Transcendence, Mood, and Meaning: Kahlil Gibran’s “On Beauty”

And a poet said, ‘Speak to us of Beauty.’


Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless she herself be your way and your guide?


And how shall you speak of her except she be the weaver of your speech?


The aggrieved and the injured say, ‘Beauty is kind and gentle.


Like a young mother half-shy of her own glory she walks among us.’


And the passionate say, ‘Nay, beauty is a thing of might and dread.


Like the tempest she shakes the earth beneath us and the sky above us.’


The tired and the weary say, ‘beauty is of soft whisperings. She speaks in our spirit.


Her voice yields to our silences like a faint light that quivers in fear of the shadow.’


But the restless say, ‘We have heard her shouting among the mountains,


And with her cries came the sound of hoofs, and the beating of wings and the roaring of lions.’


At night the watchmen of the city say, ‘Beauty shall rise with the dawn from the east.’


And at noontide the toilers and the wayfarers say, ‘We have seen her leaning over the earth from the windows of the sunset.’


In winter say the snow-bound, ‘She shall come with the spring leaping upon the hills.’


And in the summer heat the reapers say, ‘We have seen her dancing with the autumn leaves, and we saw a drift of snow in her hair.’


All these things have you said of beauty.


Yet in truth you spoke not of her but of needs unsatisfied,


And beauty is not a need but an ecstasy.


It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth,


But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted.


It is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear,

But rather an image you see though you close your eyes and a song you hear though you shut your ears.


It is not the sap within the furrowed bark, nor a wing attached to a claw,


But rather a garden for ever in bloom and a flock of angels for ever in flight.


People of Orphalese, beauty is life when life unveils her holy face.


But you are life and you are the veil.


Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.


But you are eternity and you are the mirror.



Prompt: Read the following poem carefully. Then write a well-organized essay in which you analyze how the poet uses language to describe the scene and to convey mood and meaning.



Our concept of what constitutes the beautiful has changed over time. Ideals of beauty are projected onto the world around us; beauty has been interpreted and reinterpreted to suit societal needs. In his poem, “On Beauty”, Kahlil Gibran develops a definition of beauty intended to dismantle narrow beliefs on the subject while creating a mystical and dream-like quality through the description of the various flawed concepts the people of Orphalese held. Essentially, the spiritual nature of the atmosphere—created by the use of imagery—serves to reinforce the importance of embracing beauty as being intrinsic to the present rather than to personal desire. The transcendental mood, along with the intended purpose of the poem, is conveyed through the personification of beauty and the sound devices within the poem.


Throughout the poem, beauty is given female pronouns when personified; initially, this is intended to ease into a more atypical image of beauty by using the familiarity of beauty as being a feminine concept. Gibran’s establishment and subsequent subversion of the feminine archetype is apparent in the initial presentation of beauty as “kind and gentle” and then as “a thing of might and dread”. Maintaining the use of the pronoun “she” indicates his intent to describe several versions of beauty that oppose each other. Beauty, therefore, presents itself as a dream-like woman with unique attributes to each of the “the passionate”, “the tired and weary”, “the watchmen”, and so on. An idealistic dream is created through this use of imagery in the various descriptions of beauty; because all of the imagery is initially rooted in worldly qualities such as a “tempest” that “shakes the earth”, a link is established between beauty and the concept of “Mother Earth”. This develops the idea that beauty is a provider, meant to serve one’s needs – in turn creating a mood of idyllic indulgence; in other words, beauty becomes secondary to one’s individual desires. The vividness of each of these ideals of beauty is central to the mood and meaning of this poem; these different dreams are merely that, ideals, and do not embrace the concept of beauty for its own sake.


Euphonic sounds in the poem are used to reveal the “true” nature of beauty. The scene of beauty presented by the prophet is one of holy, angelic beauty—beauty is “a flock of angels for ever in flight.” Gibran creates an ethereal mood through the soft “f” and vowel sounds, which in turn generate the trance-like feel of the prophet’s words. This transcendence of the initial views of beauty that were presented continues in the next line, which states that “beauty is life when life unveils her holy face” – the continued use of soft sounds to develop abstract imagery contrasts with the concrete images and harsher sounds used by the people of Orphalese to describe beauty. Through this juxtaposition, the meaning of the poem is revealed; beauty is inherent to a state of mind and to one’s understanding of the world, rather than to one’s surrounding. This idea is further explored by the harmonious sounds of “life” and “veil”, which serve to connect the two concepts and create an image of mystery. Thus, the mystical, intangible, and tempting aspect of beauty is revealed, and beauty is shown to not be a need, but an ecstatic experience—something that will allow one to transcend their physical experiences and achieve enlightenment.


Khalil Gibran, in his poem “On Beauty”, attempts to deconstruct simplistic views on beauty by suggesting a broader, all-encompassing connotation of the topic. Through the personification of beauty and the use of sound devices, Gibran develops a transcendental mood to amplify the universality of his perspective; beauty cannot be objectified or envisioned—it must be understood, felt. By overriding the narrow views of the people of Orphalese, Gibran’s portrayal of a scene of beauty is enhanced, thereby reinforcing the meaning of the poem.


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