You have been told that, even like a chain, you are as weak as your weakest link. This is but half the truth. You are also as strong as your strongest link. To measure you by your smallest deed is to reckon the power of ocean by the frailty of its foam. To judge you by your failures is to cast blame upon the seasons for their inconstancy. Ay, you are like an ocean, And though heavy-grounded ships await the tide upon your shores, yet, even like an ocean, you cannot hasten your tides. And like the seasons you are also, And though in your winter you deny your spring, Yet spring, reposing within you, smiles in her drowsiness and is not offended. 97Think not I say these things in order that you may say the one to the other, “He praised us well. He saw but the good in us.” I only speak to you in words of that which you yourselves know in thought. And what is word knowledge but a shadow of wordless knowledge? Your thoughts and my words are waves from a sealed memory that keeps records of our yesterdays, And of the ancient days when the earth knew not us nor herself, And of nights when earth was up-wrought with confusion.
Wise men have come to you to give you of their wisdom. I came to take of your wisdom: And behold I have found that which is greater than wisdom. It is a flame spirit in you ever gathering more of itself, While you, heedless of its expansion, bewail the withering of your days. 98It is life in quest of life in bodies that fear the grave.
There are no graves here. These mountains and plains are a cradle and a stepping-stone. Whenever you pass by the field where you have laid your ancestors look well thereupon, and you shall see yourselves and your children dancing hand in hand. Verily you often make merry without knowing. Others have come to you to whom for golden promises made unto your faith you have given but riches and power and glory. Less than a promise have I given, and yet more generous have you been to me. You have given me my deeper thirsting after life. Surely there is no greater gift to a man than that which turns all his aims into parching lips and all life into a fountain.
Some of you have deemed me proud and over-shy to receive gifts. Too proud indeed am I to receive wages, but not gifts. And though I have eaten berries among the hills when you would have had me sit at your board, And slept in the portico of the temple when you would gladly have sheltered me, Yet was it not your loving mindfulness of my days and my nights that made food sweet to my mouth and girdled my sleep with visions? For this I bless you most: You give much and know not that you give at all. 100Verily the kindness that gazes upon itself in a mirror turns to stone, And a good deed that calls itself by tender names becomes the parent to a curse.
And some of you have called me aloof, and drunk with my own aloneness, And you have said, “He holds council with the trees of the forest, but not with men. He sits alone on hill-tops and looks down upon our city.” True it is that I have climbed the hills and walked in remote places. How could I have seen you save from a great height or a great distance? How can one be indeed near unless he be far? And others among you called unto me, not in words, and they said, “Stranger, stranger, lover of unreachable heights, why dwell you among the summits where eagles build their nests? 101Why seek you the unattainable? What storms would you trap in your net, And what vaporous birds do you hunt in the sky? Come and be one of us. Descend and appease your hunger with our bread and quench your thirst with our wine.” In the solitude of their souls they said these things; But were their solitude deeper they would have known that I sought but the secret of your joy and your pain, And I hunted only your larger selves that walk the sky.
But the hunter was also the hunted; For many of my arrows left my bow only to seek my own breast. And the flier was also the creeper; For when my wings were spread in the sun their shadow upon the earth was a turtle. And I the believer was also the doubter; 102For often have I put my finger in my own wound that I might have the greater belief in you and the greater knowledge of you.
And it is with this belief and this knowledge that I say, You are not enclosed within your bodies, nor confined to houses or fields. That which is you dwells above the mountain and roves with the wind. It is not a thing that crawls into the sun for warmth or digs holes into darkness for safety, But a thing free, a spirit that envelops the earth and moves in the ether. If these be vague words, then seek not to clear them. Vague and nebulous is the beginning of all things, but not their end, And I fain would have you remember me as a beginning. Life, and all that lives, is conceived in the mist and not in the crystal. 103And who knows but a crystal is mist in decay?
This would I have you remember in remembering me: That which seems most feeble and bewildered in you is the strongest and most determined. Is it not your breath that has erected and hardened the structure of your bones? And is it not a dream which none of you remember having dreamt, that builded your city and fashioned all there is in it? Could you but see the tides of that breath you would cease to see all else, And if you could hear the whispering of the dream you would hear no other sound. But you do not see, nor do you hear, and it is well. The veil that clouds your eyes shall be lifted by the hands that wove it, And the clay that fills your ears shall be pierced by those fingers that kneaded it. 104And you shall see. And you shall hear. Yet you shall not deplore having known blindness, nor regret having been deaf. For in that day you shall know the hidden purposes in all things, And you shall bless darkness as you would bless light. After saying these things he looked about him, and he saw the pilot of his ship standing by the helm and gazing now at the full sails and now at the distance. And he said: Patient, over patient, is the captain of my ship. The wind blows, and restless are the sails; Even the rudder begs direction; Yet quietly my captain awaits my silence. And these my mariners, who have heard the choir of the greater sea, they too have heard me patiently. 105Now they shall wait no longer. I am ready. The stream has reached the sea, and once more the great mother holds her son against her breast.
Fare you well, people of Orphalese. This day has ended. It is closing upon us even as the water-lily upon its own tomorrow. What was given us here we shall keep, And if it suffices not, then again must we come together and together stretch our hands unto the giver. Forget not that I shall come back to you. A little while, and my longing shall gather dust and foam for another body. A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me. Farewell to you and the youth I have spent with you. It was but yesterday we met in a dream. 106You have sung to me in my aloneness, and I of your longings have built a tower in the sky. But now our sleep has fled and our dream is over, and it is no longer dawn. The noontide is upon us and our half waking has turned to fuller day, and we must part. If in the twilight of memory we should meet once more, we shall speak again together and you shall sing to me a deeper song. And if our hands should meet in another dream we shall build another tower in the sky.
So saying he made a signal to the seamen, and straightway they weighed anchor and cast the ship loose from its moorings, and they moved eastward. And a cry came from the people as from a single heart, and it rose into the dusk and was carried out over the sea like a great trumpeting. Only Almitra was silent, gazing after 107the ship until it had vanished into the mist. And when all the people were dispersed she still stood alone upon the sea-wall, remembering in her heart his saying, “A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me.”
End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran