‘And When My Sorrow was Born’ by Kahlil Gibran was first published in The Madman: His Parables and Poems in 1918. It was this work which first exposed an American audience to the poet who would come to be known as the third most popular of all time. ‘And When My Sorrow was Born’ is composed of fifteen lines separated into varying stanzas of texts. Gibran is known for his long, narrative style of writing. These prose-like lines are arranged in sets ranging in length from four to one.
The narrative aspect of this piece is enhanced by Gibran’s choice to write from a first person point of view. Although one cannot assume the speaker is Gibran himself, this narrative perspective provides the reader with an intimate look into the speaker’s mind. This entire piece is based around the discovery of the moment in which someone’s “Sorrow” is born. The title hints at this eventuality but it does not come to pass until the end of the text. A reader will feel this climactic moment coming though as the speaker’s “Joy” is shot down time and again.
Summary of And When My Sorrow was Born
The poem begins with the speaker stating that in an instant “Joy” was born to him. He was so thrilled by its presence that he climbed onto his roof and shouted to the neighborhood. It was his intention to share with the world his new-found happiness. Unfortunately, no one noticed. Those he thought would come and celebrate with him never showed up.
Although disappointed, the speaker was not deterred. He returned to the same spot for the next seven months, declaring the “Joy” he was now in possession of. No matter what he did though, no one cared. Eventually, he became so worn down by the lack of response that he gave up. “Joy” was soon to leave him at this point. It was replaced by “Sorrow.”
Analysis of And When My Sorrow was Born
And when my Joy was born, I held it in my arms and stood on the
house-top shouting, “Come ye, my neighbours, come and see, for Joy
this day is born unto me. Come and behold this gladsome thing that
laugheth in the sun.”
In the first stanza of ‘And When My Sorrow was Born’, the speaker begins by describing that which sits in direct contrast with the title. Here, the “Joy” of the narrator is being “born.” It is important to note that the word “Joy” is capitalized throughout this piece. “Sorrow” is given the same treatment when it enters into the narrative in the last set of lines. This has been done in order to give the emotional state a feeling of sentience. It has a power that wouldn’t otherwise exist without it being utilized in this way.
The speaker is describing the precise time at which “Joy” came into his heart. There are no details as to what this “Joy” actually is or why it arrived. Instead, the narration focuses on the immediate reaction to its presence. The speaker holds the emotion in his arms and stands on the “house-top shouting.”
He is so overwhelmed by this new change in his circumstances that he feels compelled to share it with his neighbours. From his roof he shouts out to the surrounding streets, calling his neighbours to “come and see” the “Joy” that has come to him. The speaker describes it as a “gladsome thing.” It is tangible, something he can hold and cherish. Additionally, the “Joy” is so wonderful, it seems to “laugh…in the sun.”
But none of my neighbours came to look upon my Joy, and great was
And every day for seven moons I proclaimed my Joy from the
house-top—and yet no one heeded me. And my Joy and I were alone,
unsought and unvisited.
In the next sets of lines, the speaker gets his first taste of disappointment. After shouting from his rooftop he expected his neighbours to come willingly and quickly to his home. He was looking forward to sharing with them what had been “born” to him. This was not what occurred. Instead, no one “came to look upon [his] Joy.” The speaker does not give a reason for the neighbour’s lack of interest. He is too consumed with his own “astonishment” at their choice.
Although no one came the first time he spoke, he does not give up. Over the next “seven moons,” or months, he repeats the same routine. He climbs to his roof and tried to share his “Joy” with the world. He “proclaimed” its presence and goodness to any who would listen to him. Unfortunately, no one cared. Even after the seventh month “no one heeded” his words. There was no one who stopped and listened to him.
At this point, he is resigned to his solitude. The speaker realizes he and his “Joy” are going to have to exist alone together. Their lives will be “unsought and unvisited.” Throughout the following lines, as “Joy” begins to degrade, Gibran’s message becomes clear. That happiness cannot exist autonomously. One must have the company of others to be truly happy.
Then my Joy grew pale and weary because no other heart but mine
held its loveliness and no other lips kissed its lips.
Then my Joy died of isolation.
The following three lines describe how “Joy” began to die. Its birth was a wonderful occasion but the brief seven months that followed were a disappointment. This was all due to the fact that there were no other “hearts” to behold its “loveliness.” Happiness must be cared for and cherished, like a fragile companion. Its “lips” were not kissed by any others, aside from the speaker. This was not enough to maintain it.
The happiness that was born in the speaker’s heart died because he was alone. Although depressing, this is a perfect summary of the main theme of this piece.
And now I only remember my dead Joy in remembering my dead Sorrow.
But memory is an autumn leaf that murmurs a while in the wind and
then is heard no more.
In the final three lines, the speaker is looking back on the days he spent with “Joy.” He finds them difficult to recall. It is his “dead Joy” that is the clearest to him. Like the final memory of a body, his deceased and vanish “Joy” haunts him and his new companion, “dead Sorrow.”
In the next line, he states that his “memory” has slipped away from him in general. It is no longer easy for him to remember his own life. This is likely due to there being a lack of moments he actually wants to remember.
He compares it to an “autumn leaf” that is at once dying and flying in the wind. It disappears into the distance, and past, and then is never seen again. The speaker has been left with “Sorrow,” without “Joy” and without his happier memories.