On Houses

Kahlil Gibran 1883 (Bsharri, Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifate) – 1931 ( New York City)



Then a mason came forth and said, Speak to us of Houses.
     And he answered and said:
     Build of your imaginings a bower in the wilderness ere you build a house within the city walls.
     For even as you have home-comings in your twilight, so has the wanderer in you, the ever distant and alone.
     Your house is your larger body.
     It grows in the sun and sleeps in the stillness of the night; and it is not dreamless. Does not your house dream? and dreaming, leave the city for a grove or hill-top?

     Would that I could gather your houses into my hand, and like a sower scatter them in forest and meadow.
     Would the valleys were your streets, and the green paths your alleys, that you might seek one another through vineyards, and come with the fragrance of the earth in your garments.
     But these things are not yet to be.
     In their fear your forefathers gathered you too near together. And that fear shall endure a little longer. A little longer shall your city walls separate your hearths from your fields.

     And tell me, people of Orphalese, what have you in these houses? And what is it you guard with fastened doors?
     Have you peace, the quiet urge that reveals your power?
     Have you rememberances, the glimmering arches that span the summits of the mind?
     Have you beauty, that leads the heart from things fashioned of wood and stone to the holy mountain?
     Tell me, have you these in your houses?
     Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master?

     Ay, and it becomes a tamer, and with hook and scourge makes puppets of your larger desires.
     Though its hands are silken, its heart is of iron.
     It lulls you to sleep only to stand by your bed and jeer at the dignity of the flesh.
     It makes mock of your sound senses, and lays them in thistledown like fragile vessels.
     Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.

     But you, children of space, you restless in rest, you shall not be trapped nor tamed.
     Your house shall be not an anchor but a mast.
     It shall not be a glistening film that covers a wound, but an eyelid that guards the eye.
     You shall not fold your wings that you may pass through doors, nor bend your heads that they strike not against a ceiling, nor fear to breathe lest walls should crack and fall down.
     You shall not dwell in tombs made by the dead for the living.
     And though of magnificence and splendour, your house shall not hold your secret nor shelter your longing.
     For that which is boundless in you abides in the mansion of the sky, whose door is the morning mist, and whose windows are the songs and the silences of night.
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Submitted by halel on July 13, 2020

Modified on April 22, 2023

2:30 min read
540

Quick analysis:

Scheme AXXXBX XXBX XCXXAC XXXXX XXXXDDX
Characters 2,784
Words 500
Stanzas 5
Stanza Lengths 6, 4, 6, 5, 7

Kahlil Gibran

Gibran Khalil Gibran (Arabic: جبران خليل جبران‎, ALA-LC: Jubrān Khalīl Jubrān, pronounced [ʒʊˈbraːn xaˈliːl ʒʊˈbraːn], or Jibrān Khalīl Jibrān, pronounced [ʒɪˈbraːn xaˈliːl ʒɪˈbraːn]; January 6, 1883 – April 10, 1931), usually referred to in English as Kahlil Gibran (pronounced kah-LEEL ji-BRAHN), was a Lebanese-American writer, poet and visual artist, also considered a philosopher although he himself rejected the title. He is best known as the author of The Prophet, which was first published in the United States in 1923 and has since become one of the best-selling books of all time, having been translated into more than 100 languages. Born in a village of the Ottoman-ruled Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifate to a Maronite family, the young Gibran immigrated with his mother and siblings to the United States in 1895. As his mother worked as a seamstress, he was enrolled at a school in Boston, where his creative abilities were quickly noticed by a teacher who presented him to photographer and publisher F. Holland Day. Gibran was sent back to his native land by his family at the age of fifteen to enroll at the Collège de la Sagesse in Beirut. Returning to Boston upon his youngest sister's death in 1902, he lost his older half-brother and his mother the following year, seemingly relying afterwards on his remaining sister's income from her work at a dressmaker's shop for some time. In 1904, Gibran's drawings were displayed for the first time at Day's studio in Boston, and his first book in Arabic was published in 1905 in New York City. With the financial help of a newly met benefactress, Mary Haskell, Gibran studied art in Paris from 1908 to 1910. While there, he came in contact with Syrian political thinkers promoting rebellion in the Ottoman Empire after the Young Turk Revolution; some of Gibran's writings, voicing the same ideas as well as anti-clericalism, would eventually be banned by the Ottoman authorities. In 1911, Gibran settled in New York, where his first book in English, The Madman, would be published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1918, with writing of The Prophet or The Earth Gods also underway. His visual artwork was shown at Montross Gallery in 1914, and at the galleries of M. Knoedler & Co. in 1917. He had also been corresponding remarkably with May Ziadeh since 1912. In 1920, Gibran re-founded the Pen League with fellow Mahjari poets. By the time of his death at the age of 48 from cirrhosis and incipient tuberculosis in one lung, he had achieved literary fame on "both sides of the Atlantic Ocean," and The Prophet had already been translated into German and French. His body was transferred to his birth village of Bsharri (in present-day Lebanon), to which he had bequeathed all future royalties on his books, and where a museum dedicated to his works now stands. As worded by Suheil Bushrui and Joe Jenkins, Gibran's life has been described as one "often caught between Nietzschean rebellion, Blakean pantheism and Sufi mysticism." Gibran discussed different themes in his writings, and explored diverse literary forms. Salma Khadra Jayyusi has called him "the single most important influence on Arabic poetry and literature during the first half of [the twentieth] century," and he is still celebrated as a literary hero in Lebanon. At the same time, "most of Gibran's paintings expressed his personal vision, incorporating spiritual and mythological symbolism," with art critic Alice Raphael recognizing in the painter a classicist, whose work owed "more to the findings of Da Vinci than it [did] to any modern insurgent." His "prodigious body of work" has been described as "an artistic legacy to people of all nations."  more…

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