Tales of Ise Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Not too many years after the capital is moved from Nara to Kyoto, in 794, there lives a man who loves love. Shortly after his maturity rite (which at that time was usually at the age of eleven) and when the boy grows four and a half feet tall, the youth goes falcon hunting at Kasuga in the former capital. There he happens to see two beautiful sisters and sends them a poem. The poem begins the description of the love life of this man. Later, he meets and begins to visit a performer in the imperial court. When their love affair is exposed, the woman is made unavailable by the simple expediency of placing her in service at court where, in 866, she becomes the consort of the Emperor Seiwa.

Tiring of life in the capital, the man goes on a trip to eastern Japan, but he goes no farther than the border of Ise and Owari Provinces when he becomes homesick and composes poems to express his nostalgia. He meets an itinerant priest, sees Mount Fuji for the first time, and composes a poem. Entering the province of Musashi, at the Sumida River that runs through present-day Tokyo, he composes a celebrated poem of nostalgia concerning the oystercatcher birds. In Musashi he also meets and is attracted to various women. Later he wanders through the region to the northeast, where he makes love to the local country women.

Friends since early childhood, the man and the daughter of Aritsune eventually marry, but Narihira does not long remain faithful to her. Scattered through the episodes, however, are hints that cause the reader to believe that she manages to draw him back to her after each infidelity.

In another story, there is the eternal triangle involving two men and one woman, with the usual tragic results. The woman in this case waits three years for the return of a man who leaves to make his fortune in the capital. Meanwhile, she is courted by a second man, who finally wins her promise of marriage. The first man, returning on the wedding night, learns what...

(The entire section is 809 words.)