1883 - 1895

Born Gibran Khalil Gibran on 6th January 1883 in the village of Bsharri [1] (Bet Sharre, the place of kings) in the area now called Northern Lebanon.  The area is predominantly Christian [2] and close to the beautiful and famous Holy Valley and Cedars of Lebanon [3].


He takes his forename from his father’s ‘middle’ name in accordance with tradition, his father's full name being Khalil Gibran Saad Youssef Gibran.  His father had worked as an assistant in his uncle's pharmacy but after accumulating gambling debts he is reduced him to working as an 'enforcer' for the local Ottoman administrator - a man named Raji Bey [4].


His mother - Kamila Rahmeh - has one child from a previous marriage [5] and this is Butros (or Peter) who is six years Gibran's senior.  In time the family will grow with the birth of his two younger sisters, Mariana and Sultana.


Initially the family had been of reasonable means but are now impoverished, largely due to his fathers gambling, and as such, Gibran receives no formal education.  Kamila's deep religious convictions are instilled in him from an early age and the education he receives is provided by a local priest.


Recognising Gibran's inquisitive and active mind the priest takes to teaching him the Syriac and Arabic languages together with fundamental religious and biblical teachings.  Through this informal teaching, Gibran develops an interest in science, languages and history.


In 1891 the family are left homeless when the authorities seize their property, the consequence of his father having been convicted and jailed for tax evasion and fraud.  Whilst his father is in prison the family stay with relatives before emigrating to America in 1895.  Although his father has been released from prison the previous year he chose to remain in Lebanon.


1895 - 1901

Being Arabic the family are treated as second class citizens.  Kamila makes a living as best she can by selling goods on the impoverished streets of Boston.  His sisters are denied an education due to Middle Eastern traditions and financial hardship, and it is thanks to charitable institutions that Gibran is able to attend the Quincy School.  It is here that his name is changed to Kahlil Gibran at the suggestion of his English teacher.  His limited knowledge of the English language means he is placed in a rudimentary class where English is taught from scratch.  He appreciated the importance of learning the language and advised his cousin N’oula, who was about to leave Lebanon for America just as Gibran had done a few years earlier, to “work hard so that you can learn the language…after that you will find America the best place on earth”.


Kamila is strong-minded and determined and through hard work she manages to save some money and improve conditions for the family.  The money enables Butros to open a hardware store in which Mariana and Sultana also work.


Although a quiet and introverted child who spends much time alone, Gibran develops an interest in the artistic and cultural side of Boston and attends operas, theatres and art galleries.  He is introduced to the Denison House Social Center in Boston where his artistic talents are quickly recognised by Jessie Fremont Beale and Florence Pierce.  Beale introduces the 13 year old Gibran to Fred Holland Day, an avant-garde artist, photographer and supporter of the arts.  Day opens up a world of writing, photography, literature and mythology to the young boy and greatly improves his low self-esteem.  Gibran learns fast and his artistic talents develop under the tutelage of Day, so much so that in 1898 his images are used as cover designs for books and he begins to make a name for himself.


Concerned that at such an early age, too much success could cause problems in later life, it is agreed that Gibran will return to Lebanon and finish his education at Madrasat-al-Hikmah school in Beirut.  Here he learns Arabic and pursues a reformist Arabic curriculum. 


During this stay in Lebanon he communicates with Josephine Peabody, herself a writer and poet who he had met during one of Day's art exhibitions in Boston.  Peabody has become intrigued by Gibran after he dedicated a picture to her.  In 1902 when he leaves college, he is a self-confident, determined young man who has excelled in poetry and his other studies.



News from the United States is not good, his mother has developed cancer, Butros is struck with consumption and Sultana has tuberculosis.  Gibran sets out for America but arrives too late.  On 4th April 1902 Sultana dies at the age of 14.  Butros has abandoned the family store and left for Cuba and it falls to Gibran to look after the store and provide for the family, something he prefers not to do as it impedes on his artistic pursuits.



In February Kamila undergoes an operation to remove a cancerous tumour and Butros returns from Cuba, he dies of consumption on 12th March.  On 28th June, his mother is also to die from the cancer that has spread throughout her body.  In the wake of the three deaths Gibran sells the store and throws himself into the task of improving his Arabic

and English, a pursuit he will continue all his life.



Meanwhile, Fred Holland Day and Josephine Peabody, are helping prepare his debut art exhibition which opens on 3rd May 1904 and is widely acclaimed.  During the course of the exhibition Gibran meets Mary Elizabeth Haskell, a headmistress of a girls school in Boston, who at 30 years of age is 10 years his senior.  This relationship will last his lifetime and Mary is to prove instrumental in shaping the development of the budding artist. It is on her recommendation that he changes to writing in English, having previously written only in Arabic and subsequently translating the work.  Mary is a dynamic and sensitive lady who ‘adopts’ Gibran and becomes his benefactor, patron and collaborator.  It would be hard to disagree with the sentiment that Mary was the most important and influential person in Gibran’s adult life.  For many years she provides the financial support that enables him to continue his studies, to write, to paint and ultimately, to publish his works.


1904 sees Gibran's first published work, an article entitled 'Vision' in the Arabic newspaper Al-Mouhajir (the Emigrant).



He continues writing for Al-Mouhajir and to this he writes another column under the heading of Tears and Laughter, this will later form the basis of his book A Tear and a Smile.  He publishes his first book (in Arabic) entitled Nubthah fi Fan Al-Musiqa (Music) which is inspired by his visits with Day to the opera and by Butros' music playing [6].



A second book follows - Arayis Al-Muruj (Spirit Brides), this is a collection of three allegories, namely a) Martha, b) Yuhanna the Mad and c) Dust of Ages and The Eternal Fire.  These are heavily influenced by the stories he had heard in Bsharri and revolve around religious persecution, prostitution and reincarnation.  Subjects which are frowned upon by his Arab peers.



The friendship between Gibran and Josephine Peabody falls apart and he has a short affair with a pianist named Gertrude Barrie.  During his life he will be associated with several women - Peabody and Barrie as already mentioned and his lifelong association with Mary Haskell [7].  Other relationships develop including that with Charlotte Teller a socialist, playwright and suffragette who wrote under the name of John Brangwyn.  His most notable relationships are those with May Ziadeh, Mikhail Naïmeh (Micha) and Youssef Houwayeck; there were others with people named Micheline, Posy and Stern - the full names of which are lost to history.



A third book, again in Arabic, is published.  This focuses on the social issues in Lebanon and causes close to Gibran's heart.  The book, Al-Arwah Al-Mutamarridah (Spirits Rebellious), is derived from the column in Al-Mouhajir and consists of four narratives which dwell on subjects including the emancipation of women, criticism of the clergy and the injustices of the Lebanese feudal system.  It is not well received by the clergy who threaten to excommunicate him, nor by the Syrian Government who censor the book.



Gibran begins a two year arts study programme in Paris and is influenced by the popular artistic style of the day - Symbolism.  Unwilling as he is to accept the academy's strict formal education, he leaves to tour London with Ameen Rihani, and thereafter rely on his own artistic style and temperament.  He learns in June of the death of his father in Lebanon and is comforted when he learns his father had blessed him before dying.



After a short period of travelling abroad, Gibran returns to America late in 1910 and shortly after proposes to Mary, but is turned down on the grounds of the age difference [8].  Fortunately this does not end the friendship and it develops into a long term and important artistic collaboration.


Gibran joins an organisation of Arab-American writers and intellectuals called The Golden Links Society and around the same time a collection of prose poems is published in Cairo under the title Beyond The Imagination.  He stops writing for Al-Mouhajir and instead submits articles to Mir'aat al-Gharb (Mirror of the West), something he will continue for the next 11 years.



In the spring of 1911 Gibran moves to New York on the recommendation of his friend Ameen Rihani and starts work on his next book - Broken Wings.  This is his longest Arabic work and the only novel he writes, it is he says, a spiritual biography.  The character Selma Karameh symbolizing a 22 year old Lebanese widow named Sultana Tabit, with whom he had an affair whilst in Lebanon.  As with so much of his writing, it deals with the more gloomy aspects of life; in this case, the ill-fated affair of a married woman with a younger man and her ultimate death during childbirth. 


Gibran establishes Arrabitah Al-Qalamyiah, an Arab organisation dedicated to promoting Arabic writings and literature worldwide, the organisation focuses on the desire for greater artistic freedom and calls on writers to develop their own individual styles instead of following the constraints of the accepted norm.  Throughout his life Gibran seeks to further the advance of Arabic literature and to this end he joins many societies and magazines.  These platforms serve not only their intended purpose but also as a means for Gibran to further his own advancement and as an introduction to people who would help guide his development.



Gibran is making a name for himself in New York and is being well received, largely due to his creativity but thanks also to Mary's network of contacts and her continuing financial support.  In complete contrast to his boyhood, he is now a confident young man with an alluring personality and this helps cement his success.  Mary's role is to become more influential as both mentor and editor and through Mary he hones his English and cultural skills.


He develops an acquaintance with May Ziadeh, a Palestinian-Egyptian writer who is drawn to Gibran's work through Broken Wings.  May is an intellect and a strong supporter of women's emancipation and although Broken Wings is too liberal for her mind, the subject of women's rights is common ground to both her and Gibran.  This is an avenue both will actively pursue. 


Following the move to New York, Gibran meets and draws `Abdu'l-Baha, the leader of the Baha'i Faith [9]. Gibran is impressed by `Abdu'l-Baha  although they don't see eye to eye on the subject of peace where Gibran is of the opinion that there are circumstances where a forceful approach is required, not least in the plight of Lebanon breaking free from the Ottoman rule.  A further influence enters Gibran's life when he meets and draws Carl Jung and is introduced to Jungian philosophy.  The portrait of Jung is one in a series which Gibran names The Temple Of Art, other prominent subjects to be drawn for the series include Auguste Rodin, Charles Russell, Sarah Bernhardt and W B Yeats.



Gibran moves into

51 West Tenth Street
in New York where he is able to establish a large studio and produce what many regard as his finest artistic work – The Hermitage.  It is around this time that his energies are being focussed more on writing and less on drawing.  A transition summed up by his friend Mikhail Naimy, himself a Lebanese poet and philosopher, who says of Gibran…


“…Gibran, urged by the incessant calls for enfoldment of the twin sisters lovingly nursed by his soul - Poetry and Art - was far from being content with the small and slow conquests he was making in the world. To the American public he offered his art without his poetry. To the Arab public, his poetry without his art. The English-speaking world could not read his Arabic poetry; the Arab-speaking world could not understand his western art. The twins must be made to work as one team. For that he must write in English.”


By now Gibran is writing his first book in English - The Madman.  He has long been fascinated by the Lebanese treatment of people deemed to be mad, in which madness is seen as the result of demonic possession and treatment is left to the church.  It is this method of treatment that provides the foundation for the book and the chapters are drawn from articles Gibran has written for Al-Funoon, an Arabian language journal published in New York.


Two further books are to follow in quick succession.  First is Jesus The Son of Man, his longest work in English and inspired by Gibran's admiration of Jesus (he often read the Bible as he did the works of Hugo, Rousseau and Chateaubriand).  Gibran wrote all 79 chapters of the book through ‘trance-channelling’ in which he was able to enter a meditative trance-like state during which the words would come to him [10]. 


Next comes Kitab Dam'ah wa Ibtisamah (A Tear and A Smile) which is his fifth book in Arabic and is an anthology of his earlier writings in Al-Mouhajer newspaper.  At the same time he and Mary have been editing and revising the series of parables that will form The Madman.


His paintings are exhibited at the Montross Gallery on

Fifth Avenue, New York
.  Among those attending is the distinguished American artist Albert Pinkham Ryder who shows a keen interest in Gibran’s work.  Gibran expresses his gratitude by addressing a poem to him and by creating a very fine pencil drawing of Ryder.  The poem was to be Gibran’s first work published in English.


In other exhibitions his works will be shown alongside those of Bonnard, Carrière, Cézanne and Pissarro.  Although highly acclaimed, many galleries are reluctant to display his work on the grounds of excessive nudity and modernism.  Another

Fifth Avenue
gallery to display his work will be that of M Knoedler and Co in 1917.


1914 - 1915

During the years of the First World War, Gibran involves himself more closely with politics, he hopes for the liberation of Syria from Ottoman rule, he calls on both Muslim and Christian forces to unite their military forces and focus their efforts against the oppressive Ottoman rule.  He often fantasises about his role as a political hero and as a fighter leading his country to liberation.  In reality there is little he can do and this depresses him, a situation compounded by a childhood injury to his shoulder which now troubles him further [11].  Famine ravages The Levant and Gibran sets about raising funds in the United States to assist the starving.


1916 - 1917

To keep his mind occupied on thoughts other than the war, he seeks to further his acceptance in New York. In 1916 as a result of his friendship with the author James Oppenheim, he joins the literary board of The Seven Arts Magazine [12], something he takes great pride in as he is the first immigrant to do so.  His acceptance within literary circles grows and he finds himself in demand from people wanting to hear recitations from his writings.



The Madman reaches publication but not without first being rejected by several publishing houses.  Gibran turns to a young and unknown publisher by the name of Alfred Knopf who takes a gamble and published The Madman, Gibran’s first book written in English.


The gamble pays off and the book is very well received.  Throughout the rest of his life Gibran remains loyal and Knopf publishes all his future books.


Upon the release of The Madman several critics compare him to Tagore, the respected Indian writer who he is to meet in two years time.  On the strength of the books success his popularity soars and he begins to lose contact with old acquaintances, preferring instead the company of new found friends. 


Later this year he writes another Arabic poem called 'Al-Mawakib' (The Procession), this is his first serious attempt at writing in classical Arabic.  The poem is published but receives little acclaim.


All the while his political standpoint has angered Syria's politicians, moreso over Gibran's openly expressed disapproval at the way the Syrian region is being divided into Palestine, Syria and Lebanon.  He urges politicians to adopt aspects of the Western culture and is forthright in his opinions about cultural makeup of countries and the way in which their citizens should be able to lead their lives.



Knopf publishes a volume of Gibran’s art entitled Twenty Drawings and this attracts well founded comparisons with William Blake, the well known poet and painter.  The introduction is written by leading art-critic Alice Raphael who says of Gibran and the book…


“It is at [the] dividing line of East and West, of the symbolist and the ideationist, that the work of Kahlil Gibran presents itself as an arresting type in our conception of painting.


“…He senses the meaning of the earth and her productions; of man, the final and the consummate flower, and throughout his work he expresses the interrelating unity of man with nature.


“…His centaurs and horses have a charm beyond their natures so that they are never wholly animal in character. …in regarding these centaurs we sense the beast that is yet man and again the man which is and must be animal; we become conscious of that evolution upward which is in itself a miracle, although there is a barrier which will forever prevent man from clutching the stars.”


1920 - 1921

In 1920 he forms a literary circle called Al-Rabitah Al-Qalamiyyah (The Pen League) which brings together Arab writers with approaches sympathetic to his own modernist style including Mikhail Naimy, and Ameen Rihani.  The League is to have a huge influence on the staid Arabic style of writing, not only in America but around the world.  The avant-garde approach led to something of a literary revolution and led to an upsurge of interest in a new style of fresh Arabic writing.


That same year al-'Awasif (The Tempests) is published, this collection of Arabic prose poems and short narratives is a compendium from several journals and marks the peak of his career writing in Arabic.  Later in the year The Forerunner is published and a series of humourous anecdotes is printed in Egypt. 



He continues his Arabic writings and by 1922 begins to complain of heart trouble, something which is later attributed to his nervous psychological state.  Gibran tells Mary "My greatest pain is not physical. There's something big in me…. I've always known it and I can't get it out. It's a silent greater self, sitting watching a smaller somebody in me doing all sorts of things."



This year sees the publication of his greatest work - The Prophet, the seeds of which had been nurtured many years earlier by Josephine Peabody.  She often referred to Gibran as 'her young prophet', and had herself written an eleven stanza poem about Gibran's childhood in Bsharri.  By 1918 Gibran had been formulating an Arabic work which was to have been entitled My Island Man and be based on a Promethean man's exile to an island, the banished man being called Al Mustafa.  Initially the book was to have included a separate work relating to the story of Al Mustafa (the Chosen One) and was to have been called The Commonwealth.  The origins of The Prophet can be traced further back to an Arabic work written when Gibran was 16 in which a man discussed various subjects amongst a group of people in an inn.  Further influences can be attributed to the conversations Gibran had with Mary, the subjects of which included love, life, death, marriage and others that can be found in the pages of The Prophet.


Mary's role in developing The Prophet is crucial.  Following the success of The Madman (a book written in English) she encourages Gibran to change from Arabic to English.  She has always preferred the title of 'The Counsels' for the book but on this occasion Gibran is not swayed and consequently the book is published as The Prophet.  The book is not well received and there are several unfavourable reviews; it is only through word of mouth that sales begin to grow and it quickly achieves considerable success going on to become one of the best selling books of all time and arguably the most famous and inspirational religious work of the twentieth century.  Gibran summarises the book as "The whole Prophet is saying one thing: You are far greater than you know, and all is well".


By now Gibran has mastered the command of the English language and is less and less reliant on Mary's opinions and editorial skills.  Further, his success brings financial independence and he is able to repay his debts to Mary by sending her several of his paintings.  She remains an important part of his life and an inspiration for many of the illustrations he uses in his books.


During the 1920's Gibran changes his attitudes to his own writings.  His Arabic works are largely political or focus on cultural and social issues and the need for the emerging Arab countries to adopt Western cultures.  These cause controversy in the Arab world, and although relishing the controversy, it does mean limited success in Arab countries.  Consequently he concentrates on writing in English and creating his own style of writing and language.



In 1924 his work on Arabic canons of eloquence appears in Cairo and a year later he is invited by Syud Hossain to contribute articles to the New Orient Magazine, an international publication seeking to encourage the meeting of East and West.  During his association with the journal he submits several articles for publication.  For much of 1925 he is involved in a failed real estate deal, this drains both his finances and his energy and makes it difficult to concentrate on his writing.  Mary Haskell once again assists financially.



The following year Mary marries and moves to Savannah, Georgia - the home of her new husband, a southern landowner and merchant called Jacob Florance Minis, her involvement with Gibran continues but to a lesser extent.  To assist in editing his work and managing his studio, Gibran hires Henrietta Breckenridge as an assistant.


Gibran confides in Mary about his intention to write and publish two continuations of The Prophet.  The first is to be The Garden Of The Prophet and will recount the stories Al Mustafa has told his followers in his island garden and the second is to be The Death Of The Prophet in which Al Mustafa leaves the island only to be imprisoned and stoned to death in the market place.  Sadly, Gibran is unable to publish these works, due largely to deteriorating health and his pre-occupation in writing Jesus The Son Of Man.


1926 - 1927

Gibran's literary and artistic advancement continues and by 1926 he is recognised and accepted on an international scale - much to his liking.  At the same time he begins work on a new book called Lazarus And His Beloved, a series of four dramatic poems telling the story of the Biblical character Lazarus.


In recent years Gibran has been turning more to May Ziadeh to edit and advise on his writings and relying less and less on Mary Haskell.  However, by the end of 1926 Gibran is submitting draft copies of Jesus The Son Of Man to Mary for editing and comment.  The following year a collection of his aphorisms entitled Kingdom Of The Imagination is published in Cairo.  It is in Cairo that May Ziadeh is living and she is able to assist Gibran in getting his works published in Egypt.



By mid 1928 Gibran is enjoying a new found friendship with Barbara Young, but all is not well.  His health is deteriorating and his body is wracked with nervous pains.  Despite prohibition, he turns to alcohol as a means of escape and becomes an alcoholic.  Doctors diagnose an enlarged cancerous liver but ignoring medical advice he relies instead on heavy drinking and immersing himself in his work, most notably a book which will be published in 1930 called The Earth Gods.  Originally written in 1911 it recounts the story of three earth gods who witness the drama of a young couple falling in love. 


In November, Jesus The Son Of Man is finally published and is well received by the critics who delight in Gibran's portrayal of Jesus.  Due in part to the success and acclaim of this work Gibran receives many honours.


1929 - 1930

His mental and physical condition are deteriorating and during a public reading of his works he breaks down sobbing, lamenting to the audience that he has lost his earlier creative power. 


By now Gibran is trapped in a vicious circle, he is drinking to alleviate the pain in his liver but in doing so only exacerbates the problem.  His condition deteriorates rapidly and all hopes of finishing the sequel to The Prophet - The Garden Of The Prophet are gone.  He confides to May Ziadeh that he is "A small volcano whose opening has been closed".



Gibran dies in a New York hospital on 10th April 1931 at the age of 48, the result of his cancer spreading. The New York Sun declares 'A Prophet Is Dead' and the people of the city hold a two day vigil, he is mourned in both America and Lebanon.  In July his sole surviving sister - Mariana, accompanied by Mary and Henrietta, travel to Lebanon and bury Gibran.  An immense procession follows his coffin from the port of Beirut to his hometown of Bsharri where he is to be buried.


In his will he leaves substantial sums of money to the people of Lebanon in order that they remain in the country

and develop it rather than emigrate.


1932 Onwards

Fulfilling a wish he had expressed some years earlier, Mary and Mariana negotiate the purchase of the Mar Sarkis Monastery and in 1932 Gibran is move to his final resting place.  It has also been his wish to establish a library in Bsharri and on the suggestion of Mary, some of his belongings, books and his works and drawings are used to create a library and museum in the monastery.


Following his death, Barbara Young finishes The Garden Of The Prophet in 1933 and in 1979 Jason Leen completes Gibran's trilogy with the publication of Death Of The Prophet.



[1]        Bsharri is the Anglicised spelling, the village is often known as Bcharre and several variations of these names.

[2]        Lebanese Christians are known as Maronites and were formed in the 5th century with the amalgamation of Syrian Christians from the Byzantine Church and the monk Saint Maroun and his followers.

[3]        See the photo galleries of Bsharri and Lebanon for more details.

[4]        At the time of Gibran's birth the area was part of the Turkish administered Ottoman Empire.

[5]        Kamila had been married twice before.  Butros was born to her second husband who had died in Brazil.  After his death Kamila returned to Lebanon with Butros.

[6]        Gibran's early works have been translated from Arabic into English and published under the titles The Vision (1993, Translated by Professor Juan R I Cole), The Storm (1993, Translated by Professor John Walbridge) and The Beloved (1994, Translated by Professor John Walbridge).

[7]        The association with Mary Haskell which started in 1908 would last until Gibran's death in 1931 during which time Mary accumulated over 1500 letters, manuscripts and other works.  Many of these are archived in the Mary E Haskell Papers of the Minis Family Papers collection (#2725) at the library of the University of North Carolina. (Mary married into the Minis family).  Other works owned by Mary were donated to the Telfair Academy.  The Minis Family Papers collection also contains 272 letters from Charlotte Teller.

[8]        There is some evidence to suggest the real reason may have been Mary's reluctance to enter into an inter-racial marriage on the grounds that it could have jeopardised her position in society.

[9]        See also the article Khalil Gibran and the Bahai Faith.

[10]      For a detailed account of trans-channelling and the spirituality of Kahlil Gibran click here.

[11]      As a ten year old boy Gibran fell some 150 yards down a steep slope and sustained several injuries including the one to his shoulder which was to trouble him throughout his life.

[12]      The Seven Arts Magazine is a literary journal whose published authors include D H Lawrence, H L Mencken, Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos and Sherwood Anderson.



In compiling this biography I have made extensive reference to the biography written by Dania Saadi which can be found on Mira’s Gibran Site at http:/

Reference has also been made to the work of Dr Suheil Bushrui, an acknowledged expert on Gibran, author of Kahlil Gibran Of Lebanon and Kahlil Gibran: Man and Poet and the Director of the Kahlil Gibran Chair on Values and Peace at the University Of Maryland.

Reference has also been made to the work of Henry Buldoc, the Minis Family Papers Collection (#2725), Manuscripts Department, Library of the University Of North Carolina and the arts and humanities class IAH 211c at Michigan State University.




kamagra said...

Ever since Kahlil Gibran published his first English book The Madman in 1918, people have either admired or despised his work.

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Biography | A Tear and a Smile | Broken Wings | Dead Are My People | Have Mercy On Me | History And The Nation | I Believe In You | Jesus The Son Of Man Part I | Jesus The Son Of Man Part II | Jesus The Son Of Man Part III | Lazarus And His Beloved | Love Letters | My Countrymen | Quotes | Sand And Foam | Satan | Spirits Rebellious | The Earth Gods | The Forerunner | The Garden Of The Prophet | The Madman | The Nay | The New Frontier | The Prophet | The Wanderer | You Have Your Lebanon | Your Thought And Mine |