V. Art Appreciation

« IV. The Tea-Room

Have you heard the Taoist tale of the Taming of the Harp?

Once in the hoary ages in the Ravine of Lungmen stood a Kiri tree, a veritable king of the forest.  It reared its head to talk to the stars; its roots struck deep into the earth, mingling their bronzed coils with those of the silver dragon that slept beneath. And it came to pass that a mighty wizard made of this tree a wondrous harp, whose stubborn spirit should be tamed but by the greatest of musicians.  For long the instrument was treasured by the Emperor of China, but all in vain were the efforts of those who in turn tried to draw melody from its strings.  In response to their utmost strivings there came from the harp but harsh notes of disdain, ill-according with the songs they fain would sing.  The harp refused to recognise a master.

At last came Peiwoh, the prince of harpists.  With tender hand he caressed the harp as one might seek to soothe an unruly horse, and softly touched the chords.  He sang of nature and the seasons, of high mountains and flowing waters, and all the memories of the tree awoke!  Once more the sweet breath of spring played amidst its branches.  The young cataracts, as they danced down the ravine, laughed to the budding flowers.  Anon were heard the dreamy voices of summer with its myriad insects, the gentle pattering of rain, the wail of the cuckoo.  Hark! a tiger roars,–the valley answers again.  It is autumn; in the desert night, sharp like a sword gleams the moon upon the frosted grass.  Now winter reigns, and through the snow-filled air swirl flocks of swans and rattling hailstones beat upon the boughs with fierce delight.

Then Peiwoh changed the key and sang of love.  The forest swayed like an ardent swain deep lost in thought.  On high, like a haughty maiden, swept a cloud bright and fair; but passing, trailed long shadows on the ground, black like despair.  Again the mode was changed; Peiwoh sang of war, of clashing steel and trampling steeds.  And in the harp arose the tempest of Lungmen, the dragon rode the lightning, the thundering avalanche crashed through the hills.  In ecstasy the Celestial monarch asked Peiwoh wherein lay the secret of his victory.  “Sire,” he replied, “others have failed because they sang but of themselves.  I left the harp to choose its theme, and knew not truly whether the harp had been Peiwoh or Peiwoh were the harp.”

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