Khalil Gibran: Biography, Poems & Books

Instructor: Rahman Johnson

Rahman is a TV News Anchor with a Master's Degree in Strategic Communications and Leadership.

The most celebrated Lebanese-American poet ever was Khalil Gibran. He was a consummate artist who wanted to change the world and open hearts to spirituality through his art. Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and John Lennon all agree to being influenced by the writing of Khalil Gibran.

A Poet's Work

Khalil Gibran was a writer, artist and poet who is regarded as the third bestselling poet of all time. His sales rank only behind William Shakespeare and Lao-Tsu. The poems that he wrote were primarily about the spirituality of love. His major book, The Prophet, has sold millions of copies worldwide and has been translated into more than 40 different languages. But who was the man behind these staggering figures?

The Life of Khalil Gibran

Gibran was born in 1883 into a pretty poor family in Bsharri, Lebanon. He said that his father was an abusive alcoholic. Because his family didn't have a lot of money, he really didn't receive a formal education. However, he was able to learn English and Arabic though priests who taught him the bible when they made visits to his family.

After trouble with authorities, Khalil's father ended up being thrown in jail and losing the family property. In 1894, his mother took Khalil and his brothers and moved to Boston, Massachusetts in the United States. While in Boston, his teachers introduced him to a local artist who was so impressed with his drawings that some of them were used for a book cover. Gibran was always fascinated by words and art. His ability to see the beauty in the world as well as his spiritual traditions growing up as a Maronite Catholic influenced the way that he wrote.

In an effort to have him retain more of his heritage, Gibran was sent back to Beirut to study. While there at the Al-Hikma (The Wisdom) School, he started a student literary paper and was elected College Poet. He returned to Boston in 1902, again going through Ellis Island.

Also a talented visual artist, Gibran held his first major art show in Boston in 1904. During that show, he met a local headmistress who was 10 years his senior. Many speculated that he and Mary Elizabeth Haskell were romantically linked. However, he was not able to marry because of her family. She remained his patron, dear friend and benefactor for all of his life. In 1908 Gibran went to study art in Paris for two years and met another lifelong friend and artistic study partner, Youssef Howayek.

After returning to the United States, Gibran focused more on writing and publishing. Gibran's early works were almost exclusively in Arabic, but after 1918, the majority of his work was written in English.

The Death and Legacy of Gibran

Although he never had any children of his own, Gibran declared the children of his close friend Mikhail Nahimy to be his. Even though he came through Ellis Island twice, he never became an American citizen. He said the reason that he never explored citizenship was because he loved his homeland too much. Gibran died in New York City, April 10, 1931 at 48 years old. His death was due to cirrhosis of the liver and tuberculosis.

Gibran's wishes to be buried in Lebanon were carried out by his friend Mary Haskell. Haskell and her sister Mariana purchased the Mar Sarkis monastery in Lebanon, which has now become the Gibran Museum. The marker next to his grave reads, 'a word I want to see written on my grave: 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.'

The Writing and Art of Gibran

The works of Gibran (according to him) are heavily influenced by Francis Marrash. Although his writing uses pretty formal language, his focus is very spiritual. Quite often when he speaks of spiritual love, he filters it through the lens of Christianity. Nevertheless, in speaking about mysticism he references Judaism, Islam, Sufism, and theosophy. Gibran once wrote, 'You are my brother and I love you. I love you when you prostrate yourself in your mosque, and kneel in your church and pray in your synagogue. You and I are sons of one faith--the Spirit.'

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