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||Khalil Gibran (1883-1931) - Gibran / Jibran - Khalil or Kahlil, Arabic name Jubrãn Khalil Jubrãn|
Lebanese-American philosophical essayist, novelist, mystical poet, and artist. In the 1960s Gibran's works influenced especially American popular culture; his most famous book, The Prophet (1923), has been a bestseller from the 1920s. Critics have not treated the book well. Gibran believed that if a sensible way of living and thinking could be found, people would have mastery over their lives.
Khalil Gibran was born in Bechari (Besharri), Lebanon, an isolated mountain village of Maronite Christians. At that time Lebanon was an autonomous province of Turkey. Gibran once said that the date of his birth is unknown, but it has been deduced that he was born on January 6, 1883. Gibran's mother Kamila had been married previously to her cousin Hanna Abd-al-Salaam Rahme. They had one son before he abandoned her and went to Brazil, where he died.
A talented child, Gibran was modelling, drawing, and writing at an early age. "My father had a very imperious temper and was not a loving person," Gibran recalled his childhood. Khalil, his father, owned a walnut grove, but much of its earnings he spent in gambling. In 1895 Kamila took her children to the United States; their father remained in Lebanon. The family settled first in Boston, where she earned living by selling laces and linen. Within a year she managed to save enough money to help her son Peter to open a small dry goods store.
Gibran went to Lebanon in 1897 for two years to study in
Beirut at the Maronite college Madsasat-al-Hikma College. Under the
guidance of Father Youssef Haddad, he read the Arab classics,
translations from the French, and Syrian novelists and poets. In his
final year at the college, Gibran edited the student magazine The Beacon (Al-Manarah). Within a
year after his return to Boston, Gibran lost three members of his
family: his sister, his mother who died of cancer, and half brother.
Gibran's artistic talents was recognized by his art teacher and he was introduced to Fred Holland Day, a photographer and follower of of the European avant-garde movement, who tutored him in art and literature. Gibran's sister Marianna supported him while he established himself as a writer and painter.
Through Day, Gibran was given entrée to Boston society, where he acquired valuable contacts. He had an affair with Josephine Peabody, a poet and dramatist who organized his drawing exhibition. Josephine was nine years his senior. After she married they still kept up correspondence. Though Gibran usually preferred women older than himself, Gertrude Barrie, a pianist and feminist, was close to him in age. The liaison began in 1906, before he left for Paris.
Gibran's most ardent benefactress was Mary Haskell, the headmistress of a progressive girl's school in Cambridge. Her father was a vice-president of a Columbia bank. Born in 1873, Mary was ten years Gibran's senior, a strongly built woman of five feet six. She had light brown hair and blue eyes, "a tall and cadaverous maiden, / With head that was large and ungainly, / With eyes far apart like the owlets'," as she candidly wrote in her autobiographical poems. Mary supported her protégé financially for most of his career and edited Gibran's English-language books.
In 1904 Gibran had his first art exhibition in Boston at Day's studio. The drawings were mostly spiritual allegories. "The earnest desire to give expression to metaphysical ideas has triumphantly prevailed over technical limitations to the extent that the imagination is greatly stirred by the abstract or moral beauty of the thought," said a rewiever in the Evening Transcript. Gibran's first book, Al-Musiqa (1905) was about music. It was followed by two collections of short stories and a novelette in 1912. From 1908 to 1910 he studied art in Paris with August Rodin. In 1912 he settled in New York, where he felt himself more comfortable than in the social circles of the Boston elite. In addition to contributing to émigré magazines such as The Arts (Al-Funun) and The Traveler (As-Sa'ih), he devoted himself painting. Though concerned with the transcendental in his books, the basic subject in Gibran's art was naked human bodies, tenderly intertwined.
Gibran's first works were written in Arabic and are considered central to the development of modern Arabic literature. His early influences were drawn from Sufism to Hinduism, the English romantic poets to the Boston decadents and the symbolism of Maeterlink and W.B. Yeats. Gibran also wrote for journals published by the Lebanese and Arab communities in the U.S. Conservative Arabic-speaking readers were offended by his negative portrayal of the clergy and feudal lords. From 1918 he wrote mostly in English and managed to revolutionize the language of poetry in the 1920s and 1930s. His first book for the publishing company Alfred Knopf was The Madman (1918), a slim volume of aphorisms and parables written in biblical cadence somewhere between poetry and prose. Sand and Foam (1926) was greeted with lukewarm reviews, but Jesus, the Son of Man (1928) received general acclaim. "Here is a treatment, certainly unusual, possibly unique," said P. W. Wilson in the Times. Gibran's other popular books include The Earth Gods (1931), a dialogue in free verse between three titans on the human destiny.
Usually Gibran used prophetic tone to condemn the evils that torment his homeland or threaten the humankind. His style, a combination of beauty and spirituality, became known as 'Gibranism.' "I am a stranger to myself. I hear my tongue speak, but my ears find that voice strange. I may see my hidden self laughing, crying, defiant frightened, and thus does my being become enamored of my being and thus my soul begs my soul for explanation. But I remain unknown, hidden, shrouded in fog, veiled in silence." (from 'The Poet') In 1920 he founded a society for Arab writers called "Aribitah" (the pen bond), and supported the struggle to revolutionize the classically conservative Arabic literature. A very important channel for new ideas was Al Magar, the first New York Arabic newspaper, that Gibran wrote for. Other influential contributors included Mikha'il Nu'aima (1889-1988), Iliya Abu Madi (1889-1957), Nasib Arida (1887-1946), Nadra Haddad (1881-1950), and Ilyas Abu Sabaka (1903-47). Especially Mikha'il Nu'aima's critical writings paved way to new freedom in poetic expression.
Although Gibran was not a great poet in verse, and most of his writings in prose should not be regarded as "poetry," he opened doors to a new kind of creativity. He also illustrated a number of his books with his own drawings. Salma Khadra Jayyusi wrote in 1987 that Gibran's rhythm "fell on ears like magic, intoxicating in its frequent use of interrogations, repetitions, and the vocative; by a language which was at once modern, elegant, and original; and by an imagery that was evocative and imbued with a healthy measure of emotion. His vision of a world made sterile by dead mores and conventions but redeemable through love, good will, and constructive action deepened his readers' insights en enlightened their views of life and man."
Heavy drinking contributed to Gibran's health problems. "New York is a wasteland," he wrote to his sister. "There is not a drop of arak to drink before dinner and no song by Maroon after dinner. . . ." Gibran died of liver disease, possibly accelerated by alcoholism, in St. Vincent's Hospital, New York, on April 10, 1931. According to a nun's testimony, he refused the services of a priest. His funeral was held at the Maronite Catholic Church in Boston. Gibran's body was shipped back to his hometown in Lebanon, where alongside his tomb The Gibran Museum was later established. In his will Gibran left all the royalties of his books to his native village. During 1989, when bombs were falling in Beirut, several of Gibran's drawings and paintings were exhibited in London and Paris.
Gibran's best-known work is The Prophet, a partly autobiographical book of 26 poetic essays, which has been translated into over 20 languages. The Prophet, who has lived in a foreign city 12 years, is about to board a ship that will take him home. He is stopped by a group of people, whom he teaches the mysteries of life. The resulting 26 sermons are meant to emancipate the listeners. In the 1960s The Prophet became a counterculture guide and in the 1980s the message of spiritualism overcoming material success was adopted by Yuppies. Even today its mystical poetry is frequently read at weddings.
For further reading: This Man from Lebanon by B. Young (1945); This Man from Lebanon by B. Young (1945); The Life of Gibran Khalil Gibran and His Procession by G. Kheirallah (1947); Kahlil Gibran: A Biography by M. Naimy (1959); The Parables of Kahlil Gibran by A.S. Otto (1963); Kahlil Gibran by K.S. Hawi (1963); An Introduction to Kahlil Gibran by S.B. Bushrui (1970); Kahlil Gibran: The Nature of Love by A.D. Sherfan (1971); Kahlil Gibran by J. Gibran and K. Gibran (1975); Gibran of Lebanon, ed. by S.B. Bushrui and P. Gotch (1975); The Meaning of Kahlil Gibran by M.S. Daoudi (1982); The Lebanese Prophets of New York by N. Naimy (1985); Kahlil Gibran of Lebanon by S.B. Bushrui (1987); Modern Arabic Poetry, ed. by Salma Khadra Jayyusi (1987); Kahlil Gibran: A Prophet in the Making by W. Shehadi (1991); The Facts on File Companion to the World Novel: 1900 to the Present, edited by Michael Sollars (2008); Kahlil Gibran: His Life and World by Jean Gibran (1998); Kahlil Gibran: A Biography by Alexandre Najjar (2008)