Jun 30 2023

Kahlil Gibran – Good and Evil

Published by at 7:04 am under Poetry

Good and Evil
by Kahlil Gibran

And one of the elders of the city said, Speak to us of Good and Evil.
And he answered:
Of the good in you I can speak, but not of the evil.
For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst?
Verily when good is hungry it seeks food even in dark caves, and when it thirsts it drinks even of dead waters.

You are good when you are one with yourself.
Yet when you are not one with yourself you are not evil.
For a divided house is not a den of thieves; it is only a divided house.
And a ship without rudder may wander aimlessly among perilous isles yet sink not to the bottom.

You are good when you strive to give of yourself.
Yet you are not evil when you seek gain for yourself.
For when you strive for gain you are but a root that clings to the earth and sucks at her breast.
Surely the fruit cannot say to the root, “Be like me, ripe and full and ever giving of your abundance.”
For the fruit giving is a need, as receiving is a need to the root.

You are good when you are fully awake in your speech,
Yet you are not evil when you sleep while your tongue staggers without purpose.
And even stumbling speech may strengthen a weak tongue.

You are good when you walk to your goal firmly and with bold steps.
Yet you are not evil when you go thither limping.
Even those who limp go not backward.
But you who are strong and swift, see that you do not limp before the lame, deeming it kindness.

You are good in countless ways, and you are not evil when you are not good,
You are only loitering and sluggard.
Pity that the stags cannot teach swiftness to the turtles.

In your longing for your giant self lies your goodness: and that longing is in all of you.
But in some of you that longing is a torrent rushing with might to the sea, carrying the secrets of the hillsides and the songs of the forest.
And in others it is a flat stream that loses itself in angles and bends and lingers before it reaches the shore.
But let not him who longs much say to him who longs little, “Wherefore are you slow and halting?”
For the truly good ask not the naked, “Where is your garment?” nor the houseless, “What has befallen your house?”

— from The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran

/ Image by Aymeric Lamblin /

As I was considering which poem to send out this morning, I came across this meditation on good and evil by Kahlil Gibran. I last featured this poem and commentary several years ago, and I thought it might be worth sharing again…

I like this meditation on good and evil. It challenges assumptions and and raises important questions.

You are good when you are one with yourself.

Gibran suggests there is only good, for that is everyone’s inherent nature, and what we call evil is simply being lost and uninspired. He calls us to be compassionate to those who are selfish and cruel, for they suffer from greater poverty than the homeless and greater hunger than the starving; they suffer from a poverty of the soul.

I strongly feel one should never passively allow the hard-hearted to inflict harm or hoard what belongs to all. Such actions must be opposed with strength and courage and clarity. The vulnerable must always be protected. That is a basic duty. But even success in such action does not stop the fundamental dynamic of harm, just that particular instance. We must always remember that those who inflict harm and encode selfishness into systems and institutions, those people are also seeking their way, just blinded by their spiritual poverty. That’s where the real, patient work of the ages is found… finding how to open eyes and hearts long used to to being shut, finding how to redirect them toward the forgotten goodness and generosity held within.

One line I do question, however, is, “Pity that the stags cannot teach swiftness to the turtles.” To suggest that some people are stags and others turtles might be read to imply that our spiritual unfolding is fixed. Every human being harbors something of heaven within. There is no speed to the process. All that is needed is the right reminder of what we already are. Then begins the steady process of discovering how to encourage that ember and let its warmth permeate all aspects of our lives. Turtles don’t need to become stags. Humans simply need to become themselves. Humans just need to become more human.

But how to reach those who would armor themselves against the urging of their own hearts? No simple formula, nor single action nor organization can accomplish this. Not a year nor a generation nor a century will accomplish this. Still, that is what must be done. That is the real, hard, slow work given to us all to accomplish, each in our own lives, our work, our world.

Knowing our work, let’s be impatient to begin and supremely patient in its accomplishment. Knowing our work, what cause is there for anything but joy in turning to it each day?

In your longing for your giant self lies your goodness: and that longing is in all of you.

Recommended Books: Kahlil Gibran

The Prophet The Beloved: Reflections on the Path of the Heart Broken Wings Jesus the Son of Man Kahlil Gibran: His Life & World
More Books >>

Kahlil Gibran, Kahlil Gibran poetry, Christian poetry Kahlil Gibran

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

Kahlil Gibran, because of his name, is often assumed to have been a Muslim, but he was actually a Maronite Christian, originally from what is today Lebanon (then part of Syria and the Ottoman Empire).

His father, also named Kahlil, had drinking problems and gambling debts. This led the senior Gibran to leave his job as an assistant pharmacist, taking work instead as an enforcer for the local Ottoman administrator. He eventually ended up in jail.

This difficult situation left the family in poverty. As a result, Gibran did not receive a formal education as a young boy, but a local priest taught him to read Arabic and Syriac, as well as stories from the Bible, filling him with an early awareness of the mystical dimensions of Christianity.

When Gibran was eight, his mother moved the family, including 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 difficult position of having to take over the hardware business. A year later, his brother returned from Cuba, but died soon thereafter. 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 as a child.

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 artistic Symbolist movement, with its open embrace of mysticism.

Returning to America, he began to publish 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 power games of international politics.

In the years following publication of his best known work, The Prophet, Gibran would gain international notoriety.

More poetry by Kahlil Gibran

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6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Kahlil Gibran – Good and Evil”

  1. Stephen Galleheron 30 Jun 2023 at 8:57 am

    You have no idea the impact your books and essays have had and continue to have on me. You should be–no, you ARE–a priest, someone who blesses with your words and actions and elicits the holy within. This Gibran poem is so typical of your selections. I hadn’t thought of Gibran as a nondualist, but his poem on good and evil sure clinches it.

  2. Kiki Bakshion 30 Jun 2023 at 9:44 am

    Dear Ivan,

    Thank you so much for this poem (meditation) today! In the recent months I have reached my depths on some days, seeing the destructive path our world is on and have despaired often. It was therefore love to have this poem show up, helping me find some balance!

    Thank you for your presence in my life 🙏❤️

  3. Lawrenceon 30 Jun 2023 at 10:40 am

    Thank you Ivan! A beautiful excerpt, and your commentary is wonderful.

  4. BA Khanon 01 Jul 2023 at 11:40 pm

    Thanks Evan..
    Thanks for sharing such beautiful composition.
    I usually do not comment, as I am yet on the path walking towards the destination, often very slow in my pace.
    Yes one is only good when one is with self.!
    And that is not easy to achieve..
    Yes it is easy to talk about but difficult to achieve.
    And when you are with yourself.. there is no other self..!
    And blessings.
    I hope you take care of your health.

  5. Carolon 02 Jul 2023 at 8:59 am

    Thank You Ivan for this meditation by Gibran. I have appreciated the Prophet for
    nearly 60 years now!! – How can that be? (smile).

    I believe this meditation on Good and Evil is something we need to hear now in our
    country and the world, and your commentary is so true. Thank You

  6. Marlina Rinzenon 04 Jul 2023 at 9:46 am

    Thank you, Ivan, for all the path-traveling poems, and your insightful heart commentaries.
    This morning, Kahlil Gibran’s poem was so timely. What was most meaningful for me was his deep generosity… his inclusivity, his compassion.

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