On Houses

Kahlil Gibran - 1883-1931
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.

More by Kahlil Gibran

Love

They say the jackal and the mole 
Drink from the selfsame stream 
Where the lion comes to drink. 
And they say the eagle and the vulture 
Dig their beaks into the same carcass, 
And are at peace, one with the other, 
In the presence of the dead thing. 
 
O love, whose lordly hand 
Has bridled my desires, 
And raised my hunger and my thirst 
To dignity and pride, 
Let not the strong in me and the constant 
Eat the bread or drink the wine 
That tempt my weaker self. 
 
Let me rather starve, 
And let my heart parch with thirst, 
And let me die and perish, 
Ere I stretch my hand 
To a cup you did not fill, 
Or a bowl you did not bless.

Defeat

Defeat, my Defeat, my solitude and my aloofness;
You are dearer to me than a thousand triumphs,
And sweeter to my heart than all world-glory.
 
Defeat, my Defeat, my self-knowledge and my defiance,
Through you I know that I am yet young and swift of foot
And not to be trapped by withering laurels.
And in you I have found aloneness
And the joy of being shunned and scorned.
 
Defeat, my Defeat, my shining sword and shield,
In your eyes I have read
That to be enthroned is to be enslaved,
And to be understood is to be leveled down,
And to be grasped is but to reach one's fullness
And like a ripe fruit to fall and be consumed.
 
Defeat, my Defeat, my bold companion,
You shall hear my songs and my cries and my silences,
And none but you shall speak to me of the beating of wings,
And urging of seas,
And of mountains that burn in the night,
And you alone shall climb my steep and rocky soul.
 
Defeat, my Defeat, my deathless courage,
You and I shall laugh together with the storm,
And together we shall dig graves for all that die in us,
And we shall stand in the sun with a will,
And we shall be dangerous.

The Coming of the Ship

Almustafa, the chosen and the beloved, who was a dawn unto his own day, had waited twelve years in the city of Orphalese for his ship that was to return and bear him back to the isle of his birth.
     And in the twelfth year, on the seventh day of Ielool, the month of reaping, he climbed the hill without the city walls and looked seaward; and he beheld his ship coming with the mist.
     Then the gates of his heart were flung open, and his joy flew far over the sea. And he closed his eyes and prayed in the silences of his soul.

     But as he descended the hill, a sadness came upon him, and he thought in his heart:
     How shall I go in peace and without sorrow? Nay, not without a wound in the spirit shall I leave this city.
     Long were the days of pain I have spent within its walls, and long were the nights of aloneness; and who can depart of his pain and his aloneness without regret?
     Too many fragments of the spirit have I scattered in these streets, and too many are the children of my longing that walk naked among these hills, and I cannot withdraw from them without a burden and an ache.
     It is not a garment I cast off this day, but a skin that I tear with my own hands.
     Nor is it a thought I leave behind me, but a heart made sweet with hunger and with thirst.

     Yet I cannot tarry longer.
     The sea that calls all things unto her calls me, and I must embark.
     For, to stay, though the hours burn in the night, is to freeze and crystallize and be bound in a mould.
     Fain would I take with me all that is here. But how shall I?
     A voice cannot carry the tongue and the lips that gave it wings. Alone must it seek the ether.
     And along and without his nest shall the eagle fly across the sun

     Now when he reached the foot of the hill, he turned again towards the sea, and he saw his ship approaching the harbor, and upon her prow the mariners, the men of his own land.

     And his soul cried out to them, and he said:
     Sons of my ancient mother, you riders of the tides,
     How often have you sailed in my dreams. and now you come in my awakening, which is my deeper dream.
     Ready am I to go, and my eagerness with sails full set awaits the wind.
     Only another breath will I breathe in this still air, only another loving look cast backward,
     And then I shall stand among you, a seafarer among seafarers.
     And you, vast sea, sleepless mother,
     Who alone are peace and freedom to the river and the stream,
     Only another winding will this stream make, only another murmur in this glade,
     And then shall I come to you, a boundless drop to a boundless ocean.

     And as he walked he saw from afar men and women leaving their fields and their vineyards and hastening towards the city gates.
     And he heard their voices calling his name, and shouting from field to field telling one another of the coming of the ship.

     And he said to himself:
     Shall the day of parting be the day of gathering?
     And shall it be said that my eve was in truth my dawn?
     And what shall I give unto him who has left his plough in midfurrow, or to him who has stopped the wheel of his winepress?
     Shall my heart become a tree heavy-laden with fruit that I may gather and give unto them?
     And shall my desires flow like a fountain that I may fill their cups?
     Am I a harp that the hand of the mighty may touch me, or a flute that his breath may pass through me
     A seeker of silences am I, and what treasure have I found in silences that I may dispense with confidence?
     If this is my day of harvest, in what fields have I sowed the seed, and in what unremembered seasons?
     If this indeed be the hour in which I lift up my lantern, it is not my flame that shall burn therein.
     Empty and dark shall I raise my lantern,
     And the guardian of the night shall fill it with oil and he shall light it also.

     These things he said in words But much in his heart remained unsaid. For he himself could not speak his deeper secret.

     And when he entered into the city all the people came to meet him, and they were crying out to him as with one voice.
     And the elders of the city stood forth and said:
     Go not yet away from us.
     A noontide have you been in our twilight, and your youth has given us dreams to dream.
     No stranger are you among us, nor a guest, but our sun and our dearly beloved.
     Suffer not yet our eyes to hunger for your face.

     And the priests and the priestesses said unto him:
     Let not the waves of the sea separates us now, and the years you have spent in our midst become a memory.
     You have walked among us a spirit, and your shadow has been a light upon our faces.
     Much have we loved you. But speechless was our love, and with veils has it been veiled.
     Yet now it cries aloud unto you, and would stand revealed before you.
     And ever has it been  that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.
     And others came also and entreated him. But he answered them not. He only bent his head; and those who stood near saw his tears falling upon his breast.
     And he and the people proceeded towards the great square before the temple.

     And there came out of the sanctuary a woman whose name was Almitra. And she was a seeress.
     And he looked upon her with exceeding tenderness, for it was she who had first sought and believed in him when he had been but a day in their city.
     And she hailed him, saying:
     Prophet of God, in quest of the uttermost, long have you searched the distances for your ship.
     And now your ship has come, and you must needs go.
     Deep is your longing for the land of your memories and the dwelling place of your greater desires; and our love would not bind you nor our needs hold you.
     Yet this we ask ere you leave us, that you speak to us and give us of your truth.
     And we will give it unto our children, and they unto their children, and it shall not perish.
     In your aloneness you have watched with our days, and in your wakefulness you have listened to the weeping and the laughter of our sleep.
     Now therefore disclose us to ourselves, and tell us all that has been shown you of that which is between birth and death.

     And he answered,
     People of Orphalese, of what can I speak save of that which is even now moving within your souls?