About the Author
Kahlil Gibran was born in Northern Lebanon on January 6th 1883. His mother, Kamila, came from a very religious background and he and his older half-brother and two younger sisters were brought up as Marmonite Christians. A local priest taught Kahlil Biblical lessons and, noticing that the young boy was bright and inquisitive, also taught him the basics of various other subjects such as writing, reading, history and science. In his own time Kahlil indulged in the arts and would sketch and draw the beautiful surroundings of the mountainous region the Gibrans lived in.
When Kahlil was eight years old his father was arrested for tax evasion after leading the family into poverty and Kamila decided that the family should relocate to the USA, following in the footsteps of Kahlil's uncle who had moved to America a few years earlier. His father was released from prison a year before the family left but he elected to stay in Lebanon.
The family settled in Boston's Syrian neighbourhood and Kamila worked as a seamstress and peddler, selling fabrics from door to door. Only two months after arriving Kahlil was already in school and although he didn't speak English the teachers were quick to take notice of his talent as an artist and introduced him to local photographer/artist/publisher Fred Holland Day who helped Kahlil to further his artistic endeavours.
Through the Holland Day connection Kahlil became a well-known artist at a young age in Boston but his mother felt that it was all too much too soon and he returned to Lebanon to complete his education. He stayed there for 4 years but during this period his mother, half-brother and sister all developed serious illnesses back in the USA and so Kahlil returned to America to help his family.
When he arrived he discovered that his sister had already died and his mother and half brother would follow too not long after. Kahlil sold the family business and began to concentrate on his art and in 1904 had his first exhibition which was a critical success. At the exhibition he met Mary Haskell, a school teacher who would end up financing his burgeoning career. As well as drawing he was also developing his writing abilities and would spend much of his time translating his Arabic writing into English. Mary Haskell convinced him to write in English and also helped him with language, grammar, editing and various other important literary factors that contributed to his growth as a writer.
His first written work was published that same year in an immigrant newspaper. His first book, written in Arabic, came out the following year and was followed by more books and articles. In 1918 his first book written in English, `The Madman', was published. In the book he discusses freedom, spirituality, God and justice taken from the viewpoint of a `madman'. The book was a critical success and although it only sold modestly his reputation began to grow and he began to move in new literary circles. Two years later his second book written in English, `The Forerunner', was published in which he continued to concentrate on the expansive themes he had explored in `The Madman'.
Both of these books set the stage for what was to become Kahlil's masterpiece, `The Prophet', which was published in 1923. In the book a prophet is making his journey home after living away for many years and on his way to board the ship he stops and discusses many moral and spiritual matters with a group of people. There are 26 essays in the poetry/prose style that was so effective in Gibran's hands and the book has gone on to sell millions of copies in over 20 different languages. It has never been out of print, being a particular favourite of the 1960s counter-culture scene.
Gibran followed `The Prophet' with `Sand And Foam' in 1926 which also caught the imagination of people in the Sixties, most notably John Lennon who borrowed a couplet of Kahlil's for the Beatles' song `Julia' which featured on their legendary `White Album'. One of the last books Kahlil wrote was `Jesus, The Son Of Man' which took various characters from the Bible and imagined what their personal viewpoint of Jesus would have been and this book also won rave reviews in critical circles.
By 1928, the year `Jesus, The Son Of Man' was published; Kahlil's physical and mental health had begun to decline. A shoulder injury that he sustained whilst a child, and that progressively got worse over the years, became so painful that he turned to drink to dull the pain and subsequently became an alcoholic. He distracted himself from his various ailments and injuries by writing but it was not long before the excessive drinking got the better of him and he died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1931 and, as was his wish, was returned to Lebanon to be buried. Since his death his stature has only grown and `The Prophet', which was one of the best selling books in the US in the whole of the 20th century, is still popular now as are many of his other works.
--This text refers to an alternate
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
You ask me how I became a madman. It happened
thus: One day, long before many gods
were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found
all my masks were stolen, the seven masks I have fashioned
and worn in seven lives. I ran maskless through
the crowded streets shouting:
"Thieves, thieves, the cursed thieves."
Men and women laughed at me and some ran to their
houses in fear of me.
And when I reached the marketplace, a youth standing
on a housetop cried, "He is a madman." I looked up
to behold him; the sun kissed my own naked face for the
first time. For the first time the sun kissed my own naked
face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun,
and I wanted my masks no more. And as if in a trance
I cried, "Blessed, blessed are the thieves who stole my
Thus I became a madman.
And I have found both freedom of loneliness and the
safety from being understood, for those who understand
us enslave something in us.
But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a thief
in a jail is safe from another thief.
--This text refers to an alternate