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Instead he devoted himself to the gentle arts and

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Unformatted text preview: inscribed a verse upon it and sent it to the girls. The cloak he was wearing bore a bold pattern of passionflowers: Young maiden-flowers Of Kasuga, you dye my cloak; And wildly like them grows This passion in my heart, Abundantly, without end. The maidens must have thought this eminently suited to the occasion, for it was composed in the same mood as the well-known For whom has my heart Like the passionflower patterns Of Michinoku Been thrown into disarray? All on account of you. This is the kind of facile elegance in which the men of old excelled.13 The crowning achievement in the development of prose in the early and middle Heian period was the completion shortly after 1000 of The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari), a massive novel by Murasaki Shikibu (978– 1016), a lady-in-waiting at court. In spite of the excellence of much other Heian literature, it is Murasaki’s incomparable masterpiece that recreates the age for us, or at least the age as seen through the eyes of the privileged The Court at Its Zenith 65 Heian courtiers. The leading character of this novel, Genji, “The Shining One,” was the son of an emperor by a low-ranking concubine and a paragon of all the Heian virtues: he was dazzlingly handsome, a great lover, poet, calligrapher, musician and dancer, and the possessor of impeccable taste in a society that was in a very real sense ruled by taste. Like most of his peers, Genji, at least in his youth, had little official business to occupy him at court, where affairs were controlled by a few leading Fujiwara ministers. Instead, he devoted himself to the gentle arts and especially to the pursuit of love, an endeavor that involved him in a seemingly endless string of romantic entanglements. In Genji’s circle, the typical love affair was conducted according to exacting dictates of taste. Lovers delighted each other by exchanging poems written on fans or on carefully selected and scented stationery, which they adorned with delicate sprays of flowers. A faulty handwriting, a missed allusion, or a poor matching of colors could quickly dampen a courtier’s ardor....
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