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On Laws (The Prophet, Chapter 13) -- Kahlil Gibran

Guest poem sent in by Rajarshi Bandopadhyay
(Poem #1734) On Laws (The Prophet, Chapter 13)
 Then a lawyer said, "But what of our Laws, master?"
 And he answered:

 You delight in laying down laws,
 Yet you delight more in breaking them.
 Like children playing by the ocean who build sand-towers with
   constancy and then destroy them with laughter.
 But while you build your sand-towers the ocean brings more sand to the shore,
 And when you destroy them, the ocean laughs with you.
 Verily the ocean laughs always with the innocent.

 But what of those to whom life is not an ocean, and man-made laws are
   not sand-towers,
 But to whom life is a rock, and the law a chisel with which they
   would carve it in their own likeness?
 What of the cripple who hates dancers?
 What of the ox who loves his yoke and deems the elk and deer of the
   forest stray and vagrant things?
 What of the old serpent who cannot shed his skin, and calls all
   others naked and shameless?
 And of him who comes early to the wedding-feast, and when over-fed
   and tired goes his way saying that all feasts are violation and all
   feasters law-breakers?

 What shall I say of these save that they too stand in the sunlight,
   but with their backs to the sun?
 They see only their shadows, and their shadows are their laws.
 And what is the sun to them but a caster of shadows?
 And what is it to acknowledge the laws but to stoop down and trace
   their shadows upon the earth?

 But you who walk facing the sun, what images drawn on the earth can hold you?
 You who travel with the wind, what weathervane shall direct your course?
 What man's law shall bind you if you break your yoke but upon no
   man's prison door?
 What laws shall you fear if you dance but stumble against no man's
   iron chains?
 And who is he that shall bring you to judgment if you tear off your
   garment yet leave it in no man's path?
 People of Orphalese, you can muffle the drum, and you can loosen the
   strings of the lyre, but who shall command the skylark not to sing?
-- Kahlil Gibran
In the light of recent terrorist attacks, there have been various
denunciations of fundamentalist and extremist ideologies, especially
the Islamic variety. IMHO, no matter what religion or philosophy it
subscribes to, extremism is dangerous, because it leads to conflict,
intolerance and violence.

Several articles in recent editions of prominent news sources have
attempted to analyse what drives seemingly normal young men to such
extremes, and they seem to come up with common themes:  youthful
rebellion, spiritual yearning, immigrant isolation, racial
discrimination, sexual repression and existentialist crises.

IMHO, the primary cause for these young men to blow themselves up is
none but the oldest criminal motive, that which caused Cain to slay
Abel: envy. Envy that their own orthodox beliefs, which aims at
suppressing every human pleasure and instinct, do not bring them
happiness, whereas  supposedly inferior cultures seem to be doing so
much better.

Gibran condemns those who would impose arbitrary morality on humanity
"the cripple who hates dancers", and ends the chapter ends on a
resounding blow for personal freedom of the human spirit, within the
limits of self-restraint, "tear off your garment yet leave it in no
man's path".


  Gibran bio at

42 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Mallika Chellappa said...

Gibran is brilliant, as always!

IM*H*O, the western world makes laws to suit itself
and changes the laws whenever it seems the rest of
the world is catching up, This is at the root of
all the ills. If we had no double standards, there
would be no need for frustrated young men to blow
themselves up. I am not justifying terrorism or saying
- as one eminent journalist did - that it is/is not
a "necessary evil". But I am saying it is an
obvious corollary of the means used by the
colonial powers to perpetuate their hegemony. Only
a person singlarly lacking in imagination could
fail to see that.

Can the priciples of trade really supersede the
principles of simple humanity? Is an intellectual
property law, that allows some people to live off others'
labour, really just? And what would we say of people
who profess to believe in "give us this day our daily
bread", yet want to live off the labours of others, just
because they had the fortune to have a good idea one day?
The words of Dr Madhuri Shah come to mind. She said
"the spark can be found in the lowest of the low", referring
to inspiration. It has nothing to do with one's academic
or cultural pedigree. And it is not a virtue, nor earned.
It is just happenstance. And to make the rest of the world
pay for your happenstance for 5,10 or 20 years, or whatever
period GATT or TRIPS think to impose, is not just.

Smuggling is an offence, but this changes as thelist of
prohibited goods keeps changing. IM*H*O smugglers are just
free-traders, and they are supplying demand.
Bootlegging is an offence; IM*H*O the entiore tobacco
and liquor industries should be declared illegal!
Homosexuality is an offence! Talk about entering
people's bedrooms! While I personally feel that homosexuality
goes counter to Nature, yet, so does civilization as we know it,
and it does engender perversities.
In a lighter vein, let's not forget the most appropriate
quotation regarding the law: "The law is an ass"

This is not to say that one should not be law abiding to
the extent that one's actions affect others. Hippies living in
a self-sufficient commune comes closest to Gibran's ideal,
and surely, the flower-children were farseeing. We have lost their


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