[Kwannon, the Japanese goddess of mercy, is represented with many hands, typifying generosity and kindness. In one of these hands she is supposed
to hold an axe, wherewith she severs the threads of human lives.]
I am the ancient one, the many-handed,
The merciful am I.
Here where the black pine bends above the sea
They bring their gifts to me --
Spoil of the foreshore where the corals lie,
Fishes of ivory, and amber stranded,
And carven beads
Green as the fretted fringes of the weeds.
Age after age, I watch the long sails pass.
Age after age, I see them come once more
Home, as the grey-winged pigeon to the grass,
The white crane to the shore.
Goddess am I of heaven and this small town
Above the beaches brown.
And here the children bring me cakes, and flowers,
And all the strange sea-creatures that they find,
For "She," they say, "the Merciful, is ours,
And she," they say, "is kind."
Camphor and wave-worn sandalwood for burning
They bring to me alone,
Shells that are veined like irises, and those
Curved like the clear bright petals of a rose.
Wherefore an hundredfold again returning
I render them their own --
Full-freighted nets that flash among the foam,
Laughter and love, and gentle eyes at home,
Cool of the night, and the soft air that swells
My silver temple bells.
Winds of the spring, the little flowers that shine
Where the young barley slopes to meet the pine,
Gold of the charlock, guerdon of the rain,
I give to them again.
Yet though the fishing boats return full-laden
Out of the broad blue east,
Under the brown roofs pain is their handmaiden,
And mourning is their feast.
Yea, though my many hands are raised to bless,
I am not strong to give them happiness.
Sorrow comes swiftly as the swallow flying,
O, little lives, that are so quickly done!
Peace is my raiment, mercy is my breath,
I am the gentle one.
When they are tired of sorrow and of sighing
I give them death.