The Prophet – Khalil Gibran
December 2018 was an ambitious, fast-paced and successful month. Some of my friends and I set up goals, worked towards them and achieved them. And we were on a collective high. And since most of us loved reading, we decided to continue this high into our reading lives as well. Hence, the book club. We are just 3 at the moment, but we are equally motivated to expand our horizons and reading repertoire. What better way to do it than a book club.
We started with The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. To be honest we did find it a very intimidating option for the first book of the year and that too something that we would be expected to sit and discuss. But well, the Prophet had spoken and that was that. So the three of us, spent the month with our copies of the book, making notes, highlights (on Kindle), dog-earing the book. Not all managed to finish, despite it being a small book. Because, though, it be small, it is deep. It has messages for the human being but these messages are convoluted and confusing at times, and, well, difficult to understand. And some of us feel – not very practical.
The Prophet was published in 1923. And I was quite surprised to learn that the original language in which it was written is English itself. Somehow, I had expected it to be a translation. Another surprise was that the author lived in America – he was called “The Bard of Washington.” I guess, we learnt a lesson in having stereotypical and pre-conceived notions about a book.
Anyways, so as scheduled, we got together at a very aptly named joint – Shakesbierre – to discuss the first book of the first book club.
About the book – The Prophet is a collection of 26 poems on various topics. The story is that Almustafa (the Prophet), has been living on an island for 12 years and today is the day when the ship which will take him back home, comes. So the people of the island gather around him and ask him to share his knowledge with them before leaving. And each of them – the priest, the merchant, the mason, the judge etc. ask questions based on their profession and Almustafa answers their queries – about money, love, about marriage, about friendship etc.
Some of the poems/ quotes that stayed with us and caused us to debate at length were:
“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself”
“Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror.”
“For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst?”
There were mixed and somewhat exasperated feelings. From – it is beautiful and practical, to it is too “lectury” and there is nothing really new. And a lot of unexplained and unanswered questions – like why did they decide to ask him for answers, why did they think he had all the answers, why did they assume he was the prophet of God. It is one of 3 books of a trilogy and the most popular. Some often quote it and live by it too to some extent. It does try to give the reader a sort of a rule-book to govern themselves in certain aspects of their lives. But then, life is too vast and too varied. Who can really define the hows and whys and whats of it? One thing one of the members noted was that it did not say anything about choice. For instance – in the passage about crime and punishment – the book says that the person who commits the crime is a criminal and the person against whom the crime has been committed is also guilty to an extent. But what about the choice of the perpetrator to commit the crime. Or what about the choice of the husband and wife to live with each other. Or the choice to have a child in the first place.
We did not reach any consensus on this book. But then that is not the point of the meetings but instead to enjoy the differing opinions and gaining exposure to genres and authors we may not even have heard about.
Incidentally, there is a movie (available on Netflix) on The Prophet by the same name.
Share your thoughts about the book if you would like to! We will be happy to hear.
What we are reading next?
February is for – Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the family.
See you soon!