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I love Defeat (by Kahlil Gibran) but I don't understand these lines in the fourth stanza of this poem:

Defeat, my Defeat, my bold companion,
You shall hear my songs and my cries and my silences,
And none but you shall speak to me of the beating of wings,
And urging of seas,
And of mountains that burn in the night,

And you alone shall climb my steep and rocky soul.

Please could somebody help me understand what this could mean? Thank you.

I guess it means that only in our own defeat can we really understand and feel the depths of our being. This would be consistent with what I feel when I read the 'urging of seas' and 'mountains that burn in the night' but what about 'the beating of wings'- what could that mean?

Thank you

  • It's poetry, which means you the reader get to choose what it "means" to you. Personally, I read "beating of wings" as encompassing all activity by living things (but particularly, the aspirational actions of humans, cf Icarus), where "the urging of seas" represents the constant rhythm of nature (not just tides). And I think of "mountains that burn in the night" as standing for all natural disasters when Nature gets out of kilter (earthquakes, meteor strikes, tsunami, etc., not just volcanoes). – FumbleFingers Jun 29 at 11:40
  • ...but someone else might read "the urging of the seas" as a kind of "call of the wild" - specifically, the kind of urge that would make someone like Sir Walter Raleigh sail off and discover potatoes for generations as yet unborn to eat. – FumbleFingers Jun 29 at 11:45
  • I'm seeing what it could mean now so thank you very much – Mr Pringle Jun 29 at 14:33
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Great verse!

"My companion" castes Defeat as his old friend, one he is familiar with. He looks forward to sharing his songs, cries and silences with his familiar friend.

No one but his pal, Defeat is allowed to taunt him with the sounds of wings beating; meaning no one else is allowed to tease him with the idea of escape by flight.

No one else may tease him with the idea of escape over the vast seas or over mountain ranges that he might attempt.

And you alone shall climb my steep and rocky soul; Only you shall know my difficult and troubled soul. He is giving up and having done with it. No more fighting and will have no one but Defeat as his friend, taking it pretty hard.

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I realise this is a late response, but this is one of my favourite poems, so I thought I'd give my 2 cents.

When he refers to "My Defeat" he's humanizing failure as his "old companion" -- this being the overarching theme (that our failures are an intrinsic part of us). As opposed to defining what we can't do, failure shapes who we become.

Poetry's always open to different interpretations, but here's my own personal take of your highlighted lines...

You can view these three things as:

  • The beating of wings = Peace (wings being symbolic of joy and freedom)
  • The urging of seas = Challenge (the open sea being symbolic of journey and intrepidity)
  • Mountains that burn in the night = Danger (fire being symbolic of... well, disaster)

So:

  • My failures define my happiness and triumphs
  • It's from my failures that I draw courage
  • It's my failures that inform me of where dangers and threats lie

That interpretation's also in-beat with the preceding line: "You shall hear my songs (when I'm up) and my cries (when I'm trying) and my silences (when I'm beat)"

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  • Could you perhaps elaborate more on why you believe those symbolism you do – North Læraðr Sep 14 at 20:24
  • Sure, and again this is just my interpretation. We already see use of 'classical symbolism' earlier in the poem. "Trapped by withering laurels" a reference to the laurels worn by victors and/or rulers. Classically-speaking: flying and wings were representative of peace, freedom and divinity; ancient epics always depicted sea voyages as a feat of heroic courage and intrepidity; stories of fire centred around death and torture (but interestingly, also rebirth). I don't think it's worth looking into it too much beyond that, as Gibran probably only had this surface-level symbolism in mind. – Sam Sep 15 at 10:03

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