You ask me how I became a madman. It happened thus: One day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen,—the seven masks I have fashioned and worn in seven lives,—I ran maskless through the crowded streets shouting, “Thieves, thieves, the cursed thieves.”
Men and women laughed at me and some ran to their houses in fear of me.
And when I reached the market place, a youth standing on a house-top cried, “He is a madman.” I looked up to behold him; the sun kissed my own naked face for the first time. For the first time the sun kissed my own naked face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun, and I wanted my masks no more. And as if in a trance I cried, “Blessed, blessed are the thieves who stole my masks.”
Thus I became a madman.
And I have found both freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.
But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief.
In the ancient days, when the first quiver of speech came to my lips, I ascended the holy mountain and spoke unto God, saying, “Master, I am thy slave. Thy hidden will is my law and I shall obey thee for ever more.”
But God made no answer, and like a mighty tempest passed away.
And after a thousand years I ascended the holy mountain and again spoke unto God, saying, “Creator, I am thy creation. Out of clay hast thou fashioned me and to thee I owe mine all.”
And God made no answer, but like a thousand swift wings passed away.
And after a thousand years I climbed the holy mountain and spoke unto God again, saying, “Father, I am thy son. In pity and love thou hast given me birth, and through love and worship I shall inherit thy kingdom.”
And God made no answer, and like the mist that veils the distant hills he passed away.
And after a thousand years I climbed the sacred mountain and gain spoke unto God, saying, “My God, my aim and my fulfillment; I am thy yesterday and thou art my tomorrow. I am thy root in the earth and thou art my flower in the sky, and together we grow before the face of the sun.”
Then God leaned over me, and in my ears whispered words of sweetness, and even as the sea that enfoldeth a brook that runneth down to her, he enfolded me.
And when I descended to the valleys and the plains God was there also.
My friend, I am not what I seem. Seeming is but a garment I wear—a care-woven garment that protects me from thy questionings and thee from my negligence.
The “I” in me, my friend, dwells in the house of silence, and therein it shall remain for ever more, unperceived, unapproachable.
I would not have thee believe in what I say nor trust in what I do—for my words are naught but thy own thoughts in sound and my deeds thy own hopes in action.
When thou sayest, “The wind bloweth eastward,” I say, “Aye it doth blow eastward“; for I would not have thee know that my mind doth not dwell upon the wind but upon the sea.
Thou canst not understand my seafaring thoughts, nor would I have thee understand. I would be at sea alone.
When it is day with thee, my friend, it is night with me; yet even then I speak of the noontide that dances upon the hills and of the purple shadow that steals its way across the valley; for thou canst not hear the songs of my darkness nor see my wings beating against the stars—and I fain would not have thee hear or see. I would be with night alone.
When thou ascendest to thy Heaven I descend to my Hell—even then thou callest to me across the unbridgeable gulf, “My companion, my comrade,” and I call back to thee, “My comrade, my companion“—for I would not have thee see my Hell. The flame would burn thy eyesight and the smoke would crowd thy nostrils. And I love my Hell too well to have thee visit it. I would be in Hell alone.
Thou lovest Truth and Beauty and Righteousness; and I for thy sake say it is well and seemly to love these things. But in my heart I laugh at thy love. Yet I would not have thee see my laughter. I would laugh alone.
My friend, thou art good and cautious and wise; nay, thou art perfect—and I, too, speak with thee wisely and cautiously. And yet I am mad. But I mask my madness. I would be mad alone.
My friend, thou art not my friend, but how shall I make thee understand? My path is not thy path, yet together we walk, hand in hand.
Once I said to a scarecrow, “You must be tired of standing in this lonely field.”
And he said, “The joy of scaring is a deep and lasting one, and I never tire of it.”
Said I, after a minute of thought, “It is true; for I too have known that joy.”
Said he, “Only those who are stuffed with straw can know it.”
Then I left him, not knowing whether he had complimented or belittled me.
A year passed, during which the scarecrow turned philosopher.
And when I passed by him again I saw two crows building a nest under his hat.
In the town where I was born lived a woman and her daughter, who walked in their sleep.
One night, while silence enfolded the world, the woman and her daughter, walking, yet asleep, met in their mist-veiled garden.
And the mother spoke, and she said: “At last, at last, my enemy! You by whom my youth was destroyed—who have built up your life upon the ruins of mine! Would I could kill you!”
And the daughter spoke, and she said: “O hateful woman, selfish and old! Who stand between my freer self and me! Who would have my life an echo of your own faded life! Would you were dead!”
At that moment a cock crew, and both women awoke. The mother said gently, “Is that you, darling?” And the daughter answered gently, “Yes, dear.”
The Wise Dog
One day there passed by a company of cats a wise dog.
And as he came near and saw that they were very intent and heeded him not, he stopped.
Then there arose in the midst of the company a large, grave cat and looked upon them and said, “Brethren, pray ye; and when ye have prayed again and yet again, nothing doubting, verily then it shall rain mice.”
And when the dog heard this he laughed in his heart and turned from them saying, “O blind and foolish cats, has it not been written and have I not known and my fathers before me, that that which raineth for prayer and faith and supplication is not mice but bones.”
The Two Hermits
Upon a lonely mountain, there lived two hermits who worshipped God and loved one another.
Now these two hermits had one earthen bowl, and this was their only possession.
One day an evil spirit entered into the heart of the older hermit and he came to the younger and said, “It is long that we have lived together. The time has come for us to part. Let us divide our possessions.”
Then the younger hermit was saddened and he said, “It grieves me, Brother, that thou shouldst leave me. But if thou must needs go, so be it,” and he brought the earthen bowl and gave it to him saying, “We cannot divide it, Brother, let it be thine.”
Then the older hermit said, “Charity I will not accept. I will take nothing but mine own. It must be divided.”
And the younger one said, “If the bowl be broken, of what use would it be to thee or to me? If it be thy pleasure let us rather cast a lot.”
But the older hermit said again, “I will have but justice and mine own, and I will not trust justice and mine own to vain chance. The bowl must be divided.”
Then the younger hermit could reason no further and he said, “If it be indeed thy will, and if even so thou wouldst have it let us now break the bowl.”
But the face of the older hermit grew exceedingly dark, and he cried, “O thou cursed coward, thou wouldst not fight.”
On Giving and Taking
Once there lived a man who had a valley-full of needles. And one day the mother of Jesus came to him and said: “Friend, my son’s garment is torn and I must needs mend it before he goeth to the temple. Wouldst thou not give me a needle?”
And he gave her not a needle, but he gave her a learned discourse on Giving and Taking to carry to her son before he should go to the temple.
The Seven Selves
In the stillest hour of the night, as I lay half asleep, my seven selves sat together and thus conversed in whisper:
First Self: Here, in this madman, I have dwelt all these years, with naught to do but renew his pain by day and recreate his sorrow by night. I can bear my fate no longer, and now I rebel.
Second Self: Yours is a better lot than mine, brother, for it is given to me to be this madman’s joyous self. I laugh his laughter and sing his happy hours, and with thrice winged feet I dance his brighter thoughts. It is I that would rebel against my weary existence.
Third Self: And what of me, the love-ridden self, the flaming brand of wild passion and fantastic desires? It is I the love-sick self who would rebel against this madman.
Fourth Self: I, amongst you all, am the most miserable, for naught was given me but odious hatred and destructive loathing. It is I, the tempest-like self, the one born in the black caves of Hell, who would protest against serving this madman.
Fifth Self: Nay, it is I, the thinking self, the fanciful self, the self of hunger and thirst, the one doomed to wander without rest in search of unknown things and things not yet created; it is I, not you, who would rebel.
Sixth Self: And I, the working self, the pitiful labourer, who, with patient hands, and longing eyes, fashion the days into images and give the formless elements new and eternal forms—it is I, the solitary one, who would rebel against this restless madman.
Seventh Self: How strange that you all would rebel against this man, because each and every one of you has a preordained fate to fulfill. Ah! could I but be like one of you, a self with a determined lot! But I have none, I am the do-nothing self, the one who sits in the dumb, empty nowhere and nowhen, while you are busy re-creating life. Is it you or I, neighbours, who should rebel?
When the seventh self thus spake the other six selves looked with pity upon him but said nothing more; and as the night grew deeper one after the other went to sleep enfolded with a new and happy submission.
But the seventh self remained watching and gazing at nothingness, which is behind all things.
One night a feast was held in the palace, and there came a man and prostrated himself before the prince, and all the feasters looked upon him; and they saw that one of his eyes was out and that the empty socket bled. And the prince inquired of him, “What has befallen you?” And the man replied, “O prince, I am by profession a thief, and this night, because there was no moon, I went to rob the money-changer’s shop, and as I climbed in through the window I made a mistake and entered the weaver’s shop, and in the dark I ran into the weaver’s loom and my eye was plucked out. And now, O prince, I ask for justice upon the weaver.”
Then the prince sent for the weaver and he came, and it was decreed that one of his eyes should be plucked out.
“O prince,” said the weaver, “the decree is just. It is right that one of my eyes be taken. And yet, alas! both are necessary to me in order that I may see the two sides of the cloth that I weave. But I have a neighbour, a cobbler, who has also two eyes, and in his trade both eyes are not necessary.”
Then the prince sent for the cobbler. And he came. And they took out one of the cobbler’s two eyes.
And justice was satisfied.
A fox looked at his shadow at sunrise and said, “I will have a camel for lunch today.” And all morning he went about looking for camels. But at noon he saw his shadow again—and he said, “A mouse will do.”
The Wise King
Once there ruled in the distant city of Wirani a king who was both mighty and wise. And he was feared for his might and loved for his wisdom.
Now, in the heart of that city was a well, whose water was cool and crystalline, from which all the inhabitants drank, even the king and his courtiers; for there was no other well.
One night when all were asleep, a witch entered the city, and poured seven drops of strange liquid into the well, and said, “From this hour he who drinks this water shall become mad.”
Next morning all the inhabitants, save the king and his lord chamberlain, drank from the well and became mad, even as the witch had foretold.
And during that day the people in the narrow streets and in the market places did naught but whisper to one another, “The king is mad. Our king and his lord chamberlain have lost their reason. Surely we cannot be ruled by a mad king. We must dethrone him.”
That evening the king ordered a golden goblet to be filled from the well. And when it was brought to him he drank deeply, and gave it to his lord chamberlain to drink.
And there was great rejoicing in that distant city of Wirani, because its king and its lord chamberlain had regained their reason.
Three men met at a tavern table. One was a weaver, another a carpenter and the third a ploughman.
Said the weaver, “I sold a fine linen shroud today for two pieces of gold. Let us have all the wine we want.”
“And I,” said the carpenter, “I sold my best coffin. We will have a great roast with the wine.”
“I only dug a grave,” said the ploughman, “but my patron paid me double. Let us have honey cakes too.”
And all that evening the tavern was busy, for they called often for wine and meat and cakes. And they were merry.
And the host rubbed his hands and smiled at his wife; for his guests were spending freely.
When they left the moon was high, and they walked along the road singing and shouting together.
The host and his wife stood in the tavern door and looked after them.
“Ah!” said the wife, “these gentlemen! So freehanded and so gay! If only they could bring us such luck every day! Then our son need not be a tavern-keeper and work so hard. We could educate him, and he could become a priest.”
The New Pleasure
Last night I invented a new pleasure, and as I was giving it the first trial an angel and a devil came rushing toward my house. They met at my door and fought with each other over my newly created pleasure; the one crying, “It is a sin!“—the other, “It is a virtue!”
The Other Language
Three days after I was born, as I lay in my silken cradle, gazing with astonished dismay on the new world round about me, my mother spoke to the wet-nurse, saying, “How does my child?”
And the wet-nurse answered, “He does well, Madame, I have fed him three times; and never before have I seen a babe so young yet so gay.”
And I was indignant; and I cried, “It is not true, mother; for my bed is hard, and the milk I have sucked is bitter to my mouth, and the odour of the breast is foul in my nostrils, and I am most miserable.”
But my mother did not understand, nor did the nurse; for the language I spoke was that of the world from which I came.
And on the twenty-first day of my life, as I was being christened, the priest said to my mother, “You should indeed be happy, Madame, that your son was born a Christian.”
And I was surprised,—and I said to the priest, “Then your mother in Heaven should be unhappy, for you were not born a Christian.”
But the priest too did not understand my language.
And after seven moons, one day a soothsayer looked at me, and he said to my mother, “Your son will be a statesman and a great leader of men.”
But I cried out,—“That is a false prophet; for I shall be a musician, and naught but a musician shall I be.”
But even at that age my language was not understood—and great was my astonishment.
And after three and thirty years, during which my mother, and the nurse, and the priest have all died, (the shadow of God be upon their spirits) the soothsayer still lives. And yesterday I met him near the gates of the temple; and while we were talking together he said, “I have always known you would become a great musician. Even in your infancy I prophesied and foretold your future.”
And I believed him—for now I too have forgotten the language of that other world.
Once when I was living in the heart of a pomegranate, I heard a seed saying, “Someday I shall become a tree, and the wind will sing in my branches, and the sun will dance on my leaves, and I shall be strong and beautiful through all the seasons.”
Then another seed spoke and said, “When I was as young as you, I too held such views; but now that I can weigh and measure things, I see that my hopes were vain.”
And a third seed spoke also, “I see in us nothing that promises so great a future.”
And a fourth said, “But what a mockery our life would be, without a greater future!”
Said a fifth, “Why dispute what we shall be, when we know not even what we are.”
But a sixth replied, “Whatever we are, that we shall continue to be.”
And a seventh said, “I have such a clear idea how everything will be, but I cannot put it into words.”
Then an eight spoke—and a ninth—and a tenth—and then many—until all were speaking, and I could distinguish nothing for the many voices.
And so I moved that very day into the heart of a quince, where the seeds are few and almost silent.
The Two Cages
In my father’s garden there are two cages. In one is a lion, which my father’s slaves brought from the desert of Ninavah; in the other is a songless sparrow.
Every day at dawn the sparrow calls to the lion, “Good morrow to thee, brother prisoner.”
The Three Ants
Three ants met on the nose of a man who was asleep in the sun. And after they had saluted one another, each according to the custom of his tribe, they stood there conversing.
The first ant said, “These hills and plains are the most barren I have known. I have searched all day for a grain of some sort, and there is none to be found.”
Said the second ant, “I too have found nothing, though I have visited every nook and glade. This is, I believe, what my people call the soft, moving land where nothing grows.”
Then the third ant raised his head and said, “My friends, we are standing now on the nose of the Supreme Ant, the mighty and infinite Ant, whose body is so great that we cannot see it, whose shadow is so vast that we cannot trace it, whose voice is so loud that we cannot hear it; and He is omnipresent.”
When the third ant spoke thus the other ants looked at each other and laughed.
At that moment the man moved and in his sleep raised his hand and scratched his nose, and the three ants were crushed.
Once, as I was burying one of my dead selves, the grave-digger came by and said to me, “Of all those who come here to bury, you alone I like.”
Said I, “You please me exceedingly, but why do you like me?”
“Because,” said he, “They come weeping and go weeping—you only come laughing and go laughing.”
On the Steps of the Temple
Yestereve, on the marble steps of the Temple, I saw a woman sitting between two men. One side of her face was pale, the other was blushing.
The Blessed City
In my youth I was told that in a certain city every one lived according to the Scriptures.
And I said, “I will seek that city and the blessedness thereof.” And it was far. And I made great provision for my journey. And after forty days I beheld the city and on the forty-first day I entered into it.
And lo! the whole company of the inhabitants had each but a single eye and but one hand. And I was astonished and said to myself, “Shall they of this so holy city have but one eye and one hand?”
Then I saw that they too were astonished, for they were marveling greatly at my two hands and my two eyes. And as they were speaking together I inquired of them saying, “Is this indeed the Blessed City, where each man lives according to the Scriptures?” And they said, “Yes, this is that city.”
“And what,” said I, “hath befallen you, and where are your right eyes and your right hands?”
And all the people were moved. And they said, “Come thou and see.”
And they took me to the temple in the midst of the city. and in the temple I saw a heap of hands and eyes. All withered. Then said I, “Alas! what conqueror hath committed this cruelty upon you?”
And there went a murmur amongst them. And one of their elders stood forth and said, “This doing is of ourselves. God hath made us conquerors over the evil that was in us.”
And he led me to a high altar, and all the people followed. And he showed me above the altar an inscription graven, and I read:
“If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that the whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”
Then I understood. And I turned about to all the people and cried, “Hath no man or woman among you two eyes or two hands?”
And they answered me saying, “No, not one. There is none whole save such as are yet too young to read the Scripture and to understand its commandment.”
And when we had come out of the temple, I straightway left that Blessed City; for I was not too young, and I could read the scripture.
The Good God and the Evil God
The Good God and the Evil God met on the mountain top.
The Good God said, “Good day to you, brother.”
The Evil God did not answer.
And the Good God said, “You are in a bad humour today.”
“Yes,” said the Evil God, “for of late I have been often mistaken for you, called by your name, and treated as if I were you, and it ill-pleases me.”
And the Good God said, “But I too have been mistaken for you and called by your name.”
The Evil God walked away cursing the stupidity of man.
Defeat, my Defeat, my solitude and my aloofness;
You are dearer to me than a thousand triumphs,
And sweeter to my heart than all world-glory.
Defeat, my Defeat, my self-knowledge and my defiance,
Through you I know that I am yet young and swift of foot
And not to be trapped by withering laurels.
And in you I have found aloneness
And the joy of being shunned and scorned.
Defeat, my Defeat, my shining sword and shield,
In your eyes I have read
That to be enthroned is to be enslaved,
and to be understood is to be leveled down,
And to be grasped is but to reach one’s fullness
and like a ripe fruit to fall and be consumed.
Defeat, my Defeat, my bold companion,
You shall hear my songs and my cries and my silences,
And none but you shall speak to me of the beating of wings,
And urging of seas,
And of mountains that burn in the night,
And you alone shall climb my steep and rocky soul.
Defeat, my Defeat, my deathless courage,
You and I shall laugh together with the storm,
And together we shall dig graves for all that die in us,
And we shall stand in the sun with a will,
And we shall be dangerous.
Night and the Madman
“I am like thee, O, Night, dark and naked; I walk on the flaming path which is above my day-dreams, and whenever my foot touches earth a giant oak tree comes forth.”
“Nay, thou art not like me, O, Madman, for thou still lookest backward to see how large a foot-print thou leavest on the sand.”
“I am like thee, O, Night, silent and deep; and in the heart of my loneliness lies a Goddess in child-bed; and in him who is being born Heaven touches Hell.”
“Nay, thou art not like me, O, Madman, for thou shudderest yet before pain, and the song of the abyss terrifies thee.”
“I am like thee, O, Night, wild and terrible; for my ears are crowded with cries of conquered nations and sighs for forgotten lands.”
“Nay, thou art not like me, O, Madman, for thou still takest thy little-self for a comrade, and with thy monster-self thou canst not be friend.”
“I am like thee, O, Night, cruel and awful; for my bosom is lit by burning ships at sea, and my lips are wet with blood of slain warriors.”
“Nay, thou art not like me, O, Madman; for the desire for a sister-spirit is yet upon thee, and thou has not become a law unto thyself.”
“I am like thee, O, Night, joyous and glad; for he who dwells in my shadow is now drunk with virgin wine, and she who follows me is sinning mirthfully.”
“Nay, thou art not like me, O, Madman, for thy soul is wrapped in the veil of seven folds and thou holdest not thy heart in thine hand.”
“I am like thee, O, Night, patient and passionate; for in my breast a thousand dead lovers are buried in shrouds of withered kisses.”
“Yea, Madman, art thou like me? Art thou like me? And canst thou ride the tempest as a steed, and grasp the lightning as a sword?”
“Like thee, O, Night, like thee, mighty and high, and my throne is built upon heaps of fallen Gods; and before me too pass the days to kiss the hem of my garment but never to gaze at my face.”
“Art thou like me, child of my darkest heart? And dost thou think my untamed thoughts and speak my vast language?”
“Yea, we are twin brothers, O, Night; for thou revealest space and I reveal my soul.”
I have seen a face with a thousand countenances, and a face that was but a single countenance as if held in a mould.
I have seen a face whose sheen I could look through to the ugliness beneath, and a face whose sheen I had to lift to see how beautiful it was.
I have seen an old face much lined with nothing, and a smooth face in which all things were graven.
I know faces, because I look through the fabric my own eye weaves, and behold the reality beneath.
The Greater Sea
My soul and I went to the great sea to bathe. And when we reached the shore, we went about looking for a hidden and lonely place.
But as we walked, we saw a man sitting on a grey rock taking pinches of salt from a bag and throwing them into the sea.
“This is the pessimist,” said my soul, “Let us leave this place. We cannot bathe here.”
We walked on until we reached an inlet. There we saw, standing on a white rock, a man holding a bejeweled box, from which he took sugar and threw it into the sea.
“And this is the optimist,” said my soul, “And he too must not see our naked bodies.
Further on we walked. And on a beach we saw a man picking up dead fish and tenderly putting them back into the water.
“And we cannot bathe before him,” said my soul. “He is the humane philanthropist.”
And we passed on.
Then we came where we saw a man tracing his shadow on the sand. Great waves came and erased it. But he went on tracing it again and again.
“He is the mystic,” said my soul, “Let us leave him.”
And we walked on, till in a quiet cover we saw a man scooping up the foam and putting it into an alabaster bowl.
“He is the idealist,” said my soul, “Surely he must not see our nudity.”
And on we walked. Suddenly we heard a voice crying, “This is the sea. This is the deep sea. This is the vast and mighty sea.” And when we reached the voice it was a man whose back was turned to the sea, and at his ear he held a shell, listening to its murmur.
And my soul said, “Let us pass on. He is the realist, who turns his back on the whole he cannot grasp, and busies himself with a fragment.”
So we passed on. And in a weedy place among the rocks was a man with his head buried in the sand. And I said to my soul, “We can bathe here, for he cannot see us.”
“Nay,” said my soul, “For he is the most deadly of them all. He is the puritan.”
Then a great sadness came over the face of my soul, and into her voice.
“Let us go hence,” she said, “For there is no lonely, hidden place where we can bathe. I would not have this wind lift my golden hair, or bare my white bosom in this air, or let the light disclose my sacred nakedness.”
Then we left that sea to seek the Greater Sea.
I cried to men, “I would be crucified!”
And they said, “Why should your blood be upon our heads?”
And I answered, “How else shall you be exalted except by crucifying madmen?”
And they heeded and I was crucified. And the crucifixion appeased me.
And when I was hanged between earth and heaven they lifted up their heads to see me. And they were exalted, for their heads had never before been lifted.
But as they stood looking up at me one called out, “For what art thou seeking to atone?”
And another cried, “In what cause dost thou sacrifice thyself?”
And a third said, “Thinkest thou with this price to buy world glory?”
Then said a fourth, “Behold, how he smiles! Can such pain be forgiven?”
And I answered them all, and said:
“Remember only that I smiled. I do not atone—nor sacrifice—nor wish for glory; and I have nothing to forgive. I thirsted—and I besought you to give me my blood to drink. For what is there can quench a madman’s thirst but his own blood? I was dumb—and I asked wounds of you for mouths. I was imprisoned in your days and nights—and I sought a door into larger days and nights.
And now I go—as others already crucified have gone. And think not we are weary of crucifixion. For we must be crucified by larger and yet larger men, between greater earths and greater heavens.”
In the shadow of the temple my friend and I saw a blind man sitting alone. And my friend said, “Behold the wisest man of our land.”
Then I left my friend and approached the blind man and greeted him. And we conversed.
After a while I said, “Forgive my question; but since when hast thou been blind?”
“From my birth,” he answered.
Said I, “And what path of wisdom followest thou?”
Said he, “I am an astronomer.”
Then he placed his hand upon his breast saying, “I watch all these suns and moons and stars.”
The Great Longing
Here I sit between my brother the mountain and my sister the sea.
We three are one in loneliness, and the love that binds us together is deep and strong and strange. Nay, it is deeper than my sister’s depth and stronger than my brother’s strength, and stranger than the strangeness of my madness.
Aeons upon aeons have passed since the first grey dawn made us visible to one another; and though we have seen the birth and the fullness and the death of many worlds, we are still eager and young.
We are young and eager and yet we are mateless and unvisited, and though we lie in unbroken half embrace, we are uncomforted. And what comfort is there for controlled desire and unspent passion? Whence shall come the flaming god to warm my sister’s bed? And what she-torrent shall quench my brother’s fire? And who is the woman that shall command my heart?
In the stillness of the night my sister murmurs in her sleep the fire-god’s unknown name, and my brother calls afar upon the cool and distant goddess. But upon whom I call in my sleep I know not.
Here I sit between my brother the mountain and my sister the sea. We three are one in loneliness, and the love that binds us together is deep and strong and strange.
Said a Blade of Grass
Said a blade of grass to an autumn leaf, “You make such a noise falling! You scatter all my winter dreams.”
Said the leaf indignant, “Low-born and low-dwelling! Songless, peevish thing! You live not in the upper air and you cannot tell the sound of singing.”
Then the autumn leaf lay down upon the earth and slept. And when spring came she waked again—and she was a blade of grass.
And when it was autumn and her winter sleep was upon her, and above her through all the air the leaves were falling, she muttered to herself, “O these autumn leaves! They make such noise! They scatter all my winter dreams.”
Said the Eye one day, “I see beyond these valleys a mountain veiled with blue mist. Is it not beautiful?”
The Ear listened, and after listening intently awhile, said, “But where is any mountain? I do not hear it.”
Then the Hand spoke and said, “I am trying in vain to feel it or touch it, and I can find no mountain.”
And the Nose said, “There is no mountain, I cannot smell it.”
Then the Eye turned the other way, and they all began to talk together about the Eye’s strange delusion. And they said, “Something must be the matter with the Eye.”
The Two Learned Men
Once there lived in the ancient city of Afkar two learned men who hated and belittled each other’s learning. For one of them denied the existence of the gods and the other was a believer.
One day the two met in the marketplace, and amidst their followers they began to dispute and to argue about the existence or the non-existence of the gods. And after hours of contention they parted.
That evening the unbeliever went to the temple and prostrated himself before the altar and prayed the gods to forgive his wayward past.
And the same hour the other learned man, he who had upheld the gods, burned his sacred books. For he had become an unbeliever.
When My Sorrow Was Born
When my Sorrow was born I nursed it with care, and watched over it with loving tenderness.
And my Sorrow grew like all living things, strong and beautiful and full of wondrous delights.
And we loved one another, my Sorrow and I, and we loved the world about us; for Sorrow had a kindly heart and mine was kindly with Sorrow.
And when we conversed, my Sorrow and I, our days were winged and our nights were girdled with dreams; for Sorrow had an eloquent tongue, and mine was eloquent with Sorrow.
And when we sang together, my Sorrow and I, our neighbors sat at their windows and listened; for our songs were deep as the sea and our melodies were full of strange memories.
And when we walked together, my Sorrow and I, people gazed at us with gentle eyes and whispered in words of exceeding sweetness. And there were those who looked with envy upon us, for Sorrow was a noble thing and I was proud with Sorrow.
But my Sorrow died, like all living things, and alone I am left to muse and ponder.
And now when I speak my words fall heavily upon my ears.
And when I sing my songs my neighbours come not to listen.
And when I walk the streets no one looks at me.
Only in my sleep I hear voices saying in pity, “See, there lies the man whose Sorrow is dead.”
And When my Joy was Born
And when my Joy was born, I held it in my arms and stood on the house-top shouting, “Come ye, my neighbours, come and see, for Joy this day is born unto me. Come and behold this gladsome thing that laugheth in the sun.”
But none of my neighbours came to look upon my Joy, and great was my astonishment.
And every day for seven moons I proclaimed my Joy from the house-top—and yet no one heeded me. And my Joy and I were alone, unsought and unvisited.
Then my Joy grew pale and weary because no other heart but mine held its loveliness and no other lips kissed its lips.
Then my Joy died of isolation.
And now I only remember my dead Joy in remembering my dead Sorrow. But memory is an autumn leaf that murmurs a while in the wind and then is heard no more.
“The Perfect World”
God of lost souls, thou who are lost amongst the gods, hear me:
Gentle Destiny that watchest over us, mad, wandering spirits, hear me:
I dwell in the midst of a perfect race, I the most imperfect.
I, a human chaos, a nebula of confused elements, I move amongst finished worlds—peoples of complete laws and pure order, whose thoughts are assorted, whose dreams are arranged, and whose visions are enrolled and registered.
Their virtues, O God, are measured, their sins are weighed, and even the countless things that pass in the dim twilight of neither sin nor virtue are recorded and catalogued.
Here days and night are divided into seasons of conduct and governed by rules of blameless accuracy.
To eat, to drink, to sleep, to cover one’s nudity, and then to be weary in due time.
To work, to play, to sing, to dance, and then to lie still when the clock strikes the hour.
To think thus, to feel thus much, and then to cease thinking and feeling when a certain star rises above yonder horizon.
To rob a neighbour with a smile, to bestow gifts with a graceful wave of the hand, to praise prudently, to blame cautiously, to destroy a sound with a word, to burn a body with a breath, and then to wash the hands when the day’s work is done.
To love according to an established order, to entertain one’s best self in a preconceived manner, to worship the gods becomingly, to intrigue the devils artfully—and then to forget all as though memory were dead.
To fancy with a motive, to contemplate with consideration, to be happy sweetly, to suffer nobly—and then to empty the cup so that tomorrow may fill it again.
All these things, O God, are conceived with forethought, born with determination, nursed with exactness, governed by rules, directed by reason, and then slain and buried after a prescribed method. And even their silent graves that lie within the human soul are marked and numbered.
It is a perfect world, a world of consummate excellence, a world of supreme wonders, the ripest fruit in God’s garden, the master-thought of the universe.
But why should I be here, O God, I a green seed of unfulfilled passion, a mad tempest that seeketh neither east nor west, a bewildered fragment from a burnt planet?
Why am I here, O God of lost souls, thou who art lost amongst the gods?
* * * * *
[The Madman by Kahlil Gibran was originally published in 1918
and is no longer subject to copyright in the U.S.]