Kahlil Gibran's "The Madman"

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Kahlil Gibran's "The Madman"

Post by Don on April 21st 2008, 5:58 pm

Okay, continuing the theme of historical Asian poetry, I'm currently reading Kahlil Gibran's book entitled "The Madman: His Poems & Parables".

For those unfamiliar with Gibran, he was a 19th Century poet, artist and writer born in Lebanon. His work is quite broad-ranging, but he's reasonably well known, even in the modern Western world.

This particular text deals with themes of madness/insanity. Here's an edited example:

You ask me how I became a madman. It happened thus: One day, long before many gods were born, I awoke 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 marketplace, 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.

Another sample:

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 thy negligence.

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.

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 are 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.

Hopefully you get the idea... its a mix of prose and parables dealing with the aforementioned themes, and also touching slightly on religion and wisdom.

For me, it was an interesting book. I had been reading Carl Jung's works on gender shortly before, and was struck by his use of the "mask" as a metaphor for the "persona", which is basically the "false self" (or at least partially false) which people use in order to present themselves to the world in an acceptable way, and thereby succeed in society. Jung also raised some interesting issues about the (sometimes immense) gap between the "persona" and the true self, and the relationship between the two. Which reminded me of yet another psychology book called "The Divided Self" (by R. D, Laing) which dealt with similar issues.

Due to time constraints, I won't elaborate any further, but I would highly recommend all of the books mentioned above if you've ever wondered about these things...

Don
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