Chapter 52 of Genji Monogatari is "The Mayfly." The insects live only a day. Right from the beginning and even the title itself set up a brevity-of-life mood which the author Murasaki-shikibu often describes as a monono-aware. Kaoru (Naturally-Fragrant Prince) is 27, and he is a son of Genji although Genji isn't his biological father. Genji passed away about ten chapters before. As you can imagine, by Chap. 52, the relationships become more complex. The chapter starts right after the death of Ukifune.
Ukifune means a floating boat. Two chapters before, Kaoru took her away to a countryside house. While Kaoru was away, Niounomiya (Perfume-by-Choice Prince) sneaked up and snatched her in a boat to a secret house. So she has been floating between Kaoru and Niounomiya. Niounomiya is a grandson of Genji, and he is the same age as Kaoru. The mystery of her death is the key to the whole story.
Did she drown herself because she didn't want to choose between Niounomiya and Kaoru? Kaoru narrates that aggressive Niounomiya went to see Ukifune three times, but in contrast, Kaoru made only one visit. Kaoru insists that he remained a gentleman. He insinuates that it's such an irony that women fall in love with the playboys like Niounomiya. This is not a mono-aware from women's POV. Kaoru simply vacillates in his thought. He makes no decision.
Kaoru ponders what if he was the one who stole Ukifune's true heart. He thinks that his regret probably comes from his unsuccessful first love to Princess Ookimi. Because of it, he fell in love with Princess Nakanokimi afterward, but she was married to Niounomiya. An irony is that Kaoru introduced Nakanokimi to Niounomiya. He experiences the deeper monono-aware missing Ukifune.
Kaoru says if he were successful with one of his lovers, he wouldn't have married his wife, Onna-Ninomiya. She is from the high royal blood-line. Murasaki-shikibu does not mention anything about the cause of Ukifune's death yet. By not saying, Murasaki-shikibu infers that Niounomiya and Kaoru would never marry Ukifune because she was a woman of the lower rank. Ukifune is a younger sister of Ookimi and Nakanokimi, but the mother is different, and Ukifune's mother is from the lower rank.
Murasaki-shikibu makes Kaoru narrate and bring his version of monono-aware by comparing himself with Niounomiya and regretting about his lost pleasures.
Kaoru attends the-forty-ninth-day ceremony after Ukifune's death. Right after the religious ceremony, a koto harp music is playing at the other side of the west bridge-way. He thinks Onna-Ichinomiya is maybe playing. She is the elder sister of his wife and the first rank. Although his wife and mother-in-law are away from the house, he walks to the bridge-way. He has no business of being there.
I think many men and women probably feel about their first love similar to the way Kaoru feels: "What if..." But I think if our first love was so successful, then we wouldn't have any other opportunity in our life. I know some people are happy with the first love. Two of my six high school friends are that way. One met her husband when she was twelve, and the other met her husband at fifteen. They've been together ever since, and they are very happy, but their happy lives wouldn't make good novels. By reading Genji Monogatari, I'm amazed that 1000 years ago when Iowa writers workshops or UCLA creative writing courses were unavailable, Murasaki-shikibu wrote the story instinctively to lead readers through the characters' personal troubles.
Going back to the koto harp playing, Kaoru is still at the west bridge-way looking for Onna-Ichinomiya, his new woman to be. Female readers will see it clearly. This Kaoru's behavior is also a monono-aware. After all, Murasaki-shikibu is a woman. Of course, I'm on her side.
To be continued. Actually I wrote this blog because I want to write about a chat between Kaoru and one of women happened to be at the west bridge-way.