Born In: Bsharri, Northern Lebanon
Died On: April 10, 1931
Career: Poet, Painter, Sculptor, Writer, Philosopher, Theologian, Visual Artist
Nationality: Lebanese American
Khalil Gibran was a 20th century Lebanese American artist, writer and philosopher. Born into an underprivileged family, he successfully carved out his own niche and today the world stands witness to the most fascinating visual art, poems as well as novels which he created in his short life span. He is mainly known for his 1923 book “The Prophet”, a series of philosophical essays written in English prose, which went on to become a bestseller in the United States. The book was an example of inspirational fiction and became quite popular during the 1960s counterculture. After Shakespeare and Lao-Tzu, Gibran is considered to be the most widely read poet in history. With the following lines, explore information about the childhood and profile of Khalil Gibran.
Khalil Gibran was born on January 6, 1883, in the Christian Maronite town of Bsharri, a mountainous area in Northern Lebanon. He was the son of a priest named Khalil Gibran, who happened to be Gibran’s mother, Kamila’s third husband. Gibran had a six-year-old half brother and two younger sisters with the names Mariana and Sultana. Gibran’s father was irresponsible and led his family to utter poverty and suffering. It was due to this poverty that Gibran did not receive any formal education during this youth. However, since his family had a strong religious background, it helped Kamila to take every form of suffering in her stride and successfully raise her children.
The town in which Gibran was born was a haven for those who were in love with nature. Gibran was a solitary and pensive child and spent most of his waking hours in the rugged cliffs, cascading falls and the thick cedar groves. This early impression of nature left a symbolic influence to his writings and drawings later on in life. Though he was deprived of any formal education, he regularly visited the village priest who taught him the essentials of religion and the Bible and also Syrian and Arabic languages. With time, the priest realized that Gibran was not an ordinary child and very soon opened the world of history, science and language to him. At the age of eight, Gibran’s father was accused of tax evasion and was sent to prison. The Ottoman authorities confiscated the entire property and left Gibran’s family homeless. After living with the relatives for a while, Gibran’s strong-willed mother decided to immigrate to United Sates.
Came 1895 and the Gibrans started on a voyage to the American shores. They settled down at Boston’s south end, which played a host for the second largest Syrian community in the United States, following only New York. Gibran’s artistic curiosity exposed him to the rich world of theatre, opera and other artistic galleries of the city. Within two months of their arrival, Gibran got enrolled in a school, and was placed in a class meant for immigrant children. However, at the time of enrollment his name was mistakenly anglicized as Kahlil Gibran. Very soon, Gibran caught the eye of his teachers with his sketches and drawings, a hobby that emanated ever since he was in Lebanon. They contacted Fred Holland Day, a supporter of artists and an artist himself. This happened to be a grand opening of Gibran’s cultural world and set him on the road to artistic fame.
The first art exhibition of Khalil Gibran’s drawings was held in 1904 in the city of Boston. During this exhibition, he met Mary Elizabeth Haskell, a respected headmistress and ten years elder to him, who not only influenced his career but his personal life as well. Their friendship, though publicly discreet, revealed traces of intimacy and lasted the rest of Gibran’s life. In 1908, Gibran went to study art in Paris for two years and met his art study partner and a life-long friend Youssef Howayek. Most of Gibran's early writings were in Arabic language but after 1918, his work began to be published in English. His first book, called “The Madman” was a collection of aphorisms and parables and incorporated the writing style of something between prose and poetry. Gibran was a prime member of the New York Pen League, known as “immigrant poets” and rubbed shoulders with several other important Lebanese-American authors.
The most common subject of Gibran’s writings was Christianity and the spiritual meaning of life. Gibran’s best known work was “The Prophet”, a book comprising of twenty-six poetic essays. It gained popularity primarily during the 1960s with the unfold of American counter-culture and New Age movements. “The Prophet” was first published in 1923 and has so far been translated in forty languages. Being one of the bestsellers of the 20th century, it has never been out of print since then. Among his several poetic ventures, the poem “Sand and Foam” is quite notable. The line “Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it so that the other half may reach you” was even used by John Lennon in the 1968 album of The Beatles. His poetry is noted mainly for its use of formal language and its deep insights on life, love and longing.
Gibran also played a role in politics through his writings. He was a major supporter for the adoption of Arabic as the national language and called for adoption of Arabic as a national language of Syria and introduction of Arabic throughout the school level. He also strived hard to free the Syrian lands from the clutches of Ottomans. His poem “Pity the Nation” dealt with this subject and was posthumously published in “The Garden of the Prophet”. When the ottomans were driven out of Syria during World War I, Gibran expressed his joy through a sketch called “Free Syria”, which was published on the front page of a major daily. He also happened to have drafted a play which defined his belief in Syrian nationalism, its independence and progress.
Khalil Gibran died in the city of New York on April 10, 1931 due to cirrhosis of the liver and tuberculosis. It was his wish to be buried in Lebanon and it was fulfilled in 1932, when Mary Elizabeth Haskell and his sister Mariana purchased a monastery in Lebanon and buried his remains. Since then, the place is known as Gibran Museum. The words imbibed on Gibran’s grave goes like “I am alive like you, and I am standing beside you. Close your eyes and look around, you will see me in front of you ...."
Gibran gave away all the contents of his studio to Mary Haskell as a part of will. Among various other things, she discovered her own letters written to him, within a long span of twenty-three years. Although initially thinking of burning them, she saved them owing to their historical importance and handed them over to the University of North Carolina, along with the set of letters which he had written to her, before she died. Excerpts of over six hundred letters were published by the name of “Beloved Prophet” in the year 1972.
Haskell also donated her own personal collection of over hundred original works of art by Gibran to Telfair Museum of Art in Georgia. It is the largest public collection of his visual art in the country. The American royalties of Gibran’s books were sent to his hometown of Bsharri for being utilized in good causes.
- In the year 1971, the Lebanese Ministry of Post and Telecommunications published a stamp in the honor of Khalil Gibran.
- Gibran Museum was set up in his hometown in Bsharri, Lebanon.
- Gibran Khalil Gibran Garden was inaugurated in Beirut, Lebanon.
- On the occasion of his 125th birth anniversary on September 27, 2008, Kahlil Gibran Street, Ville Saint-Laurent was opened in Quebec, Canada.
- The Cedars Ski Resort in Lebanon houses the Gibran Kahlil Gibran Skiing Piste.
- In the year 1990, Kahlil Gibran Memorial Garden was inaugurated in Washington D.C.
- In September 2007, Khalil Gibran International Academy, a public high school was opened in Brooklyn, New York.
- Khalil Gibran Park was inaugurated in Bucharest, Romania.
- A sculpture of Gibran Kalil Gibran was constructed on the marble pedestal indoors at Arab Memorial building at Curitiba, Brazil.
1883: Khalil Gibran was born.
1894: Immigrated with his family to Boston, U.S.A.
1895: Gibran joined a local school where his name was anglicized to Kahlil Gibran.
1897: Was introduced to Bostonian artist- photographer Fred Holland Day
1904: First picture exhibition held at Fred Holland Day's Studio.
1905: Published in New York, “al-Musiqa” (Music), a pamphlet in which he eulogized music, in particular Arabic music with its various intonations.
1908: Left for Paris for two years to study art through the generosity of Mary Haskell.
1912: Became a resident of New York City. Published in New York, “al-Ajniha al-Mutakassira” (Broken Wings), a novelette, dedicated to Mary Haskell.
1918: Published in New York, “The Madman”, his first work in English, a collection of parables.
1923: Published in New York, “The Prophet”, his most famous work. He began to show real signs of ill-health.
1926: Published in New York, “Sand and Foam”, a collection of parables and aphorisms.
1931: Gibran died at the age of 48.