The Soul of the Great Bell

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The Soul of the Great Bell

By | July 2013
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THE SOUL OF T HE GREAT BELL

BY LAFCADIO HEARN

The water-clock marks the hour in the Ta chung sz’ , in the tower of the Great Bell: now the mallet is lifted to smite the lips of the metal monster—the vast lips inscribed with Buddhist texts from the sacred Fa-hwa-King, from the chapters of the holy Ling-yen-King! Hear the great bell responding!—how mighty her voice, though tongueless!—KO-NGAI! All the little dragons on the high-tilted eaves of the green roofs shiver to the tips of their gilded tails under that deep wave of sound; all the porcelain gargoyles tremble on their carven perches; all the hundred little bells of the pagodas quiver with desire to speak. KO-NGAI—^all the green-and-gold tiles of the temple are vibrating; the wooden goldfish above them are writhing against the sky; the uplifted finger of Fo shakes high over the heads of the worshipers through the blue fog of incense ! KO-NGAI!—What a thunder tone was that! All the lacquered goblins on the palace cornices wriggle their fire-colored tongues! And after each huge shock, how wondrous the multiple echo and the great golden moan, and, at last, the sudden sibilant sobbing in the ears when the immense tone faints away in HE water-clock marks the hour in the Tachung sz', in the Tower of the Great Bell: now the mallet is lifted to smite the lips of broken whispers of silver, as though a woman should whisper, "Hiai!" Even so the great bell hath sounded every day for wellnigh five hundred years—Ko-Ngai: first with stupendous clang, then with immeasurable moan of gold, then with silver murmuring of "Hiai!" And there is not a child in all the many-colored ways of the old Chinese city who does not know the story of the great bell, who can not tell you why the great bell says Ko-Ngai and Hiai! Now, this is the story of the great bell in the Tachung ss', as the same is related in the Pe-Hiao-TouChoue, written by the learned Yu-Pao-Tchen, of the City of Kwang-tchau-fu. Nearly five hundred years...

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