A Chat with The Prophet

Fun fact: I’m incapable of writing anything without first putting my hair up. It’s a weird idiosyncrasy of mine fairly reminiscent of Violet in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events in that it is said “Anyone who knew Violet well could tell she was thinking hard, because her long hair was tied up in a ribbon to keep it out of her eyes. Violet had a real knack for inventing and building strange devices…and she never wanted to be distracted by something as trivial as her hair.” While I’m not really inventing anything, the first step to getting down to the good stuff is putting my hair up. It is only then the words start flowing.

Okay, okay time to get down to business. Time is fleeting (t-minus six days until senior year is over) so there’s not a moment to spare. My read of choice recently has been Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet–that’s right more poetry. Written in 1923, this collection of “prose poetry fables” may very well be the oldest book I’ve read this year (it only narrowly beats out Mrs. Dalloway which was published in 1925). There’s a lot of reason to love a piece of poetry but for me, these reasons fit into a few tidy categories: either it’s reassuring, it’s beautiful, or it’s technically amazing (for punctuation, grammar, wordplay, or dare I say line breaks). For me, reading Gibran’s poetry was reassuring, making me feel as if my truth was true for more than just me, that I’m not alone in how I feel. Gibran’s work also sort of reminds me of Rachel Jamison Webster’s The Endless Unbegun because they both reveal weighty truths, hail love, and tell a story in poetry.

I’m firmly against fulfilling stereotypes which is why I wanted to, used to hate poetry. Woman are expected to like flowery language, to be soft and feminine–not that there’s anything wrong with any of those things; I just contend that I’m not only those things and that there should be no expectation that I’m any of those things. I think I got so caught up in trying to fight these norms that I failed to realize that it was all right to fit in some of these stereotypes. I got so caught up in being an anti-stereotype crusader that I didn’t think about what brought me joy, like poetry. (Now that I’m thinking–and writing–about this, and I apologize for my tangent but after all this is my blog, I bet this is where my desire to be a chemical engineer came from: wanting to be different. My ongoing struggle with seeing my inherent value engendered this need to find my worth somewhere else; in being different, in picking a widely hailed ‘difficult’ major, a major that few women chose, in making a lot of money. I had to prove to myself my own worth. I felt that these aspects of myself were the only reasons that I was worthy of any praise. It wasn’t until this year that I realized that I don’t have to be any of these things to prove my worth. Being myself should be good enough.) Where this point was initially going– before my consideration took root and precipitated into a full-fledged, Invisible-Man-esque realization–was to the conclusion that Gibran’s poems are so powerful that they induced a few tears in me over the course my reading. Alas, there’s no need to laugh, ’tis true; poetry can be that powerful.

The general structure of The Prophet is that of a story which follows, yes but of course: the prophet. He’s about to board this ship that he’s been waiting for and he’s filled with a pervading sense of melancholy, as there is with all endings–I should know; I’m staring one down at this very moment. The first poem concludes with a heavy, yet undeniable truth: “And ever has it been known that love knows not/its own depth until the hour of separation” (8).  Before he leaves, however, Almitra, a “seeress” tells the prophet “speak to us and give us of your truth” (10). The rest of the book consists of poems that answer either one of Almitra’s or the townspeople’s questions. I’m going to pick a few of my most-liked topics that he touches on.

I’ll start with my favorite answer which is about one of my favorite topic: love. Instead of analyzing the full poem–even though I desire to do so, yet its length is holding me back–I’m just going the lines I find most profound. Here’s the full poem for reference. Take a gander.

Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.

When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”
And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.

Lines six and seven are the first that struck me because they attest to how powerless people are in the face of love; the prophet cautions, “think not you can direct the course of love.” Something else that makes this line so beautiful to me is the idea that you have to be “worthy” in order for love to “direct your course.” Let me be clear, what I like the idea of worthiness in the context of love is that it reinforces the idea that love is a privilege, that love isn’t something we should take for granted. Gibran isn’t saying we should be judicious in our loving, rather we should love freely and unabashedly, but in doing so, we shouldn’t take the love we get or give for granted. This line also asserts that love is powerful–so powerful, in fact, that it has the power to “direct your course” in life.

Then the prophet instructs “if you love…/…let these be your desires.” He lists a few desires, but the ones listed in lines 11-13 are the ones I’m particularly drawn to. The idea that “too much tenderness” can yield pain seems indescribably, equivocally familiar. The next two lines that follow this one (“To be wounded by your own understanding of love;/And to bleed willingly and joyfully.”) coalesce perfectly. My own understanding of love–both self-love and love of others–is something that I’m slowly realizing is flawed. In the past, I–the version of me from last September–was somebody who was unconsciously halfheartedly loving. I’m learning to be okay with loving, to be okay with acknowledging that loving something means that I can lose it. Risky business, love is. These lines show that being “wounded by your own understanding of love” is part of the deal and you have to allow yourself “to bleed willingly and joyfully,” to expect and be unafraid of the possibility of being hurt by love.

The next poem that I found to be a pleasurable read is one in which Almitra asks the prophet to speak about “Reason and Passion” (50). Let me preface my explanation of what makes me think that this poem is so astute with the fact that I am 100% a big-picture person. In being such, a question that I constantly ask myself is “why am I doing what I’m doing and how will this help me accomplish my end goal?” This past year, my end goal has been continuously evolving, all the while increasingly orienting toward my passion, English. This poem in particular backs up the importance of passion in reason and vice versa, which makes me feel better about not knowing exactly what my end game is. Gibran writes, “For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction” (50). The comparison between “passion” and “a flame” is classic, but the twist lies in the point that Gibran’s making; he’s arguing that passion has the capacity to be destructive if not attended to. This balance, a sort of yin-yang action, between reason and passion is reassuring. It makes me feel that I’m not wrong or selfish to follow my passion, but rather it’s necessary for me to be fulfilled and successful in my life.

Normally a pretty solid indicator of the quality of one these blog posts is how much I enjoy the writing process. This post was especially engaging and my guess is that it’s because Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is such a masterpiece. I will concede that I did dawdle a little in getting from point A to point B; instead of being a direct flight, this journey had a few layovers. In the end, however, I made my point. Gibran gave me some advice and reassurance that I needed even more that I was aware of. I wish these blog posts could be dissertations, but I don’t know how tolerant you, my reader, would be of that. Also, I would be writing from now until eternity if that were the case–no complaints from me on that one, but the logistics of such a predicament could be trying. My conclusion after all of this thinking, analyzing, and writing is that, in spite of any stereotypes about literature and women, I’m a poetry-loving English major and a woman. But that doesn’t mean I’m conforming, I’m simply following my passions (Isn’t life a both/and situation not an either/or?). Wherever my heart leads me, I must go.

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