A poem from the Tale of Genji

I suppose all of you have heard of the Tale of Genji, this monumental work of Murasaki Shikibu from the 11th century, the single most famous novel of classical Japanese liturature. Just like the Ise Monogatari, the Genji is full of "embedded" poems, and their meaning is often highlighted by the events and characters they refer to.

The poem for today is from Chapter 4, "Yuugao". Prince Genji has a brief love affair with a young girl, called Yuugao. But there is another lady, deeply in love with Genji, who hates Yuugao so much that she dies. Yes, at that time people believed that hatred can kill people!

After the funeral of Yuugao, Genji is looking at the smoke from the pyre, and recites this poem (Helen McCullough's Translation):

The evening sky itself
becomes something to cherish
when I gaze at it,
seeing in one of the clouds
the smoke from her funeral pyre
It also is important to know that Yuugao's name means "Evening Faces." Therefore, Genji's reference to "being deeply intimate with the evening sky" refers to the love he shared with Yugao.

The poem in classical Japanese:

mishi hito no
keburi o kumo to
yuube no sora mo
mutsumashiki ka na
mishi is the rentaikei of miki, which is the past of miru, to see. The rentaikei form is used when a verb is set before a noun as an adjective. In modern Japanese, we would say mita hito, the person seen. In this case it means "beloved person".

mutsumashiki would be mutsumajii in modern Japanese. It meams "intimate, harmonious".

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