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A Screen depicting the Fifty-Four

Episodes of the Tale of Genji on a Background of Gold Leaf

by Keifukuin Kaoko Gyokuei (1526 – after 1602)

Everything happens at once: court ladies pick iris,

nobles hunt pheasant, poets walk in the snow.

In a dragon-prowed boat, under a canopy of flowers,

Prince Genji, the great lover,

sails in triumph from bedroom to bedroom: in each

a woman flutters like a tiny jewelled fan.

A tea merchant of Kyoto commissioned this screen for his wife.

At night as they lay on their uncomfortable mats

she stared at it and sighed.

He, however, concluded 

that the difference between his own life and Prince Genji's

was that his lacked an artist 

to blot discreetly all but fifty-four moments

with a dazzle of clouds. 

 - translation by Katha Pollitt, 1979

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