I sometimes enjoy the use of the prophetic voice in poetry. My favorite examples of prophetic voice are found in the poetry of William Blake and Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra. In music, I must reference Marc Bolan (T. Rex). Certainly there are plenty of other examples – perhaps even some better than these, but for me, these are the effective ones.
What I’m looking for in a prophetic voice is an expansive and ominous mixture of allegory, obscurity, density of meaning and contradiction. I really want that contradiction to shine through, like a sledge hammer. What is the point of a prophet without contradiction?
Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet had been on my reading list for several months. I knew that I would eventually be in the mood for something contradictory and obscure. Unfortunately, Gibran’s work, despite the many, many glowing endorsements to be found, well it just doesn’t come across as all that prophetic.
There are some very nice lines and many pretty metaphors. Nothing memorable enough to repeat. But some very passable stuff. I’ll even go so far as to avoid condemning the overt sentimental idealism. But it isn’t prophetic. Or perhaps I should simply say, I hope it isn’t – or wasn’t.
Gibran lived from 1883 to 1931; Wikipedia claims that Gibran is the third-best selling poet of all time. If true, I’m hoping that this stature wasn’t based on The Prophet. I’m not going to quibble over whether the book is poetry. My citations of Blake, Nietzche and Bolan could face similar criticism. But Gibran never significantly startles, bewilders, inspires awe or offers an unexpected comparison. Nor does this prophet shake my perspective.
It’s a shame really. I was expecting something more grand.