Nov 07 2012

Kahlil Gibran – Giving

Published by at 9:13 am under Poetry

by Kahlil Gibran

You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.”
The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.
They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.
Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights, is worthy of all else from you.
And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream.
And what desert greater shall there be, than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving?
And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you may see their wealth naked and their pride unabashed?
See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and and instrument of giving.
For in truth it is life that gives unto life — while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.

— from The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran

/ Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography /

I hope everyone here in the US got through the presidential election. The media megaphones are powering down. The candidates have claimed their offices. Now is when the real work begins — pushing our representatives to actually represent us, insisting that political, economic, and societal structures do a better job expressing the aspiration of the human spirit and the needs of the planet which is our home. A daunting task, but isn’t that why we’re here?

…Which sort of leads into today’s poem by Kahlil Gibran.

Who do we help? Who do we give to? Who do we choose to care about and feel connected to? It’s a very reasonable response to say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.” The problem is that reason, for all its usefulness, is stuck in the head; the questions of giving and connection are questions for the heart, not the head. And the heart knows what the head does not:

They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.

When we work deeply with service and giving as part of our spiritual path, we begin to understand that the meeting of needs and the sharing of resources is not enough. That surface approach is usually a sign of ego’s touch, a way to crown oneself as the giver. We haven’t yet discovered what it means to be worthy to give. When we see clearly, there is no personal merit. Giving is our nature. It is the natural flow of life, and we are part of that life. When we give we have simply ceased to constrict our own spirit… and then our hearts untighten and we can witness life flowing through us all.

For in truth it is life that gives unto life — while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.

We should daily ask ourselves, “What gift can I give?”

Kahlil Gibran, Kahlil Gibran poetry, Christian poetry Kahlil Gibran

Lebanon/US (1883 – 1931) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

Kahlil Gibran was born to a Maronite Christian family in Besharri, Lebanon (then part of Syria and the Ottoman Empire).

His father, also named Kahlil Gibran, had drinking problems and accumulated many gambling debts. This led Gibran’s father to leave his job as assistant to his uncle who was a pharmacist, taking work as an ‘enforcer’ for the local Ottoman administrator. He eventually ended up in jail.

Because of the family’s poverty, Gibran did not receive a formal education as a young boy, but a local priest taught him Arabic and Syriac, as well as the stories of the Bible and infused in him an awareness of the mystical dimensions of Maronite Christianity.

When Gibran was eight, his mother took him, his older half-brother, and his two younger sisters to Boston. Although shy, Gibran quickly learned English and, thanks to a scholarship, started to receive more of a formal education.

The boy became fascinated by Boston’s world of art and music, visiting galleries and performances. At age 13, his artistic gifts came to the attention of cultural circles in Boston, where he was further introduced to artistic trends.

Despite this early success, Gibran was sent back to Lebanon to complete his education, where he excelled in poetry.

He returned to the United States in 1902 in the midst of a family crisis. His mother had cancer, and his older brother and his fourteen-year-old sister had tuberculosis. His sister soon died. The brother, who had been supporting the family with a small hardware store, moved to Cuba to try to recover his health, leaving the young Gibran in the frustrating position of having to take over the hardware business. A year later, his brother returned from Cuba, but later died. The same year, his mother also died.

In the aftermath of so much death, Gibran sold the family business and threw all of his energy into art and writing and perfecting his English. He also reconnected with the Boston cultural benefactors he had known before.

He began to write columns for an Arabic-language newspaper and later collected these writings into his first published books.

In 1909, Gibran went to Paris for two years to broaden his artistic training, and he was particularly influenced by the mystical artistic Symbolist movement.

Returning to America, he began to publish some of his first Arabic prose-poetry collections through a publisher in Egypt. He became active with Arab intellectual and artistic organizations, promoting the rich culture of the Arab-speaking world, while attempting to address its many problems under Western imperial rule.

In 1911, Gibran moved to New York. There he met and was influenced Abdul Baha, the leader of the Bahai Faith movement. He also met Carl Jung and was asked to paint the famous psychologist’s portrait, at which time Gibran became intrigued by Jungian philosophy.

Gibran began to write in his adopted language of English, writing The Madman, though it would be rejected by several publishing houses until a small publisher named Alfred Knopf would take a chance on the work.

When World War I broke out, he worked to free Syria from Ottoman rule, but was frustrated by the messy realities of war and international politics.

In the years following publication of The Prophet, Gibran would gain international notoriety.

He died in 1931.

More poetry by Kahlil Gibran

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Kahlil Gibran – Giving”

  1. Carol Burnson 07 Nov 2012 at 11:35 am

    Thank you Ivan,

    I have loved Gibran since high school – nearly 50 years ago! Had never learned
    details of his life, so am very glad you gave them to us.

    Very good thoughts for starting anew after the election.

    I love many of the poets you offer, but am more familiar with some than others.
    Mary Oliver is maybe my favorite and her Wild Geese would be my choice for
    your anthology. Looking forward to seeing that when completed.

  2. Djanion 07 Nov 2012 at 3:24 pm

    hi Ivan,so good to be reminded by Gibran.Always.
    For your book Iwill say this gay,forgat his name,you know the one who repeat his phrases again and again like no one else do,with different intonation in his voice(reading a loud) deeper and deeper each time,magical,hypnotic effect,so beautifully,you know who I mean..That one.
    maybe someone say who is?

  3. Djanion 07 Nov 2012 at 3:39 pm

    oh, I know now!David.David White.”It is not enough”
    …You must go to the place
    where everything waits…
    love it!Have a nice days.

  4. Gerryon 07 Nov 2012 at 5:17 pm

    I know very little about Gibran and you educated me today. I’m always grateful for your posts. I am looking forward to your next publication and if you choose to include modern writers, I’m a especially fond of the work of Mary Oliver. Also love Rumi (who doesn’t) and the few female poets of ancient times. will be so grateful to have the new book!

  5. Val Leventhalon 08 Nov 2012 at 12:00 pm

    I passed this beautiful poem along to the folks I know who need to be reminded that giving is a blessing, and everyone deserves both to give and to receive. The idea that people in need can be “undeserving” goes against every spiritual wisdom in the world. And if nature is our model, our demonstration of the will of the Divine, then why do fruit trees produce more apples than they could possibly need for their own procreation, and why do they provide shelter to anyone who comes along. God decides who is deserving, and we can tell who that is by who is in need. We are all children of the Divine Spirit, and you are not supposed to favor one child over another.

    I love this poem and the Buddha in his Glory one – these spoke to me in a very special way, and I think they should be included in the anthology. Thank you, as always, Ivan for your work and for your heart. Peace, Val

  6. Pegon 08 Nov 2012 at 3:50 pm

    No one should give because they are forced to or if it is a condition for religious attainment. Giving then does not come from a place of not giving. I dislike giving because it creates duality. I think sharing is better, and yet there is still this idea of someone who has something and someone who doesn’t. We all require nothing for it is all there. Some may just need to see that it is there. In this world I would want to hide that I was giving so the person can then find and then remember.

    What would the world be like if for just one second everyone on the planet thought the thought and knew that every single one of us is whole, perfect, and in want of nothing? I shudder at the joy of what this could mean.

    I am new to this site and I am enjoying each of the poems selected. My favorite poet is Jane Kenyon. The poem probably most noted is her “Let Evening Come.”

    Thanks Peg

  7. janet bradleyon 09 Nov 2012 at 5:52 am

    For the anthology: I love the poem ‘The Journey’ by Mary Oliver and of course St. John of the Cross

    Thank you Thank you!!!!! xx Janet

  8. Lindseyon 09 Nov 2012 at 6:16 am

    Thanks Ivan – some lovely thoughts. Although I have read the prophet, I knew little about Gibran ….we all have such complicated lives, even the prophets it seems – thank you for sharing this with us.

  9. Lakshmion 16 Nov 2012 at 1:10 am

    Beautiful thoughts and words by Gibran.
    Thank you for posting this poem.

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