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HIS PARABLES AND POEMS
THE WISE DOG
THE TWO HERMITS
ON GIVING AND TAKING
THE SEVEN SELVES
THE WISE KING
THE NEW PLEASURE
THE OTHER LANGUAGE
THE TWO CAGES
THE THREE ANTS
ON THE STEPS OF THE TEMPLE
THE BLESSED CITY
THE GOOD GOD AND THE EVIL GOD
NIGHT AND THE MADMAN
THE GREATER SEA
THE GREAT LONGING
SAID A BLADE OF GRASS
THE TWO LEARNED MEN
WHEN MY SORROW WAS BORN
AND WHEN MY JOY WAS BORN
"THE PERFECT WORLD"
YOU ask me how I became a madman. It happened thus: One day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen,—the seven masks I have fashioned and worn in seven lives,—I ran maskless through the crowded streets shouting, "Thieves, thieves, the curséd thieves."
Men and women laughed at me and some ran to their houses in fear of me.
And when I reached the market place, a youth standing on a house-top cried, "He is a madman." I looked up to behold him; the sun kissed my own naked face for the first time. For the first time the sun kissed my own naked face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun, and I wanted my masks no more. And as if in a trance I cried, "Blessed, blessed are the thieves who stole my masks."
Thus I became a madman.
And I have found both freedom and safety in my madness; the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.
But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief.
IN the ancient days, when the first quiver of speech came to my lips, I ascended the holy mountain and spoke unto God, saying, "Master, I am thy slave. Thy hidden will is my law and I shall obey thee for ever more."
But God made no answer, and like a mighty tempest passed away.
And after a thousand years I ascended the holy mountain and again spoke unto God, saying, "Creator, I am thy creation. Out of clay hast thou fashioned me and to thee I owe mine all."
And God made no answer, but like a thousand swift wings passed away.
And after a thousand years I climbed the holy mountain and spoke unto God again, saying, "Father, I am thy son. In pity and love thou hast given me birth, and through love and worship I shall inherit thy kingdom."
And God made no answer, and like the mist that veils the distant hills he passed away.
And after a thousand years I climbed the sacred mountain and again spoke unto God, saying, "My God, my aim and my fulfillment; I am thy yesterday and thou art my tomorrow. I am thy root in the earth and thou art my flower in the sky, and together we grow before the face of the sun."
Then God leaned over me, and in my ears whispered words of sweetness, and even as the sea that enfoldeth a brook that runneth down to her, he enfolded me.
And when I descended to the valleys and the plains God was there also.
MY friend, I am not what I seem. Seeming is but a garment I wear—a care-woven garment that protects me from thy questionings and thee from my negligence.
The "I" in me, my friend, dwells in the house of silence, and therein it shall remain for ever more, unperceived, unapproachable.
I would not have thee believe in what I say nor trust in what I do—for my words are naught but thy own thoughts in sound and my deeds thy own hopes in action.
When thou sayest, "The wind bloweth eastward," I say, "Aye it doth blow eastward"; for I would not have thee know that my mind doth not dwell upon the wind but upon the sea.
Thou canst not understand my seafaring thoughts, nor would I have thee understand. I would be at sea alone.
When it is day with thee, my friend, it is night with me; yet even then I speak of the noontide that dances upon the hills and of the purple shadow that steals its way across the valley; for thou canst not hear the songs of my darkness nor see my wings beating against the stars—and I fain would not have thee hear or see. I would be with night alone.
When thou ascendest to thy Heaven I descend to my Hell—even then thou callest to me across the unbridgeable gulf, "My companion, my comrade," and I call back to thee, "My comrade, my companion"—for I would not have thee see my Hell. The flame would burn thy eyesight and the smoke would crowd thy nostrils. And I love my Hell too well to have thee visit it. I would be in Hell alone.
Thou lovest Truth and Beauty and Righteousness; and I for thy sake say it is well and seemly to love these things. But in my heart I laugh at thy love. Yet I would not have thee see my laughter. I would laugh alone.
My friend, thou art good and cautious and wise; nay, thou art perfect—and I, too, speak with thee wisely and cautiously. And yet I am mad. But I mask my madness. I would be mad alone.
My friend, thou art not my friend, but how shall I make thee understand? My path is not thy path, yet together we walk, hand in hand.
ONCE I said to a scarecrow, "You must be tired of standing in this lonely field,"
And he said, "The joy of scaring is a deep and lasting one, and I never tire of it."
Said I, after a minute of thought, "It is true; for I too have known that joy."
Said he, "Only those who are stuffed with straw can know it."
Then I left him, not knowing whether he had complimented or belittled me.
A year passed, during which the scarecrow turned philosopher.
And when I passed by him again I saw two crows building a nest under his hat.
IN the town where I was born lived a woman and her daughter, who walked in their sleep.
One night, while silence enfolded the world, the woman and her daughter, walking, yet asleep, met in their mist-veiled garden.
And the mother spoke, and she said: "At last, at last, my enemy! You by whom my youth was destroyed—who have built up your life upon the ruins of mine! Would I could kill you!"
And the daughter spoke, and she said: "O hateful woman, selfish and old! Who stand between my freer self and me! Who would have my life an echo of your own faded life! Would you were dead!"
At that moment a cock crew, and both women awoke. The mother said gently, "Is that you, darling?" And the daughter answered gently, "Yes, dear."
THE WISE DOG
ONE day there passed by a company of cats a wise dog.
And as he came near and saw that they were very intent and heeded him not, he stopped.
Then there arose in the midst of the company a large, grave cat and looked upon them and said, "Brethren, pray ye; and when ye have prayed again and yet again, nothing doubting, verily then it shall rain mice."
And when the dog heard this he laughed in his heart and turned from them saying, "O blind and foolish cats, has it not been written and have I not known and my fathers before me, that that which raineth for prayer and faith and supplication is not mice but bones."
THE TWO HERMITS
UPON a lonely mountain, there lived two hermits who worshipped God and loved one another.
Now these two hermits had one earthen bowl, and this was their only possession.
One day an evil spirit entered into the heart of the older hermit and he came to the younger and said, "It is long that we have lived together. The time has come for us to part. Let us divide our possessions."
Then the younger hermit was saddened and he said, "It grieves me, Brother, that thou shouldst leave me. But if thou must needs go, so be it," and he brought the earthen bowl and gave it to him saying, "We cannot divide it, Brother, let it be thine."
Then the older hermit said, "Charity I will not accept. I will take nothing but mine own. It must be divided."
And the younger one said, "If the bowl be broken, of what use would it be to thee or to me? If it be thy pleasure let us rather cast a lot."
But the older hermit said again, "I will have but justice and mine own, and I will not trust justice and mine own to vain chance. The bowl must be divided."
Then the younger hermit could reason no further and he said, "If it be indeed thy will, and if even so thou wouldst have it let us now break the bowl."
But the face of the older hermit grew exceedingly dark, and he cried, "O thou cursed coward, thou wouldst not fight."
ON GIVING AND TAKING
ONCE there lived a man who had a valley-full of needles. And one day the mother of Jesus came to him and said: "Friend, my son's garment is torn and I must needs mend it before he goeth to the temple. Wouldst thou not give me a needle?"
And he gave her not a needle, but he gave her a learned discourse on Giving and Taking to carry to her son before he should go to the temple.
THE SEVEN SELVES
IN the stillest hour of the night, as I lay half asleep, my seven selves sat together and thus conversed in whispers:
First Self: Here, in this madman, I have dwelt all these years, with naught to do but renew his pain by day and recreate his sorrow by night. I can bear my fate no longer, and now I rebel.
Second Self: Yours is a better lot than mine, brother, for it is given me to be this madman's joyous self. I laugh his laughter and sing his happy hours, and with thrice winged feet I dance his brighter thoughts. It is I that would rebel against my weary existence.
Third Self: And what of me, the love-ridden self, the flaming brand of wild passion and fantastic desires? It is I the love-sick self who would rebel against this madman.
Fourth Self: I, amongst you all, am the most miserable, for naught was given me but odious hatred and destructive loathing. It is I, the tempest-like self, the one born in the black caves of Hell, who would protest against serving this madman.
Fifth Self: Nay, it is I, the thinking self, the fanciful self, the self of hunger and thirst, the one doomed to wander without rest in search of unknown things and things not yet created; it is I, not you, who would rebel.
Sixth Self: And I, the working self, the pitiful labourer, who, with patient hands, and longing eyes, fashion the days into images and give the formless elements new and eternal forms—it is I, the solitary one, who would rebel against this restless madman.
Seventh Self: How strange that you all would rebel against this man, because each and every one of you has a preordained fate to fulfill. Ah! could I but be like one of you, a self with a determined lot! But I have none, I am the do-nothing self, the one who sits in the dumb, empty nowhere and nowhen, while you are busy re-creating life. Is it you or I, neighbours, who should rebel?
When the seventh self thus spake the other six selves looked with pity upon him but said nothing more; and as the night grew deeper one after the other went to sleep enfolded with a new and happy submission.
But the seventh self remained watching and gazing at nothingness, which is behind all things.
ONE night a feast was held in the palace, and there came a man and prostrated himself before the prince, and all the feasters looked upon him; and they saw that one of his eyes was out and that the empty socket bled. And the prince inquired of him, "What has befallen you?" And the man replied, "O prince, I am by profession a thief, and this night, because there was no moon, I went to rob the money-changer's shop, and as I climbed in through the window I made a mistake and entered the weaver's shop, and in the dark I ran into the weaver's loom and my eye was plucked out. And now, O prince, I ask for justice upon the weaver."
Then the prince sent for the weaver and he came, and it was decreed that one of his eyes should be plucked out.
"O prince," said the weaver, "the decree is just. It is right that one of my eyes be taken. And yet, alas! both are necessary to me in order that I may see the two sides of the cloth that I weave. But I have a neighbour, a cobbler, who has also two eyes, and in his trade both eyes are not necessary."
Then the prince sent for the cobbler. And he came. And they took out one of the cobbler's two eyes.
And justice was satisfied.
A FOX looked at his shadow at sunrise and said, "I will have a camel for lunch today." And all morning he went about looking for camels. But at noon he saw his shadow again—and he said, "A mouse will do."
THE WISE KING
ONCE there ruled in the distant city of Wirani a king who was both mighty and wise. And he was feared for his might and loved for his wisdom.
Now, in the heart of that city was a well, whose water was cool and crystalline, from which all the inhabitants drank, even the king and his courtiers; for there was no other well.
One night when all were asleep, a witch entered the city, and poured seven drops of strange liquid into the well, and said, "From this hour he who drinks this water shall become mad."
Next morning all the inhabitants, save the king and his lord chamberlain, drank from the well and became mad, even as the witch had foretold.
And during that day the people in the narrow streets and in the market places did naught but whisper to one another, "The king is mad. Our king and his lord chamberlain have lost their reason. Surely we cannot be ruled by a mad king. We must dethrone him."
That evening the king ordered a golden goblet to be filled from the well. And when it was brought to him he drank deeply, and gave it to his lord chamberlain to drink.
And there was great rejoicing in that distant city of Wirani, because its king and its lord chamberlain had regained their reason.
THREE men met at a tavern table. One was a weaver, another a carpenter and the third a ploughman.
Said the weaver, "I sold a fine linen shroud today for two pieces of gold. Let us have all the wine we want."
"And I," said the carpenter, "I sold my best coffin. We will have a great roast with the wine."
"I only dug a grave," said the ploughman, "but my patron paid me double. Let us have honey cakes too."
And all that evening the tavern was busy, for they called often for wine and meat and cakes. And they were merry.
And the host rubbed his hands and smiled at his wife; for his guests were spending freely.
When they left the moon was high, and they walked along the road singing and shouting together.
The host and his wife stood in the tavern door and looked after them.
"Ah!" said the wife, "these gentlemen! So freehanded and so gay! If only they could bring us such luck every day! Then our son need not be a tavern-keeper and work so hard. We could educate him, and he could become a priest."
THE NEW PLEASURE
LAST night I invented a new pleasure, and as I was giving it the first trial an angel and a devil came rushing toward my house. They met at my door and fought with each other over my newly created pleasure; the one crying, "It is a sin!"—the other, "It is a virtue!"
THE OTHER LANGUAGE
THREE days after I was born, as I lay in my silken cradle, gazing with astonished dismay on the new world round about me, my mother spoke to the wet-nurse, saying, "How does my child?"
And the wet-nurse answered, "He does well, madame, I have fed him three times; and never before have I seen a babe so young yet so gay."
And I was indignant; and I cried, "It is not true, mother; for my bed is hard, and the milk I have sucked is bitter to my mouth, and the odour of the breast is foul in my nostrils, and I am most miserable."
But my mother did not understand, nor did the nurse; for the language I spoke was that of the world from which I came.
And on the twenty-first day of my life, as I was being christened, the priest said to my mother, "You should indeed be happy, madame, that your son was born a christian."
And I was surprised,—and I said to the priest, "Then your mother in Heaven should be unhappy, for you were not born a christian."
But the priest too did not understand my language.
And after seven moons, one day a soothsayer looked at me, and he said to my mother, "Your son will be a statesman and a great leader of men."
But I cried out,—"That is a false prophecy; for I shall be a musician, and naught but a musician shall I be."
But even at that age my language was not understood—and great was my astonishment.
And after three and thirty years, during which my mother, and the nurse, and the priest have all died, (the shadow of God be upon their spirits) the soothsayer still lives. And yesterday I met him near the gate of the temple; and while we were talking together he said, "I have always known you would become a great musician. Even in your infancy I prophesied and foretold your future."
And I believed him—for now I too have forgotten the language of that other world.
ONCE when I was living in the heart of a pomegranate, I heard a seed saying, "Someday I shall become a tree, and the wind will sing in my branches, and the sun will dance on my leaves, and I shall be strong and beautiful through all the seasons."
Then another seed spoke and said, "When I was as young as you, I too held such views; but now that I can weigh and measure things, I see that my hopes were vain."
And a third seed spoke also, "I see in us nothing that promises so great a future."
And a fourth said, "But what a mockery our life would be, without a greater future!"
Said a fifth, "Why dispute what we shall be, when we know not even what we are."
But a sixth replied, "Whatever we are, that we shall continue to be."
Excerpted from Poems, Parables and Drawings by Kahlil Gibran. Copyright © 2008 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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