“On Children” is a poem written by Kahlil Gibran that delves into the theme of parenthood and the relationship between parents and their children. In this poignant piece, Gibran reflects on the idea that children are not possessions but rather individuals with their own destinies. On Children poem explores the idea that parents are like bowmen, and their children are the arrows aiming for a future yet unknown. Read more 2nd PUC English Summaries.
On Children Summary
On Children Summary in English
‘On Children’ is an excerpt from ‘The Prophet’, one of Kahlil Gibran’s most popular works. ‘The Prophet1 includes twenty-six sermons on varied topics like Love, Marriage, Children, Houses, Clothes, Laws, Crime and Punishment, Buying and Selling, etc. The sermons are given by Almustafa who speaks in the persona of the poet.
‘Almustafa’ means the ‘chosen one’. The name also implies that he possesses spiritual knowledge and divine characteristics. Almustafa is a man of inner purity and is believed to be the ‘Perfect man’ or the universal man’.
In the opening sermon titled ‘The Coming of the Ship’, we learn that Almustafa has waited twelve years in the city of Orphalese for the ship that was to return and bear him back to the isle of his birth. The ship has arrived and he is about to go onboard. Before he boards the ship he is met by a woman named ‘Almitra’, who is a seeress. She prays to him to speak to the people of Orphalese about all that he has been shown about what lies between birth and death. Each of the 26 sermons is the reply given by Almustafa to all those who request him to speak about a particular topic.
‘On Children’ is one such sermon given by Almustafa to a woman holding a babe against her bosom, when she asks him to speak to the people ‘Of Children’. Almustafa begins his sermon with the opening line ‘Your children are not your children’.
In this imaginary conversation, there are fourteen lines of which five lines are devoted to enlightening the parents about what / who the children are and the remaining lines to explaining what role the parents should play in bringing up their children.
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
They have their own thoughts.
The speaker wants to make the parents aware that a child is a gift from the abundance of existence and it is eternal life itself. Just as we have seen eternal life flowing through mountains, through forests and through plains, children are born as sons and daughters as Life’s longing for itself. Life longs to reproduce itself, and we are its servants who carry out that master plan.
Parents do not create them and hence parents cannot possess them. Parents may have brought them to this world because they have been chosen to serve as ‘passage’ or vehicle to bring the children to this world. They are only the medium through which life expresses itself. Children are closer to the very source of life than old people. Furthermore, children have their own thoughts because they have the free will to do as they please.
In the next few lines, the speaker educates parents as to how they should treat their children.
You may give them your love, but not your thoughts
You may house their bodies but not their souls
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
Almustafa tells parents that they can only act as ‘Stewards’ and their role is one of stewardship’; parents should not treat their children as their puppets but shower their love as much as they can and take good care of them as we do to someone who is given to our charge. Parents should take care of their needs only and should not impose their thoughts and ideas on them. They should not do so because our children belong to the future whereas we belong to the past generation.
As parents, our days are over. Parents may try to be like their children but their past acts like a barrier. On the contrary, children belong to the future. Since parents belong to the yesterdays, and their children belong to the tomorrows, parents cannot conceive of their future. Hence they should not burden their children with their dead past, their scriptures and their saints. The children will have their own scriptures and saints, parents should only give them as much love as they can. The present is a meeting point but also a point of departure. Every day the gap between parents and their children will become bigger and bigger.
And so, parents should not thrust their past as an inheritance on their children. The children have their own future and we should let them grow according to their own potential. The children are closer to existence than we are. Since life looks forward and does not linger on, parents should let their children build their future, realize their potential and resist the temptation to force their children to be like their carbon copy.
In the next few lines, Almustafa, the speaker, tries to give a visual account of how we should play our role as parents and how we can win God’s love:
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so also He loves the bow that is stable.
Almustafa tells the parents that God uses parents as his instrument to send ‘living arrows’ to the earth. God or the Supreme Being is the archer, the parents are the bows and the children are his living arrows. An arrow does not have its own power nor does it create its own path of direction. Both these are provided by God. The archer is God and the path is infinity. Just like the archer, God decides the mark on the infinite path for each child as its destination and using the parents as bows, shoots the arrows. Like an archer, God bends the bows (which are the parents) testing them for stability. The bows must help the arrows to reach their destination.
Existence wants parents to bend like a bow before their own children because they have to travel far and they have to give them strength. Parents should not despise the tests God provides in the image of children, for these tests only make God love the parents more. The speaker wishes us to know that existence loves both parents and children because parents are also children of the same existence. God loves not only parents who are stable, but he also loves children who as arrows will be bows in the future and shoot their own arrows.
At the end of the sermon, the speaker says that while the archer loves the arrows (the children), “He also loves the bow that is stable”, which presents before the reader a paradox. As parents involved in the care of children, Gibran appears to be asking us to be strong and bendable at the same time.
This may seem like a contradictory idea, but if we examine the metaphor of the bow, it begins to make sense. The bow has to be able to withstand the force of its string being drawn back. To do this without snapping in two, the bow also has to have strength. This tensile strength allows the arrow being held on the string to be released with optimal energy as it creates balance through resistance and tension, not unlike the kind of discipline we try to adjudicate in the making and breaking of boundaries for our children either at home or in the classroom. Such discipline uses rules and regulations as guides that will hopefully enhance a child’s sense of freedom by engendering a balanced sense of responsibility within him or her as well.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies.
So He loves also the bow that is stable.
These lines imply that God, the archer, loves parents who give their children roots to grow in and the freedom to fly when their time has come to do so. He loves those who slowly step back and set them free as their children grow up, encouraging them to learn from their own experiences and to dream their own dreams. He expects parents to do all they can to help their children to fulfill their own highest potential.
The archer expects wise parents to tell the children in their care that they are the children of God and that therefore each child is as precious and unique as the other. Further, God expects parents to respect their children because they know that even when a child is still living in a smaller body than their own, it has nonetheless come into their world as a frilly developed soul and spirit in its own right, who may have a long history of evolution behind it that could have taken more lifetimes than those of its parents.
God expects wise parents to tell their children that they have come into this life to learn, evolve, and grow some more through their own experiences. When their children go to school, wise parents point out to them that they are learning for themselves and for life itself, not only for this lifetime but for Eternity. He expects wise parents to explain to their children the laws of the universe and that because of this, whatever anyone sends out to life has to return to them. Finally, God expects parents to teach children by their good example.
In conclusion, we may say that in this sermon (‘On Children’) Gibran illustrates how love works in the intimate relationship of parenthood.