The Kahlil Gibran Collective

The Artist The Poet The Man

The Kahlil Gibran Digital Archive

Search Digital Archive

In Digital Archive

War and the Small Nations, The Borzoi, New York: Knopf, 1920 p. 88-89

Tags: GibrankhalilGibran, kahlilgibran, knopf, theborzoi, warandsmallnations

In Digital Archive

Gibran’s first book in English, 'The Madman: His Parables and Poems,' was completed in 1917; it was brought out in 1918 by the young literary publisher Alfred A. Knopf, who went on to publish all of Gibran’s English works. An introduction, in which the narrator tells how he became a madman when a thief stole his masks and he ran maskless through the streets, is followed by a series of pieces that were written, and sometimes published, separately. Most were composed in Arabic and translated into English by Gibran with Haskell’s editorial assistance. New here are a sardonic or bitter tone and a move from prose poem to parable as Gibran’s major mode of expression. The pieces include “The Two Cages,” in which a caged sparrow greets a caged lion each morning as “brother,” and “The Three Ants,” in which the insects meet on the nose of a sleeping man. The first two remark on the barren nature of this strange land; the third insists that they are on the nose of the Supreme Ant. The other ants laugh at his strange preaching; at that moment the man awakes, scratches his nose, and crushes the ants. Reviews were mixed but mostly positive. Mayy Ziyada, however, told Gibran that the “cruelty” and “dark caverns” in the work made her nervous. Several of the poems were anthologized in poetry collections.

Tags: GibrankhalilGibran, kahilgibran, knopf, themadman, themadmanhisparablesandpoems

In Digital Archive

In 1920 Knopf published 'The Forerunner: His Parables and Poems.' It begins with a prologue in which the narrator says that each person is his or her own forerunner. Among the twenty-three parables are one in which a king abandons his kingdom for the forest; another in which a saint meets a brigand and confesses to committing the same sins as the bandit; and a third in which a weathercock complains because the wind always blows in his face. The volume closes with a speech, “The Last Watch,” presumably by the Forerunner, addressing the people of a sleeping city. The bitterness of the wartime writings of the years is largely gone, replaced by an ethereal love and pity for humanity that foreshadows Gibran’s later work.

Tags: GibrankhalilGibran, kahlilgibran, knopf, theforerunner

In Digital Archive

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, GibrankhalilGibran, kahlilgibran, knopf, TheProphet

In Digital Archive

In 1926 Gibran published Sand and Foam. It comprises about three hundred aphorisms of two to a dozen lines, generally written in the style of The Prophet. Sand and Foam is decorated with Gibran’s drawings, and the aphorisms are separated by floral dingbats also drawn by Gibran. Some scholars consider this book the off cuts of The Prophet, written on various materials from match box cartons and napkins whenever inspiration would take hold.

Tags: 1926, GibrankhalilGibran, kahlilgibran, knopf, sandandfoam