The Prophet | Study Guide

Kahlil Gibran

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The Prophet | Themes


Love and Life

Love and its relationship to life is a recurrent theme in The Prophet. Love itself is dealt with discretely at the beginning of the text. Here, the prophet Almustafa defines it as a purifying force that reveals the secrets of one's heart and places a person spiritually "in the heart of God." The individual becomes "a fragment of Life's heart." The prophet then links love to appreciation of life. In the associated feeling of gratitude, there is joy.

In the poems that follow, love is linked to other aspects of everyday life. Almustafa brings to light love's power to elevate, enrich, and transform the ordinary into the sublime. In "On Marriage," he speaks of love and marriage, counseling that while there is togetherness there must also be spaces between the couple for joy to exist. Love cannot be bondage or possession. In "On Children," the prophet describes love's essential role in child rearing. In a setting of familial love and stability, a child grows strong and prepared for life as their own person. In "On Work," the prophet teaches that work paired with love reflects love of life and ennobles the worker, binding him to others and to God. It is "love made visible." Other pairings with love include friendship, buying and selling, reason and passion, teaching, and Almustafa's life among the people of Orphalese.

The God-Self in All Human Beings

God's relationship to human beings is another recurrent theme in The Prophet. In "On Crime and Punishment," Almustafa contends that humans are essentially good, and within each person, even the criminal, is an unblemished god-self. The prophet compares it to the ocean, which "remains forever undefiled," and to the sun, which is an enduring source of warmth and light.

In the same poem Almustafa describes the role of the god-self in someone's spiritual evolution. This divine aspect of human beings dwells alongside that which is human and that which is not yet human. The prophet teaches that the human aspect is a person standing spiritually in the twilight between the night of their lesser self and the day of their god-self. Whether upright or fallen, the person is moving on the path of transcendence toward their greater self.

In "On Good and Evil" and "On Prayer," Almustafa speaks about the pursuit of the god-self. He asserts the "longing for [someone's] giant self lies in [their] goodness." Growing consciousness of that "giant self" is found in prayer and described as the spiritual "expansion of [someone's] self into the living ether."

The god-self finds expression in other facets of life, including love, work, giving, reason and passion, and pursuit of self-knowledge. Almustafa's teachings glorify this aspect of human beings and celebrate the human potential for self-transcendence and transformation.

Joy and Life

Joy and its relationship to life is a universal theme relevant to many of the topics Almustafa explores in The Prophet. In "On Joy and Sorrow," he speaks about the nature of joy, disclosing that it is inseparable from sorrow and calling it "sorrow unmasked." The spiritual and emotional extremes of joy and sorrow are in balance, with one rising as the other falls. What gives joy is also the source of sorrow. And the deeper one experiences sorrow, the greater the heights of joy may be.

In other poems the prophet teaches about joy's role in relationships. In "On Marriage," he counsels husband and wife to "sing and dance together and be joyous." In "On Friendship," he praises the sharing of "all thoughts, all desires, all expectations," as this sharing brings joy into the life of another. In the "sweetness of friendship," there is "laughter, and the sharing of pleasures." The act of generosity is similarly praised as a wellspring of joy in "On Giving." The prophet states, "There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward." Seeking out the needy and giving without being asked is likewise celebrated as a source of "joy greater than giving."

Almustafa also speaks about joy's relationship to pain, work, and prayer. In "On Pain," he counsels that joy is linked to even the most profound emotional and spiritual pain. Such pain is necessary and stems from "the breaking of the shell that encloses [a person's] understanding." With understanding, the wonder of life's "daily miracles" become clear, and pain no longer seems "less wondrous" than joy. Joy in work, as addressed in "On Work," arises from work performed in love. Seeds will be sown with tenderness, and the harvest reaped with joy. Finally, the prophet teaches the virtue of praying in times of joy. He tells the people, "You pray in your distress and in your need." He then urges them to "pray also in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance."

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