Murasaki Shikibu

Murasaki Shikibu (d. ?1014), the author of the Genji Monogatari, the ‘Tale of Genji’, served at the court of one of the consorts of Emperor Ichijô, Empress Shôshi. Very few of the details of her life have come down to us, not even her real name (Murasaki Shikibu is a ‘nickname’ deriving from the name of a character in the Genji and the position in the Board of Rites (shikibu) held by her father). What we do know derives from her diary, Murasaki Shikibu Nikki, and her Collected Poems (Murasaki Shikibu Shū). Born into an impoverished branch of the Fujiwara family (her father, Tametoki, served as a provincial governor), she was seemingly of an intellectual bent, learning Chinese well enough from observing her brother’s lessons that her father observed that he wished she had been born male. She was later to put her Chinese to use by secretly reading Chinese poetry with Shōshi (knowledge of Chinese was considered unladylike). In 999 she married the much older Fujiwara no Nobutaka, only to be widowed two years later. She entered imperial service in 1006 or 1007, probably on the basis of her literary reputation, where she joined such poetic and literary luminaries as Izumi Shikibu, Akazome Emon and Sei Shônagon.

As a poet, Murasaki is probably at her best when her poems are set in prose contexts, as in the Genji, but her stature is such that it would be impossible to omit her from this selection.

On, the following poems are by Murasaki Shikibu:

GSIS I: 10
GSIS I: 104

'Simply moving and elegant'