The Stonecutter


(A Japanese legend)

Long ago there lived a stonecutter who every morning took his mallet and chisel to hew slabs of rock from the mountainside. When he had hauled them home, he would polish the rocks and sell them. He was very good at his work, and so there was always plenty for him to do, and he was contented.

One day when he carried a finely polished block of stone to the house of a rich man, he saw all sorts of beautiful things that he had never seen before.

“Oh!” he cried. “I wish I might have a beautiful home like this one and sleep in a bed as soft as down.” Discontented, he picked up his tools and started home.

The spirit of the mountain heard the stonecutter’s wish. When he arrived home, instead of the poor little hut he had left in the morning, there stood a wonderful palace. Inside, it was as full of beautiful furniture as the rich man’s house. The stonecutter slept that night on a bed as soft as down.

When he awoke, he decided not to work anymore, and he looked out his window to see who was going by. As he watched, a fine carriage drawn by snow-white horses rolled along. There were servants running in front and behind, and a prince sat inside with a golden canopy over his head. The stonecutter was discontented again.

“Oh!” he declared. “I wish I were a prince with a carriage such as that and could ride under a golden canopy.”

No sooner had he made the wish than it came to pass! He was a prince, he had servants dressed in purple and gold, and he drove through the streets in a carriage with a golden canopy.

For a while he was happy. Then one day he noticed that the sun was wilting his grass and flowers, even though he had watered them. “The sun is mightier than I am,” he said. “I wish to be the sun.”

The spirit heard him, and the stonecutter was changed into the sun. He felt proud and mighty to be so great and bright in the sky. He burned the fields of rich and poor alike. Then one day a cloud covered his face, and he was again filled with discontent.

“The cloud is mightier than I. I would be the cloud!” he cried angrily.

So the mountain spirit changed him into a cloud, and he lay content for a while between the sun and the earth. He caught the sunbeams and would not let them go. He began pouring down rain until the rivers overflowed and the crops were spoiled. Whole towns were washed away. But he could not move the mountain.

“Is the mountain stronger than I am?” he asked the spirit. “If so, I will be the mountain.”

At once the spirit changed him into a rocky mountain. For years he proudly stood, raising his head high above the other cliffs. Neither the sun nor the rain harmed him. Then one day he heard a sharp tap-tapping, and he saw a stonecutter working with his sharp tools, cutting into the mountainside. He felt a trembling inside him.

“Who is this cutting into me? I would be that man,” he wished.

And he became a man once more, the same poor stonecutter he was before. Once again he lived in a hut and worked from morning to night. Yet he had never felt more content, for he had learned that it’s the steady tap-tapping that moves mountains.

[illustration] Illustrated by Don Weller