The Kahlil Gibran Collective

The Artist The Poet The Man

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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, GibrankhalilGibran, kahlilgibran, knopf, TheProphet

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al-Nabī [The Prophet], Translated into Arabic by Antūniyūs Bashīr, al-Qāirah: al-Maṭbaʻah al-Raḥmānīyah bi-Miṣr, 1926.

Tags: 1926, al-nabi, arabic, GibrankhalilGibran, kahlilgiran, TheProphet

In Digital Archive

Kahlil Gibran: The Prophet, The Artist, The Man [Guide], State Library of New South Wales, 4 December 2010 to 20 February 2011.

Tags: 2011, australia, Exhibiton, guide, TheProphet