Jalil Gibran: THE RETURN OF THE BELOVED
By nightfall the enemy fled with slashes of the sword and wounds of lance tips scarring their backs. Our heroes waved banners of triumph and chanted songs of victory to the cadence of their horses’ hoofs than drummed upon the stones of the valley.
The moon had already risen from behind Fam El Mizab, The mighty and lofty rocks seemed to ascend with the spirits of the people, and the forest of cedars to lie like a medal of honour upon the bosom of Lebanon.
They continued their march, and the moon shone upon their weapons. The distant cave echoed their songs of praise and victory, until they reached the foot of a slope. There they were arrested by the neighing of a horse standing among grey rocks as though carved from them.
Near the horse they found a corpse, and the earth on which he lay was attained with his blood. The leader of the troop shouted, “Show me the man’s sword and I will tell you who the owner is.”
Some of the horsemen dismounted and surrounded the dead man and then one said to the chief, “His fingers have taken too strong a hold on the hilt. It would be a shame to undo them.”
Another said, “The sword has been sheathed with escaping life that hides its metal.”
A third one added, “The blood has congealed on both the hand and the hilt and made them one piece.”
Whereupon the chief dismounted and walked to the corpse and said, “Raise his head and let the moon shine on his face so we may identify him.” The men did as ordered, and the face of the slain man appeared from behind the veil of Death showing the marks of valour an nobility. It was the face of a strong horseman, and it bespoke manhood. It was the face of a sorrowing and rejoicing man; the face of one who had met the enemy courageously and faced death smilingly; the face of a Lebanese hero who, on that day, had witnessed the triumph but had not lived to march and sing and celebrate the victory with his comrades.
As they removed the silk head-wrapper and cleaned the dust of battle from his pale face, the chief cried out, in agony, “This is the son of Assaaby, what a great loss!” And the men repeated that name, sighing. Then silence fell upon them, and their hearts, intoxicated with the wine of victory, sobered. For they had seen something greater than the glory of triumph, in the loss of a hero.
Like statues of marble they stood in that scene of dread, and their taut tongues were mute and voiceless. This is what death does to the souls of heroes. Weeping and lamentation are for women; and moans and cries for children. Nothing befits the sorrow of men of the sword save silence which grips the strong heart as the eagle’s talons grip the throat of its prey. It is that silence which rises above tears and wiling which, in its majesty, adds more awe and anguish to the misfortune; that silence which causes the soul to descend from the mountain-top into the abyss. It is the silence which proclaims the coming tempest. And when the tempest makes not its appearance, it is because the silence is stronger than the tempest.
They removed the raiment of the young hero to see where death had placed its iron claws. And the wounds appeared in his breast like speaking lips proclaiming, in the calmness of the night, the bravery of men.
The chief approached the corpse and dropped on his knees. Taking a closer look at the slain warrior, he found a scarf embroidered with gold threads tied around the arm. He recognized the hand that has spun its silk and the fingers that has woven its thread. He hid it under his raiment and withdrew slowly, hiding his stricken face with a trembling hand. Yet this trembling hand, with its might, had disjoined the heads of the enemy. Now it trembled because it had touched the edge of a scarf tied by loving fingers around the arm of a slain hero, who would return to her lifeless, borne upon the shoulders of his comrades.
While the leader’s spirit wavered, considering both the tyranny of death and the secrets of love, one of the men suggested, “Let us dig a grave for him under that oak tree so that its roots may drink from his blood and its branches may receive nourishment from his remains. It will again strength and become immortal and stand as a sign declaring to the hills and valleys his bravery and his might.”
Another man said, “Let us carry him to the forest of the cedars and bury him by the church. There his bones will be eternally guarded by the shadow of the Cross.”
And another said, “Bury him here where his blood is mingled with the earth. And let his sword remain in his right hand; plant his lance by his side and sly his horse over his grave and let his weapons be his cheer in his solitude.”
But another objected, “Do not bury a sword stained with the enemy blood, nor slay a steed that has withstood death in the battle field. Do not leave in the wilderness weapons accustomed to action and strength, but carry them to his relatives as a great and good inheritance.”
“Let us knee down by his side and pray the Nazarene’s prayers that God might forgive him and bless our victory,” said another.
“Let us raise him upon our shoulders and make our shield and lances a bier for him and circle again this valley of our victory singing the songs of triumph so that the lips of his wounds will smile before they are muffled by the earth of the grave,” said a comrade.
And another: “Let us mount him upon his charger and support him with the skulls of the dead enemy and gird him with his lance and bring him to the village a victor. He never yielded to death until he burdened it with the enemy’s souls.
Another one said, “Come, let us bury him at the foot of this mountain. The echo of the caves shall be his companion and the murmur of the brook his minstrel. His bones shall rest in a wilderness where the tread of the silenced night is light and gentle.”
Another objected, “no, do not leave him in this place, for here dwells tedium and solitude. But let us carry him to the burial-ground of the village. The spirits of our forefathers will be his comrades and will speak to him in the silenced night and relate to him tales of their wars and sagas of their glory.”
Then the chief walked to the centre and motioned them to silence. He sighed and said, “Do not annoy him with memories of war or repeat to the ears of his soul that hovers over us, the tales of swords and lances. Rather come and let us carry him calmly and silently to his birthplace, here a loving soul awaits his homecoming… a soul of a maiden awaiting his return from the battlefield. Let us return him to her, she my not be denied the sight of his face and the printing of a last sill upon his forehead.”
So they carried him upon their shoulders and walked silently with bent heads and downcast eyes. His sorrowful horse plodded behind them dragging its reins on the ground, uttering from time to time a desolate neighing echoed by the caves as if those caves had hearts and shared their grief.
Through the thorny path of the valley illuminated by a full moon, the procession of victory walked behind the cavalcade of Death and the spirit of Love led the way dragging his broken wings.
------------------------------------------------------------From Gibran’s Thoughts and Meditations