A politically incorrect blog from Lebanon

Khalil Gibran: ‘Sand and Foam’

sand-and-foam1 Khalil Gibran was arguably Lebanon’s most famous poet. A product of both his native Lebanon and his adoptive USA, he maintained himself to be a man of the world until the very end of his life.

In 1926, he wrote a poem called “Sand and Foam”. Its imagery is so stunning and evocative that I’ve decide to include selected passages of the poem and have highlighted my favorite ones in no particular order. You can (and must) read the Full Poem Here

“Spare me the political events and power struggles, as the whole earth is my homeland and all men are my fellow countrymen” – Khalil Gibran

gibran2

Sand and Foam (1926)

*
I AM FOREVER walking upon these shores,
Betwixt the sand and the foam,
The high tide will erase my foot-prints,
And the wind will blow away the foam.
But the sea and the shore will remain
Forever.
*

It was but yesterday I thought myself a fragment quivering without rhythm in the sphere of life.
Now I know that I am the sphere, and all life in rhythmic fragments moves within me.

*
Only once have I been made mute. It was
when a man asked me, “Who are you?”
*
The first thought of God was an angel.
The first word of God was a man.
*
Now how can we express the ancient of
days in us with only the sounds of our yesterdays?
*
Give me silence and I will outdare the night.
*

Once I knew a man whose ears were exceedingly keen, but he was dumb. He had lost his tongue in a battle. I know now what battles that man fought before the great silence came. I am glad he is dead. The world Is not large enough for two of us.

*
The song that lies silent in the heart of a
mother sings upon the lips of her child.
*
I have never agreed with my other self
wholly. The truth of the matter seems to lie
between us.
*
There is no struggle of soul and body save
in the minds of those whose souls are asleep
and whose bodies are out of tune.
*

When you reach the heart of life you shall find beauty in all things, even in the eyes that are blind to beauty. We live only to discover beauty. All else is a form of waiting.

*
Sow a seed and the earth will yield you a
flower. Dream your dream to the sky and it
will bring you your beloved.
*
The devil died the very day you were born.
Now you do not have to go through hell to
meet an angel.
*

You are blind and I am deaf and dumb, so let us touch hands and understand. The significance of man is not in what he attains, but rather in what he longs to attain.

*
Some of us are like ink and some like paper.
And if it were not for the blackness of
of us, some of us would be dumb.
And if it were not for the whiteness of some
of us, some of us would be blind.
*
Give me an ear and I will give you a voice.
*

Our mind is a sponge; our heart is a stream. Is it not strange that most of us choose sucking rather than running?

*
A sense of humour is a sense of proportion.
*
My loneliness was born when men praised
my talkative faults and blamed my silent virtues.
*

When Life does not find a singer to sing her heart she produces a philosopher to speak her mind.

*
A truth is to be known always, to be uttered sometimes.
*
When you long for blessings that you may
not name, and when you grieve knowing not
the cause, then indeed you are growing with
all things that grow, and rising toward your
greater self.
*

The truly just is he who feels half guilty of your misdeeds. Pity is but half justice

*
Only an idiot and a genius break man-made
laws; and they are the nearest to the heart of God.
*
It is only when you are pursued that you
become swift.
*

I have no enemies, O God, but if I am to have an enemy, Let his strength be equal to mine, That truth alone may be the victor.

*
You will be quite friendly with your enemy
when you both die.
*
Perhaps a man may commit suicide in self-defence.
*
Even the masks of life are masks of deeper mystery.
*
You may judge others only according to
your knowledge of yourself.
Tell me now, who among us is guilty and
who is unguilty?
*

The reality of the other person is not in what he reveals to you, but in what he cannot reveal to you. Therefore, if you would understand him, listen not to what he says but rather to what he does not say. Half of what I say is meaningless; but I say it so that the other half may reach you.

5 Responses to “Khalil Gibran: ‘Sand and Foam’”

  1. Ray Halpin

    I’ve never understood the attraction of Gibran. He always sounded too precious to me. I always felt there was little profundity behind his abstractions.

    Reply
    • Ray Halpin

      I suppose I should try to explain myself. Take Gibran’s remarks about politics – “Spare me the political events and power struggles, as the whole earth is my homeland and all men are my fellow countrymen.” All men are not brothers, and most don’t desire to be. At times they don’t even desire to live in peace with one another. The only solution to potentially violent clashes between warring groups is politics – the ugly art of compromise that leaves the purists dissatisfied but their potential victims alive and well and living in peace. To describe all men as “my fellow countrymen” is a form of wishful thinking that offers nothing useful to those attempting to resolve internecine struggles. It amounts to a form of asceticism that effectively turns its back not only on the victims of those struggles but on reality itself. The world simply can’t afford Gibran’s Edenic arabesques – they seem too self-indulgent to me. But I understand why those who are heartily sick of war might sometimes wish to escape it all, at least for a while. In that context the poetry of Gibran has its uses.

      Reply
      • HummusForThought

        Viewing others as your countrymen doesn’t prevent you from seeing situations rationally and wanting to solve issues. On the contrary, it makes it all the more urgent. By removing such barriers, you do not pretend that they are not there but show by living proof that they need not be all that matters.

        Reply
        • Ray Halpin

          Two fragments of literary genius come to mind. I can’t recall them exactly, so forgive the imprecision. The first was written in eighth century Ireland by a monastery scribe worried about marauding raiders. He was working on one of Ireland’s famous illuminated manuscripts, and paused for a moment to record his thoughts in the margin:

          Wild howl the winds tonight.
          They turn the black sea
          white.
          On nights like these
          I sleep with ease.
          The Norsemen sail
          only quiet seas.

          The second, written during the invasion of Afghanistan, can be found in Many Voices, One Faith – an anthology of poetry and fiction by Muslim women:

          Quick. There are soldiers in our village.
          Give me your lips, my love.
          Before they part us forever.

          Separated by fourteen hundred years, two cultures, and thousands of miles of land and sea, an unknown man and woman speak their minds at a moment of personal crisis. Thanks to a rare ability to communicate, we understand them perfectly. The simplicity of their verse works because it expresses a common humanity. Their sensibilities, and ours, are identical. Despite our differences, we could be countrymen.

          I accept your point, Joey. All conflict is essentially fratricidal. Man is wolf to man. By emphasizing the ‘brotherhood’ of man – something the universal declaration of human rights does – we ‘give peace a chance’, as it were. We dismiss as irrelevant ‘barriers’ of time, space, culture and gender and recognize in the verses I quote above the things that unite rather than divide us. And we do this without forgetting for a moment the crucial role such barriers play in lending identity its unique characteristics. Those barriers are erected for a reason – they create the boundaries we insist on as individuals. We may acknowledge the existence of a common humanity, and recognize its importance, but we also demand that the world accept us on our own terms – we are gay, or straight, or bi, or celibate; we are Christian or Muslim, Jew or gentile. But what do we do when a man regards hatred of the other as an essential part of his own identity? Reminding him that such hatreds ‘need not be all that matters’ won’t amount to much – he’ll hate the other anyway. At that point we have a decision to make: do we stand idly by while he asserts his identity at the expense of the other; or do we oppose him in a forceful and deliberate way for the sake of the other, knowing full well that interventions of this kind tend to lead to escalations of the very violence we want to prevent? In other words, do we go to war with the man who asserts his identity through hate, or do we turn a blind eye to what he does, knowing perfectly well that the immense strength of his convictions render him impervious to our reasoned objections? Under some circumstances, we the peacemakers must become warmongers if our identity is to have any meaning at all. At that moment, who reasons with us?

          I first encountered Gibran’s The Prophet in a second hand bookstore in Dublin. It smelled suspiciously of the seventies – of spliffs and joints and ‘Lebanese Blond’ – a powerful variety of hashish that came by the boatload from your part of the world. The Irish received your gift with gratitude, and smoked themselves to oblivion. They probably read Gibran’s verse as they did so, and may have derived more concrete sense from it than I ever did. The Prophet struck me as a thin form of pseudo-spiritualism. It lacked the shared humanity I felt all great literature needed to possess. I read The Prophet again yesterday. The effect was no different the second time round. I couldn’t hear the Irish monk scribbling away at his desk, or the Muslim woman desperate for one last kiss from her lover before the soldiers dragged him away. I couldn’t hear the humanity of the world. Instead I heard an introverted man who placed too great an importance on his own solitude and not enough on the lives of others. I heard a man who had turned his back on the world, on human suffering and the political games men play to relieve it. Maybe that reading doesn’t do justice to Gibran, but it’s probably the only reading I’m capable of.

          Sometimes, important writers in one culture just don’t translate well into the language of another. The inner references are too place-specific, too sympathetic to the unique experiences of the writer’s countrymen. And sometimes, though we may not want to say it, the reader in question is just too stupid to ‘get’ the writer. In the end, that may be all that’s wrong with me and my reading of Gibran.

          Apologies, Joey, if this is what really accounts for my failure to appreciate the writings of Khalil. Apologies to his descendants too. And all the best from Dublin.

          Ray.

          Reply

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