Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
East Asian Languages & Civilizations
Linda H. Chance
Since the fifteenth century scholars have been drawn to “The Seer” chapter of The Tale of Genji (c. 1000 C.E.), analyzing how the chapter’s unique structure of time depicts Genji’s grief after the death of Lady Murasaki, pacifies her spirit, and recapitulates their relationship. This study introduces the concept of “mourning poetics,” or the way Murasaki Shikibu layers mourning ritual outlined in the Yōrō code (718 C.E.) with structures of time and poetic lament to further shape Genji’s expressions of grief, clarify relationships, and negotiate the divide inherent in death. The key to the year-long structure of “The Seer” is to view it not only as Genji’s abnormally long mourning of Lady Murasaki, but also as a wife’s prescribed year of mourning for a husband. Murasaki Shikibu creates a “Lady Murasaki of Memory” who mourns and pacifies Genji prior to his death, ensuring his eventual Buddhist enlightenment. The result pacifies the spirit of the reader, who may be left unquieted by the upcoming divide in the tale and abrupt disappearance of Genji.
Authors of the “Crane Grove” chapter of The Tale of Flowering Fortunes (1034 C.E.) and the Initiate’s Chapter of The Tale of the Heike (1371 C.E.) translated the mourning poetics based upon “The Seer” to eulogize and pacify the historical heroes and heroines in their own tales. All three chapters revolve around the main character in a year of mourning for a loved one, which summarizes the life of the mourner and concludes with promises of Buddhist salvation for both mourner and mourned.
The mourning poetics in “The Seer” are present in modern Genji manga such as Asaki yume mishi and Ōzukami Genji monogatari maro, n?. These full-length treatments of the Genji retain, in altered form, the chronology and mourning ritual crucial to the spirit pacification function of “The Seer.”
Since the Heian period, Murasaki Shikibu’s mourning poetics has been translated and replaced over time. Weaving together references to time, lament, and mourning ritual eulogizes and pacifies characters, as well as negotiates existential and literary divides.
Carter, Beth Megan, "Engulfed in Darkness: Mourning Poetics in Classical Japanese Literature" (2016). Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 1635.