About the Book

Book Protagonist: Hikaru Genji
Publication Date: 1021
Genre: Classic, Fantasy

Top Quotes

The Tale of Genji

By Murasaki Shikibu

By seamlessly blending the boundaries between prose and poetry in 'The Tale of Genji,' Murasaki Shikibu creates a captivating fusion of form and substance, where spoken words reverberate with lyrical resonance.

In ‘The Tale of Genji,’ the nature of the text presents memorable passages, which are exquisitely descriptive and profoundly poetic, capturing the refined communication that prevailed in the Heian court during early 11th century Japan. The dialogues within the novel serve as captivating portals into the inner realms of the characters, artfully displaying their emotions, thoughts, and intricate social dynamics through eloquent and subtly veiled expressions.

The Tale of Genji is adorned with quotable passages that exude profound poetic beauty, mirroring the traditions of the era. Murasaki Shikibu incorporates waka and tanka poetry into her prose, infusing the dialogue with metaphorical language, elegant symbolism, and vibrant imagery.

Beauty and Elegance

Genji found her even more beautiful than the reports had suggested.

This quote emphasizes the recurring theme of beauty and aesthetics in the novel. The story consistently celebrates beauty, and characters frequently face judgment based on their physical appearance and refinement. Genji, the protagonist, is widely recognized for his captivating looks, and this quote serves as a prime example of his deep fascination with beauty.

She was one of the loveliest girls anyone had ever seen.

Beauty plays a significant role in the Heian court, and this quote emphasizes the admiration and attention bestowed upon individuals who possess extraordinary physical attractiveness. It reflects the culture’s preoccupation with external beauty as a symbol of virtue and grace.

The Role of Art

True it is that before Genji left, many even of his relatives and most intimate friends refrained from paying their respects to him, but in the course of time not a few began to correspond with him, and sometimes they communicated their ideas to each other in pathetic poetry.

In this excerpt from “Exile at Suma,” Murasaki notes that poetry was a common means of communication among friends and family. The Empress forbade Genji from interacting with courtiers, but due to their admiration for Genji, people disobey her order. They describe the poetry as “pathetic,” which in this context indicates “full of feeling or pathos.” They are united by feelings of grief or sympathy, in other words. The poetry of ‘The Tale of Genji’ frequently expresses regret or melancholy, which were valued in Heian-era society as signs of sensibility and refinement.

Although the chapter lacks instances of what these letters contained, some of Genji’s poetry does. These lyrics give a good picture of what Murasaki means when she emphasizes the concept of “pathetic” poetry by discussing his feelings of personal loneliness and longing for the people he loves. The poems not only convey emotion but also assist the reader in experiencing it.

It happened on a cool summer evening that Genji was sauntering around the Ummeiden in the palace yard. He heard the sound of a biwa (mandolin) proceeding from a veranda. It was played by this lady. She performed well upon it, for she was often accustomed to play it before the Emperor along with male musicians. It sounded very charming.

This line from “Maple FĂŞte” perfectly encapsulates how music is felt in the story of ‘The Tale of Genji. The presence of characters that the characters cannot see can be hinted at through musical notes that can travel through walls and over distances, setting or enhancing moods. Music provided a significant medium for individual expression, well-suited to the indirection and obscurity that characterized courtship because of the cultural emphasis on articulating the subtle thoughts of a particular moment. As Genji’s remark demonstrates, a great performance has a certain allure that can entice a listener and pique his or her curiosity.

In this example, the woman is much older than the prince, yet he is seduced by her song. When he encounters her and learns of her age, he loses interest, but the scene’s conclusion does not lessen the intensity of the music’s presentation, especially when the performer—regardless of gender—is very talented.

Love and Longing

From that time on, the vision of her never left him.

Love and longing serve as pivotal themes in ‘The Tale of Genji.’ This quote exemplifies how a fortuitous encounter can profoundly impact an individual’s emotions, leading to an enduring yearning for their beloved. It vividly portrays the immense power of love to infiltrate one’s thoughts and permeate their dreams.

He would gaze at the lights of her house in the distance, unable to sleep, and filled with an aching desire.

This quote effectively captures the profound longing and desire that define the romantic relationships within the story. The yearning for one’s beloved becomes all-encompassing, resulting in sleepless nights and an insatiable longing for intimacy.

Status in The Tale of Genji

The mother of the first prince had, not unnaturally, a foreboding that unless matters were managed adroitly her child might be superseded by the younger one. She, we may observe had been established at Court before any other lady, and had more children than one. The Emperor, therefore, was obliged to treat her with due respect.

This paragraph from the book’s first chapter highlights what many readers would find to be a startling aspect of the way power is portrayed in ‘The Tale of Genji:’ The throne of the Empire does not automatically transfer to the Emperor’s eldest son or even child. The Emperor might choose someone to be both his heir and the heir of his heir in addition to having more than one wife and replacing his wife (as he does later when Princess Wistaria replaces Lady Koki-den).

In other words, Lady Koki-den must plan properly if she wants to ensure her son’s status. She uses her familial ties, which command respect even from the Emperor, as well as her diplomatic skills to influence the court to safeguard his interests, as well as her own and the interests of her other children.

Regard him as your adviser, both in large and small matters, without reserve, and not otherwise than if I were still alive. He is not incapable of sharing in the administration of public affairs, notwithstanding his youth.

Even after giving up the crown, Genji’s father still holds a lot of authority. He exhorts the next Emperor, Lady Koki-son, den’s on his deathbed in “Divine Tree,” to think of Genji as a valued advisor and someone he can have complete confidence in. In other words, Genji’s intelligence and discretion are valuable to the king in an unofficial capacity despite his youth and appearance of frivolity. The Emperor further suggests that Genji can assume administrative responsibilities if needed.

The Emperor here establishes that personal traits were crucial in the choice of advisors and administrators, even though ‘The Tale of Genji’ gives the reader no consistent sense of how public affairs were managed in Heian-era Japan. The court’s opinion of Genji shouldn’t change despite his impending death. Even in this clear instruction, Murasaki’s prose is characterized by indirection, as shown in the Emperor’s use of a double negative to describe his son’s abilities.

Impermanence and Transience

The blossoms perish, but the flower endures

The theme of impermanence is intricately interwoven throughout ‘The Tale of Genji.’ This quote serves as a reminder of the transient nature of life and beauty. Although cherry blossoms may wither and fade, the essence of their beauty endures eternally. In this captivating literary work, the concept of impermanence permeates every page, adding depth and complexity to the narrative. The chosen quote, carefully selected for its profound meaning, serves as a powerful reflection on the fleeting nature of existence and the ephemeral allure of beauty.

As the narrator tells the story, we are confronted with the undeniable truth that nothing in life is permanent. Just like the delicate cherry blossoms that bloom for a fleeting moment, only to wither away, life itself is a transient journey. Yet, amidst this impermanence, there exists a timeless essence that transcends the boundaries of time and space. Murasaki captures the essence of this eternal beauty, reminding us that even though the physical manifestation of the cherry blossoms may fade, their intrinsic allure remains unyielding. It is this enduring quality that captivates our senses and leaves an indelible mark on our souls.

Such an evanescent thing as a kiss cannot have left a lasting mark, yet it seemed to have taken on a life of its own.

Emotional experiences are included in the idea of transience. The lingering impact of short moments, like a kiss, which may be transitory but can have a significant and enduring effect on the character’s life, is captured in this remark.


Why is the opening line from ‘The Tale of Genji’ important?

The first line of ‘The Tale of Genji’ reads: At the Court of an Emperor (he lived it not matters when) there was among the many gentlewomen … one … favored far beyond all the rest.” Even though the book’s main character is a man and that the majority of the action revolves around men, Shikibu opens with a description of a significant but fleeting female character. Later in the chapter, the lady Kiritsubo is given her name; the Emperor is not. The mother of Genji, Kiritsubo, has the first story to be told. The opening line sets a romantic tone that is conveyed in the first few chapters of the book but becomes less romanticized as the book progresses.

What is Genji’s most poetic line from ‘The Tale of Genji’?

“In the dewy stillness, the moon weaves dreams of love.” This beautiful statement captures Prince Genji’s love of poetry and his amorous disposition. A sense of peace and beauty is evoked by the idea of the moon spinning love fantasies in the misty quiet. The moon, which is frequently linked to romantic themes in Japanese literature, represents both the fleeting and enduring qualities of love.

Why is Genji also referred to as “Shining Genji” in ‘The Tale of Genji’?

Genji’s first name “Hikaru” translates to “shining” or “radiant” in English, signifying the brilliance and captivating aura that surrounds Prince Genji. From the moment of his birth, he is described as having a luminous and otherworldly beauty, which draws people to him and leaves a lasting impression. This ethereal charm, combined with his intelligence and exceptional talents, makes him a figure of fascination and admiration among both men and women in the Heian court

Why was poetry highly valued in ‘The Tale of Genji’?

The Heian court had a deep appreciation for aesthetics and refinement, with a focus on creating an elegant and sophisticated atmosphere. Poetry, especially waka and tanka forms, exemplified the art of concise expression and artistic refinement, making it a prized form of literary expression.

Why did women cover themselves with screens in ‘The Tale of Genji’?

Screens, known as byobu, were used to partition spaces, creating private areas within the expansive court residences. The Heian court followed a system of seclusion, known as “in no bi,” where women, particularly those of noble birth, lived in secluded quarters called “heya” (rooms). These screens served to delineate their living spaces, providing them with a sense of privacy from the prying eyes of others, including male courtiers.

Charles Asoluka
About Charles Asoluka
Charles is an experienced content creator, writer, and literary critic. He has written professionally for multiple reputable media organizations. He loves reading Western classics and reviewing them.
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