Khalil Gibran – خلیل جبران خلیل
Gibran Khalil Gibran was born on January 6, 1883, to the Maronite family of Gibran in Bsharri, a mountainous area in Northern Lebanon.
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. Later in his life, Gibran was to seek and 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. Kamila’s 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 Gibran’s 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 Christ’s wanderings in the wilderness and which remained etched in Gibran’s memory.essay that portrayed a caged bird amid an abundance of symbolism. Despite spending four years in Lebanon learning Arabic, Gibran’s written Arabic left something to be desired. To master Arabic, Gibran relied on his ear for capturing traditional vocabulary, depending heavily on the Arabic 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 émigré writers to break out of tradition and seek an individual style. Throughout his life, Gibran’s 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.loans by sending her several of his paintings, an agreement which settled down their quarrels over money. And as Gibran’s confidence in his English writings grew, his reliance on Mary’s opinion dwindled. However, Mary’s 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, with a modest success in the U.S.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 women’s 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 Gibran’s writings and came to replace Mary’s 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.investments. Mary had always handled Gibran’s 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 prophet’s return from the island and how he is imprisoned and freed only to be stoned to death in the market place. Gibran’s 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.soul mate. 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.
At the age of eight, Khalil Gibran, Gibran’s father, was accused of tax evasion and was sent to prison as the Ottomon authorities confiscated the Gibrans’ 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 Gibran’s uncle who immigrated earlier. The father was released in 1894, but being an irresponsible head of the family 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 Boston’s 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 Arab 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 Arab 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 keep them off the street, and 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 women’s 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 ungraded 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 Lebanon.
With Kamila’s hard work, the family’s 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 mother’s independence allowed him to mingle with Boston’s 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 Gibran’s 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 Day’s artistic unconventionality and his contacts in Boston’s artistic circles. Day introduced Gibran to Greek mythology, world literature, contemporary writings and photography, ever prodding the inquisitive Syrian to seek self-expression. Day’s liberal education and unconventional artistic exploration influenced Gibran, who was to follow Day’s unfettered adoption of the unusual for the sake of originality and self-actualization. Other than working on Gibran’s 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 Day’s 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 Day’s 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 Gibran’s images printed as cover designs for books in 1898. At the time, Gibran began to develop his own technique and style, encouraged by Day’s 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 Gibran’s approval, the young artist went back to Lebanon to finish his education and learn Arabic.
In 1898, Gibran arrived in Beirut speaking poor English and even little Arabic; 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. Gibran’s 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 Gibran’s 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 school’s strict and disciplined atmosphere was not to Gibran’s 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 Gibran’s attention during one of Day’s exhibitions, was intrigued by the young Syrian artist who dedicated a sketch to her, and began corresponding with Gibran throughout his stay in Lebanon. Soon, he became romantically involved with Josephine, and they kept exchanging letters until the relationship fell apart, following the rebuffal of Gibran’s marriage proposal and Josephine’s eventual marriage in 1906.
Gibran finished college in 1902, learning Arabic and French and excelling in his studies, especially poetry. Meanwhile, his relationship with his father became strained over Gibran’s 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 Sultana’s intestinal trouble and his mother’s developing cancer. Upon receiving news of Sultana’s dire illness, Gibran left Lebanon in March of 1902.
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 Boston’s artistic circles. Gibran’s 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 Gibran’s heart, became an inflectional person in his life, the Bostonian poet constantly referring to Gibran as ‘her young prophet’. Greatly intrigued by his oriental background, Josephine was charmed by Gibran’s vividly illustrated correspondences and conversations. Josephine’s 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 Gibran’s 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 Gibran’s 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 mother’s 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 Boston’s society. The exhibition opened on May 3, 1904, and proved a success with the critics. However, the exhibition’s significance lay elsewhere. Josephine, through her future husband, invited a schoolmistress called Mary Haskell to examine Gibran’s drawings. This introduction to the schoolmistress was to mark the beginning of a lifetime relationship, which would greatly influence Gibran’s writing career. Gibran had sought Josephine’s 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. Josephine’s 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 Gibran’s 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 women’s liberation, who was set apart to Josephine Peabody’s romantic nature. Mary was the reason behind Gibran’s 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. Mary’s collaboration and editing of his various English works polished Gibran’s work, most of which first underwent Mary’s 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 Gibran’s language and his thoughts.
The significance of Mary’s relationship with Gibran is revealed through her diaries, in which she recorded Gibran’s 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 Gibran’s personal thoughts and ideas, which he kept away from the public eye.
In 1904, Gibran started to contribute articles to the Arabic-speaking émigré newspaper called Al-Mouhajer (The Emigrant), marking his first published written work. His first publication was called ‘Vision’, a romantic
Gibran’s first Arabic written work came out in 1905 with the publication of Nubthah fi Fan Al-Musiqa (Music), a book inspired by his brother’s ‘oud playing and Day’s several invitations to the Opera. During that year, Gibran started a column in Al-Mohajer called ‘Tears and Laughter’’, which was to form the basis of his book A Tear and a Smile. While writing in Al-Mohajer, a certain Arabic émigré writer called Ameen Rihani, wrote to the magazine lauding Gibran’s 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 Gibran’s, 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- ‘Martha’, ‘Yuhanna the Mad’, and ‘Dust of Ages and the Eternal Fire’- 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 ‘The Madman,’ whose beginnings can be traced to Gibran’s early Arabic writings. What characterized Gibran’s 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 Lebanon, portraying a married woman’s emancipation from her husband, a heretic’s call for freedom, a bride’s 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 women’s 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 Syrian government.
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 Gibran’s 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 Lebanon 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. During the war years, Gibran went into a depression that distracted his thoughts and debilitated his health. Despite his active and widespread writings about the Arab uprising against the Ottomans, Giban felt helpless, contributing whatever money he spared to his starving Syria. To distract himself from war thoughts, Gibran tried to seek further recognition in New York, boosting his social life and joining in 1916 the literary magazine The Seven Arts. Gibran prided himself in being the first immigrant to join the board of this magazine, which reflected Gibran’s literary style. At the time, Gibran’s 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 ‘my island man,’ the seeds of his most famous book The Prophet. Based on a Promethean man’s 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 Gibran’s musings about the book, which he later called ‘the first book in my career –my 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 Mary’s advice constantly. Gibran had always been fascinated by the language of the Syriac Bible, which reflected Gibran’s views on the creation of ‘an absolute language’, 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, love…infiltrated 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 ‘The Counsels,’ 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 ‘Al-Mawakib’ (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, Gibran’s 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 ‘Al-Mawakib’, which received little success from the Arab press. 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. However, Gibran’s success as an Arabic writer remained limited. Ironically, his Arabic language was still not up to standards and received little success in the Arabic press.
In Fatat-Boston, Gibran developed a close relationship with an Arab immigrant writer Mikhail Naimy, whom he had met earlier in 1914. Naimy, a critical thinker at the time, was among the first Arab writers to acknowledge Gibran’s efforts at advancing the Arab language, and correctly making use of Arab customs and background. He treated Gibran’s 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 Gibran’s death, Naimy immortalized Gibran, replacing the man with a godly image.
With Naimy, Gibran formed in April of 1911 a ten-member Arab émigré organization called Arrabitah Al-Qalamyiah, which promoted the publication of Arab writings and the transmission of world literature. Throughout its life, Arrabitah was led by Gibran’s call for greater artistic freedom, ever encouraging writers to break the rules and seek individual styles. During the time, Gibran’s 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 ‘You have your Lebanon and I have my Lebanon.’ 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 Gibran’s Arab 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.… 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. There’s something big in me…. I’ve always known it and I can’t get it out. It’s a silent greater self, sitting watching a smaller somebody in me do all sorts of things.’’ With the near compellation of work on The Prophet, Mary and Gibran acknowledged Nietzsche’s great influence on the book, which is reminiscent of Nietzsche’s 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 summarizeed the book to Mary: “The whole Prophet is saying one thing: ‘you 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 émigré 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
By 1923, Gibran had developed a close correspondence with an Arab 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 women’s 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
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. Gibran’s 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. His limited success in the Arab world drove Gibran to abandon the cause of gaining acceptance as an Arabic writer and he concentrated his efforts instead on writing in English. Slowly, Gibran was getting to grips with his writing, creating a style of language, as he revealed to Mary that he wished to write small unified books, which could be read in one sitting and carried in one’s pocket.
Mary’s role in Gibran’s writing career was gradually dwindling, but she came to his rescue when he made some bad
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
In May of 1926, Mary married the Southern Landowner Florance Minis. At the time, Mary’s journals reveal Gibran’s 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 Jesus’ life from Syria to Palestine, 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. Gibran’s imagination was further fueled by the native stories he had heard in Lebanon about Jesus’ life and acts. Soon, by January of 1927 Mary was editing the book, for Gibran still relied on Mary’s editing before sending his works to print.
By 1928, Gibran’s 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. Soon Gibran’s excess drinking turned him into an alcoholic at the height of the prohibition period in the U.S. 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 Gibran’s 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 Gibran’s early works was issued by Arrabitah under the title As-Sanabil.
Gibran’s mental health, however, and his alcohol addiction drove him in one evening to burst out crying, lamenting the weakness of his mature works. ‘I have lost my original creative power,’ he lamented to an audience during a reading of one of his mature works. By 1929, doctors were able to trace Gibran’s 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
By 1930, Gibran’s 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, ‘I 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 Gibran’s honor, whose death was mourned in the U.S. and Lebanon. 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 Gibran’s studio, organizing his works, sorting out books, illustrations and drawings. To fulfill Gibran’s dream, Marianna and Mary travelled in July of 1931 to Lebanon to bury Gibran in his hometown of Bsharri. The citizens of Lebanon received his coffin with celebration rather than mourning, rejoicing his homecoming, for in death Gibran’s popularity increased. Upon Gibran’s 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 Mary’s 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.