Getting lost in a book of poetry as thunder and lightening reign outside your window will subject even the most reasonable of people to a bout of romantic melancholy and introspection.
I am hardly the most reasonable of people.
Five or six years ago during a trip home, to NY, my biological brother’s adoptive mother gave me a book titled The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. It has sat, unread, on my bookshelf ever since. I just never found myself experiencing any particular fervor to read it… that is until this afternoon. It was staring at my from the top shelf; challenging me not to be one of those pretentious people who flaunt shelves filled with classics that they’ve never bothered to read.
I knew nothing of Gibran until this afternoon but in preparation for this post I did a quick search of his history. I was unfamiliar with his popularity but several sources noted him as being one of the most widely read poets in history; surpassed only by Shakespeare and Lao-Tzu. It only took one afternoon with his poetry for me to understand how that may be the case.
Gibran was a Lebanese-American immigrant who came to the states as a child in the 1890’s. His family were Christian Maronite and his early education consisted of reading from the bible under the tutelage of visiting priests. I don’t know if it was this schooling or other life experiences that made him so but Gibran had a gift for writing beautiful poetry that my spirit found very easy to connect with.
The Prophet tells the story of Almustafa, a prophet, who had spent twelve years living in the city of Orphalese while he waited for a ship to take him home to his birthplace. A ship has finally arrived and as Almustafa waits for it to reach land he is met by the people Orphalese. He spends his last days answering their questions regarding matters of life, faith, love, giving, death and more… Each answer is in poetic form.
Here were several of my favorite passages:
On reason and Passion:
Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul. If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas.
For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.
Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing;
And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes.
On Joy and Sorrow:
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.”
The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.
They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.
Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights, is worthy of all else from you.
And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream.
And what desert greater shall there be, than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving?
And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you may see their worth naked and their pride unabashed?
See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving.
For in truth it is life that gives unto life while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.
When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden.
For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.
Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.
All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.
Get a copy… you can’t have mine.