“I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit.”
Kahlil Gibran was a legendary Lebanese-American painter and poet, who wrote extensively in both Arabic and English. His style of poetry broke away from the classical school towards a new Romantic movement in poetic prose. Gibran’s works are full of lyrical outbursts and express his profoundly religious and mystical nature. He did not speak of a specific dogma or religion but promoted universal, non-judgmental spiritualism in the face of existing orthodox religion. According to Professor Juan Cole, University of Michigan, “Many people turned away from the establishment of the Church to Gibran.”
The poet’s major success and cult following can be attributed to his book of prose poetry, ‘The Prophet’. The book is in the form of speeches given by a man named Almustafa about his philosophy of life. It gives timeless insight on a range of topics including eating and drinking, clothing, giving, religion and death. Gibran also drew artworks to accompany each chapter. When considering a literary style, the poet preferred a mock-Biblical delivery, laden with archaisms, and inversions of word-order for a rhetorical effect. He would refer to a girl as a ‘damsel’, a breeze as ‘frolicsome’ and so on. In his works, he held to a level of studious generalization and was fond of personifying emotions and sensations like Love, Beauty, Woman, and Freedom.
Since The Prophet was first published in 1923, it has never once been out of print. The enduring classic has been translated into more than 50 languages and sold tens of millions of copies. Lines from the book have inspired song lyrics, eulogies, wedding speeches and even political campaigns. Yet critics, particularly in the West, have given lukewarm responses about Gibran’s work calling it naïve, simplistic and non-substantive. However, the fact remains that Gibran is the 3rd best selling poet ever and is considered a literary hero in his homeland of Lebanon. His philosophy on life is deeply enriching and applicable universally and many Western Scholars are now comparing him to the likes of Shelley and Blake. In the words of Professor Suheil Bushrui, a prominent Baha’i academic, “We are talking about a renaissance in modern Arabic literature and this renaissance had at its foundation Gibran’s writings.”
By Sanjana Ahuja