Kahlil Gibran as in the Beloved Prophet

Kahlil Gibran, photograph by Fred Holland Day, c. 1898
Kahlil Gibran, photograph by Fred Holland Day, c. 1898

The first Poet I ever knew of was Kahlil Gibran and as a young boy I can remember his books in my house. My family has collected Gibran since his writing, sketches and art became popular in the nineteen sixty’s and seventies. My Mom has several early issues of “The Prophet” as well as Beloved prophet : the love letters of Kahlil Gibran and Mary Haskell.

Kahlil Gibran Self-portrait, c. 1911
Kahlil Gibran Self-portrait, c. 1911

Gibran is the third-best-selling poet of all time, behind Shakespeare and Laozi. The Prophet has been translated into as many as 110 languages His mother, Kamila, daughter of a priest, was thirty when he was born; his father, Kahlil, was her third husband. As a result of his family’s poverty, Gibran received no formal schooling during his youth in Lebanon. However, priests visited him regularly and taught him about the Bible and the Arabic language.

The Prophet (Gibran) cover, 1923

Gibran died in New York City on April 10, 1931, at the age of 48. The causes were cirrhosis of the liver and tuberculosis due to prolonged serious alcoholism. Gibran started drinking seriously during or after publication of The Prophet. Several years before his death, he locked himself in his apartment, away from visitors, drinking all day. 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 Sarkis Monastery in Lebanon, which has since become the Gibran Museum. Written next to Gibran’s grave are the words “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.”

Illustration from The Madman, His Parables and Poems, 1918
Illustration from The Madman, His Parables and Poems, 1918

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 Hill Library before she died in 1964. Excerpts of the over 600 letters were published in “Beloved Prophet” in 1972.

The Gibran Museum and Gibran’s final resting place, in Bsharri

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 Savannah, Georgia 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 Bsharri, to be “used for good causes”.

NOTE: An excellent must read – The Borderless World of Kahlil Gibran

The Prophet (Gibran) cover, 1923 Source (WP:NFCC#4) Photo credit: antonè on VisualHunt / CC BY


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