Kahlil Gibran and the houri

Back in 2001, Juan posted to Talisman an interesting message that contained a houri story from Kahlil Gibran. It is interesting to contrast his account with that of Baha'u'llah's.

In Talisman, Juan Cole wrote:

Some of us have enjoyed Baha'u'llah's writings about the houri or Maid of Heaven. A fan reminded me that Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese author, also wrote about the houri. Actually, there are some similarities in the two treatments, which would be interesting to explore. This is an old translation from "Tears and Laughter," which in my view is not very good. I can't remember if Walbridge or I did a new one, but if not we should. For those of you who don't know, I have translated three of Gibran's books, which are available from Penguin in paper and from White Cloud in hard covers.

cheers Juan

Before the Throne of Beauty

One heavy day I ran away from the grim face of society and the dizzying clamour of the city and directed my weary step to the spacious alley. I pursued the beckoning course of the rivulet and the musical sounds of the birds until I reached a lonely spot where the flowing branches of the trees prevented the sun from touching the earth.

I stood there, and it was entertaining to my soul - my thirsty soul who had seen naught but the mirage of life instead of its sweetness.

I was engrossed deeply in thought and my spirits were sailing the firmament when a houri, wearing a sprig of grapevine that covered part of her naked body, and a wreath of poppies about her golden hair, suddenly appeared to me. As she realized my astonishment, she greeted me saying, "Fear me not; I am the Nymph of the Jungle."

"How can beauty like yours be committed to live in this place? Please tell me who you are, and from whence you came?" I asked. She sat gracefully on the green grass and responded, "I am the symbol of nature! I am the ever-virgin your forefathers worshipped, and to my honor they erected shrines and temples at Baalbek and Djabeil." And I dared to say, "But those temples and shrines were laid waste and the bones of my adoring ancestors became a part of the earth; nothing was left to commemorate their goddess save a pitiful few and the forgotten pages in the book of history."

She replied, "Some goddesses live in the lives of their worshippers and die in their deaths, while some live an eternal and infinite life. My life is sustained by the world of beauty which you will see where ever you rest your eyes, and this beauty is nature itself; it is the beginning of the shepherd's joy among the hills, and a villager's happiness in the fields, and the pleasure of the awe-filled tribes between the mountains and the plains. This Beauty promotes the wise into the throne of truth."

Then I said, "Beauty is a terrible power!" And she retored, "Human beings fear all things, even yourselves. You fear heaven, the source of spiritual peace; you fear nature, the haven of rest and tranquility; you fear the God of goodness and accuse him of anger, while he is full of love and mercy."

After a deep silence, mingled with sweet dreams, I asked, "Speak to me of that beauty which the people interpret and define, each one according to his own conception; I have seen her honored and worshipped in different ways and manners."

She answered, "Beauty is that which attracts your soul, and that which loves to give and not to recieve. When you meet Beauty, you feel that the hands deep within your inner self are stretched forth to bring her into the domain of your heart. It is the magnificence combined of sorrow and joy; it is the Unseen which you see, and the Vague which you understand, and the Mute which you hear - it is the Holy of Holies that begins in yourself and ends vastly beyond your earthly imagination."

Then the Nymph of the Jungle approached me and laid her scented hands upon my eyes. And as she withdrew, I found myself alone in the valley. When I returned to the city, whose turbulence no longer vexed me, I repeated her words:

"Beauty is that which attracts your soul, and that which loves to give and not to receive."