Skip to content

Ishii Tatsuhiko-I

Hiding Behind the Clouds

Elegy for Genji the Shining Prince



 [Kumo-gakure, “hiding behind the clouds,” “hiding oneself in clouds,”  is a metaphor for someone’s disappearance or death. It is also the name of a book (chō) in Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji) that exists only as a title on some lists, prompting some to assume its content was lost. Of the 54 books that make up the Tale, it is placed after the 40th book, Maboroshi, and before the 41st, Nioi-no-miya, as the Tale has been handed down over the centuries. Eight years pass between the 40th and 41st books and Genji’s death in the meantime is hinted.

Among those who have imagined what the “missing” content might have described is Marguerite Yourcenar. In Le dernier amour du prince Genghi (The Last Love of Prince Genji), included in her collection of short stories, Nouvelles orientales (Oriental Tales, tr. Alberto Manguel with Yourcenar), she attempted to fill the blank by opening it thus: “When Genji the Resplendent, the greatest seducer ever to have astounded Asia, reached his fiftieth year, he realized that the time had come to begin his death.”

“Genji” or “Genji the Shining Prince” by which the protagonist of the famous tale is referred to is actually a nickname, Genji being the clan name of the Minamoto with a deep link to the imperial family.

The tanka poet Ishii Tatsuhiko’s sequence Hiding Behind the Clouds is based on the threefold inspiration he had during his trip to New York City, from the end of 2001 and early 2002.

The main purpose of that trip was to see operas at the Metropolitan Opera House, but 9/11 had occurred just a few months earlier. So the morning after his arrival in New York he visited the ruins of the twin towers of the World Trade Center and was deeply moved by the sight.

He was equally moved by Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman without a Shadow), Richard Strauss’ opera with Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s libretto, that he saw at the Met. It was a new production directed by Herbert Wernicke and conducted by Christian Thielemann.

For the trip he had brought with him the six-volume Iwanami paperback edition of The Tale of Genji, to him the single greatest piece of Japanese literature. He had to mull over an invitation to contribute by the monthly magazine Eureka for it special issue to mark the 1000th anniversary of the tale.

So was born the sequence of 54 tanka, Hiding Behind the Clouds.--Hiroaki Sato]



Ash on an old man’s sleeve

Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.

T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding

A thousand years! The world unable to inherit “someone to follow your noble
[1] has, continued. . . .
Although words thrive, ah, all the stories are totally different from the tale
      about him!

You who died a thousand years ago, you who were such an impeccable being that a hymn was sung, “The deities in the sky should praise your form,” I can’t help mourning you now, a thousand years later. Since you hid your noble shining self in the empty book retaining only its name, we have continued to bear the absence of the impeccable being for as long as a thousand years.

I sorrow over the depth of his heart for amorous attachments. Of what a man
      ought to be (a human ought to be). . . .

The hibiscus curtain may be warm[2] but the flowers do not bloom this spring
      evening, so someone, comes to, tell


Remorseful that he has loved way too many people the man, his, excess flesh

The althea flowers noisily fall. You should remain (always) cold dealing with

There ought to be a flower that blooms in winter as well. Exclusive love (on
      each occasion) with all his heart

Plucked a wild rose just because he wanted to. . . . Ah, a man with both power
      and beauty

A man’s cold dismissal. He’s gained an incomparable rank, or, so, I, only,
      heard. . . .

Isolde and her prince, the man and his princesses, that, I hate that <and> which
      separates the two!

“The sins she broods over unbeknownst,”[3] what? That which never melds with each       other is two lives

At the close of the world where “the bond of dew are no more”[4] (still!) this heart             of hateful weariness

Better than the next world this life. Let my floating name flow as I do (often) on       heartfelt[5] things

“Ought to be different from the usual”[6] so thinking he stays awake. The last             epistle, this!

The planet that’s grown cold and colder. Death resembling life and (life being equal to life)

I am singing this elegy in the giant city destroyed by the hateful violence resulting from the accumulation of intolerances. This city had cheerfully recognized itself as the capital of the world for the last hundred years, but now it has turned into a city of requiem lamenting both the several thousands who perished and a spectacle that was lost.

Smoke and dust erupt in the watch towers.[7] No matter how many centuries pass       man is history’s slave

The tall towers collapsed, and the war. . . . In this world that’s already turbulent enough

Both landscape and human life are lost in the long run, I understand they are but even so. . . .

Memories of loving a landscape being more intimate (than! memories of loving a human). . . .

The tall towers that are beautiful (were beautiful!) I visited them once again, saw them,       and wept.

Count on a magician[8] and look at the blue sky![9] The snow-white towers as they form

Mankind hadn’t ever been reformed, nothing of the sort. Ever lecherous, ever bellicose!

As one of those who remain alive I’ll (continue to) live. Ruler and subjects look at one       another

everyone wets his clothes with tears.[10] Though cursed for his skill in getting on in the       world

Is it a crime? To, live disheartened in the world where “only sick despicable things       multiply”[11]

Simply living for amour ought to be praised. Ah, the man fond of war we’d rather avoid

Both parents and children and siblings (actually) live in a battlefield. Though the winter       sky is cerulean

That which was once beauty. . . . A soldier alone in the ruins puts a single rose to flames

Can we in the end find a being of your impeccability only in tales? For a thousand years since you hid your light mankind has continued to be an imperfect being committing only foolish acts, even though, having said that, I hesitate to call you, the impeccable being, a happy man.

Human life is strife. Yessir, it’s strife! “Even at the close of the evening when life is about to       end”[12]

Out in the field  —O weh, Falke, o weh![13] So aggrieved was, the young emperor

Wo kommt sie her?[14] The execution ground for the sin called love is in the heart

Forgotten even by your lovers you die, that’s all. In a winter when the snow doesn’t fall

Anyone would think of someone alive. Rather than a person in the next room (just now)       dying

Humans are all blind. The sin called love, even your mother, commits, in the darkness of       night

Call mother’s son your younger brother[15] is quite natural. Even though she said that       shouldn’t be out. . . .

The winter rose has fleetingly fallen. Think of it, it’s “the life he didn’t know himself”[16]

“Lost as foam fades away”[17]. . . . Both the sound of the bell for morning prayers and the       life of the enemy in love

The sins in my afterlife may be light. Even saying that (What a man says!) is close to a       curse

As with the world (mother) is terrifying! Whenever you hear about the precedent of the       King of Thebes

The baron left old wasting. You’re right, he always had some resemblance to my other. . . .

Charles Swann, mort![18] so he says and falls obstinately silent. Does that mean the       Light[19] has hidden, itself?

In an opera I saw in this city, a deathless woman, an elf queen who was like the light itself, was trying to become a human being who must die. To become a human being who must die means to have a shadow. A human being is a human being because she has a shadow.[20] And you, who were the incarnation of light, surely had a shadow. It is you like that I deeply mourn a thousand years later, in a city that vividly retains the scars of mankind’s foolish acts.

“The magicians going back and forth in the big sky”[21] (there were two planes, they say)       had no shadows

A great many posters in the city of silence  ——Ah! “where in the world are you if I may       ask?”[22]

To “look at your cremains,”[23] that wish. . . . I reaffirm it. In the ruins a thousand years       afterward

Turn them into tales, into verses. . . . Mankind’s foolish acts (that never stop being       repeated)

Good luck (slowly slowly the gong and drum[24]) isn’t, no, inherited by the progeny far in       the distance

Suspicious of the ash of the roses on a sleeve. Better? to die young than to grow old and die

Gloaming light it was. Even calling “The Loser” you who hid yourself behind the clouds

What remains are only the shadows. Yes, that’s the way it should be, I ought, to, nod in       assent

I love the absence of transmission of death. The snow-white pages continuing forever and       ever. . . .

Schatten zu werfen, beide erwählt![25] If this is the way it must be

The light of the sun overflowing the ruins. . . . Ah, what’s this? Everyone has his own       shadow

“This regret will never end,”[26] so, I think but. . . . Il était grand temps[27]. . . . you can,       say that, too

Will be purified, and forgotten. Today’s dead people all when a thousand years (!) have       passed. . . .

New York, 2001-2002

[1] From the Genji book Nioi-no-miya.

[2] Alludes to a line in Changhenge (Song of Everlasting Regret), a long poem by Bai Juyi (Po Chü-I: 772-846): “The hibiscus curtain is warm as the spring evening passes.” The poem describes the Tang Dynasty’s ninth emperor Xuanzong’s (685-762) fateful love of the beauty Yang Guifei, the infatuation that provoked his general An Lushan’s revolt in 755 and led to his abdication. The “hibiscus curtain” refers to a partition made of cloth into which a hibiscus design is stitched. As the poem goes on to say, the night spent making love to Guifei is felt to be so short that soon the emperor is unable to get up in the morning to discharge his matutinal imperial duties. Song of Everlasting Regret provides a motif for the first book of The Tale of Genji.

[3] From the Genji book Wakamurasaki. Genji’s father, Emperor Kiritsubo, falls in love with Fujitsubo because she looks exactly like Genji’s mother who died after giving birth to him. Later he makes her his wife. Genji, yearning for his dead mother, falls in love with Fujitsubo because she is said to look exactly like his mother, and impregnates her. She naturally agonizes over this sinful development.

[4] From the Genji book Maboroshi.

[5] The original for “heartfelt” is kokoro-zukushi, a word in Genji that points to something that makes one reflect on various sad aspects of being.

[6]. Genji’s last utterance that appears in Maboroshi.

[7] A phrase in Song of Everlasting Regret.

[8] The original of “magician” is maboroshi. Most often maboroshi means “phantom,” “illusion,” but here in reference to Genji and Song of Everlasting Regret, it means “magician.” In Bai’s poem, it’s a Daoist with divine powers that Xuanzong summons to search for the soul of Guifei. whom he was forced to kill. He can “open up the sky, ride on the air, rush like lightning, climb into heaven, and enter the earth.” The title poem of the 40th book of Genji reads: “Magician who flies through the big sky, search the whereabouts of her soul that doesn’t appear even in dreams.”

[9] On September 11, 2001, the sky was what the pilots call “severe clear.”

[10] A line in Song of Everlasting Regret says, “Ruler and subjects look at one another; everyone wets his clothes with tears.” On his way back to the capital Chang-an from his place of exile, Xuanzong and his followers come to a spot where he had to have the love of his life, Yang Guifei, killed. In Bai’s poem, “ruler . . . with tears” forms a single line.

[11] From the Genji book Suma.

[12] From the Genji book Maboroshi. Genji reflecting on Murasaki’s death.

[13] From Act 2 of Die Frau ohne Schatten. Der Kaiser’s words.

[14] Ditto.

[15] In The Tale of Genji, Emperor Reizei is supposed to be Emperor Kiritsubo’s son and therefore Genji’s younger brother. But actually he is Genji’s son. See footnote 3.

[16] From the Genji book Kashiwagi.

[17] Ditto. Description of Kashiwagi’s last moments.

[18] From Le Temps retrouvé of À la Recherche du Temps perdu.

[19] I.e., Genji.

[20] Die Frau ohne Schatten.

[21] Alludes to the tanka that provides the title for the Genji book Maboroshi.

[22] From the Genji book Kagerō. A nurse’s cry after Ukifune disappears.

[23] Ditto.

[24] A line in Song of Everlasting Regret says, “Slowly slowly the gong and drum; this the first long night.” Back in his palace and alone, Xuanzong feels acutely that time without Yang Guifei passes with excruciating slowness. Gongs and drums were used to tell the hours of the day. “Long night” refers to the autumn night.

[25] From Act 3 of Die Frau ohne Schatten.

[26] A line from Song of Everlasting Regret.

[27] From Le Temps retrouvé.






Ash on an old man’s sleeve

Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.

—T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding


千年も! 御影に立ちつぎ給ふべき人ありがたき世、は、続きをり……








欲望のままに手折りし野の薔薇の…… ああ、権力も美も持つ男



人知れず思す罪、とは? つひに融け合はぬふたつの生命なりけり











幻といふをたのみて青空に見よ! 真つ白な塔の姿を




罪なりや? いと煩はしくはしたなきことのみまさる世に住み侘ぶ、は



かつて美であつたもの…… 兵士がひとり廃墟に燃やす一輪の薔薇

あなたのような完璧な存在は、結局は物語の中にしか見出すことができないのでしょうか? あなたがその光を隠されてから千年、人類は、愚行ばかり繰り返す不完全な存在でありつづけたのでした。もっとも、完璧なあなたをさえも、幸福な人間と呼ぶことは躊躇われるのですが……。

人の生は闘争。さうさ、闘争さ! 今はのゆふべ近きすゑにも

狩に出でて —O weh, Falke, o weh! と嘆き給ひぬ、若き皇帝は

Wo kommt sie her? 恋といふ罪の刑場は心の中にある






泡の消え入るやうに失せ…… 晨朝の鐘の音も、恋敵の生も


世とともに(母は)恐ろし! テーバイの王の先例を聞くにつけても


Charles Swann, mort! と言ひて押し黙る。つまり光は隠れたつてこと、か?



沈黙の都市に数多の貼り紙が ──ああ! いづ方にかおはしましぬる?

亡き御骸をも見たてまつらむ、との冀求…… 肯ふ。千年後の廃墟にて







Schatten zu werfen, beide erwählt! さうでなければならないのなら

廃墟には陽光あふれ…… ああ、なんと! すべての人間に影がある

此の恨み絶ゆる期無し、と、思へども…… Il était grand temps… さう、とも、言へる