More than a poet, more than “The Prophet”

Lebanese artist, philosopher and writer Jubran Khalil Jubran’s, best work, The Prophet is a book of 26 poems that explore love and life. Since it was published in 1923, The Prophet has never been out of print. The Prophet was first published in 1923, and by the ’30s, Gibran was a prominent figure in Lebanese and New York circles.

Jubran Khalil Jubran, or Khalil Gibran as he’s known to the Western world, arrived at Ellis Island from Lebanon on June 17, 1895, seeking refuge from Ottoman oppression in Lebanon with his mother and three siblings. Gibran saw Ottoman oppression in Lebanon and in his writing, he gave voice to that oppression and wanted Ottoman rule to cease in his country.

And though he lived in Boston for some time, he never became an American citizen because he loved his home country – Lebanon – too much. Still, he is one of America’s best-selling poets and The Prophet has been translated into more than 50 languages and has never gone out of print.

A lot of his success he owes to an American woman who eventually became his lover, though they never married, despite him having proposed twice to her. Mary Haskell became Gibran’s patroness and his editor, and she supported Gibran financially until The Prophet was published.

Read excerpts from their love letters here.

“I love to be silent with you, Mary.”

Once published in Depression-era America, The Prophet provided an Arabian escapism. And by the late ’50s, the book sold a million copies. To this date, it’s estimated that 100 million copies have been sold since its publication.

Gibran’s writing was influential not only to the average citizen, but also to politicians. In 1925, Gibran wrote an open letter called “The New Frontier“, to the Lebanese parliament after the fall of the Ottoman empire. In it, he asks these politicians “Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country?” He adds, ”If you are the first, then you are a parasite; if the second, then you are an oasis in the desert.”

Sound familiar?

John F. Kennedy, in his 1961 inaugural address, said ”Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

What I loved about finally sitting down to read it was how many verses I already knew of.

Your children are not your children./ They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself./ They come through you, but not from you./ And though they are with you yet they belong not to you./ You may give them your love, but not your thoughts./ For they have their own thoughts/ You may house their bodies but not their souls./ For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams…

It seems that Gibran’s poems speak to people at different stages of their lives. I remember reading a few verses on love and marriage when I was much younger, and I didn’t quite understand the lines.

… stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

Now, though, as I’m older, I understand perfectly what Gibran was trying to convey.

Much like Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, which speaks to women differently as they grow through life, The Prophet‘s wisdom grows as its reader’s wisdom grows.

You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.

Gibran wasn’t only a poet, he was an artist, and produced over 700 works. He was trained at the Académie Julian and had his first exhibition at age 21 in Boston.

Gibran died young, at the age of 48, from cirrhosis of the liver caused by drinking too much arak.

“I have come down the ages”
Artist: Kahlil Gibran (Lebanese, Bsharri 1883–1931 New York)
Medium: Watercolor and graphite on paper

2 thoughts on “More than a poet, more than “The Prophet”

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