The Kahlil Gibran Collective

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The Kahlil Gibran Digital Archive

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Gibran’s masterpiece, The Prophet, was published in September 1923. The earliest references to a mysterious prophet counseling his people before returning to his island home can be found in Haskell’s journal from 1912. Gibran worked on it from time to time and had finished much of it by 1919. He seems to have written it in Arabic and then translated it into English. As with most of his English books, Haskell acted as his editor, correcting Gibran’s chronically defective spelling and punctuation but also suggesting improvements in the wording. The work begins with the prophet Almustafa preparing to leave the city of Orphalese, where he has lived for twelve years, to return to the island of his birth. The people of the city gather and beg him not to leave, but the seeress Almitra, knowing that his ship has come for him, asks him instead to tell them his truths. The people ask him about the great themes of human life: love, marriage, children, giving, eating and drinking, and many others, concluding with death. Almustafa speaks of each of the themes in sober, sonorous aphorisms grouped into twenty-six short chapters. As in earlier books, Gibran illustrated The Prophet with his own drawings, adding to the power of the work. The Prophet received tepid reviews in Poetry and The Bookman, an enthusiastic review in the Chicago Evening Post, and little else. On the other hand, the public reception was intense. It began with a trickle of grateful letters; the first edition sold out in two months; 13,000 copies a year were sold during the Great Depression, 60,000 in 1944, and 1,000,000 by 1957. Many millions of copies were sold in the following decades, making Gibran the best-selling American poet of the twentieth century. It is clear that the book deeply moved many people. When critics finally noticed it, they were baffled by the public response; they dismissed the work as sentimental, overwritten, artificial, and affected. Neither The Prophet nor Gibran’s work, in general, are mentioned in standard accounts of twentieth-century American literature, though Gibran is universally considered a major figure in Arabic literature. Part of the critical puzzlement stems from a failure to appreciate an Arabic aesthetic: The Prophet is a Middle Eastern work that stands closer to eastern didactic classics such as the Book of Job and the works of the twelfth- and thirteenth-century Persian poets Rumi and Sa’di than to anything in the modern American canon. Gibran knew that he would never surpass The Prophet, and for the most part, his later works do not come close to measuring up to it. The book made him a celebrity, and his monastic lifestyle added to his mystique.

Tags: 1923, knopf, NewYork, TheProphet

In Digital Archive

Al-Bada’i’ wa al-tara’if (Best Things and Masterpieces), a collection of thirty-five of Gibran’s pieces, was published in Cairo in 1923. The works had been selected by the publisher, and the collection is uneven and miscellaneous. It includes several short articles on major Arab thinkers, illustrated with portraits drawn from Gibran’s imagination, and prose poems and sketches of the sort familiar from his earlier collections. Two pieces are of more interest than the others. “Safinat al-dubab” (A Ship in the Mist) is a strange romantic short story. A lonely young man dreams of a woman who visits him continually in his sleep and is his wife in spirit. When he is sent to Venice, he finds her; but she has just died. Iram, dhat al-’imad (Iram, City of Lofty Pillars) is a one-act play set in a city mentioned in the Qur’an. A young scholar, Najib Rahma, comes to the mysterious city seeking a prophetess, Amina al-’Alawiya, who is said to have visited there. He first meets her disciple, the dervish Zayn al-’Abidin; then Amina al-’Alawiya appears and expounds a monistic mystical philosophy.

Tags: 1923, Al-Bada’i’-wa-altara'if, bestthingsandmasterpieces, GibrankhalilGibran, kahilgibran

In 1920-1930

al-Shawaeir al-sharifa [The Noble Sentiments], Edited by Yaqub Rouphail, New York: Al-Hoda Press, 1923 [digitized by the Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA]. 
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al-Shawaeir al-sharifa [The Noble Sentiments], is an edited collection of poems and speeches presented on April 7, 1923 in honor of Silver Anniversary celebration of Al-Hoda [Guidance]; the second half of the text contains material presented at a similar celebration several months later in Mexico City. Al-Hoda, one of the earliest Arabic-language Lebanese-American newspapers,was founded by Naoum A. Mokarzel (1864-1932), who also headed a publishing press under the same name. Edited by Yaqub Rouphail, who served as editor of al-Akhlaq [Manners] magazine, the text contains contributions by many notable Arab-Americans including: Kahlil Gibran, Mikhail Naimy, Nadrah Haddad, and the feminist writer Afifa Karam. The pieces predominantly consist of celebrations of Naoum Mokarzel, the publishing press, and the numerous cultural and professional accomplishments achieved by the Lebanese-American community in just 35 years.

Tags: 1923, al-Hoda, arabic, thenoblesentiments