Khalil Gibran

"The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind."

Khalil Gibran (also known as Kahlil Gibran) was born on January 6, 1883, in Northern Lebanon.  He grew up in beautiful surroundings, but also in great poverty.  He did not receive any formal education or learning, which was limited to regular visits to a village priest who doctrined him with the essentials of religion and the Bible, alongside Syriac and Arabic languages, opening up a new world to Gibran.  At the age of ten, Gibran fell off a cliff, wounding his left shoulder, which remained weak for the rest of his life ever since this incident.  To relocate the shoulder, his family strapped it to a cross and wrapped it up for forty days, a symbolic incident reminiscent of Christ’s wanderings in the wilderness and which remained etched in Gibran’s memory. 

In 1895, the Gibrans embarked on a voyage to the American shores of New York where they settled in Boston’s South End, which at the time hosted the second largest Syrian community in the U.S. following New York.  Having no formal education, he was placed in an ungraded class reserved for immigrant children, who had to learn English from scratch.  During his childhood in Lebanon Gibran had started making sketches and drawings, which now in the U.S: began catching the attention of his teachers at the public school, who saw an artistic future for the Syrian boy.  In 1896, they contacted a local artist and a supporter of artists, who opened up Gibran’s cultural world and set him on the road to artistic fame.  Gibran was introduced to Greek mythology, world literature, contemporary writings and photography.

Gibran went back to Lebanon to finish his education and learn Arabic, and he finished college in 1902, learning Arabic and French and excelling in his studies, especially poetry.  He left Lebanon again in March of 1902.  Following three family deaths, Gibran sold out the family business and began immersing himself in improving both his Arabic and English writings.  Back in the U.S. he launched his debut art exhibition, which was to feature his allegorical and symbolic charcoal drawings that so fascinated Boston’s society. The exhibition opened on May 3, 1904, and proved a success with the critics.  More importantly this was the start of a relationship with a woman that would help him him with money and advise, and would prove a great influence on his life, namely Mary Haskell. 

Gibran’s first Arabic written work came out in 1905.  By 1918 he had published several more, and Gibran began to tell Mary of an Arabic work he had been working on which proved to be the seeds of his most famous book ´The Prophet´.  Gibran’s would later call this enlightened poetry "the first book in my career – my first real book, my ripened fruit."  A few months 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.' " 

The Prophet finally came into print in October of 1923, with a modest success in the U.S.  Gibran intended  to write second and third parts of The Prophet, to be called `The Garden of the Prophet´ and `The Death of the Prophet´. The second part would recount the time the prophet spent in the garden on the island talking to his followers, and was published.  The third part would describe the prophet’s return from the island and how he is imprisoned and freed only to be stoned to death in the market place, but 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´.  To Gibran, Christ was not a weak person as portrayed by Nietzsche, but an admirable mortal.

On April 10th, 1931, Gibran died with cancer at the age of forty-eight in a New York hospital.  His death was mourned in the U.S. and Lebanon.




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