Kwannon

Original Text: 
Marjorie L. C. Pickthall, The Lamp of Poor Souls and Other Poems (Toronto: S. B. Gundy, 1916): 121-23. PS 8531 I35L3 Robarts Library.
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.
1I am the ancient one, the many-handed,
2The merciful am I.
3Here where the black pine bends above the sea
4They bring their gifts to me --
5Spoil of the foreshore where the corals lie,
6Fishes of ivory, and amber stranded,
7And carven beads
8Green as the fretted fringes of the weeds.
9Age after age, I watch the long sails pass.
10Age after age, I see them come once more
11Home, as the grey-winged pigeon to the grass,
12The white crane to the shore.
13Goddess am I of heaven and this small town
14Above the beaches brown.
15And here the children bring me cakes, and flowers,
16And all the strange sea-creatures that they find,
17For "She," they say, "the Merciful, is ours,
18And she," they say, "is kind."
20They bring to me alone,
21Shells that are veined like irises, and those
22Curved like the clear bright petals of a rose.
23Wherefore an hundredfold again returning
24I render them their own --
25Full-freighted nets that flash among the foam,
26Laughter and love, and gentle eyes at home,
27Cool of the night, and the soft air that swells
28My silver temple bells.
29Winds of the spring, the little flowers that shine
30Where the young barley slopes to meet the pine,
32I give to them again.
33Yet though the fishing boats return full-laden
34Out of the broad blue east,
35Under the brown roofs pain is their handmaiden,
36And mourning is their feast.
37Yea, though my many hands are raised to bless,
38I am not strong to give them happiness.
39Sorrow comes swiftly as the swallow flying,
40O, little lives, that are so quickly done!
41Peace is my raiment, mercy is my breath,
42I am the gentle one.
43When they are tired of sorrow and of sighing
44I give them death.

Notes

19] Camphor: easily flamable medicinal gum. Back to Line
31] charlock: wild mustard. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1906
Publication Notes: 
Temple Bar (March 1906).
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.