Dead are my People
Dead are my people, gone are my people, but I exist yet, lamenting them in my solitude. Dead are my friends, and in their death my life is naught but great disaster. The knolls of my country are submerged by tears and blood, for my people and my beloved are gone, and I am here living as I did when my people and my beloved were enjoying life and the bounty of life, and when the hills of my country were blessed and engulfed by the light of the sun.
My people died from hunger, and he who did not perish from starvation was butchered with the sword; and I am here in this distant land, roaming amongst a joyful people who sleep upon soft beds, and smile at the days while the days smile upon them.
My people died a painful and shameful death, and here am I living in plenty and in peace. This is deep tragedy ever enacted upon the stage of my heart; few would care to witness this drama, for my people are as birds with broken wings, left behind the flock.
If I were hungry and living amid my famished people, and persecuted among my oppressed countrymen, the burden of the black days would be lighter upon my restless dreams, and the obscurity of the night would be less dark before my hollow eyes and my crying heart and my wounded soul. For he who shares with his people their sorrow and agony will feel a supreme comfort created only by suffering in sacrifice. And he will be at peace with himself when he dies innocent with his fellow innocents.
But I am not living with my hungry and persecuted people who are walking in the procession of death toward martyrdom. I am here beyond the broad seas living in the shadow of tranquillity, and in the sunshine of peace. I am afar from the pitiful arena and the distressed, and cannot be proud of ought, not even of my own tears.
What can an exiled son do for his starving people, and of what value unto them is the lamentation of an absent poet?
Were I an ear of corn grown in the earth of my country, the hungry child would pluck me and remove with my kernels the hand of Death form his soul. Were I a ripe fruit in the gardens of my country, the starving women would gather me and sustain life. Were I a bird flying the sky of my country, my hungry brother would hunt me and remove with the flesh of my body the shadow of the grave from his body. But, alas! I am not an ear of corn grown in the plains of Syria, nor a ripe fruit in the valleys of Lebanon; this is my disaster, and this is my mute calamity which brings humiliation before my soul and before the phantoms of the night. This is the painful tragedy which tightens my tongue and pinions my arms and arrests me usurped of power and of will and of action. This is the curse burned upon my forehead before God and man.
And oftentimes they say unto me, the disaster of your country is but naught to calamity of the world, and the tears and blood shed by your people are as nothing to the rivers of blood and tears pouring each day and night in the valleys and plains of the earth.”
Yes, but the death of my people is a silent accusation; it is a crime conceived by the heads of the unseen serpents. it is a sceneless tragedy. And if my people had attacked the despots and oppressors and died rebels, I would have said, “Dying for freedom is nobler than living in the shadow of weak submission, for he who embraces death with the sword of Truth in his hand will eternalize with the Eternity of Truth, for Life is weaker than Death and Death is weaker than Truth.
If my nation had partaken in the war of all nations and had died in the field of battle, I would say that the raging tempest had broken with its might the green branches; and strong death under the canopy of the tempest is nobler than slow perishment in the arms of senility. But there was no rescue from the closing jaws. My people dropped and wept with the crying angels.
If an earthquake had torn my country asunder and the earth had engulfed my people into its bosom, I would have said, “A great and mysterious law has been moved by the will of divine force, and it would be pure madness if we frail mortals endeavoured to probe its deep secrets.” But my people did not die as rebels; they were not killed in the field of battle; nor did the earthquake shatter my country and subdue them. Death was their only rescuer, and starvation their only spoils.
My people died on the cross. They died while their hands stretched toward the East and West, while the remnants of their eyes stared at the blackness of the firmament. They died silently, for humanity had closed its ears to their cry. They died because they did not befriend their enemy. They died because they loved their neighbours. They died because they placed trust in all humanity. They died because they did not oppress the oppressors. They died because they were the crushed flowers, and not the crushing feet. They died because they were peace makers. They perished from hunger in a land rich with milk and honey. They died because monsters of hell arose and destroyed all that their fields grew, and devoured the last provisions in their bins. They died because the vipers and sons of vipers spat out poison into the space where the Holy Cedars and the roses and the jasmine breathe their fragrance.
My people and your people, my Syrian Brothers, are dead. What can be done for those who are dying? Our lamentations will not satisfy their hunger, and our tears will not quench their thirst; what can we do to save them between the iron paws of hunger? My brother, the kindness which compels you to give a part of your life to any human who is in the shadow of losing his life is the only virtue which makes you worthy of the light of day and the peace of the night. Remember, my brother, that the coin which you drop into the withered hand stretching toward you is the only golden chain that binds your rich heart to the loving heart of God.
Gibran Khalil Gibran