Birth and Childhood (1883-1895)
Gibran Khalil Gibran was born on January 6, 1883 in Bsharri, a mountainous area in Northern Mount-Lebanon.
Mount-Lebanon was a Turkish province, part of Greater Syria (Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine) and subjugated to Ottoman dominion, which granted the Mount-Lebanon area autonomous rule. The people of Mount-Lebanon had struggled for several years to gain independence from the Ottoman rule, a cause Gibran was later to adopt and become an active member in. The Mount-Lebanon area was a troubled region, due to the various outside and foreign interferences that fostered religious hatred between the Christian, especially the Maronite sect, and Moslem populations, especially the Druze sect. Later in his life, Gibran was to seek to unite the various religious sects, in a bid to abolish the religious snobbery, persecution and atrocities witnessed at his time. The Maronite sect, formed during the schism in the Byzantine church in the 5th century A.D., was made up of a group of Syrian Christians, who joined the monk St. Marun to lead their own sectarian thought.
His mother Kamila Rahmeh was thirty when she begot Gibran from her third husband Khalil Gibran, who proved to be an irresponsible husband leading the family to poverty. Gibran had a half-brother six years older than him called Peter and two younger sisters, Mariana and Sultana, whom he was deeply attached to throughout his life, along with his mother. Kamilaís family came from a prestigious religious background, which imbued the uneducated mother with a strong will and later on helped her raise up the family on her own in the U.S.
Growing up in the lush region of Bsharri, Gibran proved to be a solitary and pensive child who relished the natural surroundings of the cascading falls, the rugged cliffs and the neighboring green cedars, the beauty of which emerged as a dramatic and symbolic influence to his drawings and writings. Being laden with 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. Recognizing Gibranís inquisitive and alert nature, the priest began teaching him the rudiments of alphabet and language, opening up to Gibran the world of history, science, and language. 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 Christís wanderings in the wilderness and which remained etched in Gibranís memory.
Immigration to the U.S. (1895-1898)
At the age of eight, Khalil Gibran, Gibran's father, was accused of tax evasion and was sent to prison as the Ottoman authorities confiscated the Gibransí property and left them homeless. The family went to live with relatives for a while; however, the strong-willed mother decided that the family should immigrate to the U.S., seeking a better life and following in suit to Gibranís uncle who immigrated earlier. The father was released in 1894, but he was undecided about immigration and remained behind in Lebanon.
On June 25, 1895, the Gibrans embarked on a voyage to the American shores of New York.
The Gibrans settled in Bostonís South End, which at the time hosted the second largest Syrian community in the U.S. following New York. The culturally diverse area felt familiar to Kamila, who was comforted by the familiar spoken Arabic, and the widespread Syrian customs. Kamila, now the bread-earner of the family, began to work as a peddler on the impoverished streets of South End Boston. At the time, peddling was the major source of income for most Syrian immigrants, who were negatively portrayed due to their unconventional Syrian ways and their supposed idleness.
Growing up into another impoverished period, Gibran was to recall the pain of the first few years, which left an indelible mark on his life and prompted him to reinvent his childhood memories, dispelling the filth, the poverty and the slurs. However, the work of charity institutions in the poor immigrant areas allowed the children of immigrants to attend public schools and kept them off the street. Gibran was the only member of his family to pursue scholastic education. His sisters were not allowed to enter school, thwarted by Middle Eastern traditions as well as financial difficulties. Later on in his life, Gibran was to champion the cause of womenís emancipation and education and surround himself with strong-willed, intellectual and independent women.
In the school, a registration mistake altered his name forever by shortening it to Kahlil Gibran, which remained unchanged till the rest of his life despite repeated attempts at restoring his full name. Gibran entered school on September 30, 1895, merely two months after his arrival in the U.S. Having no formal education, he was placed in an un-graded class reserved for immigrant children, who had to learn English from scratch. Gibran caught the eye of his teachers with his sketches and drawings, a hobby he had started during his childhood in Syria.
With Kamilaís hard work, the familyís financial standing improved as her savings allowed Peter to set up a goods store, in which both of Gibran's sisters worked. The financial strains of the family and the distance from home brought the family together, with Kamila providing both financial and emotional support to her children, especially to her introverted son Gibran. During this difficult period, Gibran's remoteness from social life and his pensive nature were deepened, and Kamila was there to help him overcome his reservedness. The motherís independence allowed him to mingle with Bostonís social life and explore its thriving world of art and literature.
Gibran's curiosity led him to the cultural side of Boston, which exposed him to the rich world of the theatre, Opera and artistic Galleries. Prodded by the cultural scenes around him and through his artistic drawings, Gibran caught the attention of his teachers at the public school, who saw an artistic future for the Syrian boy. They contacted Fred Holland Day, an artist and a supporter of artists who opened up Gibranís cultural world and set him on the road to artistic fame.
Gibran met Fred Holland Day in 1896, and from then his road to recognition was reached through Dayís artistic unconventionality and his contacts in Bostonís artistic circles. Day introduced Gibran to Greek mythology, world literature, contemporary writings and photography, ever prodding the inquisitive Syrian to seek self-expression. Dayís liberal education and unconventional artistic exploration influenced Gibran, who was to follow Dayís unfettered adoption of the unusual for the sake of originality and self-actualization. Other than working on Gibranís education, Day was instrumental in lifting his self-esteem, which had suffered under the immigrant treatment and poverty of the times. Not surprisingly, Gibran emerged as a fast learner, devouring everything handed over by Day, despite weak Arabic and English. Under Dayís tutelage, Gibran uttered his first religious beliefs, when he declared "I am no longer a Catholic: I am a pagan," after reading one book given by Day.
During one of Fred Holland Dayís art exhibitions, Gibran drew a sketch of a certain Miss Josephine Peabody, an unknown poet and writer who was to later become one of his failed love experiences; later on, Gibran was to propose marriage and be met with refusal, the first blow in a series of heartaches dealt to Gibran by the women he loved.
Continually encouraging Gibran to improve his drawings and sketches, Day was instrumental in getting Gibranís images printed as cover designs for books in 1898. At the time, Gibran began to develop his own technique and style, encouraged by Dayís enthusiasm and support. Gradually, Gibran entered the Bostonian circles and his artistic talents brought him fame at an early age. However, his family decided that early success could cause him future problems, and with Gibranís approval, the young artist went back to Syria to finish his education and better master Arabic.
Back in Lebanon (1898-1902)
In 1898, Gibran arrived in Beirut, he could speak Arabic fluently, but not read nor write it. To improve his Arabic, Gibran chose to enroll in the school Madrasat-al-Hikmah, a Maronite-founded school which offered a nationalistic curriculum partial to church writings, history and liturgy. Gibranís strong-willed nature refused to abide by the parochial curriculum, demanding an individual curriculum catering to his educational needs and aimed at a college level, a gesture indicative of Gibranís rebellious and individualistic nature; his arrogance bordered on heresy. Nonetheless, the school acquiesced to his request, editing course material to Gibran's liking. He chose to immerse himself in the Arabic-language bible, intrigued by its style and writing, features of which echo in his various works. As a student, Gibran left a great impression on his teachers and fellow students, who were impressed with his outlandish and individualistic behavior, self-confidence, and his unconventional long hair. His Arabic teacher saw in him "a loving but controlled heart, an impetuous soul, a rebellious mind, an eye mocking everything it sees". However, the schoolís strict and disciplined atmosphere was not to Gibranís liking, who flagrantly flouted religious duties, skipped classes and drew sketches on books. At the school, Gibran met Joseph Hawaiik, with whom he started a magazine called al-Manarah (the Beacon), both editing while Gibran illustrated.
Meanwhile, Josephine Peabody, the twenty-four year old Bostonian beauty who caught Gibranís attention during one of Dayís exhibitions, was intrigued by the young Syrian artist who dedicated a sketch to her, and began corresponding with Gibran throughout his stay in Syria. Soon, he became romantically involved with Josephine, and they kept exchanging letters until the relationship fell apart, following the rebuffal of Gibranís marriage proposal and Josephineís eventual marriage in 1906.
college in 1902, learning Arabic and French and excelling in his studies,
especially poetry. Meanwhile, his relationship with his father became strained
over Gibranís advanced erudition, driving him to move in with his cousin and to
live an impoverished life he detested and was ashamed of until the rest of his
life. The poverty in Lebanon was compounded with news of illness striking his
family, with his half-brother's consumption, his sister Sultanaís intestinal
trouble and his motherís developing cancer. Upon receiving news of Sultanaís
dire illness, Gibran left Beirut in March of 1902.
Death in the Family and the Return to the U.S. (1902-1908)
To his misfortune, Gibran arrived too late; Sultana died at the age of fourteen on April 4th 1902, the first in a series of three family deaths which will fall upon him in the coming months. Gibran was very fond of his sisters and of his family as a whole. At the time of mourning, both Day and Josephine provided distractions for him, in form of artistic shows and meetings at Bostonís artistic circles. Gibranís artistic talents and unique behavior had captured earlier the interest of the Bostonian society, which welcomed this foreign talent into their artistic circles.
Josephine, who slowly captured Gibranís heart, became an inflectional person in his life, the Bostonian poet constantly referring to Gibran as Ďher young prophetí. Greatly intrigued by his oriental background, Josephine was charmed by Gibranís vividly illustrated correspondences and conversations. Josephineís care and attention were the inspiration behind his book The Prophet, the title of which is based on an eleven-stanza poem Joesphine wrote in December of 1902 describing Gibranís life in Bsharri as she envisaged it. Later on, when Gibran was to publish The Prophet, he dedicated it to Josephine, whose care and tenderness helped him advance his career.
Illness struck again when his mother underwent an operation in February to remove a cancerous tumor. To compound his misery, Gibran was forced to take on the family business and run the goods store, which was abandoned by his half-brother Peter to pursue his fortune in Cuba. This new burden weighed on Gibranís spirit, depriving him from dedicating his time to artistic pursuits. During this time, Gibran tried to shy away from the house, to escape the atmosphere of death, poverty and illness. In the following month, Peter returned to Boston from Cuba fatally sick only to die days later on March 12 of consumption. His motherís cancer continued to spread and she died later that year on June 28, a scene which left Gibran fainting and foaming blood from the mouth.
Following the three family deaths, Gibran sold out the family business and began immersing himself in improving both his Arabic and English writings, a twin task which he was to pursue for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, Day and Josephine were helping him launch his debut art exhibition, which was to feature his allegorical and symbolic charcoal drawings that so fascinated Bostonís society. The exhibition opened on May 3, 1904, and proved a success with the critics. However, the exhibitionís significance lay elsewhere. Josephine, through her future husband, invited a schoolmistress called Mary Haskell to examine Gibranís drawings. This introduction to the schoolmistress was to mark the beginning of a lifetime relationship, which would greatly influence Gibranís writing career. Gibran had sought Josephineís opinion about his Arabic writings, translating them into English. With the language barrier, Josephine could only provide criticism over ideas and thoughts, leaving Gibran alone to tackle his linguistic problems. Josephineís role was to be taken over by Mary Haskell.
Mary Haskell, who was thirty at the time and ten years older than Gibran, will go on to finance Gibranís artistic development and encourage him to become the artist that he aspired to be. As a school head mistress, Haskell was an educated, strong-willed and independent woman and an active champion of womenís liberation, who was set apart to Josephine Peabodyís romantic nature. Mary was the reason behind Gibranís decision to explore writing in English, as she persuaded Gibran to refrain from translating his Arabic works to English and concentrate instead on writing in English directly. Maryís collaboration and editing of his various English works polished Gibranís work, most of which first underwent Maryís editing before going to the publishers. She would spend hours with Gibran, going over his wording, correcting his mistakes and suggesting new ideas to his writings. She even attempted learning Arabic to gain a better grasp of Gibranís language and his thoughts.
The significance of Maryís relationship with Gibran is revealed through her diaries, in which she recorded Gibranís artistic development, their personal and intellectual conversations and his innermost thoughts for nearly seventeen years and a half. These recordings have provided critics with valuable insight into Gibranís personal thoughts and ideas, which he kept away from the public eye.
In 1904, Gibran started to contribute articles to the Arabic-speaking ťmigrť newspaper called Al-Mouhajer (The Emigrant), marking his first published written work. His first publication was called ĎVisioní, a romantic essay that portrayed a caged bird amid an abundance of symbolism. Despite spending four years in Lebanon learning Arabic, Gibranís written Arabic left something to be desired. To master Arabic, Gibran relied on his ear for capturing traditional vocabulary, depending heavily on the Syrian stories narrated in his hometown of Bsharri. Hence his Arabic writing had a colloquial feel to it, which was comfortable to his audiences. According to Gibran, rules of language were meant to be broken and he went on to advocate Arab ťmigrť writers to break out of tradition and seek an individual style. Throughout his life, Gibranís Arabic writings did not receive the critical acclaim his English books had, leading him later on to concentrate on his English writings and abandon the cause of improving his Arabic style.
Gibranís first Arabic written work came out in 1905 with the publication of Nubthah fi Fan Al-Musiqa (Music), a book inspired by his brotherís 'oud playing and Dayís several invitations to the Opera. During that year, Gibran started a column in Al-Mohajer called ĎTears and Laughteríí, which was to form the basis of his book A Tear and a Smile. While writing in Al-Mohajer, a certain Arabic ťmigrť writer called Ameen Rihani, wrote to the magazine lauding Gibranís article which attacked contemporary Arab writers for imitating traditional writers and using poetry for financial gain. Rihani was to become an important Arabic writer and a friend of Gibranís, whom he later left for the life-long friendship of Mikhail Naimy. At the time, Gibran published several Arabic poems and wrote in newspapers, about various subjects relating to love, truth, beauty, death, good and evil. Most of his writings had a romantic edge to them, with bitter and ironic tones.
In 1906, Gibran published his second Arabic book called Arayis Al-Muruj (The Nymphs of the Valley), a collection of three allegories which take place in Northern Lebanon. The allegories- ĎMarthaí, ĎYuhanna the Madí, and ĎDust of Ages and the Eternal Fireí- dealt with issues relating to prostitution, religious persecution, reincarnation and pre-ordained love. The allegories were heavily influenced by the stories he heard back in Bsharri and his own fascination with the Bible, the mystical, and the nature of love. Gibran was to return to the subject of madness in his English book ĎThe Madman,í whose beginnings can be traced to Gibranís early Arabic writings. What characterized Gibranís early Arabic publications was the use of the ironic, the realism of the stories, the portrayal of second-class citizens and the anti-religious tone, all of which contrasted with the formalistic and traditional Arabic writings.
Gibran published his third Arabic book Al-Arwah Al-Mutamarridah (Spirits Rebellious) in March of 1908, a collection of four narrative writings based on his writing in Al-Mouhajer. The book dealt with social issues in Syria, portraying a married womanís emancipation from her husband, a hereticís call for freedom, a brideís escape from an unwanted marriage through death and the brutal injustices of 19th century Lebanese feudal lords. These writings received strong criticism from the clergy for their bold ideas, their negative portrayal of clergymen and their encouragement of womenís liberation. Gibran was to later recall to Mary the dark period in which Spirits Rebellious was written, during a time when he was haunted by death, illness and loss of love. The anti-clerical content of the book threatened Gibran with excommunication from the church, with the book being censored by the Ottoman government.
Traveling to Paris and the Move to New York (1908-1914)
On July 1, 1908, Gibran left Boston, heading to Paris to study at the Arts School. Upon his arrival, Gibran was fascinated by the French cultural scene, and he indulged his time examining paintings at the various art museums and exhibitions. However, Gibranís travel to France revealed his lack of artistic training, a sore point which left him critical of his drawings. Earlier, Gibran had refused receiving a formal training, relying solely on his talents and feel for objects. Soon the academyís formal education alienated Gibran, who left the academy to pursue a freewheeling self-exploration of his art. Together with Joseph Hawaiik, his school class mate in Beirut, they sketched models and visited exhibitions. Later on, Gibran moved on to tour London with fellow Arabic writer Ameen Rihani, whom Gibran admired for his sarcastic wit and style of writing. Both writers shared memories of Mount-Lebanon, the same Maronite background and their involvement in the social issues of the time. In June 1909, Gibran received news of his fatherís death, and he was comforted by the thought that his father had blessed him before dying, softening his domineering attitude towards his son.
Gibran returned on October 31, 1910, ending all his travels abroad to settle down in the U.S. and concentrate on his writing. Upon arrival in Boston, Gibran suggested to Mary a move to New York, in order to escape the Syrian quarter and seek a greater artistic space in New Yorkís cultural scene. The move would leave his sister Marianna, an unmarried and illiterate woman working as a seamstress, alone in Boston, with only Mary Haskell to take care of her.
The month of December in 1910 marked the beginning of Maryís daily journal dedicated to her personal memories of Gibranís life, which she would continue to write for nearly seventeen years. On December 10th of that year, Gibran proposed marriage to Mary and was yet again met by another refusal, this time due to the ten-year age difference. The issue of age had stood between the development of a love relationship between the two, with Mary worried about the social reaction to her courting of such a young person. Yet this incident did not end their relationship which developed from a mere acquaintance, to a love relationship, to an artistic collaboration. Another obstacle in the development of their relationship was the issue of money, for Gibran constantly feared the role of Mary as a financier might cloud their spiritual bonding. They were to constantly quarrel over this thorny issue. However, Maryís benefice extended to other immigrants, for she financed the education of several other promising students, but none rose to the acclaim Gibran attained.
Meanwhile, in 1911, Gibran switched writing in Al-Mouhajer to the immigrant newspaper Mir'aat Al-Gharb (The Mirror of the West), to which he continued to contribute articles until 1912. On April 26 of the same year, Gibran moved to New York to seek a new artistic life, boosted by Maryís letters of introduction which promised to raise his contacts.
In New York, Gibran began to work on his next book The Broken Wings, a work he had started in 1906 and which was published in January 1912. According to Gibran, The Broken Wings was a spiritual biography, despite recalling to Mary that the experiences in the book are not his. The book, the longest of his Arabic novels, dealt with the story of Selma Karameh, a married woman, and her ill-fated love affair with a young man, with the end leaving Selma dead at childbirth.
The story of Selma Karameh was linked to Gibranís love affair with a Lebanese widow, Sultana Tabit, during his education in Lebanon. Gibran was to tell Mary of his story with this young widow of twenty-two, with whom he exchanged love, poetry and books, only to die and leave him mementos of herself in form of jewelry and clothes. Other critics allude to another doomed love relationship with a Lebanese teenager related to his childhood mentor Selim Daher. Another influence is revealed in Josephineís one-act play called The Wings, written in 1904 during Gibranís close relationship with her.
In 1911, Gibran was to draw a portrait of the Irish poet W. B. Yeats, one in a series of portraits which Gibran was to call the Temple of Art series. This series featured face-to-face portraits of renowned figures such as Auguste Rodin, Sarah Bernhardt, Gustav Jung, and Charles Russell. Gibranís political activity began to capture his attention as he joined the Golden Links society, a group of young immigrant Syrian men, who worked for the improvement in the lifestyle of Syrian citizens everywhere.
During this year, Italy had declared war on Turkey and this incident revived the hope among the liberal Syrians of a free home rule in the Ottoman occupied countries. Gibranís dreams of a free Syria were fueled when he met the Italian general Giuseppe Garibaldi, the grandson of the grand Italian general. With Garibaldi, Gibran fantasized about him heading a legion of immigrant Syrians to overthrow the Ottoman rule. Later on, during the World War I era, Gibran was to become a great advocator and instigator of a unified Syrian military action against the Ottoman rule.
Gibran began to enjoy the new attention he was receiving in New York, especially with Maryís financial backing providing him with a secret source of income, in addition to Maryís artistic contacts which worked to promote Gibranís works. Gibran was great a socializer and an intriguing personality who captured the attention of his hosts. In 1913, Gibran joined the board of the newly founded Arab ťmigrť magazine Al-Funoon, a periodical published by the Syrian-American Nassib Aridah of New York and dedicated to the advancement of literary and artistic issues. The magazineís reflection of Gibranís liberal approach to style and taste led him to contribute several articles, which later on formed the basis of his first English book, The Madman.
Meanwhile, the love relationship between Gibran and Mary dwindled as quarrels over money, sex and marriage led to an interesting development. Soon Mary was to become Gibranís mentor and editor, initiating a tutorial course which was aimed at improving his English writing and developing his cultural education. Gibran had started working in 1913 on The Madman, a subject which fascinated him ever since he learned about the history of treating the mad in Lebanon; in his hometown of Bsharri, he heard how the mad were thought to be possessed by the spirit of the jinn (the devil), with the church in charge of exorcising the devil out of the possessed people.
As early as 1908 when Gibran wrote Spirits Rebellious, he had tried translating his Arabic works to English, in order to attain Josephineís opinion. In 1913, Gibran attempted to translate his works, now for Mary to read and edit. Gibran was frustrated with the difficulties of translating and the language barrier which prevented Mary from helping him improve his writings. Mary, who uselessly tried to learn Arabic, devised a tutorial course for Gibran, aimed at improving his written English and educating him culturally. At the same time, Mary was encouraging Gibran to drop translating his Arabic works and concentrating instead on writing directly in English. Nonetheless, Mary urged immigrants to retain their mother tongue while pursuing their second language education. Maryís educational program worked. In no time, Gibran began to get over his grammatical mistakes, spelling errors and adopt a reading appetite. During this time, Gibran took a liking to Nietzscheís style and his will-to-power concept, which went against Gibranís interpretation of Christ. To Gibran, Christ was not the weak person portrayed by Nietzsche, but an admirable mortal to whom he dedicated his longest English writing Jesus, The son of Man. Meanwhile, Mary and Gibran worked together on editing and revising The Madman. In 1914, Gibran published his fifth Arabic book Kitab Damíah wa Ibtisamah (A Tear and A Smile), an anthology of his works based on his column in Al-Mouhajer newspaper.
The War Years and The Publication of The Prophet (1914-1923)
During one of Gibran's art exhibitions in 1914, an American architect, Albert Pinkam Ryder, paid an unexpected visit to the exhibition, leaving an impression on Gibran who decided to write an English poem in his honor. The poem, which was first edited by Mary, became Gibranís first English publication, when it went out into print in January 1915.
Meanwhile, Gibran became more actively involved in the politics of the day, especially with the onset of World War I. To Gibran, the war suggested hope of liberating Ottoman-ruled Syria, through a united Arab military front, aided by a general Allied attack. He called on both Muslim and Christian sides to unite their forces against the oppressive Ottoman hegemony. In fact, Gibran fantasized about becoming a fighter and a romantic political hero, who is able to lead his country to liberation. When he actually suggested to Mary going over to Syria to fill a post of fighter, she adamantly refused.
In 1915, the pain he had suffered in his shoulder when he was young began to come back, and he underwent electrical treatment on his left shoulder, which had remained weak and in quasi-paralyzed state following the childhood accident.
In 1916 he joined the literary magazine The Seven Arts. Gibran prided himself in being the first immigrant to join the board of this magazine, which reflected Gibranís literary style. At the time, Gibranís presence began to be demanded in literary circles, who craved to hear recitations from his books and writings.
By 1918, Gibran began to tell Mary of an Arabic work he had been working on which he called Ďmy island man,í the seeds of his most famous book The Prophet. Based on a Promethean manís exile to an island, The Prophet evoked the journey of the banished man called Al Mustafa, or the Chosen One. In her diary, Mary recounted Gibranís musings about the book, which he later called Ďthe first book in my career Ėmy first real book, my ripened fruit." Soon Gibran added to the work the title of the Commonwealth, a separate work he had attached to the story of Al Mustafa. Gibran was to later link the seeds of The Prophet to an Arabic work he did when he was sixteen years old, where a man at an inn discusses with the rest of the attendants various subjects. However, Gibran still worried about his English writing and he sought Maryís advice constantly. Gibran had always been fascinated by the language of the Syriac Bible, which reflected Gibranís views on the creation of Ďan absolute languageí, a task he tried to achieve through his various English writings, through the creation of a unified universal style.
Mary was crucial to the development of The Prophet, for she advised Gibran to adopt the English language for this book. Gibran was further encouraged to pursue writing in English following the attention given to his soon-to-be-published book The Madman. The conversation Gibran had with Mary over the issues of marriage, life, death, loveÖinfiltrated his chapters in The Prophet and various other works. However, Mary was against the title of The Prophet, which Gibran came up with in 1919, preferring the title ĎThe Counsels,í the name which she continued to use after the publication of the book. By the fall of 1918, Gibran was preparing to publish his first English book, and another Arabic poem called ĎAl-Mawakibí (The Processions), his first serious attempt at writing a traditional Arabic poem with rhyme and meter.
Gibran's first English book The Madman came out in 1918 and received good reviews from the local press, who compared him to the Indian writer Tagore, famous for bridging the gap between East and West, and the English poet William Blake. The Madman, a collection of parables which was illustrated by Gibran, revealed the influence of Nietzsche, Jung and Tagore. Following the success of The Madman, Gibranís popularity began to soar and gradually Gibran started losing touch with his old acquaintances, Day, Josephine, and now he dissolved his relationship with Rihani. Gibran relished the aura of mystery which he evoked among people, given his undisclosed accounts of his oriental background and his personal reserve.
In 1919, Gibran published his Arabic poem ĎAl-Mawakibí. During the same year, Gibran joined the board of yet another local magazine Fatat Boston, to which he contributed several Arabic articles. Throughout his life, Gibran joined societies and magazines such as Al-Mouhajer, Al-Funnon, The Golden Links Society and Fatat-Boston, in order to create a mouthpiece for avant-garde Arabic writing and unite Arabic literature abroad.
In Fatat-Boston, Gibran developed a close relationship with the Syrian immigrant writer Mikhail Naimy, whom he had met earlier in 1914. Naimy, a critical thinker at the time, was among the first Syrian writers to acknowledge Gibranís efforts at advancing the Arabic language, and correctly making use of Syrian customs and background. He treated Gibranís The Broken Wings as an example of the universal language of literature, pointing out that Selma Karameh could have easily come from a Russian, English or Italian background. However, following Gibranís death, Naimy immortalized Gibran, replacing the man with a godly image.
With Naimy, Gibran formed in April of 1911 a ten-member Syrian ťmigrť organization called Arrabitah Al-Qalamyiah, which promoted the publication of Arabic writings and the transmission of world literature. Throughout its life, Arrabitah was led by Gibranís call for greater artistic freedom, ever encouraging writers to break the rules and seek individual styles. During the time, Gibranís involvement in his Arabic writings distracted him from completing The Prophet for a while. Moreover, Gibran vacillated between resuming work on The Prophet or embarking on a lecture tour, as his spreading popularity demanded more artistic presence from him. However, he continued to view himself as a spokesman of both the Arab and English worlds, a role whose difficulty he admitted.
Meanwhile, Gibran's political ideas were incensing local politicians in Syria, who reacted against his article which stated ĎYou have your Lebanon and I have my Lebanon.í Gibran disapproved of the way the Syrian territories were being managed, and he wrote extensively on the identity of the emerging Arab countries, as the Greater Syria region began to be divided into Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. On the makeup of emerging countries, Gibran called on politicians to adopt the positive aspects of the Western culture and refrain from importing the surface values of guns and clothes. His political thought sooner gave way to a general view on the cultural makeup of countries and the way citizens ought to lead their lives.
By 1920, nearly three-quarters of The Prophet was done while Gibranís Arabic writings continued to occupy his time. In a poignant letter written to Mary, Gibran confessed that he has resolved the identity problem and has balanced the East and West influences, admitting that "I know now that I am a part of the whole -- a fragment of a jar.Ö Now I've found out where I fit, and in a way I am the jar -- and the jar is I."
In 1922, Gibran started to complain about heart trouble, which was later attributed to his nervous psychological state, and he personally admitted: "But my greatest pain is not physical. Thereís something big in meÖ. I've always known it and I canít get it out. Itís a silent greater self, sitting watching a smaller somebody in me do all sorts of things.íí With the near compellation of work on The Prophet, Mary and Gibran acknowledged Nietzscheís great influence on the book, which is reminiscent of Nietzscheís Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Mary had advised Gibran about the style of The Prophet, covering issues such as the use of capitalization, the use of punctuation marks and the form of paragraphs. Gibran had insisted that he wanted his paragraphs to remain short, almost becoming one lines. Mary had always pointed out that Gibran was a man of few words, who limited his letters to a minimum of words.
A few months before the publication of The Prophet, Gibran summarized the book to Mary: "The whole Prophet is saying one thing: Ďyou are far far greater than you know -- and all is well.'
By 1923, Gibran had a well-established reputation in the Arab world through
his Arabic articles, which he contributed to the various local and ťmigrť Arabic
newspapers. During this time, Gibran was gradually depending less on Mary as a
financier and editor. He had agreed earlier with Mary to pay off his loans by
sending her several of his paintings. And as Gibran's confidence in his English writings grew,
his reliance on Mary's opinion dwindled. However, Maryís face remained an
inspiration in his illustrations, for soon Gibran will decide to restrict his
paintings to book illustrations. The Prophet finally came into print in
October of 1923.
The Last Years of Gibran's Life and the Homecoming (1923-1931)
By 1923, Gibran had developed a close correspondence with a Syrian writer, May Ziadeh. Their acceptance began in 1912, when she wrote to Gibran recalling to him how moved she was with the story of Selma Karameh in The Broken Wings.
May, an intellectual writer and an active proponent of womenís emancipation, was born in Palestine where she received classical education in a convent school. In 1908 she had moved to Cairo where her father started a newspaper. Similar to Gibran, May was fluent in English, Arabic and French, and in 1911 she published her poems under the pseudonym Isis Copia. May found The Broken Wings too liberal for her own tastes, but the subject of womenís rights occupied her until the rest of her life and was a common passion between her and Gibran. Later on, May became a champion of Gibranís writings and came to replace Maryís role as an editor and conversant over the coming years. By 1921, Gibran had received her picture and they were to continue corresponding until the end of his life.
During the twenties, Gibran continued to be active in the political arena, writing extensively on the issue of culture and society and the need of the emerging Arab countries to transport the positive sides of Western culture. Gibranís writings had remained controversial in his home country, especially with his liberal views on the Church and clergy. As a writer, Gibran relished controversy, and his writings reflected this spirit. During this period, Gibran concentrated his efforts instead on writing in English. He revealed to Mary that he wished to write small unified books, which could be read in one sitting and carried in oneís pocket.
Mary's role in Gibran's writing career was gradually dwindling, but she came to his rescue when he made some bad investments. Mary had always handled Gibranís financial affairs, ever present to extricate him from his bad financial keeping. However, Mary was about to make her life decision in 1923 by deciding to move into the house of a Southern landowner, to become his future wife in May of 1926. Gibran helped her reach this decision, which slightly clouded their relationship. However, Gibran continued to confide in Mary, and he told her about the second and third parts of The Prophet which he intended to write. The second part was to be called The Garden of the Prophet and it would recount the time the prophet spent in the garden on the island talking to his followers. The third part would be called The Death of the Prophet and it would describe the prophetís return from the island and how he is imprisoned and freed only to be stoned to death in the market place. Gibranís project 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.
As Mary slipped slowly out of his life, Gibran hired a new assistant Henrietta Breckenridge, who later played an important role following his death. She organized his works, helped him edit his writings and managed his studio for him. By 1926, Gibran had become a well-known international figure, a stance which was to his liking. Seeking a greater cosmopolitan exposure, Gibran began in 1926 to contribute articles to the quarterly journal The New Orient, which had an international approach encouraging the East and West to meet. At the time, he had started working on a new English work, Lazarus and His Beloved, which was based on an earlier Arabic work. This book was a dramatic collection of four poems recounting the Bible story of Lazarus, his quest for his soul and his eventual meeting of his soul mate.
In May of 1926, Mary married the Southern Landowner Florance Minis. At the time, Maryís journals reveal Gibranís perception with the writing of Jesus, The Son of Man. Writing the story of Jesus had been a lifetime ambition, especially the attempt at portraying Jesus as no one else has done before. Gibran had traced Jesusí life, never sparing a book that recounted his life journey. To Gibran, Jesus appeared as human acting in natural surroundings and he often had dreams about meeting his ideal character in the natural scenery of Bsharri. Gibranís imagination was further fueled by the native stories he had heard in Lebanon about Jesusí life and acts. Soon, by January of 1927 Mary was editing the book, for Gibran still relied on Maryís editing before sending his works to print.
By 1928, Gibranís health began to deteriorate, and the pain in his body due to his nervous state was on the increase, driving Gibran to seek relief in alcohol. That same year, Gibran was already thinking of the post-life and he began inquiring about purchasing a monastery in Bsharri, which was owned by Christian Carmelites. In November of 1928, Jesus, Son of Man was published and received good reviews from the local press, who delighted in Gibranís treatment of Jesus, the Son of Man. By that time, the artistic circles thought it was high time Gibran was honored; by 1929 every possible society sought to give him a tribute. In honor of his literary success, a special anthology of Gibranís early works was issued by Arrabitah under the title As-Sanabil.
By 1929, doctors were able to trace Gibranís physical ailment to the enlargement of his livers. To avoid the issue of illness, Gibran ignored all medical care, relying instead on heavy drinking. To distract himself, Gibran turned to an old work about three Earth gods written in 1911. This new book recounts the story of three earth gods who watch the drama of a couple falling in love. Mary edited the book which went into print in mid-March of 1930.
By 1930, Gibranís excessive drinking to escape the pain in his liver aggravated his disease, and hopes of finishing the second part of The Prophet, The Garden of the Prophet, dwindled. Gibran revealed to Mary his plans of building a library in Bsharri and soon he drew the last copy of his will. To his pen-pal May Ziadeh, Gibran revealed the fear of death as he admitted, ĎI am, May, a small volcano whose opening has been closed.'
On April 10th 1931, Gibran died at the age of forty-eight in a New York hospital, as the spreading cancer in his liver left him unconscious. The New York streets staged a two-day vigil for Gibranís honor, whose death was mourned in the U.S. and Syria. His will left large amounts of money to his country, since he wanted his Syrian citizens to remain in their country and develop it rather than immigrate. Mary, Mariana and Henrietta all attended to Gibranís studio, organizing his works, sorting out books, illustrations and drawings. To fulfill Gibranís dream, Marianna and Mary travelled in July of 1931 to Syria to bury Gibran in his hometown of Bsharri. Upon Gibranís return, The Lebanese Minister of Arts opened the coffins and honored his body with a decoration of Fine Arts. Meanwhile, Marianna and Mary started negotiating the purchase of the Carmelite monastery Gibran wished to obtain. By January of 1932, the Mar Sarkis monastery was bought and Gibran moved to his final resting-place. Upon Maryís suggestion, his belongings, the books he read, and some of his works and illustrations were later shipped to provide a local collection in the monastery, which turned into a Gibran museum.
With Gibranís death, he rose to the post of a god among some of his fans, who shed his mortal image.
The writing of this biography relied heavily on http://leb.net/gibran page, many thanks