The Poet from Baalbek
Sarkis Effandi, one of Gibran’s closeste friends, was highly regarded among the intelligentsia of Lebanon, He owned a publishing house and a daily Arabic newspaper called Lisan-Ul-Hal. In the year 1912, the Arab League o Progress, organized for the promotion of Arab unity and culture, decide to honor the great Lenanese poet Khalil Effandi Mutran.
Since Sarkis wan the head of the committee honorig the poet, he extende an invitation to his friend Gibran, now settled in New York, to join them in Beirut on that occasion. Gibran could not make the trip, but he sent Sarkis a story with instrutions to read it in his behalf before the poet.
In the story, which eulogises the poet, Gibran expresses his belief in the transmigrtion of souls and praises the grat soul reincarnated in the honored poet.
IN THE CITY OF BAALBEK,
THE YEAR 112 B.C.
The Emir sat on his golden throne surrounded by glittering lamps and gilded censers. The aromatic scent of the latter filled the palace. At his right and left sides were the high priests and the chiefs; the slaves and guards stood immobile before him like statues of bronze erected before the face o the sun.
After the cantors had chanted echoing hymns, and elderly vizier stood before the emir, and in a voice modulated in the serenity of age, said, “Oh great and merciful Prince, yesterday there arrived in our city a sage from India who believes in a diversity of religions and speaks of strange things diffult to understand.
He preaches the doctrine of the trnsmigration of souls and the incarnation of spirits which move from one generation to another seeking more and more perfect avatars until they become godlike. This sage seeks an audience with you to explain his dogma.”
The Emir shook his head, smiled, and said, “From India come many strange and wonderful things. Call in the sage that we may hear his words of wisdom.”
As soon as he uttered these words, a dark-hued, aged man walked in with dignity and stood before the Emir. His large brown eyes spoke, without words, of deep secrets. He bowed, raised his head, his eyes glittered, and he commenced to speak.
He explained wow the spirits pass from one body to another, elevated by the good acts of the medium which they chooses, and influenced by their experience in each existence; aspiring toward a splendor that exalts them and strengthens their growth bay Love that makes them both happy and miserable…..
Then the philosopher dwelt on the manner in which the spirits move from place to place in their quest for perfection, atoning in the present for sins committed in the past, and reaping in one existence what they had sown in another.
Observing signs of restlessness and weariness on the Emir’s countenance, the old vizier whispered to the sage, “You have preached enough at present; please postpone the rest of your discourse until our next meeting.”
Thereupon the sage withdrew from the Emir’s presence and sat among the priests and chiefs, closing his eyes as if weary of gazing into the deeps of Existence.
After a profound silence, similar to the trance of a prophet, the Emir looked to the right and to the left and inquired, “Where is our poet, we have not seen him for many days. What became of him? He always attended our meeting.”
A priest responded, saying, “A week ago I saw him sitting in the portico of Ishtar’s temple, staring with glazed and sorrowful ayes at the distant evening twilight as if one of his poems had strayed among the clouds”.
And a chief added, “I saw him yesterday standing beneath the shade of the willow and cypress trees. I greeted him but he gave no heed to may greeting, and remained submerged in the deep sea of his thoughts and meditations.”
Then the Grand Eunuch said, “I saw him today in the palace garden, with pale and haggard face, sighing, and his eyes full of tears.”
“Go seek out this unhappy soul, for his absence from our midst troubles us,” ordered the Emir.
At this command, the slaves and the guards left the hall to seek the poet, while the Emir and his priests and chiefs remained in the assembly hall awaiting their return. It seemed as if their spirits had felt his invisible presence among them.
Soon the Grand Eunuch retuned and prostrated himself at the feet of the Emir like a bird shot by the arrow of an archer. Whereupon the Emir shouted at him saying, “What happened… what have you to say?” The slave raised his head and said in a trembling voice, “We found the poet dead in the palace garden.”
Then the Emir rose and hastened sorrowfully to the palace garden, preceded by his torchbearers and followed by the priests and the chiefs. At the end of the garden close by the almond and pomegranate trees, the yellow light of the torches brought the dead youth into their sight. His corpse lay upon the green grass like a withered rose.
“Look how he embraced his viol as if the two were lovers pledged to die together!” said one of the Emir’s aides.
Another one said, “He still stares, as in life, at the heart of space; he still seems to be watching the invisible movements of an unknown god among the planets.”
And the high priest addressed the emir, saying, “Tomorrow let us bury him, as a great poet, in the shade of Ishtar’s temple, and let the townspeople march in his funeral procession, while youths sing his poems and virgins strew flowers over his sepulcher. Let it be a commemoration worthy of his genius.”
The Emir nodded his head without diverting his eyes from the young poet’s face, pale with the veil of Death. “We have neglected this pure soul when he was alive, filling the Universe with the fruit of his brilliant intellect and spreading throughout space the aromatic scent of his soul. If we do not honor him now, we will be mooched and reviled y de gods and the nymphs of the prairies and valleys.
“Bury him in this spot where he breathed his last and let his viol remain between his arms. If you wish to honor him and pay him tribute, tell your children that the Emir had neglected him and was the cause of his miserable and lonely death.” Then the monarch asked, “Where is the sage from India?” And the sage walked forth and said, “Here, oh great Prince.”
And the Emir inquired, saying, “Tell us, oh sage, will the gods ever restore me to this world as a prince and bring back the deceased poet to life? Will my spirit become incarnated in a body of a great king’s son, and will the poet’s soul transmigrate into the body of another genius? Will the sacred Law make him stand before the face of Eternity that he may compose poems of Life? Will he be restored that I may honor him and pay him tribute by showering upon him precious gifts and rewards that will enliven his heart and inspire his soul?”
And the sage answered the Emir, saying, “Whatever the soul longs for, will be attained by the spirit. Remember, oh great Prince, that the sacred Law which restores the sublimity of spring after the passing of winter will reinstate you a prince and him a genius poet.”
The Emir’s hopes were revived and signs of joy appeared on his face. He walked toward his palace thinking and meditating upon the words of the sage: “Whatever the soul longs for, will be attained by the spirit.”
IN CAIRO, EGYPT, THE YEAR 1912 A.D.
The full moon appeared and spread her silver garment upon the city. The Prince of the land stood at the balcony of his palace gazing at the clear sky and pondering upon the ages that have passed along the bank of the Nile. He seemed to be reviewing the processions of the nations that marched, together with Time, from the Pyramid to the palace of Abedine.
As the circle of the Prince’s thoughts widened and extended into the domain of his dreams, he looked at his boon companion sitting by his side and said, “My soul is thirsty; recite a poem for me tonight.”
And the book companion bowed his head and began a pre-Islamic poem. But before he had recited many stanzas, the Prince interrupted him saying, “Let us hear a modern poem… a more recent one.”
And, bowing, the boon companion began to recite verses composed by a Hadramout poet. The Prince stopped him again, saying, “More recent… a more recent poem.”
The singer raised his hand and touched his forehead as if trying to recall to memory all the poems composed by contemporary poets. Then his eyes glittered, his face brightened, and he began to sing lovely verses in soothing rhythm, full of enchantment.
Intoxicated and seeming to fell the movement of hidden hands beckoning him from his palace to a distant land, the Prince fervently inquired, “Who composed these verses?” And the singer answered, “The Poet from Baalbek.”
The Poet from Baalbek is an ancient name and it brought into the Prince’s memory images of forgotten days. It awakened in the depth of his heart phantoms of remembrance, and drew before his eyes, with lines formed by the mist, a picture of a dead youth embracing his viol and surrounded by priests, chiefs, and ministers.
Like dreams dissipated by the light of Morn, the vision soon left the Prince’s eyes. He stood up and walked toward his palace with crossed arms repeating the words of Mohammed, “You were dead and He brought you back to life, and He will return you to the dead and restore you to life. Whereupon you shall go back to Him”.
Then he looked at his boon companion and said, “We are fortunate to have the Poet from Baalbek in our land, and shall make it our paramount duty to honor and befriend him”. After a few moments worthy of silence and respect, the Prince added in a low voice, “The poet is a bird of strange moods; he descends from his lofty domain to tarry among us, singing; if we do not honor him he will unfold his wings and fly back to his dwelling place.”
The night war over, and the skies doffed their garments studded with stars, and put on raiment woven from the sinews of the rays of Morn. And the Prince’s soul swayed between the wonders and strangeness of Existence and the concealed mysteries of Life.
___________________________________________From Gibra’s thoughts and meditations