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The Beloved
by Kahlil Gibran

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At The Gate Of The Temple

I purified my lips with sacred fire that I might speak of love, but when I opened my mouth to speak, I found myself mute.
I sang the melodies of a love I did not yet know, but when I came to know it, the words became a muffled whisper in my mouth, the songs in my breast a profound silence.
In the past, O people, you asked me about the wonders and delights of love, and you found satisfaction in what I told you. But now, when love has draped me with its robes, I in my turn come to ask you about its ways and virtues. Is there one among you who can answer me? I come to ask you about what is in me and wish you to tell me of my own soul. Is there one among you who can explain my heart to my own heart, who can explain my essence to my essence itself?
Will you not tell me what is this fire kindled in my breast?
It consumes my faculties and melts my emotions and desires.
What are these invisible hands, soft yet coarse, that grip my spirit in my hours of solitude and loneliness? Into my heart they pour wine mixed with the bitterness of pleasure and the sweetness of pain.
What are these things rustling about my couch in the silence of the night as I watch makeful for what I know not, listening to what I do not hear, starting at what I do not see, pondering what I do not comprehend, aware of what I do not apprehend, sighing because in sighs are the groanings more beloved to me than the echoes of laughter and joy, submitting to an unseen power that slays me, then gives me life, then slays me again and again until dawn breaks and light fills the corners of my room. Then I sleep. Yet behind my spent eyelids forms of wakefulness dance and on my stony blanket sway the phantoms of dreams.
What is this which we call 'love'?
Tell me what is this hidden mystery concealed beyond the ages, lurking behind appearances, yet making its home in the heart of being?
What is this unconditioned thought that comes as the cause of all effects, as the effect of all causes?
What is this wakefulness that encompasses both death and life and molds them into a dream stranger than life and deeper than death?
Tell me, O people, tell me! Who among you would not wake from the sleep of life if love were to brush your spirit with its fingertips?
Who among you would not forsake your father and your mother and your home if the girl whom your heart loved were to call to him?
Who among you would not cross the seas, traverse deserts, go over mountains and valleys to reach the woman whom his spirit has chosen?
What youth would not follow his heart to the ends of the earth to breathe the sweetness of his lover's breath, feel the soft touch of her hands, delight in the melody of her voice?
What man would not immolate his soul that its smoke might rise to a god who would bear his plea and answer his prayer?

* * *

Yesterday I stood by the gate of the temple and asked passersby about the mysteries and virtues of love.
A man of middle years passed by, his body wasted, his face dark. Sighing, he said, 'Love has made weak the strength I inherited from the First Man.'
A youth, his body strong and brawny, passed by. In a voice of song he said, 'Love is resolution added to my being, linking my present to generations past and future.'
A woman, her eyes melancholy, passed by and, sighing, said, 'Love is a deadly poison, the breath of black adders writhing in Hell, flowing and swirling through the sky until it falls covered in dew, only to be lapped up by thirsty spirits. Then they are drunk for a moment, sober for a year, dead for eternity.'
A rosy-cheecked girl passed by and said, smiling, 'Love is a fountain whose waters the spirit brides pour into the spirits of the strong, making them to ascend in prayer among the stars of night and to sing songs of praise before the sun by day.'
A man passed by. His clothes were black, his beard long. Frowning, he said, 'Love is blind ignorance. It begins at youth's beginning and ends with its end.'
A handsome man with open features passed and gaily said, 'Love is celestial knowledge that lights our eyes and shows us things as the gods see them.'
A blind man passed, tapping the earth with his cane, and weeping, he said, 'Love is a thick mist enshrouding the soul on all sides and veiling the outlines of existence from it - or allowing it to see only the specters of its desires wandering among the rocks, deaf to the sounds of its own cries echoing in the valley.'
A youth carrying a guitar passed and sang out, 'Love is a magical ray of light shining out from the depths of the sensitive being and illuminating all around it. You see the world as a procession traveling through green meadows, life as a lovely dream erected between wakefulness and wakefulness.'
And old man passed. His back was bent, his feet dragged like pieces of cloth. In a quavering voice he said, 'Love is rest for the body in the silence of the tomb, peace for the soul in the depths of eternity.'
A child of five years passed and laughed back to me, 'Love is my father, love is my mother. Only my father and my mother know love.'
The day went by. The people passed before the temple, each describing himself as he spoke of love, revealing his hopes and telling of the mystery of life.

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