written in a language now accessible primarily to scholars, this book is a translation of a 1901-03 translation into more contemporary Japanese by Akiko Yosano. The chapters of this book summarize what is happening as each of the 400 selected poems was written, making it possible to get a sort of Reader's Digest summary of Genji's trajectory from his birth to a concubine of the Paulownia Emperor through the complexities arising from his seductions and amours, including impregnately his stepmother so their/his son eventually becomes Emperor, to a sorting out of relationships (happily by and large) in Genji's 39th year.
In this chapter, at an autumn garden viewing party, Genji's son, Lord Evening Mist, marries his childhood friend and true-love, Lady Wild Goose in the Clouds. Lady Wild Goose in the Clouds is the sister of Lord Evening Mists' best friend, Lord Oak Tree and the daughter of Prince Genji's lifelong friend, The First Secretary's Captain. (This gives something of the flavor....)
The Emperor closes with
"lest we think that these
colored leaves are ordinary
a very long time ago
gardens were the inspiration
for Japanese brocade"
(Capitalization of proper names only and no punctuation are in all the originals.)
Often given to the lady after a night of love, or from a lady to the man, these poems also express grief at partings, feelings toward the "carnation" and "bush clover" children the ladies often have to raise alone, emotions as dead parents and lovers are remembered: the varieties and tonalities of amitas and caritas. Gardens, scenery, nature interwoven in many of these poems, often evocative of the still-exquisite gardens in Kyoto, Nara and Kanazawa.
Through the poems, one makes love, not war, as harp and flute play delicately. Trumpets of war do not sound; samurai do not clash swords in this palace. A wonderful gift to yourself and to lovers everywhere.
Jane Reichhold's translation of the famous 1000-year-old Tale of Genji is first-class. When I sat down to read one of the world's most famous series of tanka poems, I was a little worried that it might be beyond my comprehension. But the author does a wonderful job with the 33 chapters that she has translated into present-day understanding while preserving the richness of cultural detail at the same time.
The chapters translated in "A String of Flowers, Untied" are about the Emperor's son Genji spanning through his 39th year. They include his many love affairs, including one with a stepmother with whom he fathers a son, heartbreak and pursuit of pleasure, are all written in the tanka form. Their alliances were often so complicated that I was hard-pressed to figure out which wife was in what order of importance and who was a concubine, and how the birth order of all their children worked. Whew! No wonder they had little time for anything else.
The author, Murasaki Shikibu, was an aristocrat whose stories and writing style were immensely popular among her contemporaries. Her insight can be felt through her poetry even today. Her background and access to the aristocratic class reminded me of Jane Austen's stories about English aristocrats.
Curious about the time period that they lived in, I looked it up at [...] and read this about it: "The society depicted in the Tale is one of an elite group of aristocrats - perhaps 5,000 in all - uninterested in anything but their own leisure and with the emperor at the centre of their world. Obsessed with rank and breeding, they were acutely sensitive to the beauty of nature the pleasures of music, poetry, Calligraphy and fine clothing. Heian courtiers knew little of the world outside the capital and cared even less. They rarely traveled and considered the common people as almost subhuman." This is a little reminiscent of all the great societies in their heights.
I found "A String of Flowers, Untied" to be wonderful translation of an amazing tale and should not be missed by anyone.
Received book free of charge
This new translation of Murasaki Shikubu's "Love Poems from The Tale of Genji" is must reading for those who would understand the world view of cultures other than their own.