Kahlil Gibran (Arabic pronunciation: [xaˈliːl ʒiˈbrɑːn]; born Gubran Kahlil Gubran, in academic contexts often spelled Jubrān Kahlil Jubrān,:217:255 Jibrān Khalīl Jibrān,:217:559 or Jibrān Xalīl Jibrān;:189 Arabic جبران خليل جبران , J) also known as Khalil Gibran, was a Lebanese American artist, poet, and writer. Born in the town of Bsharri in modern-day Lebanon (then part of the Ottoman Mount Lebanon mutasarrifate), as a young man he emigrated with his family to the United States where he studied art and began his literary career. He is chiefly known in the English speaking world for his 1923 book The Prophet, an early example of inspirational fiction including a series of philosophical essays written in poetic English prose. The book sold well despite a cool critical reception, and became extremely popular in the 1960s counterculture. Gibran is the third best-selling poet of all time, behind Shakespeare and Lao-Tzu.
Gibran was born to a Maronite Catholic family from the historical town of Bsharri in northern Lebanon. His mother Kamila, daughter of a priest, was thirty when he was born; his father Kahlil was her third husband. As a result of his family's poverty, Gibran received no formal schooling during his youth. However, priests visited him regularly and taught him about the Bible, as well as the Arabic and Syriac languages. Gibran's father initially worked in an apothecary but, with gambling debts he was unable to pay, he went to work for a local Ottoman-appointed administrator.
Around 1891, extensive complaints by angry subjects led to the administrator being removed and his staff being investigated. Gibran's father was imprisoned for embezzlement, and his family's property was confiscated by the authorities. Kamila Gibran decided to follow her brother to the United States. Although Gibran's father was released in 1894, Kamila remained resolved and left for New York on June 25, 1895, taking Kahlil, his younger sisters Mariana and Sultana, and his elder half-brother Peter(/Bhutros/Butrus).
In the United States
The Gibrans settled in Boston's South End, at the time the second largest Syrian/Lebanese-American community in the United States. Due to a mistake at school, he was registered as Kahlil Gibran.
His mother began working as a seamstress peddler, selling lace and linens that she carried from door to door. Gibran started school on September 30, 1895. School officials placed him in a special class for immigrants to learn English. Gibran also enrolled in an art school at a nearby settlement house. Through his teachers there, he was introduced to the avant-garde Boston artist, photographer, and publisher Fred Holland Day, who encouraged and supported Gibran in his creative endeavors. A publisher used some of Gibran's drawings for book covers in 1898.
Gibran's mother, along with his elder brother Peter, wanted him to absorb more of his own heritage rather than just the Western aesthetic culture he was attracted to, so at the age of fifteen, Gibran returned to his homeland to study at a Maronite-run preparatory school and higher-education institute in Beirut, called Al-Hikma (La Sagesse). He started a student literary magazine with a classmate and was elected "college poet". He stayed there for several years before returning to Boston in 1902, coming through Ellis Island (a second time) on May 10. Two weeks before he got back, his sister Sultana died of tuberculosis at the age of 14. The next year, Peter died of the same disease and his mother died of cancer. His sister Marianna supported Gibran and herself by working at a dressmaker’s shop.
Art and Poetry
Gibran held his first art exhibition of his drawings in 1904 in Boston, at Day's studio. During this exhibition, Gibran met Mary Elizabeth Haskell, a respected headmistress ten years his senior. The two formed an important friendship that lasted the rest of Gibran’s life. Though publicly discreet, their correspondence reveals an exalted intimacy. Haskell influenced not only Gibran’s personal life, but also his career. She introduced him to Charlotte Teller, a journalist,and Emilie Michel (Micheline), a French teacher, who accepted to pose for him as a model and became close friends. In 1908, Gibran went to study art in Paris for two years. While there he met his art study partner and lifelong friend Youssef Howayek. While most of Gibran's early writings were in Arabic, most of his work published after 1918 was in English. His first book for the publishing company Alfred A. Knopf, in 1918, was The Madman, a slim volume of aphorisms and parables written in biblical cadence somewhere between poetry and prose. Gibran also took part in the New York Pen League, also known as the "immigrant poets" (al-mahjar), alongside important Lebanese-American authors such as Ameen Rihani, Elia Abu Madi and Mikhail Naimy, a close friend and distinguished master of Arabic literature, whose descendants Gibran declared to be his own children, and whose nephew, Samir, is a godson of Gibran's.
Much of Gibran's writings deal with Christianity, especially on the topic of spiritual love. But his mysticism is a convergence of several different influences :
Christianity, Islam, Sufism, Hinduism and theosophy. He wrote : "You are my brother and I love you. I love you when you prostrate yourself in your mosque, and kneel in your church and pray in your synagogue. You and I are sons of one faith - the Spirit." Juliet Thompson, one of Gibran's acquaintances, reported several anecdotes relating to Gibran: She recalls Gibran met `Abdu'l-Bahá, the leader of the Bahá’í Faith at the time of his visit to the United States, circa 1911–1912. Barbara Young, in "This Man from Lebanon: A Study of Khalil Gibran", records Gibran was unable to sleep the night before meeting `Abdu'l-Bahá who sat for a pair of portraits. Thompson reports Gibran saying that all the way through writing of "Jesus, The Son of Man", he thought of `Abdu'l-Bahá. Years later, after the death of `Abdu'l-Bahá, there was a viewing of the movie recording of `Abdu'l-Bahá – Gibran rose to talk and in tears, proclaimed an exalted station of `Abdu'l-Bahá and left the event weeping.
His poetry is notable for its use of formal language, as well as insights on topics of life using spiritual terms. Gibran's best-known work is The Prophet, a book composed of twenty-six poetic essays. The book became especially popular during the 1960s with the American counterculture and New Age movements. Since it was first published in 1923, The Prophet has never been out of print. Having been translated into more than forty languages, it was one of the bestselling books of the twentieth century in the United States.
One of his most notable lines of poetry in the English-speaking world is from "Sand and Foam" (1926), which reads: "Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it so that the other half may reach you". This line was used by John Lennon and placed, though in a slightly altered form, into the song "Julia" from The Beatles' 1968 album The Beatles (a.k.a. "The White Album").
Gibran was by no means a politician. He used to say : "I am not a politician, nor do I wish to become one" and "Spare me the political events and power struggles, as the whole earth is my homeland and all men are my fellow countrymen". Gibran called for the adoption of Arabic as a national language of Syria, considered from a geographic point of view, not as a political entity. When Gibran met `Abdu'l-Bahá in 1911–12, who traveled to the United States partly to promote peace, Gibran admired the teachings on peace but argued that "young nations like his own" be freed from Ottoman control. Gibran also wrote the famous "Pity The Nation" poem during these years which was posthumously published in The Garden of the Prophet.
When the Ottomans were finally driven out of Syria during World War I, Gibran's exhilaration was manifested in a sketch called "Free Syria" which appeared on the front page of al-Sa'ih's special "victory" edition. Moreover, in a draft of a play, still kept among his papers, Gibran expressed great hope for national independence and progress. This play, according to Khalil Hawi, "defines Gibran's belief in Syrian nationalism with great clarity, distinguishing it from both Lebanese and Arab nationalism, and showing us that nationalism lived in his mind, even at this late stage, side by side with internationalism."
Death and Legacy
Gibran died in New York City on April 10, 1931: the cause was determined to be cirrhosis of the liver and tuberculosis. Before his death, Gibran expressed the wish that he be buried in Lebanon. This wish was fulfilled in 1932, when Mary Haskell and his sister Mariana purchased the Mar Sarkis Monastery in Lebanon, which has since become the Gibran Museum. The words written next to Gibran's grave are "a word I want to see written on my grave: I am alive like you, and I am standing beside you. Close your eyes and look around, you will see me in front of you ...."
Gibran willed the contents of his studio to Mary Haskell. There she discovered her letters to him spanning twenty-three years. She initially agreed to burn them because of their intimacy, but recognizing their historical value she saved them. She gave them, along with his letters to her which she had also saved, to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library before she died in 1964. Excerpts of the over six hundred letters were published in "Beloved Prophet" in 1972.
Mary Haskell Minis (she wed Jacob Florance Minis in 1923) donated her personal collection of nearly one hundred original works of art by Gibran to the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia in 1950. Haskell had been thinking of placing her collection at the Telfair as early as 1914. In a letter to Gibran, she wrote "I am thinking of other museums ... the unique little Telfair Gallery in Savannah, Ga., that Gari Melchers chooses pictures for. There when I was a visiting child, form burst upon my astonished little soul." Haskell's gift to the Telfair is the largest public collection of Gibran’s visual art in the country, consisting of five oils and numerous works on paper rendered in the artist’s lyrical style, which reflects the influence of symbolism. The future American royalties to his books were willed to his hometown of Bsharri, to be "used for good causes".
A Lover's Call Xxvii
Where are you, my beloved? Are you in that little
Paradise, watering the flowers who look upon you
As infants look upon the breast of their mothers?
Or are you in your chamber where the shrine of
Virtue has been placed in your honor, and upon
Which you offer my heart and soul as sacrifice?
Or amongst the books, seeking human knowledge,
While you are replete with heavenly wisdom?
Oh companion of my soul, where are you? Are you
Praying in the temple? Or calling Nature in the
Field, haven of your dreams?
Are you in the huts of the poor, consoling the
Broken-hearted with the sweetness of your soul, and
Filling their hands with your bounty?
You are God's spirit everywhere;
You are stronger than the ages.
Do you have memory of the day we met, when the halo of
You spirit surrounded us, and the Angels of Love
Floated about, singing the praise of the soul's deed?
Do you recollect our sitting in the shade of the
Branches, sheltering ourselves from Humanity, as the ribs
Protect the divine secret of the heart from injury?
Remember you the trails and forest we walked, with hands
Joined, and our heads leaning against each other, as if
We were hiding ourselves within ourselves?
Recall you the hour I bade you farewell,
And the Maritime kiss you placed on my lips?
That kiss taught me that joining of lips in Love
Reveals heavenly secrets which the tongue cannot utter!
That kiss was introduction to a great sigh,
Like the Almighty's breath that turned earth into man.
That sigh led my way into the spiritual world,
Announcing the glory of my soul; and there
It shall perpetuate until again we meet.
I remember when you kissed me and kissed me,
With tears coursing your cheeks, and you said,
"Earthly bodies must often separate for earthly purpose,
And must live apart impelled by worldly intent.
"But the spirit remains joined safely in the hands of
Love, until death arrives and takes joined souls to God.
"Go, my beloved; Love has chosen you her delegate;
Over her, for she is Beauty who offers to her follower
The cup of the sweetness of life.
As for my own empty arms, your love shall remain my
Comforting groom; you memory, my Eternal wedding."
Where are you now, my other self? Are you awake in
The silence of the night? Let the clean breeze convey
To you my heart's every beat and affection.
Are you fondling my face in your memory? That image
Is no longer my own, for Sorrow has dropped his
Shadow on my happy countenance of the past.
Sobs have withered my eyes which reflected your beauty
And dried my lips which you sweetened with kisses.
Where are you, my beloved? Do you hear my weeping
From beyond the ocean? Do you understand my need?
Do you know the greatness of my patience?
Is there any spirit in the air capable of conveying
To you the breath of this dying youth? Is there any
Secret communication between angels that will carry to
You my complaint?
Where are you, my beautiful star? The obscurity of life
Has cast me upon its bosom; sorrow has conquered me.
Sail your smile into the air; it will reach and enliven me!
Breathe your fragrance into the air; it will sustain me!
Where are you, me beloved?
Oh, how great is Love!
And how little am I!
“You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts.”
“If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. If they dont, they never were.”
“Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky, We fell them down and turn them into paper, That we may record our emptiness.”
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
“Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”
“One day you will ask me which is more important? My life or yours? I will say mine and you will walk away not knowing that you are my life.”
“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
“Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.”
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Lifes longing for itself”
“I have found both freedom and safety in my madness; the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.”
“The timeless in you is aware of lifes timelessness. And knows that yesterday is but todays memory and tomorrow is todays dream.”
“I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers.”
“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.”
“And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair”
“We are all like the bright moon, we still have our darker side.”
“No human relation gives one possession in another—every two souls are absolutely different. In friendship or in love, the two side by side raise hands together to find what one cannot reach alone.”
“It takes a minute to have a crush on someone, an hour to like someone, and a day to love someone... but it takes a lifetime to forget someone.”
“Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need.”
“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”
“Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.” But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.”
“Hearts united in pain and sorrow will not be separated by joy and happiness. Bonds that are woven in sadness are stronger than the ties of joy and pleasure. Love that is washed by tears will remain eternally pure and faithful.”
“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”
“I AM IGNORANT of absolute truth. But I am humble before my ignorance and therein lies my honor and my reward.”
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding... And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy”
“To belittle, you have to be little.”
“We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them.”
“The Reality of The Other Person Lies Not In What He Reveals To You, But What He Cannot Reveal To You. Therefore, If You Would Understand Him, Listen Not To What He Says, But Rather To What He Does Not Say.”
“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the greatest intention.”
“Love one another, but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.”
“You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might pray also in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.”
“Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity.”
“Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.”
“You may forget with whom you laughed, but you will never forget with whom you wept.”
“Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror.”
“I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit.”
“Solitude has soft, silky hands, but with strong fingers it grasps the heart and makes it ache with sorrow.”
“When you part from your friend, you grieve not; For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.”
“To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to.”
“Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.”
“The appearance of things changes according to the emotions; and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves.”
“Love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation”
“They deem me mad because I will not sell my days for gold; and I deem them mad because they think my days have a price.”
“If you reveal your secrets to the wind, you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees.”
“I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.”
“In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things, does the heart find its morning and is refreshed.”
“My loneliness was born when men praised my talkative faults and blamed my silent virtues.”
“Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh and the greatness which does not bow before children.”
“The optimist sees the rose and not its thorns; the pessimist stares at the thorns, oblivious to the rose.”
“Ones own religion is after all a matter between oneself and ones Maker and no one elses.”
“Trust in dreams, for in them is the hidden gate to eternity.”