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Short poem

Marjorie Pickthall (1883-1922)


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."

            19Camphor and wave-worn sandalwood for burning
            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,
            31Gold of the charlock, guerdon of the rain,
            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.


19] Camphor: easily flamable medicinal gum.

31] charlock: wild mustard.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

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.
First publication date: March 1906
Publication date note: Temple Bar (March 1906).
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/10

Form note: irregularly rhyming stanzas

Other poems by Marjorie Pickthall