Khalil Gibran also known as Kahlil Gibran, was a Lebanese American artist, poet, and writer. Born in the town of Bsharri in modern-day Lebanon (then part of the Ottoman Mount Lebanon mutasarrifate), as a young man he emigrated with his family to the United States where he studied art and began his literary career. He is chiefly known in the English speaking world for his 1923 book The Prophet, an early example of inspirational fiction including a series of philosophical essays written in poetic English prose. The book sold well despite a cool critical reception, and became extremely popular in the 1960s counterculture. Gibran is the third best-selling poet of all time, behind Shakespeare and Lao-Tzu.
Art and poetry
Gibran held his first art exhibition of his drawings in 1904 in Boston, at Day’s studio. During this exhibition, Gibran met Mary Elizabeth Haskell, a respected headmistress ten years his senior. The two formed an important friendship that lasted the rest of Gibran’s life. Though publicly discreet, their correspondence reveals an exalted intimacy. Haskell influenced not only Gibran’s personal life, but also his career. In 1908, Gibran went to study art with Auguste Rodin in Paris for two years. While there he met his art study partner and lifelong friend Youssef Howayek. He later studied art in Boston.
Juliet Thompson, one of Gibran’s acquaintances, reported several anecdotes relating to Gibran: She recalls Gibran met `Abdu’l-Bahá, the leader of the Bahá’í Faith at the time of his visit to the United States, circa 1911–1912.Barbara Young, in “This Man from Lebanon: A Study of Khalil Gibran”, records Gibran was unable to sleep the night before meeting `Abdu’l-Bahá who sat for a pair of portraits. Thompson reports Gibran saying that all the way through writing of “Jesus, The Son of Man”, he thought of `Abdu’l-Bahá. Years later, after the death of `Abdu’l-Bahá, there was a viewing of the movie recording of `Abdu’l-Bahá – Gibran rose to talk and in tears, proclaimed an exalted station of `Abdu’l-Bahá and left the event weeping.
While most of Gibran’s early writings were in Arabic, most of his work published after 1918 was in English. His first book for the publishing company Alfred A. Knopf, in 1918, was The Madman, a slim volume of aphorisms and parables written in biblical cadence somewhere between poetry and prose. Gibran also took part in the New York Pen League, also known as the “immigrant poets” (al-mahjar), alongside important Lebanese-American authors such as Ameen Rihani, Elia Abu Madi and Mikhail Naimy, a close friend and distinguished master of Arabic literature, whose descendants Gibran declared to be his own children, and whose nephew, Samir, is a godson of Gibran’s.
Much of Gibran’s writings deal with Christianity, especially on the topic of spiritual love. His poetry is notable for its use of formal language, as well as insights on topics of life using spiritual terms. Gibran’s best-known work is The Prophet, a book composed of twenty-six poetic essays. The book became especially popular during the 1960s with the American counterculture and New Age movements. Since it was first published in 1923, The Prophet has never been out of print. Having been translated into more than forty languages, it was one of the bestselling books of the twentieth century in the United States.
One of his most notable lines of poetry in the English-speaking world is from “Sand and Foam” (1926), which reads: “Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it so that the other half may reach you”. This line was used by John Lennon and placed, though in a slightly altered form, into the song “Julia” from The Beatles’ 1968 album The Beatles (a.k.a. “The White Album”).
Khalil Gibran Quote
- A friend who is far away is sometimes much nearer than one who is at hand. Is not the mountain far more awe-inspiring and more clearly visible to one passing through the valley than to those who inhabit the mountain?
- A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle.
- Advance, and never halt, for advancing is perfection. Advance and do not fear the thorns in the path, for they draw only corrupt blood.
- All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind.
- All that spirits desire, spirits attain.
- And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.
- And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.
- Art is a step from what is obvious and well-known toward what is arcane and concealed.
- Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.
- But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
- Coming generations will learn equality from poverty, and love from woes.
- Death most resembles a prophet who is without honor in his own land or a poet who is a stranger among his people.
- Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.
- Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.
- Exaggeration is truth that has lost its temper.
- Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof.
- Faith is an oasis in the heart which will never be reached by the caravan of thinking.
- For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
- Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. \
- Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity.
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