Kahlil Gibrans The Prophet: Why is he so loved? (2023)

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Kahlil Gibrans The Prophet: Why is he so loved? (1)

Von Shoku Amirani and Stephanie Hegarty

BBC World Service

Kahlil Gibran is considered one of the world's best-selling poets, and his life inspired a body of work that toured the UK and the Middle East. But many critics were indifferent to his merits. Why, then, did his seminal work, The Daily Prophet, strike a chord with generations of readers?

Since its publication in 1923, The Prophet has never been out of print. evergreen has been translated into more than 50 languages ​​and is a permanent fixture on international bestseller lists. It is believed to have sold tens of millions of copies.

Though virtually ignored by the Western literary establishment, lines from the book have inspired song lyrics and political speeches, and have been read at weddings and funerals around the world.

“It is used for different occasions or great moments in life, which is why it is often a book given to a lover, birth or death. That's why it spread so widely and by word of mouth," says Dr. Mohamed Salah Omri, professor of modern Arabic literature at Oxford University.

(Video) The Prophet by Khalil Gibran - Excerpt II: Love (With critique and analysis)

The Beatles, John F. Kennedy and Indira Gandhi are among those influenced by his words.

“This book has a way of appealing to people at different stages of life. It has this magical quality, the more you read, the better you understand the words,” says the Rev. Laurie Sue, an interfaith pastor in New York who has led hundreds of weddings with readings from the prophet.

"But it is not filled with any kind of dogma, it is available to everyone, whether they are Jews, Christians or Muslims."

The book consists of 26 prose poems preached as sermons by a sage named Al Mustapha. After 12 years of exile on a fictional island, he is about to return home when the people of the island ask him to share his wisdom on the big issues of life: love, family, work and death.

Its popularity peaked in the 1930s and again in the 1960s, when it became the bible of the counterculture.

"A lot of people moved away from the church organization after Gibran," says Professor Juan Cole, a Middle East historian at the University of Michigan who has translated several of Gibran's works from Arabic.

“He offered a universal spiritualism free of dogmas in contrast to orthodox religion, and his vision of the spiritual was not moralistic. In fact, he asked people not to judge ”.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the immense popularity of his writings, The Daily Prophet was criticized by many Western critics as simplistic, naive, and insubstantial.

"In the West, it was not accepted into the canon of English literature," says Cole. "Although his major works were written in English after 1918 and he is one of the best-selling poets in American history, English teachers despised him."

"Frankly, he was despised as a 'bubble head' by Western academics because he appealed to the masses. I think he was misunderstood in the West. He is certainly not an airhead, in fact his writings in Arabic have a very sophisticated style.

(Video) "On Love" by Kahlil Gibran (sung by Lisa Hannigan & Glen Hansard)

"There is no question that it deserves a place in the Western canon. It is strange to teach English literature and ignore a literary phenomenon."

A painter and writer by profession, Gibran was trained in the Symbolist tradition in Paris in 1908. He associated with the intellectual elite of his day, including figures such as WB Yeats, Carl Jung and August Rodin, all of whom painted and painted.

Symbolists such as Rodin and the English poet and artist William Blake, who was a major influence on Gibran, favored Romanticism over Realism, and it was a movement that was already outdated by the 1920s, when modernists such as TS Eliot and Ezra Pound won. popularity. .

He painted more than 700 paintings, watercolors and drawings, but since most of his paintings were sent back to Lebanon after his death, they were abandoned in the West.

Professor Suheil Bushrui, the Kahlil Gibran Professor of Values ​​and Peace at the University of Maryland, compares Gibran to English romantics like Shelley and Blake, saying that, like Gibran, Blake was fired in his day.

"They used to call him 'Crazy Blake.' He is now an important figure in English literature.

He is still celebrated as a literary hero in his native Lebanon.

His style, which broke with the classical school, pioneered a new romantic movement in Arabic poetic prose literature.

“We are talking about a renaissance in modern Arabic literature, and that renaissance was based on Gibran's writings,” says Professor Suheil Bushrui, chair of the Kahlil Gibran Chair in Values ​​and Peace at the University of Maryland.

In the Arab world, Gibran is considered a rebel in both literary and political terms. He immigrated to the United States when he was 12 years old, but returned three years later to study in Lebanon, where he witnessed the injustices inflicted on peasants by its Ottoman rulers.

(Video) Do Not Love Half Lovers – Khalil Gibran (Powerful Life Poetry)

“He was a Christian, but he saw things being done in the name of Christianity that he couldn't accept,” says Bushrui.

In her writings she raged against the oppression of women and the tyranny of the Church and demanded freedom from Ottoman rule.

"What he did was revolutionary and there were protests against it in the Arab world," says Juan Cole. "Therefore, he is seen as an innovator in Arabic literature, not unlike someone like WB Yeats in the West."

Political leaders considered his ideas poisonous to young people, and one of his books, Spirit Rebellious, was burned in the Beirut market shortly after its publication.

By the 1930s, Gibran had become a prominent and charismatic figure in the Lebanese community and in New York literary circles.

But the success of his writing in English is due to a woman named Mary Haskell, progressive headmaster of the Boston School, who became his patron and confidante, as well as his editor.

Haskell supported him financially throughout his career until The Prophet was published in 1923.

Their relationship became a love affair, and although Gibran proposed to her twice, they never married.

Haskell's conservative family would never have accepted her marrying an immigrant at the time, says Jean Gibran, who married Kahlil Gibran's godson and namesake and spent five years writing a biography of the writer.

(Video) The Prophet By Kahlil Gibran - Excerpt VII: Work and Labor (With Analysis and Critique)

In their book, Jean Gibran and her late husband did not shy away from the less favorable aspects of Gibran's character. They admit that he was known for cultivating his own celebrity.

He even went so far as to create a mythology around himself and claimed to be of noble lineage.

But Jean Gibran says that he never claimed to be a saint or a prophet. "As a poor but proud immigrant to Boston's elite, he didn't want people to look down on him. He was a fragile person and aware of his own weaknesses."

But that probably didn't matter to Gibran's English readers.

“I don't know how many people who have picked up, read or given The Prophet actually know or care about Gibran's man,” says Dr. Mohamed Salah Omri.

“Perhaps part of the appeal is that this book could have been written by anyone, and that's what we're doing with Scripture. Just that."

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