Kahlil Gibran

Kahlil Gibran

The writings of Kahlil Gibran, the popular 20th- century poet, philosopher, and artist, have been admired by millions and translated into over a dozen languages. By the time of his death, he had established a reputation in both the English and Arabic-speaking worlds. He never won critical or scholarly acclaim, but his style prompted the coin­ing of a literary term, Gibranism, to describe the poised and poetic quality of his prose, which expressed an intense need for self-reflection and self-fulfillment. Throughout his life, he was pri­marily religiously nondenominational, seeking wisdom and truth from within instead. His writ­ings reflect a preoccupation with mysteries and with deep spiritual meaning; he describes and reflects on his encounters with, and understand­ings of, godliness and addresses perennial themes such as Time.

Gibran was born in Bsherri (Bechari), Lebanon, in 1883. When he was 12, his family moved to the United States and settled in Boston, Massachusetts. After 2 years, Gibran went to Paris to study art under Auguste Rodin, at the famous Ecole des Beaux Arts. In Paris, Gibran also began to write plays and short stories in the Arabic language.

In 1904, he moved back to the United States and spent time living in both Boston and New York. While working in New York, he wrote his most popular literary works, The Prophet (1923), and Jesus the Son of Man: His Words and His Deeds as Told and Recorded by Those Who Knew Him (1928). The Prophet included a series of poems on topics such as love, marriage, and chil­dren, and included a passage titled On Time, in which Gibran says time, like love, is undivided and spaceless.

Gibran’s ability to paint and draw enabled him to illustrate many of his own books. Critics often cited the influences biblical literature had on Gibran’s writings, and his lyrical passages are commonly read at baptisms, funerals, and wed­dings throughout the Western world.

Some of his other works include Nymphs in the Valley (1948), Tears and Laughter (1949), The Madman: His Parables and Prose Poems (1918), Spirits Rebellious (1946), The Wanderer: His Parables and His Sayings (1932), and The Garden of the Prophet (1933). His relationship with Mary Haskell, a teacher in Boston, is captured in Beloved Prophet: The Love Letters of Kahlil Gibran and Mary Haskell, and her Private Journal (1972).

In 1999, the Arab American Institute founded an annual Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Award that recognizes individuals, organizations, corporations, and communities whose actions demonstrate leadership in supporting and pro­moting coexistence, diversity, cultural interaction, inclusion, and democratic and humanitarian val­ues across racial, ethnic, and religious groups.

Debra Lucas

See also Bible and Time; Humanism; Poetry; Qur’an

Further Readings

Waterfield, R. (1998). Prophet: The life and times of Kahlil Gibran. New York: St. Martin’s.

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