murasaki shikibu’s collected poems

This anthology of waka and poetic exchanges was ostensibly compiled by Murasaki sometime near the end of her life. It was a common practice for a person who had led a literary life to create a kashū, or poetic memoir by choosing various poems and making an arrangement of them. Often they are given headings which indicate something of the circumstances under which they were composed. The poems were more commonly arranged by the author's sense of poetic connection than by any sort of strict chronological order. Richard Bowring has translated this collection along with Murasaki's Diary in his book Murasaki Shikibu, Her Diary and Poetic Memoirs. 1982. Princeton University Press.

‍  Although the poems are in one sense autobiographical, Bowring warns against the temptation to read too much about the specifics of Murasaki's life into them. This is of course precisely what I have done. For a work of scholarship, his approach is the only sensible one. But for me, not bound by such constraints, I yielded completely to the temptation to trace Murasaki's life through her poems. Since I represent each waka as arising out of a specific circumstance, my translations usually have a different emphasis from Bowring's. Where there were headings, I have worked them into the text preceding the poem. There are 128 waka in the Collection proper, and 7 additional poems known to be by Murasaki but found in other sources. Of these 135 poems, I have included 127 in my story. Click here for the complete list of sources for the poems in The Tale of Murasaki.

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