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Rediscovering Khalil Gibran on the Net

Business Times (Malaysia) ; 02-09-2001

THERE may be those who are left untouched by his beautiful poetic language, those who cannot be bothered to ponder over his writings and those to whom the thoughts expressed are irrelevant as the man himself lived from 1883 to 1931.

But Gibran Khalil Gibran who has been referred to as philosophical essayist, novelist and mystical poet, continues to reach as many today, if not more, than in the 1960s when he was most popular in America. His astounding command of language is just as dazzling on the Net as in his printed works to his innumerable followers. And if you are a little in the dark as to the extent of his genius, you are given the opportunity to view his artistry as a painter.

Also, if you do bother to carry out a Net search, you will find much to amaze you about this Lebanese-American, not the least of which is his way with words.

There are several sites focusing on Gibran, (his true name in Arabic being Gibran Khalil Gibran) with quite a few in languages other than English. Many portals feature in part some of his works and others include some bits and pieces of his various writings.

But there are also portals which offer a complete rendition of a particular work. One such link, features in full "The Prophet", which was translated into over 20 languages.

However, one of the more attractive websites is, which enables the viewer to grasp the uniqueness of Gibran by featuring not only part of his works, but also some of his paintings at the museum in Bsharri, Lebanon, where he was born.

(The museum in fact, is housed in the cave which Gibran chose for his tomb.) At the Lebanon Net portal, you can find not only links to other sites on Gibran but several other attractive features as well, such as a search engine that enables you to find quotes by Gibran.

The Works page of this website when reloaded, provides a different Gibran quote each time. And this is what the page revealed once: "Your thought holds that the glory of the nations is in their heroes. It sings the praises of Rameses, Alexander, Caesar, Hannibal, and Napoleon. But mine claims that the real heroes are Confucius, Lao-Tse, Socrates, Plato, Abi Taleb, El Gazali, Jalal Ed-din-el Roumy, Copernicus, and Pasteur."

And that is only a fragment of Gibran's philosophical musings, worded with finesse and a style that always seems to amaze.

At this portal too, are several links to other sites focusing on Gibran with a helpful summary for each.

Another plus for the site is the listing of Gibran's works which include publications of his writings posthumously ("The Earth Gods" in 1931, "The Wanderer: His Parables and His Sayings" in 1932, "The Garden of the Prophet" in 1933 and "Lazarus and His Beloved"). Even selected shorter works ("The New Frontier", "I Believe in You" and "My Countrymen") are listed here.

Is it not surprising (maybe it should not be, knowing this poet's particular skill with words), that even the titles of his works read like poetry?

In 1914, he wrote "A Tear and A Smile" and this is a literal translation of the title in Arabic. This was one of four of his works originally written in Arabic, the others being, "Spirits Rebellious", "The Broken Wings" and "The Procession".

In 1918, Gibran wrote "The Madman" which was in English, as were "The Forerunner", "Sand and Foam" and "Jesus, the Son of Man" (1928), said to be the best of his later works.

But Gibran's most outstandingly popular work has been "The Prophet" (1923) also written originally in English. And if one is looking for information on Gibran's life as well as perceptive comments on his works, visit This site features an essay, entitled, "Kahlil Gibran of America" by Dr Suheil Bushrui who holds the Bahai Chair for World Peace at the University of Maryland.

For anyone who is unaware as to why Gibran is referred to as a Lebanese- American, Bushrui has an explanation. He says, "America is in some ways entitled to claim Kahlil Gibran for one of her own sons as much as his native Lebanon".

Gibran, he says, "spent only the first twelve years of his life in Bsharri (Lebanon), the village where he was born in 1883, before emigrating with his family to the US".

"Apart from two brief return visits to Lebanon and a two-year studentship in Paris, he lived out the last two-thirds of his life, including virtually all of his adulthood, entirely on American soil. It was in New York that he died at the age of 48."

Bushrui also reveals that when General Norman Schwarzkopf was interviewed on television, he had at the side of his bed a pile of books and at the very top of that pile was Gibran's "The Prophet".

The academic notes that this "is perhaps not so very surprising, since millions of Americans have done likewise over the seven decades since it (The Prophet) was first published, and only the Bible has sold more copies in America this century".

"Indeed, The Prophet has a colossal readership all over the world, having been translated into a host of different languages. Nevertheless, this most intimate of works remains a book for individuals rather than multitudes," adds Bushrui.

Besides Schwarzkopf, Gibran touched "other great individuals" as well and Bushrui's following paragraphs should sufficiently impress doubters of this fact.

Says Bushrui, "A putative list would include several US presidents, among them Woodrow Wilson, who told Gibran: `You are the first Eastern storm to sweep this country, and what a number of flowers it has brought!' Did Wilson's predecessor, Teddy Roosevelt, share the unbounded enthusiasm which led his sister to host a grand banquet in Gibran's honour?

"And when John F. Kennedy memorably exhorted Americans: `Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country,' was he consciously quoting words written by Gibran and addressed to the people of Syria and Lebanon half a century earlier? Or did Gibran anticipate with uncanny accuracy a President with a gift for passionate oratory who appealed as much to the hearts as to the minds of his audience?

Bushrui's essay also provides numerous details on almost all facets of Gibran's life. There is information not only on Gibran's arrival in the US but also his development as both an artist and a writer and his benefactors too.

Gibran's life in the US started when he, his mother and siblings settled in Boston's Chinatown and Bushrui says in his essay, "In 1895 the area was a notorious slum and a chaotic amalgam of diverse races, cultures and religions, including the largest Syrian enclave in America after New York.

"A hard life awaited them (Gibran, his mother and three other siblings), especially Gibran's mother Kamila, to whom fell the task of earning enough to sustain four children, her husband having remained in Lebanon.

The essay also makes the reader aware that Gibran had different audiences not merely because he wrote in Arabic and in English but also because he was a painter.

Equally fascinating is Gibran's ambivalence to America and his thoughts on life in America which Bushrui included in his article. Of Americans and life in New York, Gibran had said, "The Americans are a mighty people, indefatigable, persistent, unflagging, sleepless and dreamless. If they hate someone, they kill him with indifference; if they love someone, they smother him with kindness. He who wishes to live in New York should keep a sharp sword by him, but in a sheath full of honey; a sword to punish those who like to kill time, and honey to gratify those who are hungry.

This and a liberal dose of several other Gibran quotes make for some truly scintillating reading.

Yet, it is Gibran who aptly has the final say on himself as is revealed by the Lebanon Net site. In the epitaph displayed over his tomb in the museum at Bsharri, he says, "I am alive like you, and I am standing beside you. Close your eyes.

©Copyright 2001, Business Times (Malaysia)

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