Khalil Gibran died in 1931. But he left behind an inestimable legacy for all readers who love language, literature and life. The haunting quality of his writings is what readers find irresistible. He is one of the rare writers whom one can read time and again without getting bored.
He is well known for The Prophet, and for his poems, contemplations and meditations. In this article we will take a look at his aphorisms drawn from Sand and Foam.
These encapsulate profound ideas. Their pithiness renders them all the more effective and striking.
One can write at great length yet communicate little. However, the aphorism, by its very brevity, strikes the imagination immediately.
“How noble is the sad heart who would sing a joyous song with joyous hearts,” is a succinctly-expressed idea that captures the importance of a positive attitude. Life is replete with obstacles and we suffer heartbreaks. We feel we are unfairly treated by people and by life. We even wallow in self-pity at what we lose and at what life could have been. Gibran makes us view sadness from a different perspective and urges us to appreciate what is elevating and redeeming in something debilitating.
All of us need to face our moments of test. At times we can't and we are left shattered. In case we face them stoically, there's always the chance of witnessing a light ahead. Tests form an integral part of life. Gibran drives home this point in a brief line : “One may not reach the dawn save by the path of the night.”
Imagery helps us to see an author's point vividly apart from making it more forceful. In “Paradise is there, behind that door, in the next room ; but I have lost the key. Perhaps I have only mislaid it,” Gibran is suggesting that better days and happiness are never too far if only we made the effort to detect the secret to attain it.
Our ignorance, blindness and confusion about what exactly we desire from life constitute a barrier to our happiness. We spend long years questing for happiness in the wrong places and from the wrong people when, in fact, it may be already there, within us. Finding the means to unlock it is each individual's job.
“How can I lose faith in the justice of life, when the dreams of those who sleep upon feathers are not more beautiful than the dreams of those who sleep upon the earth ?” There are times when we tend to believe that we've been deliberately chosen to suffer while many others are living plentifully. We rail against the unfairness of it. We become miserable. Gibran brings us to see the situation differently - others, in truth, may not be better off than we are.
Gibran has a few penetrating aphorisms about poets, poetry and writing. To those who care to write, he says they need to have knowledge, art and magic : the knowledge of the music of words, the art of being artless, and the magic of loving your readers.
This comment is interesting in that it happens that a piece of writing demonstrates knowledge and art but falls flat on account of “the magic of loving your readers” not being there.
Timelessness of words
Here are words writers must not take lightly : “Words are timeless. You should utter them or write them with a knowledge of their timelessness.”
And what is poetry ? What is wisdom ? Pages can be written about this. Gibran's definition is concise and full of punch : “Poetry is wisdom that enchants the heart. Wisdom is poetry that sings in the mind.”
Learning to balance good and painful experiences is the mark of the wise person. Gibran expresses this truth in “A great man has two hearts ; one bleeds and the other forbears.” With the same perceptiveness, he evokes the power of connection in “You may forget the one with whom you have laughed, but never the one with whom you have wept.” Indeed, there is a strange kind of relationship established with a person you empathize.
In opening ourselves to others, freeing ourselves from our shells or walls, we can understand and appreciate their value. In loving humankind we come to develop an insight into ourselves. How many wars have killed innocent people ? Couldn't this have been avoided if efforts had been made to understand mankind and the sufferings inflicted upon people ? Of human bonding Gibran writes : “They say to me 'Should you know yourself you would know all men'. And I say, 'Only when I seek men shall I know myself'.”
Do we always learn from our mistakes ? Do we allow the divine light to shine upon us in order to facilitate our redemption ? The truth is that some do and some don't. This is beautifully condensed in “We are all prisoners but some of us are in cells with windows and some without.”
We know that hatred for those who hurt us can cause us terrible harm. Yet how many of us keep our composure to prevent such a feeling from overwhelming us ? It is better to be charitable and forgive because those who hurt us are themselves insecure and in great want of love, affection and peace of mind. Any attempt at seeking revenge is foolishness. Confucius once said, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” And Gibran echoes the same in “Hate is a dead thing. Who of you would be a tomb ?”
Passing blame to others for our dissatisfactions and griefs is quite common. But is it worthwhile ? This is what we have to mull over : “After all this is not a bad prison ; but I do not like this wall between my cell and the next prisoner's cell. Yet I assure you that I do not wish to reproach the warder nor the Builder of the prison.”
Do we defend our rights more emphatically or do we defend our wrongs more emphatically ? We might be tempted to support the former. Gibran surprises us with this : “Strange that we all defend our wrongs with more vigor than we do our rights.”
The power of words to cheer the heart and lift the spirit, to take us on an inner journey and make us see life in a new way - this is what Khalil Gibran's writings mean to me.