Today I read Kahlil Gibran’s poem “On Children” for the first time. He has a powerful voice, laden with authority, lifted by lyricism and powered by belief in a universe that has a purpose.
His image of children as living arrows and parents as the stable bow, bending to the will of a divine, or perhaps cosmic, archer is original and compelling. The language has the kind of beauty that makes you long to believe that the words are true.
The poem seems to me to be part admonition, part absolution, and part abnegation. Parents are admonished not to try and own their children or shape them in their own image, absolved from blame for where their children end up and asked to abnegate responsibility for setting their children’s path in life, renouncing their will in favour of the aim of the cosmic bowman.
I can see the comfort in these thoughts. They offer peace at the price only of maintaining a serene stability through a submission to a higher power.
I have never been a parent so I can’t speak to the role of bow. Like everyone else, I have been and am perhaps still, a living arrow.
Fine as the image is, it does not match my experience. I have never felt myself to be on a trajectory, divinely set or otherwise. My parents did their best and then they let me go. There was release but not propulsion. My experience is closer to that of a feather shed from a wing than of an arrow shot from a bow. I have drifted rather than flown through life.
Perhaps this is why I find the idea of the archer so unattractive. It’s not just that I don’t believe in an archer, it’s more that, if I found one, I’d like to break its fingers and make it leave us all alone.
Yet there are things in this poem that speak to me:
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.”
This calls to the biological determinist in me, as does:
“You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday”.
It is with the Archer that I part company with this poem’s truth.
I see the innate desire of life for more life, for adapting to now rather than clinging to yesterday. These are the basics of survival.
Yet when it comes, not only to taking aim, but letting the universe take aim for you, I demure.