This week’s choice is “Faces” by Kahlil Gibran which reminds us that a face can conceal or reveal.
I have seen a face with a thousand countenances, and a face that was but a single countenance as if held in a mould.Kahlil Gibran (1883—1931)
Poem 245. Faces
I have seen a face with a thousand countenances, and a face that was but a single countenance as if held in a mould.
I have seen a face whose sheen I could look through to the ugliness beneath, and a face whose sheen I had to lift to see how beautiful it was.
I have seen an old face much lined with nothing, and a smooth face in which all things were graven.
I know faces, because I look through the fabric my own eye weaves, and behold the reality beneath.
Anyone who has used internet dating sites has scrolled through a sea of faces—photographs of prospective dates: some are interesting, some are not; some are just odd—a close-up of a left eye and half a nostril isn’t a good basis to form an opinion on likely compatibility. I decided I would choose a poem about faces for this week and quickly found this short but interesting one by Kahlil Gibran.
There are just four lines, but each is fascinating to consider.
“I have seen a face with a thousand countenances”—we’re familiar with this idea: the actors who can simulate every human emotion in their facial expression and those rare individuals who can change their face to resemble another. This is counterbalanced by “a face that was but a single countenance as if held in a mould”—someone whose expression remains fixed through shock perhaps, or disease; literally a mask-like face where the eyes may move but the face never changes.
“…a face whose sheen I could look through to the ugliness beneath”—those who disguise their evil intentions behind fair looks and honeyed words are called out here, I think, but are countered by “a face whose sheen I had to lift to see how beautiful it was”—those who hide their good or noble nature behind a gruff or forbidding exterior: fiction is full of heroes like this. Aragorn, the heir to the throne of Gondor in The Lord of the Rings, hides his true nature behind the “sheen” of the disreputable and scruffy Strider who Sam distrusts though his master discerns the true nature of things:
“I think one of his spies would – well, seem fairer and feel fouler, if you understand.”
“I see,” laughed Strider, “I look foul and feel fair. Is that it?”The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien.
“…an old face much lined with nothing” hints at those whose age conceals little in the way of experience or wisdom, whereas “a smooth face in which all things are graven” makes me think of those children who have suffered through war, famine and deprivation of all kinds but whose faces betray little of the trauma they have undergone.
Finally, the eye turns inward and the poet explains that he knows about faces because he understands that his own mind has veils, but he is able to penetrate them and understands his own nature.
I like this poem because it seems simple but the idea of faces and what they conceal is quite profound.
- Watch Anfasia Zikr’s performance on YouTube.