The Prophet


You are good when you are fully awake in your speech, Yet you are not evil when you sleep while your tongue staggers without purpose. And even stumbling speech may strengthen a weak tongue. You are good when you walk to your goal firmly and with bold steps. Yet you are not evil when you go thither limping. 74Even those who limp go not backward. But you who are strong and swift, see that you do not limp before the lame, deeming it kindness.


You are good in countless ways, and you are not evil when you are not good, You are only loitering and sluggard. Pity that the stags cannot teach swiftness to the turtles. In your longing for your giant self lies your goodness: and that longing is in all of you. But in some of you that longing is a torrent rushing with might to the sea, carrying the secrets of the hillsides and the songs of the forest. And in others it is a flat stream that loses itself in angles and bends and lingers before it reaches the shore. But let not him who longs much say to 75him who longs little, “Wherefore are you slow and halting?” For the truly good ask not the naked, “Where is your garment?” nor the houseless, “What has befallen your house?”


 


76Then a priestess said, Speak to us of Prayer. And he answered, saying: You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might pray also in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance. For what is prayer but the expansion of yourself into the living ether? And if it is for your comfort to pour your darkness into space, it is also for your delight to pour forth the dawning of your heart. And if you cannot but weep when your soul summons you to prayer, she should spur you again and yet again, though weeping, until you shall come laughing. When you pray you rise to meet in the air those who are praying at that very 77hour, and whom save in prayer you may not meet. Therefore let your visit to that temple invisible be for naught but ecstasy and sweet communion. For if you should enter the temple for no other purpose than asking you shall not receive: And if you should enter into it to humble yourself you shall not be lifted: Or even if you should enter into it to beg for the good of others you shall not be heard. It is enough that you enter the temple invisible.


I cannot teach you how to pray in words. God listens not to your words save when He Himself utters them through your lips. And I cannot teach you the prayer of the seas and the forests and the mountains. 78But you who are born of the mountains and the forests and the seas can find their prayer in your heart, And if you but listen in the stillness of the night you shall hear them saying in silence, “Our God, who art our winged self, it is thy will in us that willeth. It is thy desire in us that desireth. It is thy urge in us that would turn our nights, which are thine, into days which are thine also. We cannot ask thee for aught, for thou knowest our needs before they are born in us: Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all.”

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79Then a hermit, who visited the city once a year, came forth and said, Speak to us of Pleasure. And he answered, saying: Pleasure is a freedom-song, But it is not freedom. It is the blossoming of your desires, But it is not their fruit. It is a depth calling unto a height, But it is not the deep nor the high. It is the caged taking wing, But it is not space encompassed. Ay, in very truth, pleasure is a freedom-song. And I fain would have you sing it with fullness of heart; yet I would not have you lose your hearts in the singing. Some of your youth seek pleasure as if it were all, and they are judged and rebuked. 80I would not judge nor rebuke them. I would have them seek. For they shall find pleasure, but not her alone; Seven are her sisters, and the least of them is more beautiful than pleasure. Have you not heard of the man who was digging in the earth for roots and found a treasure?


And some of your elders remember pleasures with regret like wrongs committed in drunkenness. But regret is the beclouding of the mind and not its chastisement. They should remember their pleasures with gratitude, as they would the harvest of a summer. Yet if it comforts them to regret, let them be comforted. And there are among you those who are neither young to seek nor old to remember; And in their fear of seeking and remembering 81they shun all pleasures, lest they neglect the spirit or offend against it. But even in their foregoing is their pleasure. And thus they too find a treasure though they dig for roots with quivering hands. But tell me, who is he that can offend the spirit? Shall the nightingale offend the stillness of the night, or the firefly the stars? And shall your flame or your smoke burden the wind? Think you the spirit is a still pool which you can trouble with a staff?


Oftentimes in denying yourself pleasure you do but store the desire in the recesses of your being. Who knows but that which seems omitted today, waits for tomorrow? Even your body knows its heritage and its rightful need and will not be deceived. And your body is the harp of your soul, And it is yours to bring forth 82sweet music from it or confused sounds.


And now you ask in your heart, “How shall we distinguish that which is good in pleasure from that which is not good?” Go to your fields and your gardens, and you shall learn that it is the pleasure of the bee to gather honey of the flower, But it is also the pleasure of the flower to yield its honey to the bee. For to the bee a flower is a fountain of life, And to the flower a bee is a messenger of love, And to both, bee and flower, the giving and the receiving of pleasure is a need and an ecstasy. People of Orphalese, be in your pleasures like the flowers and the bees.


 


83And a poet said, Speak to us of Beauty. And he answered: Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless she herself be your way and your guide? And how shall you speak of her except she be the weaver of your speech? The aggrieved and the injured say, “Beauty is kind and gentle. Like a young mother half-shy of her own glory she walks among us.” And the passionate say, “Nay, beauty is a thing of might and dread. Like the tempest she shakes the earth beneath us and the sky above us.” The tired and the weary say, “Beauty is of soft whisperings. She speaks in our spirit. 84Her voice yields to our silences like a faint light that quivers in fear of the shadow.” But the restless say, “We have heard her shouting among the mountains, And with her cries came the sound of hoofs, and the beating of wings and the roaring of lions.” At night the watchmen of the city say, “Beauty shall rise with the dawn from the east.” And at noontide the toilers and the wayfarers say, “We have seen her leaning over the earth from the windows of the sunset.”


In winter say the snow-bound, “She shall come with the spring leaping upon the hills.” And in the summer heat the reapers say, “We have seen her dancing with the autumn leaves, and we saw a drift of snow in her hair.” 85All these things have you said of beauty, Yet in truth you spoke not of her but of needs unsatisfied, And beauty is not a need but an ecstasy. It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth, But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted. It is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear, But rather an image you see though you close your eyes and a song you hear though you shut your ears. It is not the sap within the furrowed bark, nor a wing attached to a claw, But rather a garden for ever in bloom and a flock of angels for ever in flight.


People of Orphalese, beauty is life when life unveils her holy face. But you are life and you are the veil. 86Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror.


 


87And an old priest said, Speak to us of Religion. And he said: Have I spoken this day of aught else? Is not religion all deeds and all reflection, And that which is neither deed nor reflection, but a wonder and a surprise ever springing in the soul, even while the hands hew the stone or tend the loom? Who can separate his faith from his actions, or his belief from his occupations? Who can spread his hours before him, saying, “This for God and this for myself; This for my soul, and this other for my body?” All your hours are wings that beat through space from self to self. 88He who wears his morality but as his best garment were better naked. The wind and the sun will tear no holes in his skin. And he who defines his conduct by ethics imprisons his song-bird in a cage. The freest song comes not through bars and wires. And he to whom worshipping is a window, to open but also to shut, has not yet visited the house of his soul whose windows are from dawn to dawn.


Your daily life is your temple and your religion. Whenever you enter into it take with you your all. Take the plough and the forge and the mallet and the lute, The things you have fashioned in necessity or for delight. For in revery you cannot rise above your achievements nor fall lower than your failures. And take with you all men: 89For in adoration you cannot fly higher than their hopes nor humble yourself lower than their despair.


And if you would know God be not therefore a solver of riddles. Rather look about you and you shall see Him playing with your children. And look into space; you shall see Him walking in the cloud, outstretching His arms in the lightning and descending in rain. You shall see Him smiling in flowers, then rising and waving His hands in trees.


 


90Then Almitra spoke, saying, We would ask now of Death. And he said: You would know the secret of death. But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life? The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light. If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life. For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one. In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond; And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring. Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity. 91Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour. Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king? Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?


For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered? Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance. 92And now it was evening. And Almitra the seeress said, Blessed be this day and this place and your spirit that has spoken. And he answered, Was it I who spoke? Was I not also a listener?


Then he descended the steps of the Temple and all the people followed him. And he reached his ship and stood upon the deck. And facing the people again, he raised his voice and said: People of Orphalese, the wind bids me leave you. Less hasty am I than the wind, yet I must go. We wanderers, ever seeking the lonelier way, begin no day where we have ended another day; and no sunrise finds us where sunset left us. 93Even while the earth sleeps we travel. We are the seeds of the tenacious plant, and it is in our ripeness and our fullness of heart that we are given to the wind and are scattered.


Brief were my days among you, and briefer still the words I have spoken. But should my voice fade in your ears, and my love vanish in your memory, then I will come again, And with a richer heart and lips more yielding to the spirit will I speak. Yea, I shall return with the tide, And though death may hide me, and the greater silence enfold me, yet again will I seek your understanding. And not in vain will I seek. If aught I have said is truth, that truth shall reveal itself in a clearer voice, and in words more kin to your thoughts. I go with the wind, people of Orphalese, but not down into emptiness; 94And if this day is not a fulfilment of your needs and my love, then let it be a promise till another day. Man’s needs change, but not his love, nor his desire that his love should satisfy his needs. Know therefore, that from the greater silence I shall return. The mist that drifts away at dawn, leaving but dew in the fields, shall rise and gather into a cloud and then fall down in rain. And not unlike the mist have I been. In the stillness of the night I have walked in your streets, and my spirit has entered your houses, And your heart-beats were in my heart, and your breath was upon my face, and I knew you all. Ay, I knew your joy and your pain, and in your sleep your dreams were my dreams. And oftentimes I was among you a lake among the mountains. I mirrored the summits in you and the 95bending slopes, and even the passing flocks of your thoughts and your desires. And to my silence came the laughter of your children in streams, and the longing of your youths in rivers. And when they reached my depth the streams and the rivers ceased not yet to sing.

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But sweeter still than laughter and greater than longing came to me. It was the boundless in you; The vast man in whom you are all but cells and sinews; He in whose chant all your singing is but a soundless throbbing. It is in the vast man that you are vast, And in beholding him that I beheld you and loved you. For what distances can love reach that are not in that vast sphere? What visions, what expectations and what presumptions can outsoar that flight? Like a giant oak tree covered with apple blossoms is the vast man in you. 96His might binds you to the earth, his fragrance lifts you into space, and in his durability you are deathless.

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