On Work

- 1883-1931
Then a ploughman said, Speak to us of Work.
     And he answered, saying:
     You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.
     For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.

     When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.
     Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?

     Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.
     But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when the dream was born,
     And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,
     And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.

     But if you in your pain call birth an affliction and the support of the flesh a curse written upon your brow, then I answer that naught but the sweat of your brow shall wash away that which is written.

     You have been told also that life is darkness, and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary.
     And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge,
     And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge,
     And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,
     And all work is empty save when there is love;
     And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.
    
     And what is it to work with love?
     It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
     It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
     It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
     It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,
     And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you and watching.

     Often have I heard you say, as if speaking in sleep, “He who works in marble, and finds the shape of his own soul in the stone, is nobler than he who ploughs the soil.
     And he who seizes the rainbow to lay it on a cloth in the likeness of man, is more than he who makes the sandals for our feet.”
     But I say, not in sleep but in the overwakefulness of noontide, that the wind speaks not more sweetly to the giant oaks than to the least of all the blades of grass;
     And he alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving.

     Work is love made visible.
     And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
     For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
     And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.
     And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the 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?