By Stella Benson

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Title: Kwan-yin

Author: Stella Benson

Release Date: January 20, 2013 [EBook #41885]

Language: English


Produced by Dianna Adair, Paul Clark and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at (This
file was produced from images generously made available
by The Internet Archive)


                            BY STELLA BENSON

                             [Floral heart]

[Bullet] THE TEMPLE OF KWAN-YIN, GODDESS OF MERCY. A wide altar occupies
the whole of the back of the stage; a long fringe of strips of yellow
brocade hangs from the ceiling to within 3 feet of the floor at either
end of the altar. In the centre of the altar the seated figure of the
goddess is vaguely visible in the dimness; only the face is definitely
seen--a golden face; the expression is passionless and aloof. A long
table about 12 inches lower than the altar stands in front of it, right
across the stage. On the table, before the feet of Kwan-yin, is her
carved tablet with her name in golden characters on a red lacquer
ground. In front of the tablet is a large brass bowl full of joss-sticks
the smoke of which wavers in the air & occasionally obscures the face of
Kwan-yin. There are several plates of waxen looking fruit & cakes on the
table & two horn lanterns--these are the only light in the scene. On
either side of Kwan-yin, between the table and the altar, there is a
pillar with a gilded wooden dragon twisted round it, head downward. To
the left, forward, is a large barrel-shaped drum slung on a carved
blackwood stand.

Four priests & two acolytes are seen like shadows before this palely lit
background. One acolyte to the right of the table beats a little hoarse
bell. This he does during the course of the whole scene, in the
following rhythm:--7-8-20-7-8-20. He should reach the 105th beat at the
end of the second hymn to Kwan-yin. The other acolyte stands by the drum
and beats it softly at irregular intervals as indicated. The acolytes
are little boys in long blue coats. The four priests stand at the table
with their faces toward Kwan-yin; their robes are pale dull pink silk
with a length of deeper apricot pink draped about the shoulders.

The priests kneel and kow-tow to Kwan-yin.

The acolytes sing:

    The voice of pain is weak and thin
    And yet it never dies.
    Has tears in her eyes.
    Be comforted ... be comforted....
    Be comforted, my dear....
    Never a heart too dead
    For Kwan-yin to hear.

    A pony with a ragged skin
    Falls beneath a load;
    Runs down the road.
    A comforter ... a comforter....
    A comforter shall come....
    No pain too mean for her;
    No grief too dumb.

    Man's deserts and man's sin
    She shall not discover.
    Is the world's lover.
    Ah, thief of pain ... thou thief of pain....
    Thou thief of pain, come in.
    Never a cry in vain,

First priest--tenor--chants:

    Is she then a warrior against sin?
    On what field does she plant her banner?
    Bears she a sword?

First and second priests--tenor and bass--chant:

    The world is very full of battle;
    The speared and plumed forests in their ranks besiege the mountains;
    The flooded fields like scimitars lie between the breasts of the
    The mists ride on bugling winds down the mountains.
    Shall not Kwan-yin bear a sword?

Third priest--tenor--chants:

    Kwan-yin is no warrior.
    Kwan-yin bears no sword.
    Even against sin
    Kwan-yin has no battle.
    This is her banner--a new day, a forgetting hour.
    Her hands are empty of weapons and outstretched to the world.
    Her feet are set on lotus flowers,
    The lotus flowers are set on a pale lake,
    And the lake is filled with the tears of the world.
    Kwan-yin is still, she is very still, she listens always,
    Kwan-yin lives remembering tears.

At this point the smoke of the joss-sticks veils the face of Kwan-yin. A
woman's voice sings:

    Wherefore remember tears?
    Shall tears be dried by remembrance?

This voice is apparently not heard by the priests and acolytes.

First and third priests chant:

    Ah, Kwan-yin, mother of love,
    Those in pain,
    Those who are held fast in pain of their own or another's seeking.
    Those for whom the world is too difficult
    And too beautiful to bear,


    Kwan-yin, remember, remember.

First and third priests:

    Those who are blind, who shall never read the writing upon the
        fierce rivers.
    Who shall never see the slow flowing of the stars from mountain
        to mountain.
    Those who are deaf, whom music and the fellowship of words have


    Kwan-yin, remember, remember.

First and third priests:

    Those whose love is buried and broken;
    All those under the sun who lack the thing that they love
    And under the moon cry out because of their lack,


    Kwan-yin, remember.

First priest:

    Oh thou taker away of pain,
    Thou taker away of tears....

The smoke quivers across Kwan-yin's face again, and the same woman's
voice sings:

    Wherefore remember the desolate?
    Is there a road of escape out of the unending wilderness?
    Can Kwan-yin find a way where there is no way?

Still the voice is unheard by the worshippers. First priest sings, and
while he sings the acolyte beats the drum softly at quick irregular

    Kwan-yin shall come, shall come,
    Surely she shall come,
    To bring content and a new diamond day to the desolate,
    To bring the touch of hands & the song of birds
    To those who walk terribly alone.
    To part the russet earth and the fingers of the leaves in the spring
    That they may give up their treasure.
    To those who faint for lack of such treasure
    To listen to the long complaining of the old and the unwanted.
    To bring lover to lover across the world,
    Thrusting the stars aside and cleaving the seas and the mountains.
    To hold up the high paths beneath the feet of travellers.
    To keep the persuading roar of waters from the ears of the
    To bring a smile to the narrow lips of death,
    To make beautiful the eyes of death.

A woman's voice again sings, unheeded, from behind the veil of smoke.

    Wherefore plead with death?
    Who shall soften the terrible heart of death?

All, in urgent but slow unison:


The golden face of Kwan-yin above the altar changes suddenly and
terribly, and becomes like a masque of fear. The lanterns flare
spasmodically. The voice can now be identified as Kwan-yin's, but still
the priests stand unhearing with their heads bowed, and still the
passionless bell rings.

Kwan-yin, in a screaming voice:

    Ah, be still, be still....
    I am Kwan-yin.
    I am Mercy.
    Mercy is defeated.
    Mercy who battled not, is defeated.
    She is a captive bound to the chariot of pain.
    Sorrow has set his foot upon her neck.
    Sin has mocked her.
    Turn away thine eyes from Mercy,
    From poor Mercy.
    Woo her no more.
    Cry upon her no more.

There is an abrupt moment of silence as the light becomes dim again &
Kwan-yin's face is frozen still. Then the first priest sings.

    What then are Mercy's gifts? The rose-red slopes
    Of hills ... the secret twisted hands of trees?
    Shall not the moon & the stars redeem lost hopes?
    What fairer gifts shall Mercy bring than these?

    For, in the end, when our beseeching clamor
    Dies with our bells; when fear devours our words;
    Lo, she shall come & hold the night with glamor,
    Lo, she shall come & sow the dawn with birds.

    Ah thou irrelevant saviour, ah thou bringer
    Of treasure from the empty sky, ah thou
    Who answerest death with song, shall such a singer
    Be silent now? Shall thou be silent now?

The 105th beat of the bell is now reached and there is a pause in the



The bell is rung slowly three times. Then there is absolute silence.
There is now a tenseness in the attitudes of all the worshippers, they
lean forward and look with suspense into Kwan-yin's quite impassive
golden face.

The lights go out suddenly.

       *       *       *       *       *

 One hundred copies printed by
 Edwin Grabhorn, San Francisco, in April, 1922.
 Bound by Florence Grabhorn.

    Transcriber's Note:

    Every effort has been made to replicate this text as faithfully as

    In the first paragraph, a duplicated "the" has been corrected in
    "only the the face is definitely seen."

End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of Kwan-yin, by Stella Benson


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