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Khalil Gibran (born Gibran Khalil Gibran bin Mikhā'īl bin Sa'ad; Arabic , January 6, 1883 – April 10, 1931 ) also known as Kahlil Gibran, was a Lebanese American artist, poet, and writer. Born in the town of Bsharrimarker in modern-day Lebanonmarker (then part of the Ottoman Mount Lebanon mutasarrifate), as a young man he emigrated with his family to the United Statesmarker where he studied art and began his literary career. He is chiefly known for his 1923 book The Prophet, a series of philosophical essays written in English prose. An early example of Inspirational fiction, the book sold well despite a cool critical reception, and became extremely popular in the 1960s counterculture.


In Lebanon

Gibran was born in the Christian Maronite town of Bsharrimarker (in modern day northern Lebanonmarker) to the daughter of a Maronite priest. His mother Kamila was thirty when he was born; his father, also named Khalil, was her third husband. As a result of his family's poverty, Gibran received no formal schooling during his youth. However, priests visited him regularly and taught him about the Bible, as well as the Arabic and Syriac languages.

Gibran's father initially worked in an apothecary but, with gambling debts he was unable to pay, he went to work for a local Ottoman-appointed administrator or local warlord.

Around 1891, extensive complaints by angry subjects led to the administrator being removed and his staff being investigated. Gibran's father was imprisoned for alleged embezzlement, and his family's property was confiscated by the authorities. With no home, Kamila Gibran decided to follow her brother to the United States. Although Gibran's father was released in 1894, Kamila remained resolved and left for New Yorkmarker on June 25, 1895, taking Khalil, his younger sisters Mariana and Sultana, and his elder half-brother Peter(/Bhutros/Butrus).

In the United States

The Gibrans settled in Bostonmarker's South Endmarker, at the time the second largest Syrian/Lebanese-American community in the United States. Due to a mistake at school he was registered as Kahlil Gibran.

His mother began working as a seamstress peddler, selling lace and linens that she carried from door to door. Gibran started school on September 30, 1895. School officials placed him in a special class for immigrants to learn English. Gibran also enrolled in an art school at a nearby settlement house. Through his teachers there, he was introduced to the avant-garde Boston artist, photographer, and publisher Fred Holland Day, who encouraged and supported Gibran in his creative endeavors. A publisher used some of Gibran's drawings for book covers in 1898.

Gibran's mother, along with his elder brother Peter, wanted him to absorb more of his own heritage rather than just the Western aesthetic culture he was attracted to, so at the age of fifteen, Gibran returned to his homeland to study at a Maronite-run preparatory school and higher-education institute in Beirutmarker. He started a student literary magazine with a classmate and was elected "college poet". He stayed there for several years before returning to Boston in 1902, coming through Ellis Islandmarker on May 10. Two weeks before he got back, his sister Sultana died of tuberculosis at the age of 14. The next year, Peter died of the same disease and his mother died of cancer. His sister Marianna supported Gibran and herself by working at a dressmaker’s shop.

Art and poetry

Gibran held his first art exhibition of his drawings in 1904 in Bostonmarker, at Day’s studio. During this exhibition, Gibran met Mary Elizabeth Haskell, a respected headmistress ten years his senior. The two formed an important friendship that lasted the rest of Gibran’s life. Though publicly discreet, their correspondence reveals an exalted intimacy . Haskell influenced not only Gibran’s personal life, but also his career . In 1908, Gibran went to study art with Auguste Rodin in Parismarker for two years. While there he met his art study partner and lifelong friend Youssef Howayek. He later studied art in Bostonmarker .

Juliet Thompson, one of Gibran's acquaintances, reported several anecdotes relating to Gibran: She recalls Gibran met `Abdu'l-Bahá, the leader of the Bahá’í Faith at the time of his visit to the United States, circa 1911-1912. Barbara Young, in “This Man from Lebanon: A Study of Khalil Gibran”, records Gibran was unable to sleep the night before meeting `Abdu’l-Bahá who sat for a pair of portraits. Thompson reports Gibran saying that all the way through writing of “Jesus, The Son of Man”, he thought of `Abdu’l-Bahá. Years later, after the death of `Abdu’l-Bahá, there was a viewing of the movie recording of `Abdu’l-Bahá - Gibran rose to talk and in tears, proclaimed an exalted station of `Abdu’l-Bahá and left the event weeping.

While most of Gibran's early writings were in Arabic, most of his work published after 1918 was in English. His first book for the publishing company Alfred Knopf, in 1918, was The Madman, a slim volume of aphorisms and parables written in biblical cadence somewhere between poetry and prose. Gibran also took part in the New York Pen League, also known as the "immigrant poets" (al-mahjar), alongside important Lebanese-American authors such as Ameen Rihani, Elia Abu Madi and Mikhail Naimy, a close friend and distinguished master of Arabic literature, whose descendants Gibran declared to be his own children, and whose nephew, Samir, is a godson of Gibran's.

Much of Gibran's writings deal with Christianity, especially on the topic of spiritual love. His poetry is notable for its use of formal language, as well as insights on topics of life using spiritual terms. Gibran's best-known work is The Prophet, a book composed of twenty-six poetic essays. The book became especially popular during the 1960s with the American counterculture and New Age movements. Since it was first published in 1923, The Prophet has never been out of print. Having been translated into more than twenty languages, it was one of the bestselling books of the twentieth century in the United States.

One of his most notable lines of poetry in the English-speaking world is from "Sand and Foam" (1926), which reads : “Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it so that the other half may reach you”. This line was used by John Lennon and placed, though in a slightly altered form, into the song Julia from The Beatles' 1968 album The Beatles (a.k.a. "The White Album").

Political thought

Gibran called for the adoption of Arabic as a national language of Syria and the application of Arabic at all school levels. When Gibran met `Abdu'l-Bahá in 1911-12, who traveled to the United States partly to promote peace, Gibran admired the teachings on peace but argued that Syrian lands should be freed from Ottoman control.. Gibran also wrote the famous "Pity The Nation" poem during these years which was posthumously published in The Garden of the Prophet.

When the Ottomans were finally driven out of Syria during World War I, Gibran's exhilaration was manifested in a sketch called "Free Syria" which appeared on the front page of al-Sa'ih's special "victory" edition. Moreover, in a draft of a play, still kept among his papers, Gibran expressed great hope for national independence and progress. This play, according to Khalil Hawi, "defines Gibran's belief in Syrian nationalism with great clarity, distinguishing it from both Lebanese and Arab nationalism, and showing us that nationalism lived in his mind, even at this late stage, side by side with internationalism."

Death and legacy

Khalil Gibran memorial in Boston, Massachusetts.
Gibran died in New York Citymarker on April 10, 1931: the cause was determined to be cirrhosis of the liver and tuberculosis. Before his death, Gibran expressed the wish that he be buried in Lebanon. This wish was fulfilled in 1932, when Mary Haskell and his sister Mariana purchased the Mar Sarkismarker Monastery in Lebanonmarker, which has since become the Gibran Museum. The words written next to Gibran's grave are "a word I want to see written on my grave: I am alive like you, and I am standing beside you. Close your eyes and look around, you will see me in front of you ...."

Gibran willed the contents of his studio to Mary Haskell. There she discovered her letters to him spanning twenty-three years. She initially agreed to burn them because of their intimacy, but recognizing their historical value she saved them. She gave them, along with his letters to her which she had also saved, to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hillmarker Library before she died in 1964. Excerpts of the over six hundred letters were published in "Beloved Prophet" in 1972.

Mary Haskell Minis (she wed Jacob Florance Minis in 1923) donated her personal collection of nearly one hundred original works of art by Gibran to the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannahmarker, Georgiamarker in 1950. Haskell had been thinking of placing her collection at the Telfair as early as 1914. In a letter to Gibran, she wrote "I am thinking of other museums ... the unique little Telfair Gallery in Savannah, Ga., that Gari Melchers chooses pictures for. There when I was a visiting child, form burst upon my astonished little soul." Haskell's gift to the Telfair is the largest public collection of Gibran’s visual art in the country, consisting of five oils and numerous works on paper rendered in the artist’s lyrical style, which reflects the influence of symbolism. The future American royalties to his books were willed to his hometown of Bsharrimarker, to be "used for good causes"; but this led to years of controversy and violence over the distribution of the money, and eventually the Lebanese government became the overseer.


In Arabic:
  • Nubthah fi Fan Al-Musiqa (1905)
  • Ara'is al-Muruj (Nymphs of the Valley, also translated as Spirit Brides, 1906)
  • al-Arwah al-Mutamarrida (Spirits Rebellious, 1908)
  • al-Ajniha al-Mutakassira (Broken Wings, 1912)
  • Dam'a wa Ibtisama (A Tear and A Smile, 1914)
  • al-Mawakib (The Processions, 1919)
  • al-‘Awāsif (The Tempests, 1920)
  • al-Bada'i' waal-Tara'if (The New and the Marvellous,1923)

In English, prior to his death:
  • The Madman (1918) ( downloadable free version)
  • Twenty Drawings (1919)
  • The Forerunner (1920)
  • The Prophet, (1923)
  • Sand and Foam (1926)
  • Kingdom Of The Imagination (1927)
  • Jesus, The Son of Man (1928)
  • The Earth Gods (1931)

Posthumous, in English:
  • The Wanderer (1932)
  • The Garden of the Prophet(1933)
  • Lazarus and his Beloved (1933)
  • Prose and Poems (1934)
  • A Self-Portrait (1959)
  • Thought and Meditations (1960)
  • Spiritual sayings (1962)
  • Voice of the master (1963)
  • Mirrors of the Soul (1965)
  • The Vision (1994)
  • Eye of the Prophet (1995)

  • Beloved Prophet, The love letters of Khalil Gibran and Mary Haskell, and her private journal (1972, edited by Virginia Hilu)

Memorials and honors

Mentions in popular culture


  • A phrase from The Prophet is read aloud by Norma Shearer's character in The Women just before her daughter gives her the information that sends her to get her husband back.
  • The Prophet is seen in the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line when June Carter hands it to J.R. to read in the motel.
  • Gibran is quoted in South Central , "You may tie my hands with chains and my feet with shackles, and put me in the dark prison, but you shall not enslave my thinking, for it is free, like the breeze in the spacious sky."
  • Gibran's poem, For What is it to Die, is read during a funeral in Todd Field's 2001 film, In the Bedroom.
  • Lines from Gibran's poem "On Love" from his book "The Prophet" are read to a sleeping Rachel in the movie "The Poet" (US title "Hearts of War")
  • "Your children are not your children...", a phrase from "The Prophet" was used by Lualhati Bautista in her book "Dekada '70" (Decade '70's), where Jules, a radical and the eldest son of Amanda Bartolome, told his mother that she has nothing to do with his ideology. The original novel though is written in Filipino, and the phrase was translated to Filipino.


  • The Lebanese Tenor Gabriel Abdel Nour dedicated a complete album to Gibran, Gabriel Abdel Nour sings Gibran Khalil Gibran, where all the songs were extracts from Gibran's writings. Gabriel is the only singer to dedicate a complete album to Gibran. He has celebrated as well the memorial of Gibran in different countries.
  • The song Broken Wings, a US #1 hit for the band Mr. Mister was inspired by Gibran's book of the same name.
  • The Egyptian Singer Tony Kaldas presented in 2008 Big Concerts Celebrating the Jubilee 125 Years of Gibran Khalil Gibran Birth in The Egyptian Opera House and in Bibliotheca Alexandrinamarker in Egypt. Also, he released two new songs from Gibran Words.
  • Jazz saxophonist Jackie McLean's "Khalil the Prophet" is on his album Destination...Out! (1963) (Blue Note BLP 4165)
  • Brisbane based improvisational Jazz Quintet, The Neighbourhood Groove Collective, name 2 songs "The Firefly & the Stars" and "Love Crowns" on their second release titled "Pieces" inspired by imagery from the Prophet.
  • Jason Mraz's song "God Rests In Reason" on the album Selections For Friends features words from the poem "The Prophet"
  • The lyrics to David Bowie's "The Width of a Circle", off his album The Man Who Sold the World (1970), relates a surrealist scene in which the narrator and his doppelgänger seek the help of a blackbird, who just "laughed insane and quipped 'Khalil Gibran'".
  • Michigan experimental screamo outfit Men As Trees quote Gibran in the liner notes to their 2008 album, Weltschmerz: "We wanderers, ever seeking the lonelier way, begin no day where we have ended another day; and no sunrise finds us where sunset has left us."
  • Tyrannosaurus Rex's second album, Prophets, Seers & Sages – The Angels of the Ages, released in October 1968, was dedicated in Gibran's memory.
  • Guitarist Derek Trucks named his son Charles Khalil Trucks for saxophonist Charlie Parker, guitarist Charlie Christian, and Gibran.
  • His book The Prophet is mentioned and quoted in the Mad Season song, "River of Deceit". "My pain is self-chosen. At least, so The Prophet says".
  • The Chicago-based metal band Minsk's second album The Ritual Fires of Abandonment's lyrics are inspired by Gibran, who also is credited as an author of the lyrics in the CD booklet.
  • Khalil Gibran is briefly mentioned in the Common Market song; "Connect For".
  • Khalil Gibran is referenced in the Van Morrison song "Rave On John Donne"
  • Sweet Honey In The Rock's song "On Children" is a musical version of Khalil Gibran's poem by the same name.
  • Electronic band Children of the Bong use samples quoting from 'The Prophet' in their track 'The Veil'
  • Album on Atlantic Records (K50109 Stereo) (1974) *The Prophet" Kahlil Gibran "A Musical Interpretation Featuring Richard Harris" ~ Produced And Composed By Arif Mardin


  • Syrian mini-series titled "Gibran Khalil Gibran", broadcast on the Syrian state television in November 2008.
  • In the popular video game Deus Ex, one of the three possible ending quotes is Gibran's quote: "Yesterday we obeyed kings and bent our necks before emperors. But today we kneel only to truth..." The western spelling of his name, Khalil Gibran, was used to credit him.
  • Gibran is referenced briefly in the episode Wingmen of the show The Boondocks. When Huey (the central character) is asked by his grandfather to say something "deep", he recites part of the poem "On Pain" from The Prophet.
  • In the hit TV show One Tree Hill, Lucas Scott (Chad Michael Murray) quotes Gibran.
  • Gibran is referenced in the popular American sitcom Friends. Richard, played by Tom Selleck, quotes from the friendship passage of The Prophet during a meal with Chandler and Monica. (Season 6)
  • San Diego Padres shortstop Khalil Greene was named after Gibran.
  • In the 2000 TV Series The Invisible Man, main character Darien Fawkes quotes Gibran on the subject of parents and children in the season 2 episode "The Camp."
  • At the end of an episode of Criminal Minds, entitled "Perfect Storm", Gibran is quoted as saying "Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls. The most massive characters are seared with scars."
  • "Love has no other desire but to fulfil itself..." quoted in the novel Georgia by Leslie Pearse, page 571
  • Jodi Picoult quoted Gibran in one of her novels on one of the pages which contain just a quote, to begin another section of the story.


  1. Gibran 1998: 12
  2. Gibran 1998: 29
  3. Acocella, Joan (January 7, 2008). "Prophet Motive". The New Yorker. Retrieved March 9, 2009.
  4. Jagadisan, S. "Called by Life", The Hindu, January 5, 2003, accessed July 11, 2007
  5. "Khalil Gibran (1883-1931)", biography at Cornell University library on-line site, retrieved February 4, 2008
  6. Khalil Gibran (1883-1931) Cornell University Library
  7. "Pity The Nation..." by Khalil Gibran
  8. Hawi, Khalil Gibran: His Background, Character and Works, 1972, p219
  9. Gibran Memorial in Washington, DC
  10. Elmaz Abinader, Children of Al-Mahjar: Arab American Literature Spans a Century", U.S. Society & Values, February 2000
  11. [1]
  • Khalil Gibran and Ameen Rihani: Prophets of Lebanese-American Literature. Ed. by Naji B. Oueijan, et al. Louaize: Notre Dame Press, 1999.
Michael Corrigan mentions another writer's use of The Prophet in his grief memoir, A Year and a Day, published by the Idaho State University Press, 2008.

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