Biography of Prophet Author Kahlil Gibran Part 2

About the famous author of The Prophet Kahlil Gibran, biography and history of the Lebanese mystic.


Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931)

At the first exhibition of his mystical paintings, held in Boston in 1904, he acquired a benefactress and a lifelong friend. He was then 21, short and slender, with full lips under his mustache and soulful eyes above it. Mary Haskell, a daughter of impoverished southern gentility, headmistress of her own school in Cambridge, was 31. Gibran described her as "a she-angel who is ushering me toward a splendid future and paving for me the path to intellectual and financial success." Specifically, she offered to support him out of her meager earnings, staking him to two years in Paris and setting him up on his return in a studio in New York's Greenwich Village, where he lived from 1911 until his death. This one-room studio, which he called the Hermitage, became a central gathering place for writers and artists, particularly expatriate Arab literati.

Mary Haskell also served as Gibran's editor, helping crystallize his parables and aphorisms into irreducible "nuggets of wisdom," and as a soul mate for 20 years. Their correspondence, published in Beloved Prophet (1972), alternated between ardent passion and burning self-denial. Gibran proposed marriage, either out of guilt or gratitude, but he was refused. ("He who would understand a woman," according to one of Gibran's startling non sequiturs, "is the very man who would wake from a beautiful dream to sit at a breakfast table.") By 1923 the couple had grown apart, and Mary eventually left New York for Savannah, Ga., and marriage to a southern aristocrat, J. Florance Minis.

It was in his New York studio that Gibran found his stride as an artist and writer. In both fields his style was eclectic. His drawings of yearning nudes and his portraits exuding spirituality were influenced by Da Vinci, mystic William Blake, and sculptor Auguste Rodin. His parables and aphorisms derived from such diverse sources as the Bible, La Fontaine, and Nietzsche.

Gibran's first works, which had been inspired by star-crossed love for Hala Daher, included Spirits Rebellious (1908), banned by the Turkish authorities in the Middle East as "revolutionary and poisonous to youth," and The Broken Wings (1912), an autobiographical novel of frustrated love and a best-seller in the Arabic-speaking world.

During the years in New York, however, Gibran turned to more universal themes, producing a dozen slender volumes about love and other spiritual strivings. In 1918 he published The Madman, a benign, idealistic version of Nietzsche's nihilistic superman. ("Madness in art is creation," Gibran wrote. "Madness in poetry is wisdom.") In 1923 he finished The Prophet, 26 minisermons on love, freedom, pain, and sorrow, which he had been polishing for years. This he followed in 1926 with Sand and Foam, a collection of aphorisms (example: "An exaggeration is a truth that lost its temper.").

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