Gibran Kahlil Gibran

Born January 6, 1883, in Bsharri, a mountainous area of northern Lebanon, Kahlil Gibran is one of the most beloved authors of all times. A seeker of wisdom, Gibran was a spiritual pioneer who used his artistic skills to reveal and record the ancient mysteries, which form the core of our human inheritance. The Prophet, considered by many to be his masterpiece, is the best example of Gibran’s unique power and style. The wisdom and beauty of this beloved classic has touched and nourished the heart of humanity in ways that very few books ever have.

Kahlil was one of four children born to Kamila Rahmeh, the first from her marriage to Kahlil Gibran. He had a half-brother six years older than him named Peter and two younger sisters, Mariana and Sultana, whom he deeply loved throughout his life.

On June 25, 1895, the Gibran family, minus his father, immigrated to America. They settled in Boston’s South End, which at the time hosted the second largest Syrian community in the U.S. following New York.

In school, with a single registration mistake, his name was altered forever by removing Gibran from the birth name of Gibran Kahlil Gibran and shortening it to Kahlil Gibran. Although the family repeated their attempts to restore his full name, it remained unchanged the rest of his life. Due to his lack of formal education, when Gibran first entered school on September 30, 1895, he was placed in an un-graded class reserved for immigrant children, who had to learn English in order to participate. Gibran caught the attention of his teachers with his sketches and drawings (a hobby he had started during his childhood in Lebanon).

Gibran's sensitive intelligence and natural artistic skills were encouraged by his teachers, who in turn, encouraged Fred Holland Day, a respected photographer and artist, to take a special interest in Kahlil’s future as an artist. Serving as a mentor for many years, Day was the primary source of friendship and inspiration that would help Gibran to build his foundation of skill and vision, which would eventually enable him to create some of the most inspired and beloved art of the twentieth century.

Gibran’s ‘first love’ was poetry and it was through his poetry that America first knew him as a published author. It was another of his life-long friends and mentors, Mary Haskell, who first encouraged his English writing and it was also Mary in whom he first confided the story of Al Mustafa, the Chosen and the Beloved. The story of a man which contained the stories of all men and which would become known as The Prophet, one of the three most widely read books of the Twentieth Century.

Mary’s friendship and guidance was crucial to the development of The Prophet, for she advised Gibran to adopt the English language for this book. A simplified Arabic version of this masterpiece existed when Gibran first told Mary of the story, but six years would pass before the edition that the world knows as The Prophet was finally published in English.

During the years in which he worked on the refinement of the English edition of The Prophet, Gibran published his first English book entitled The Madman. Released in 1918, it was received with good reviews from the press, who compared him to the Indian writer Tagore, famous for bridging the gap between East and West, as well as the English poet William Blake. The Madman, a collection of parables which, was illustrated by Gibran, revealed the influence of Nietzsche, Jung and Tagore. Following the success of The Madman, Gibran’s attention turned to the politics of WWI, and his ancestral language of Arabic. He published his only art folio in 1919 with the title Twenty Drawings.

By 1920, nearly three-quarters of The Prophet was complete while Gibran’s Arab writings continued to occupy his time. He published his second English edition entitled The Forerunner, which was prophetic, in that it preceded The Prophet (which would become the most beloved of Gibran’s writings). When The Prophet was released in 1923, Gibran was fully aware that two additional books, The Garden of The Prophet and The Death of The Prophet, would eventually follow in order for the complete story of Al Mustafa to be told. Unfortunately, he would not live to see his dream realized.

A short time before the publication of The Prophet, Gibran summarized the book to Mary: "The whole Prophet is saying one thing: you are far far greater than you know - and all is well." Like many authors, Gibran gave a life to his main character that he would never know.

By 1923, Gibran had developed a close correspondence with an Arab writer, May Ziadeh. Their friendship began in 1912, when she wrote to Gibran recalling to him how moved she was with the story of Selma Karameh in The Broken Wings.

May became a champion of Gibran’s writings and came to replace Mary’s role as an editor over the coming years. She assisted with the fourth English book entitled Sand and Foam, published in 1926 and edited the manuscript for the sixth English book, Jesus the Son of Man, published in 1928.

Gibran continued to confide in Mary and he told her about the second and third parts of The Prophet which he intended to write. Specific passages in her private journals recall that the second part was to be called The Garden of the Prophet and it would recount the time the prophet spent in the garden on the island talking to his followers. The third part would be called The Death of the Prophet and it would describe the prophet’s return from the island, how and why he is imprisoned and eventually released, only to be stoned to death in the market place. Although it was near and dear to his heart, Gibran’s project was never to be completed, due to the deterioration of his health and his preoccupation with writing his longest English book, Jesus, The Son of Man.

By 1928, Gibran’s health began to deteriorate and the pace at which he worked began to slow. To distract himself, Gibran turned to unfinished work about three Earth gods written in 1911. This new book recounts the story of three earth gods who watch the drama of a couple falling in love. Mary edited the book, which went into print in mid-March of 1930.

By 1930, Gibran’s hopes of finishing the second part of The Prophet, entitled The Garden of the Prophet, dwindled; although he continued to work on this manuscript until the day of his death, he would not live to see it published. He revealed to Mary his plans of building a library in Bsharri and soon he drew the last copy of his will.

On April 10th 1931, Gibran died at the age of forty-eight in a New York hospital, as the spreading cancer in his liver left him unconscious. The New York streets staged a two-day vigil for Gibran’s honor, whose death, was mourned in the U.S. and Lebanon, not only for the loss of the man, but the untold loss of the work that he would never create.

Seven of his English books were published after his death. The Earth Gods, 1931, The Wanderer, 1932, The Garden of The Prophet, 1933, Prose Poems, 1934, Nymphs of the Valley, 1948, Spirits Rebellious, 1948, A Tear and a Smile, 1950. . .