a missing chapter from The Tale of Genji,
taking place between Kiritsubo and The Broom Tree
Early in the spring of Genji’s 15th year, when the cherry trees where blooming with delicate fragrance, a gaijin came to the court of his father. This man wore elegant robes like those of a high captain, and spoke the language as though he had been born at court; yet he was a stranger to all. He was very tall and beautiful, with golden skin and strange green eyes, and the ladies of the court who glimpsed him from behind their screens said he was certainly an unusual and beautiful creature.
The gaijin demanded an audience with the Kiritsubo emperor, presenting as proof of his right to do so a scroll bearing the seal of the retired emperor. After much argument, the scroll was taken to the minister of the left, who, it is said, became very agitated at its contents. The gaijin was sent for, as he had been left waiting in a garden near the Kiritsubo apartments, and spent many hours closeted with His Majesty.
When the two gentlemen emerged in the evening, the gaijin was presented to the court as Kamikura, a learned poet from the far West. He would take up residence at court, honouring His Majesty with his erudition and great beauty.
Kamikura then presented the emperor with a token of his thanks, a poem written in a graceful hand:
As heaven opens
with its gentle spring showers,
the rays of the sun
are waiting behind the clouds;
emerging to warm the men
who wait for its bright return.
His Majesty was very pleased, and ordered Kamikura escorted to his apartments by several of the gentlemen of the court, including young Genji.
In the days that followed, Genji became very interested in the gentleman scholar, wondering if perhaps such a future would befit his destiny. Certainly Kamikura was well regarded by the members of the court, and the ladies-in-waiting gossiped behind their screens about his many conquests. Yet he was cool and reserved, and when pressed about the land from which he came, he only responded with poetry. The poems spoke of a land with a bright hot sun and cold nights, with no rain and dry soil in which no flowers could grow. Genji could not imagine such a land, and assumed these images to be metaphors for some sort of romantic exile.
Genji’s curiosity overwhelmed him, for in many ways he was a child still, and he would often cautiously follow the poet, to see where he went and with whom. In the early evenings he always supped with a handmaiden of the Kokiden lady, a pretty girl called Marichiko. Then, at night, when he left the girl sleeping, he would take a lamp into the gardens and write poetry. These were his only habits that Genji could observe.
One night, when the moon was high and full, he entered into the poet’s garden, determined to ask Kamikura why he only composed his poems by night. Sure enough, the poet was there, seated like the Buddha beneath a flowering tree, with his robes arranged very carefully about him. But he was not writing, his inks and papers were thrown on the ground. Genji hung back inside the gates, now afraid to approach the poet, for the gaijin was weeping, the tears on his golden face shining bright in the moonlight. For a moment, he was struck by the great beauty of the other man. Genji resolved to slip away unseen, but as he went, the gate creaked and betrayed him.
‘Lord Genji,’ Kamikura called in a strong voice, roughened by his weeping. ‘Why do you follow me?’
Genji turned round slowly, ashamed at being caught. He answered honestly, ‘Because you are a man of high regard, and my lord Father respects you. I want to be a poet.’
Kamikura laughed bitterly. ‘Boy, the life of a poet I would not wish on my worst enemy. Would you really want to travel the lands, dependent on your eloquence to earn your bread? I think not, my lord.’
Emboldened by this frank response, Genji stepped forward. ‘I would not mind it. I think my poems would find me welcome anywhere.’
Kamikura shook his head. ‘You are young yet, your destiny as yet unrevealed. I would trust the gods if I were you.’
This was not the encouragement Genji had looked for, and he tried another tack, returning to his original query. ‘Why do you only compose your poems at night?’
Again, the poet laughed. ‘You will find, my lord, that there are some secrets only darkness can reveal.’
Puzzled, Genji sat down on a rock to think about those words. It did not make sense that darkness could reveal anything. He frowned, and looked back up at Kamikura, who was patiently sitting, leaning his head back against the tree.
‘I suppose,’ the poet said, ‘you want to know why I was weeping just now.’
Genji nodded, filled with embarrassment that he’d glimpsed so private a moment.
‘Well, I am not going to tell you just yet. Why don’t you wait a year, and ask me again?’
Perhaps, Genji thought, Kamikura was a madman. Perhaps that is why he writes his poems in the dark and talks of lands filled with nothing but sun and sand. Of course he would not dare reproach his father for keeping a madman at court, but it seemed strange to him that it would be so. Then he remembered the scroll with the retired emperor’s seal, the scroll that had caused his father-in-law, the minister of the left, such consternation.
‘May I ask you what was in the scroll that you brought to court that first day?’
Kamikura scratched his chin, and closed his eyes a moment. ‘It was a letter.’
‘Oh. From whom?’
‘From your grandfather, the old emperor, to my father.’
‘That is a private matter.’ Kamikura leaned down and picked up one of his sheets of paper; in no time he had folded it into a flower. He tossed the flower to Genji, who caught it, and admired it.
‘Why do you follow me, Lord Genji?’ the poet asked again, with a tone very serious.
Genji studied the paper flower, hunching his shoulders. Clouds had covered the moon, and warm raindrops started to fall down the neck of his robe. ‘I admire your poems.’
‘Are you sure,’ Kamikura asked gently, ‘that it is not something else?’
As Genji gave his reply, thunder covered his words, so he was never after certain whether or not the poet heard him. The rain came harder and faster then, soaking them both. To his surprise, Kamikura began to laugh, leaping to his feet and turning his face up into the rain.
‘You really are mad!’ Genji cried.
‘Yes!’ Kamikura exclaimed, raising his hands into the air. ‘Dance with me!’
Genji danced and laughed with the poet until very late, and his sides and his feet hurt from the unusual exertion. At last they both fell down beneath the cherry tree, embracing each other companionably. Genji fell asleep like that, with his head on the poet’s shoulder.
When he woke, his head was pillowed on a rock, and for a moment, he was certain that the whole strange night had been a dream. Then he found the poem folded into a flower:
On many spring nights
The rain will fall warm and sweet
To bring you comfort.
Remember my land is dry,
With no fragrant night flowers.
And Genji wept.