On Pleasure

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



Then a hermit, who visited the city once a year, came forth and said, Speak to us of Pleasure.
     And he answered, saying:
     Pleasure is a freedom-song,
     But it is not freedom.
     It is the blossoming of your desires,
     But it is not their fruit.
     It is a depth calling unto a height,
     But it is not the deep nor the high.
     It is the caged taking wing,
     But it is not space encompassed.
     Ay, in very truth, pleasure is a freedom-song.
     And I fain would have you sing it with fullness of heart; yet I would not have you lose your hearts in the singing.

     Some of your youth seek pleasure as if it were all, and they are judged and rebuked.
     I would not judge nor rebuke them. I would have them seek.
     For they shall find pleasure, but not her alone;
     Seven are her sisters, and the least of them is more beautiful than pleasure.
     Have you not heard of the man who was digging in the earth for roots and found a treasure?

     And some of your elders remember pleasures with regret like wrongs committed in drunkenness.
     But regret is the beclouding of the mind and not its chastisement.
     They should remember their pleasures with gratitude, as they would the harvest of a summer.
     Yet if it comforts them to regret, let them be comforted.

     And there are among you those who are neither young to seek nor old to remember;
     And in their fear of seeking and remembering they shun all pleasures, lest they neglect the spirit or offend against it.
     But even in their foregoing is their pleasure.
     And thus they too find a treasure though they dig for roots with quivering hands.
     But tell me, who is he that can offend the spirit?
     Shall the nightingale offend the stillness of the night, or the firefly the stars?
     And shall your flame or your smoke burden the wind?
     Think you the spirit is a still pool which you can trouble with a staff?

     Oftentimes in denying yourself pleasure you do but store the desire in the recesses of your being.
     Who knows but that which seems omitted today, waits for tomorrow?
     Even your body knows its heritage and its rightful need and will not be deceived.
     And your body is the harp of your soul,
     And it is yours to bring forth sweet music from it or confused sounds.

     And now you ask in your heart, “How shall we distinguish that which is good in pleasure from that which is not good?”
     Go to your fields and your gardens, and you shall learn that it is the pleasure of the bee to gather honey of the flower,
     But it is also the pleasure of the flower to yield its honey to the bee.
     For to the bee a flower is a fountain of life,
     And to the flower a bee is a messenger of love,
     And to both, bee and flower, the giving and the receiving of pleasure is a need and an ecstasy.

     People of Orphalese, be in your pleasures like the flowers and the bees.
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Submitted by halel on July 13, 2020

Modified on April 23, 2023

2:37 min read
167

Quick analysis:

Scheme ABCXXDXXBXCB XXXAA XDAE AFAXFXXX BXXXX EAGXXG X
Closest metre Iambic octameter
Characters 2,895
Words 524
Stanzas 7
Stanza Lengths 12, 5, 4, 8, 5, 6, 1

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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