The Prophet


 


27Then an old man, a keeper of an inn, said, Speak to us of Eating and Drinking. And he said: Would that you could live on the fragrance of the earth, and like an air plant be sustained by the light. But since you must kill to eat, and rob the newly born of its mother’s milk to quench your thirst, let it then be an act of worship, And let your board stand an altar on which the pure and the innocent of forest and plain are sacrificed for that which is purer and still more innocent in man.


When you kill a beast say to him in your heart, “By the same power that slays you, I too am slain; and I too shall be consumed. 28For the law that delivered you into my hand shall deliver me into a mightier hand. Your blood and my blood is naught but the sap that feeds the tree of heaven.”


And when you crush an apple with your teeth, say to it in your heart, “Your seeds shall live in my body, And the buds of your tomorrow shall blossom in my heart, And your fragrance shall be my breath, And together we shall rejoice through all the seasons.”


And in the autumn, when you gather the grapes of your vineyards for the winepress, say in your heart, “I too am a vineyard, and my fruit shall be gathered for the winepress, And like new wine I shall be kept in eternal vessels.” And in winter, when you draw the wine, 29let there be in your heart a song for each cup; And let there be in the song a remembrance for the autumn days, and for the vineyard, and for the winepress.


 


30Then 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, 31assigned to you when that 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 32yourself 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. 33And 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. 34And 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.


 


35Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow. And he answered: Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in 36your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.


Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.” But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed. Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy. Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced. When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.


 


37Then 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 grove or hilltop? 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 38might 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 remembrances, 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 39enters 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 40covers 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.


 


41And the weaver said, Speak to us of Clothes. And he answered: Your clothes conceal much of your beauty, yet they hide not the unbeautiful. And though you seek in garments the freedom of privacy you may find in them a harness and a chain. Would that you could meet the sun and the wind with more of your skin and less of your raiment, For the breath of life is in the sunlight and the hand of life is in the wind. Some of you say, “It is the north wind who has woven the clothes we wear.” And I say, Ay, it was the north wind, But shame was his loom, and the softening of the sinews was his thread. And when his work was done he laughed in the forest. 42Forget not that modesty is for a shield against the eye of the unclean. And when the unclean shall be no more, what were modesty but a fetter and a fouling of the mind? And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.


 


43And a merchant said, Speak to us of Buying and Selling. And he answered and said: To you the earth yields her fruit, and you shall not want if you but know how to fill your hands. It is in exchanging the gifts of the earth that you shall find abundance and be satisfied. Yet unless the exchange be in love and kindly justice, it will but lead some to greed and others to hunger. When in the market place you toilers of the sea and fields and vineyards meet the weavers and the potters and the gatherers of spices,— Invoke then the master spirit of the earth, to come into your midst and sanctify the scales and the reckoning that weighs value against value. 44And suffer not the barren-handed to take part in your transactions, who would sell their words for your labour. To such men you should say, “Come with us to the field, or go with our brothers to the sea and cast your net; For the land and the sea shall be bountiful to you even as to us.”


And if there come the singers and the dancers and the flute players,—buy of their gifts also. For they too are gatherers of fruit and frankincense, and that which they bring, though fashioned of dreams, is raiment and food for your soul. And before you leave the market place, see that no one has gone his way with empty hands. For the master spirit of the earth shall not sleep peacefully upon the wind till the needs of the least of you are satisfied.


 


45Then one of the judges of the city stood forth and said, Speak to us of Crime and Punishment. And he answered, saying: It is when your spirit goes wandering upon the wind, That you, alone and unguarded, commit a wrong unto others and therefore unto yourself. And for that wrong committed must you knock and wait a while unheeded at the gate of the blessed. Like the ocean is your god-self; It remains for ever undefiled. And like the ether it lifts but the winged. Even like the sun is your god-self; It knows not the ways of the mole nor seeks it the holes of the serpent. 46But your god-self dwells not alone in your being. Much in you is still man, and much in you is not yet man, But a shapeless pigmy that walks asleep in the mist searching for its own awakening. And of the man in you would I now speak. For it is he and not your god-self nor the pigmy in the mist, that knows crime and the punishment of crime.


Oftentimes have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world. But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you, So the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also. And as a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree, 47So the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all. Like a procession you walk together towards your god-self.

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You are the way and the wayfarers. And when one of you falls down he falls for those behind him, a caution against the stumbling stone. Ay, and he falls for those ahead of him, who though faster and surer of foot, yet removed not the stumbling stone. And this also, though the word lie heavy upon your hearts: The murdered is not unaccountable for his own murder, And the robbed is not blameless in being robbed. The righteous is not innocent of the deeds of the wicked, And the white-handed is not clean in the doings of the felon. Yea, the guilty is oftentimes the victim of the injured, And still more often the condemned is 48the burden bearer for the guiltless and unblamed. You cannot separate the just from the unjust and the good from the wicked; For they stand together before the face of the sun even as the black thread and the white are woven together. And when the black thread breaks, the weaver shall look into the whole cloth, and he shall examine the loom also.


If any of you would bring to judgment the unfaithful wife, Let him also weigh the heart of her husband in scales, and measure his soul with measurements. And let him who would lash the offender look unto the spirit of the offended. And if any of you would punish in the name of righteousness and lay the ax unto the evil tree, let him see to its roots; And verily he will find the roots of the good and the bad, the fruitful and the 49fruitless, all entwined together in the silent heart of the earth. And you judges who would be just, What judgment pronounce you upon him who though honest in the flesh yet is a thief in spirit? What penalty lay you upon him who slays in the flesh yet is himself slain in the spirit? And how prosecute you him who in action is a deceiver and an oppressor, Yet who also is aggrieved and outraged?

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Methinks I am a conspiracy theorist. Art thou? Thou block, thou stone, thou worse than senseless thing, for whilst thou slept didst this become a badge of honor. Informed dissent shall always prevail, wherefore art thou worthy, or art thou this unwholesome fool in the group conformity experiment herein?