Once upon a time, in the heart of the Western Kingdom, lay a beautiful garden. And there in the cool of the day was the Master of the Garden wont to walk. Of all the denizens of the garden, the most beautiful and most beloved was a gracious and noble bamboo. Year after year, Bamboo grew yet more noble and gracious, conscious of his Master’s love and watchful delight, but modest, and gentle withal. And often, when Wind came to revel in the garden, Bamboo would cast aside his grave stateliness, to dance and play right merrily, tossing and swaying and leaping and bowing in joyous abandon, leading the Great Dance of the Garden which most delighted the Master’s heart.
Now upon a day, the Master himself drew near to contemplate his Bamboo with eyes of curious expectancy. And Bamboo, in a passion of adoration, bowed his great head to the ground in loving greeting. The Master spoke: “Bamboo, Bamboo, I would use thee.”
Bamboo flung his head to the sky in utter delight. The day of days had come, the day for which he had been made, the day to which he had been growing hour by hour, the day in which he would find his completion and his destiny. His voice came low:
“Master, I am ready. Use me as thou wilt.”
“Bamboo ” — the Master ‘s voice was grave — “l would fain take thee and — cut thee down.”
A trembling of a great horror shook Bamboo. “Cut … me … down! Me … whom thou, Master, hast made the most beautiful in all thy garden … to cut me down! Ah, not that, not that. Use me for thy joy, 0 Master, but cut me not down.”
“Beloved Bamboo” — the Master’s voice grew graver still — “if I cut thee not down, I cannot use thee.”
The garden grew still. Wind held his breath. Bamboo slowly bent his proud and glorious head. There came a whisper:
“Master, if thou canst not use me but thou cut me down … then … do thy will and cut.”
“Bamboo, beloved Bamboo, I would … cut thy leaves and branches from thee also.”
“Master, Master, spare me. Cut me down and lay my beauty in the dust; but wouldst thou take from me my leaves and branches also?”
“Bamboo, alas, if I cut them not away, I cannot use thee.” The sun hid his face. A listening butterfly glided fearfully away.
And Bamboo shivered in terrible expectancy, whispering low.
“Master, cut away.”
“Bamboo, Bamboo, I would yet … cleave thee in twain and cut out thine heart, for if I cut not so, I cannot use thee.”
Then was Bamboo bowed to the ground.
“Master, Master … then cut and cleave.”
So did the Master of the Garden take Bamboo and cut him down and hack off his branches and strip off his leaves and cleave him in twin and cut out his heart. And lifting him gently, carried him to where was a spring of fresh, sparkling water in the midst of his dry fields. Then pulling one end of broken Bamboo in the spring and the other end into the water channel in his field, the Master laid down gently his beloved Bamboo. And the spring sang welcome and the clear sparkling waters raced joyously down the channel of Bamboo’s torn body into the wailing fields. Then the rice was planted, and the days went by, and the shoots grew and the harvest came.
In that day was Bamboo, once so glorious in his stately beauty, yet more glorious in his brokenness and humility. For in his beauty he was life abundant, but in his brokenness he became a channel of abundant life to his Master’s world.
from The Book of Songs, Waley (author unknown)