Introduction

Kahlil Gibran is a Lebanese-American poet who brings out high philosophy of life in his simple and beautiful poetic essays. His “On Children” is a critique of the usual expectations of parents about their children. The poem is extracted from Khalil Gibran’s renowned collection of poems “The Prophet”, through this poem he offers to guide parents on the essence of parenting with love much against the mundane expectations.

Central Idea

‘On Children‘ by Kahlil Gibran describes how parents should nurture their children and what should be the mindset while upbringing a child. The poem begins with a woman holding her child against her bosom and approaching the prophet for his advice on growing children.

Poetic Devices

  1. Oxymoron: A figure of speech, usually one or two words, in which seemingly contradictory terms appear side by side. For example, “Your children are not your children”
  2. Personification: A poetic device where animals, plants, or even inanimate objects, are given human qualities. For example, “life’s longing for itself”
  3. Metaphor: A figure of speech in which a word or phrase denoting one kind of object or action is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them. For example, “their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow”
  4. Symbol: Something that is generally recognized to represent a certain idea. For example, “He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far”

Explanation

Line 1-3

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, Speak to us of Children.
  And he said:
Your children are not your children
.

The enquirer is a woman as well as a mother. She is holding her baby and standing near Al Mustafa. She asks the prophet to speak about children to which he replies and makes it clear that the children to whom one gives birth are not their children.

Line 4-6

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
 And though they are with you yet they belong not to you
.

According to the speaker, children are the sons and daughters of the “Life’s longing.” which means that the creator of children is not a human but the almighty. The prophet remarks that children come to this earth through them and those parents are only mediums. Even though a child is made out of their parents but they do not belong to their parents. Biologically it is correct. But, from the spiritual aspect, this concept is wrong. Human beings can create another being but it is God that infuses life into the body. So, parents are short-term companions of children. Ultimately, the children belong to God.

Line 7-10

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
 For they have their own thoughts.
 You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

The first line deals with the difference between selfless love and self-centered love. The parents can shower all the love on their children but can’t impose their thoughts in their children’s minds as they have their own minds and thoughts. A parent gives shelter to the bodies of their children but not their souls. According to the prophet, every soul has the same house, a metaphorical reference to the universal spirit. This place is referred to as “the house of tomorrow.” It hints at the place where the soul merges after the body expires. This house cannot be visited as each soul has specific spots to fill in. Parents’ souls have their respective places in the divine spirit. A human being cannot even dream of that place. It is only revealed after bodily death.

Line 11-12

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
 For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. 

The parents may strive to be like their children but sadly, they cannot revert the process. As a parent cannot be a child again, he tries to change things according to his order. Therefore, the speaker warns parents not to make their children like them. Once life moves forward, it cannot turn backward. Besides, one cannot tarry with the thoughts of yesterday for living in the present moment. Therefore, living in the present is the best way to live life fully. If parents can develop this mindset, they will think twice before imposing their thoughts on their children.

Line 13-14

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far

In the first line, the speaker uses the metaphor of bows. According to him, parents are the mode from which the almighty sends forth their children as “living arrows.” Bows and arrows have no use until they are together. An arrow cannot move further without the acceleration provided by the string of a bow and vice-versa. It needs a skilled archer to send an arrow to the exact mark by using a bow, qualitatively firm and flexible. In this way, God is compared to an archer metaphorically. He looks at the mark, a symbolic reference to the divine spirit, that is placed upon the “path of the infinite.” It is again a metaphor for the universal soul that has infinite power. After seeing the mark, God bends the bow with all his might to send the arrows swiftly to the mark placed far from the earth. So, parents should be flexible enough in their thoughts. Then, their children can develop fully both mentally and spiritually.

Line 15- 16

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

According to the speaker, “bending” refers to the flexibility of the human mind. If parents don’t have rigidity in their thought process, they become the ideal tool in a child’s spiritual development. The more a bow can bend without breaking the swifter the arrow becomes. The archer loves both the arrow and the bow. It means there is a place in God’s heart for the parents as well as their children. But the parents have to be stable enough. When God holds them, they should not tremble in fear or break apart. They have to stay firm and bend accordingly so that their children can reach swiftly to the ultimate destination.

Conclusion

In the poem “On Children” Khalil is trying to tell how parents cannot act like their children are puppets. They will have the free will to do as they please and have a mind of their own. They are free to think for themselves. When Khalil writes “children are living in the house of tomorrow” he is telling us how children are important to the future. Parents merely act as “guiding lights” for their children. Children have the will to act as who they are and not someone else, to lead their own life and not how their parents want them to be. The child that comes from the parent is the gift from God but since they merely “come through you but not from you” stating that the parents do not own them.