I first became aware of the Lebanese-American writer Khalil Gibran when I came across one of his quotes. I don’t remember the quote, but it was enough to make me want to read more of his work. I eventually settled on The Prophet as it had good reviews and seemed to be one of his more popular works. The book arrived and I was surprised to find that it is not a usual book with a plot and suspense, but rather a collection of poems/fables. I was disappointed and put the book away without another thought. I recently picked it up again and discovered some gems. Once I got over the fact that it was not a novel per se, I was able to enjoy it.
The book is a collection of 26 poems, and follows a prophet, Al Mustafa, as he boards a ship to return to his home after a lengthy sojourn in the city of Orphalese. He is stopped by a group of people, who take turns to ask him to speak on several issues ranging from love and marriage, to work and death.The book is a life manual of sorts; I can see people turning to it when they need inspiration and guidance.
One of my favourite passages is the one about children. I don’t have any children, but I am a child and I recognize his words as truth. It is typical for parents to pass on their identify and beliefs to their children and get upset when said children choose different paths. This stems from the sense of possessiveness that we have over our progeny; they have come from us and therefore should do as we want. Though this feeling is understandable, it is also important to know that children are their own individuals, not simply photocopies of us. This is what Gibran says through the prophet. The passage goes thus:
“And a woman who held a babe against her bossom said, Speak to us about children. And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”
Wise words from a decent man.