from “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran, 1923
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.
But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.
When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”
And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.
Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.
Finding this book was a defining moment in my life. I was 14 or 15 (eons ago) and bored senseless (as only teenage girls can be) while browsing in a curio shop on family vacation. Something about the cover design reached out to me, so I absently picked up the little book, thumbed past the title page and perked up at the introduction, which sets a compelling scene in which “The Prophet” is poised, with mixed emotions, to impart final words of wisdom before the long-awaited ship arrives to return him to his home.
At the opening lines of “On Love,” the words leapt off the page to sear an indelible, lifelong mark on me. I distinctly recall that the price was $14.95, which was pretty steep back in the 1960’s. My burning desire to own that book apparently overcame an acquired reluctance to ask my dad for money, because I came out of that shop with my nose buried in “The Prophet”, which remains the only companion or tangible possession that has survived all of my moves for over fifty years.
Before reading this book, I had been affected as deeply only by certain passages from the King James Version of The Bible, especially the Psalms and the 13th Chapter of Corinthians, and the poems read aloud in our home throughout my childhood. At the time, I’m sure I didn’t equate them. (Poetry rhymed, of course.) So without any working vocabulary of metaphorical or metaphysical writing or the musicality of poetic prose, I was simply responding to the universal knowledge written on the individual heart long before birth. It varies in forms of expression, but the truth of it never wavers.
And this, my friends, is the experience of poetry.
The full text of the 26 prose poetry essays from The Prophet can be found here.