‘The Perfect World’ by Kahlil Gibran is approximately a twenty-eight line poem that is written in free verse. There is no structure to either the rhyme or rhythm. Gibran’s works are consistently written in verse paragraphs. The lines are so long they run into one another and form long, structureless paragraphs of text. Some parts of the poem, such as the opening three lines are separated out, as if the Gibran wanted to put special emphasis on them. Others though, such as the section from about line 14-16, reads as a stream of consciousness. His thoughts flow quickly and overwhelm the reader with poignant images and powerful emotions.
Summary of The Perfect World
The poem begins with the speaker asking God, the protector of lost souls to watch over him. He is concerned for his own destiny and wants to know why he was created. The speaker does not see himself as being able to attain the high levels of order and structure that appear in the following twenty or so lines.
He begins by wondering over his own confused state and how he is supped to exist in-amongst those who have their whole lives figured. He sees the rest of the world as being made up of people who know what to feel, where they’re going, and how they’re going to get there. In contrast, his thoughts are confused and his emotions unpredictable.
As the poem progresses the speaker lays out an impossible standard of life. A perfect world, he believes, would be created if all people were always their best selves, worshiped God perfectly, and lived without conflict. By the end of the text, he has become somewhat desperate and perhaps depressed as he attempts to figure out how he can live as they do.
Analysis of The Perfect World
God of lost souls, thou who are lost amongst the gods, hear me:
Gentle Destiny that watchest over us, mad, wandering spirits, hear me:
I dwell in the midst of a perfect race, I the most imperfect.
The first line of ‘The Perfect World’ is a perfect introduction, and eventual conclusion, to the overall intended themes of ‘The Perfect World.’ It is in this line that the speaker informs the reader that the intended listener of the poem is the “God of lost souls.” With a few pieces of background information in regards to Gibran’s life, one comes to understand that he was Catholic and would likely have been referring to the Christian god. God stands for an endless number of principles in the Christian faith. At this moment the speaker is appealing to him as the one who looks over the lost within their own lives.
As will become clear in the following lines the speaker sees himself as among the “lost.” Given Gibran’s confessional approach to poetry, it is relatively safe to make the assumption that he is casting himself as the speaker.
This person is asking God, as well as “destiny” and the “wandering spirits” to watch over him and listen to what he has to say. “Destiny” is capitalized in order to make the force into something more embodied than it might ordinarily be considered. It has been given a greater agency in the world, as if it truly choosing the speaker’s path.
In the final line of this section, the speaker states that he sees himself as being “imperfect” among those with perfect lives. This is an extremely relatable sentiment— a common feature within Gibran’s work. His poetry appeals to such a wide audience because he is able to put into words emotions that impact a great deal of the population.
I, a human chaos, a nebula of confused elements, I move amongst finished worlds—peoples of complete laws and pure order, whose thoughts are assorted, whose dreams are arranged, and whose visions are enrolled and registered.
The next lines are a perfect example of a verse paragraph. They are poetic in nature but strung together to resemble prose. The speaker states, without exception that he is “human chaos.” He sees his life, his mind, and likely his emotions, as being a “nebula of confused elements.”
It is easy to imagine this state of mind. One’s thoughts and feelings seem to collide with one another and only impede one from figuring out an appropriate way to live. It is also very believable to think this speaker feels alone in this state of being. He thinks that everyone around him is completely in order. Their lives are ruled by “laws and pure order.” There is nothing in their dreams that is un-arranged and all their future plans are coming together without conflict.
Their virtues, O God, are measured, their sins are weighed, and even the countless things that pass in the dim twilight of neither sin nor virtue are recorded and catalogued.
Here days and night are divided into seasons of conduct and governed by rules of blameless accuracy.
To eat, to drink, to sleep, to cover one’s nudity, and then to be weary in due time.
To work, to play, to sing, to dance, and then to lie still when the clock strikes the hour.
The speaker goes on to tell God he knows that other people contain “virtues” or moral instincts that are “weighed” perfectly against their “sins.” They have also taken into consideration the things which don’t line up perfectly with “good” or “bad.” These “twilight” emotions and actions are also “recorded and catalogued.” The speaker is describing a type of mental and emotional order that is unattainable. This depicted state of being is inhuman.
The next two lines give the reader, and God, examples of what the speaker means when he says other’s lives are in order. These men and women sleep, eat, live and die when they are supposed to. They take joy when it is prudent and “lie still” when the clock “strikes” the appropriate hour.
To think thus, to feel thus much, and then to cease thinking and feeling when a certain star rises above yonder horizon.
To rob a neighbour with a smile, to bestow gifts with a graceful wave of the hand, to praise prudently, to blame cautiously, to destroy a sound with a word, to burn a body with a breath, and then to wash the hands when the day’s work is done.
The following sections of ‘The Perfect World’ are made up of the speaker listing out larger, more philosophical, and sometimes metaphorical ways that these perfect beings live. Their lives are so ordered and “conceived with forethought” that no emotions confront them. They are never surprised by a feeling or taken aback by one of their own thoughts.
In their everyday lives they move “prudently” and take no action without proper consideration. Everything from smiling at a “neighbour” and washing one’s hands at the end of the day is planned.
To love according to an established order, to entertain one’s best self in a preconceived manner, to worship the gods becomingly, to intrigue the devils artfully—and then to forget all as though memory were dead.
To fancy with a motive, to contemplate with consideration, to be happy sweetly, to suffer nobly—and then to empty the cup so that tomorrow may fill it again.
The following four lines conform to the same narrative pattern as the previous. They are also made up of (im)possible ways to move through the world. These patterns would be more organized than how the speaker lives. As one reads through these long lines it is important to remember the speaker sees himself as being the opposite of everything listed. It is not entirely clear how much he truly admires this way of life though. He might at times see order as something desirable, especially if one is lost But it is hard to imagine true joy coming from life this organized.
As the speaker states in the first line, even love is felt in an “established order.” This type of person would worship God perfectly and only ever live as their best self. Even when sins were committed they would be done so “artfully.” Another requirement of maintaining this kind of life is forgetting the past. Any choices, or mistakes, would be left behind as if “memory were dead.” There would be nothing to plague one beyond the present moment. This is reiterated in the next line when the speaker states that one’s cup would be filled and then emptied at the end of each day.
All these things, O God, are conceived with forethought, born with determination, nursed with exactness, governed by rules, directed by reason, and then slain and buried after a prescribed method. And even their silent graves that lie within the human soul are marked and numbered.
It is a perfect world, a world of consummate excellence, a world of supreme wonders, the ripest fruit in God’s garden, the master-thought of the universe.
As ‘The Perfect World’ nears its conclusion the speaker refers to God once more and says that everything he mentioned in the last (approximately) nine lines, was “born with determination and nursed with exactness.” These are the base desires of someone who is not lost. A “found” person would live in this manner and then lie in their grave at the end with their “soul…marked and numbered.”
If all of these attributes and impulses were combined together they would create for humanity a “perfect world…of consummate excellence and supreme wonders.” Only by living this way can one make the most of the fruit of God’s creation.
But why should I be here, O God, I a green seed of unfulfilled passion, a mad tempest that seeketh neither east nor west, a bewildered fragment from a burnt planet?
Why am I here, O God of lost souls, thou who art lost amongst the gods?
In the last three or so lines the speaker returns to his own life. His own problems and self-confessed “chaotic” existence are his main concern. He wonders, if everything he just stated is true, then “why should [he] be here?” He is only a “tempest” in the calm and an “unfulfilled passion” among those who know exactly what they care about and where they are going.
The final line is a reiteration, with a slight alteration, of the opening line of ‘The Perfect World’ . He asks God again why he was put on earth if he cannot conform to what he sees as being an ideal way to live.