To you, Sultan, who are the prisoner translated from the Arabic story of Khalil Gibran

I am not anxious because of you, O, King, for you are the real prisoner; my soul has escaped your dungeon. I do not suffer the scourge of feeling imprisoned within the frame of my flesh. I am not doomed to squat in fear of my terrors produced in my own imagination, to suffer a turbulence of mind before the eventuality of calamities behooves the harpy daughters of jackals who hunger for disaster. Resignation, like that you feign, to an inevitable catastrophe for those chained and locked in a prison would only earn the ridicule of the gaoler. You sham peace of mind even though your soul is buried within your flesh. Despite your cant, out of spite and envy, you are determined to ensure I am locked behind bars among your slaves. The crucial difference between us is the chimera of a dream where you are the dreamer and I am the dream; but I am more real, constructed on a giant spirit. My soul is strong enough to construct its way into a happy exile where I will have found a place for my family and a country that I can love. Yet you are reduced to sitting on your throne, forced to be patient as you are haunted by the fantasies that terrify you, by the numbers of those you have persecuted, hosts beyond measure.
What does it avail you to hide from sleep, wakeful in the light of day? You cannot triumph over sleep. Even when wakeful, the accusations of those you wronged echo in your ears when wakefulness and exhaustion do not suffice to deafen the ghosts that live on in darkness of your soul. But when you submit and look into your crippled heart, you cannot find the ghosts to exorcise. You encounter only a coward, a copy of yourself stands before you, petrified, weak and vulnerable, his hands shackled, among the others he has immured in iron cages.
Behold, O mighty King look at the prisoners within the walls of your prison. Your subjects and your warders conform to the law of the jungle and the desert, not to the law of man. Even there you can find in the faces of some thirsting for opportunities, to extort from the weak among them the little they have of value; in their turn, the vulnerable cringe like cornered rabbits, while the others circle them like hungry foxes ready to kill their prey. Your subjects and your warders conform to law of the jungle and the desert, not to the law of man, and not to your law, even in the precincts of your palace. Even there, the more ruthless scheme to entrap their miserable, fellow prisoners with the cunning, twisted wisdom of snakes.
Look upon the human filth that has rotted in your dungeon, become like rancid pork, flesh that is crawling with vermin either flesh; the skin of the inmates is calloused, but with filth and neglect, not with work. Yet there is a meat vendor who visits them, who brays like a foolish donkey, but he still lives his life like two. For he touts his meat like a jealous crow, reluctant to let go his prize; he sniffs at the flesh as if it were manna from Heaven and sells each slice to his eager customers. Those who buy it turn cooks, removing the bristles and prepare their meal with zest.
See, O Sultan the flaming fire. Look at those palaces filled with lackeys who bend their knees. The rooves are decked with ostentatious tiles made tawdry by the walls of stars in the sky that separate them from the sun, that enclose you within your petty vanity. The wealth you have seized, the monuments you have erected, will turn to dust. The evidence of your prosperity is hidden and worthless in the dark caves where you treasure it. Your wealth and power are no more valuable than black-grey cinders swept into corners, once it has been engulfed and consumed in columns of black smoke. The symbols of your majesty are worthless compared to the joy of young love, the happiness that comes from having a babe in the crib by the side of the humble marriage bed- a secret easily discovered in the humblest of fairy stories and romances.
And see, even outside the prison walls, O noble captive, those winding streets and narrow alleys as dangerous as valleys in the wilderness infested by bandits where caravans transit. The thieves who live within the alleys are just as dangerous, so that any who venture into the lanes find that they are in a battleground, confronted on each side by menace. Their lives are a constant conflict where your subjects must struggle without swords. They grapple against their ravagers for their lives, like domestic animals without fangs against savage predators. Your realm is a jungle of terrors, a storm of humanity in violent misery; but their lives are more precious to them than yours is to you.
Clearly, the odious wolves who have perfected their methods over centuries come to rob what others have bought. The tricks and lies employed by the rogues who cheat your subjects have been polished by traditions of chicanery, that can overcome the best and the strongest. The innocents who need your protection are no match for the lion kings who skirt their prey; for the claws of eagles as they reconnoitre their quarry; for the hyenas, the scorpions and frogs that will come out to feed on the mangled remains. You would be happier if you had protected your subjects rather than punish them with capricious injustice.
In these words, my soul has unburdened itself; they are the words of your prisoner who has stood straight to make his stand. By these words I have dared to expound on my grievances before you with impunity, even before your throne. I have described to you how it is that your heart cannot be elated by your throne. There would be more comfort for you if you abandoned the seat of your power. The prison warden has more peace among his submissive prisoners than you can have in your palace, plagued by unseen enemies and a sense of failure to your people whom you incarcerate to hide your impotence. I have been a messenger to you from petty criminals, the men turned beasts who have forsaken honest speech to escape hunger or the freedom to think for a sip of cool drink. Farewell, for now I take my departure to meet the beloved giant who lives in the sky, one that I could not meet in this strange world. But he will welcome me into a world where the spirits of poets live in happy fellowship.

 

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