Really Old Classics

The Tale of Genji: Chapters 14 – 17

Matthew is hosting a read along for The Tale of Genji. This week I have been studying the different translations and have come to realise that my Royall Tyler translation is the hardest to understand. 

Compare these paragraphs, all taken from the beginning of Chapter 14.

Unable to forget that almost too vivid dream of his father and wanting somehow to lighten the penance, Genji immediately set about plans for a reading of the Lotus Sutra. It was to be in the Tenth Month. Everyone at court helped with the arrangements. The spirit of cooperation was as before Genji fell into disfavor. ~ Globusz Publishing translation

Genji well remembered the dream which he had dreamt at Suma, and in which his father, the late ex-Emperor. and had made a faint allusion to his fallen state. He was always thinking of having solemn service performed for him, which might prove to be a remedy for evils.  ~ Kencho Suematsu translation

Genji thought of His Late Eminence often after that clear dream, and he sorrowfully wished somehow to save him from the sins that had brought him so low. Once he was back in the City, he quickly prepared to do so, and in the tenth month he held a Rite of the Eight Discourses. All the world bowed to his wishes, as it had done before.  ~ Royall Tyler translation


Which version do you find easiest to understand?

I have only just discovered the Globusz Publishing translation, but am finding it the easiest to follow. I think I might try to read the rest of the book using this translation.

Chapter 14

The Akashi lady gives birth to Genji’s first daughter. Genji and Fujitsubo’s son becomes emperor and Genji is reminded of the fortuneteller’s prophecy:

“You will have three children,” a fortuneteller had once told him. “Two of them are certain to become emperor and empress. The least of the three will become chancellor, the most powerful man in the land.” The whole of the oracle seemed by way of coming true.

Genji makes a pilgrimage to Sumiyoshi shrine, and it appears that his lick is changing, but then on his return to Kyoto the Rokujo lady falls ill and dies.

Chapter 15
The Safflower lady has fallen on hard times and her house is deteriorating. Genji goes to rescue her from the terrible conditions.

Chapter 16
Genji goes on a pilgrimage to Ishiyama. He meets the Hitachi Governor on the way, who is travelling in a set of coaches with his wife, Utsusemi. They reminisce about old times, but the Hitachi Governor is more worried about his sons mistreating his wife when he dies.

Chapter 17
Genji and Fujitsubo try to send Akikonomu to court, to strengthen Genji’s position, but in the end he quietly withdraws her. They all discuss art a lot in this chapter and hold a painting contest.

13 replies on “The Tale of Genji: Chapters 14 – 17”

Translations can make such a huge difference, and this is quite a striking example! I experienced this first hand with both Kristin Lavransdatter and Anna Karenina.

I have heard about the Lavransdatter translation before. I think I’ve got the wrong one, so am going to have to keep an eye out for the other one before I attempt reading it.

Edward Seidensticker is easiest to understand. Royall gets a bit too clumsy and crafty at times. I started off with Royall but switched to Seidensticker for better understanding, especially Genji’s complicated and entangled relationship.

I haven’t got the Seidensticker translation. Any chance you could copy the first paragraph of chapter 14 for me, so I can compare it?

Great post. It’s interesting and useful to see translations of the same section side by side. I will say that I like the Tyler on the best. “All the world bowed to his wishes, as it had done before.” I think that’s the best way to say that thought even if it’s not the easiest to understand.

What I should look up is the opinion of someone who has studied it in the original Japanese. I think a good translation should be as faithful to the original as possible. It did take a hundred plus pages to get into the swing with the Tyler translation, but now that I’m in it I think it was worth it.

BTW I loved chapter 15. I’ll be going on and on about it in my post very soon. There was so much wonderful stuff in this section. Exile was the best thing that could have happened to Genji.

Normally I would agree with you about finding translations as close to the original as possible, but I think it was written so long ago that direct translations are probably the hardest to understand. I am finding it easier to read the more modern translations, so don’t mind if I am not getting it exactly as it is supposed to be – I’m not sure I’d get through it otherwise!

I picked up the Seidensticker translation purely by luck and I’m very happy with it. The right translation does make a difference – especially with a book like this when there’s so much going on. Which translation of Kritin Lavransdatter have you got? I have the Nunnally and I love it – I’ve been reading the book on and off for ages because I just don’t want to leave that world.

Yes – I’ve heard that the Nunnally one is the best. I’ve got the Archer and Scott one, and am not sure whether I should give it a try or just go and buy the Nunnally one.

I have only tried 2 translations, Tyler’s and one from Dover Thrift Editions. Tyler’s was exceptionally better. Unfortunately, Tyler’s is the one my library has on hand so I am just going to stick with it. I find it easy enough that I am not dreading reading it, so it works for me. 🙂 I am glad you have one you enjoy better. I like the different styles of all 3 of the translations for the passage you selected.

My latest post is just a collection of some of my favorite quotes from the novel so far. Of course, I had to narrow it down! There are so many because I find the language style just beautiful. I’d love it if you’d check it out! Thanks!

Tale of Genji

I don’t have a guide to follow along with. The reference guy at the library only found an Interpretation of the book, which would have to be read in its entirety before you could understand most of the interpretation book. What do you use?

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