Kahlil Gibran - People and Places جبران - شواهد الناس والأمكنة

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HENRI ZOGHAIB

Kahlil Gibran ... People and Places




Translated from original Arabic by Angélique Béaino & Jennifer Berry

Edited by Brighid Webster

LONDON – BEIRUT


Cover illustration by Kahlil Gibran for Ameen Rihani’s Book of Khalid (New York, 1911) © Centre for Lebanese Studies ISBN 978-9953-0-3700-4


The more we read about Gibran, the more we discover that we probably have much more to learn about him. This very talented poet, writer and artist has left so many documents and papers across the world, mostly in the Americas, but also in BecharrĂŠ, Lebanon, where he was born and where there is a museum that carries his name. I am sure the reader will find interesting and unknown to him or her, information that shaped his life, particularly in the US, and his everlasting yearning and love for his mother country and family. This book, written by our distinguished Lebanese poet Henri Zoghaib, is a very welcome addition to the many other publications on Gibran. It will be of great interest to all and give a better understanding of the very renowned author who passed away 85 years ago, but whose presence is still felt among us. George Asseily Chairman Centre for Lebanese Studies



Table of Contents

Gratitude ..........................................................................................................

9

Introduction: These Testimonials ..................................................... 11 people

I – Andrew Ghareeb ............................................................................

23

II – Fouad Khoury .................................................................................

45

III – Monsignor Mansour Estfan .................................................

49

IV – Mary Haskell the Guardian She-Angel .......................

57

V – Boutros and Soumayya Gibran .........................................

65

VI – Barbara Young Visits Bisharri .............................................

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places

I – What Is Left of His House in Bisharri ........................

87

II – What Is Left of His House in New York ...................

95

III – A Tour of Gibran’s New York  ............................................. 101 gibran beyond time and places

I – Gibran’s Nostalgia for Lebanon ........................................ 123 II – Gibran The Lover ......................................................................... 133 III – Forever Immortal .......................................................................... 151 IV – Archimandrite Bashir’s Préface of His Arabic Translation of The Prophet ...................................................... 169 V – The Poet of the Culture of Peace ..................................... 181 Centre of Lebanese Studies – List of Books ........................... 193


Gratitude

He sent her every text he wrote before sending for printing, and so do I. She edited, corrected and suggested for every text, and so do you. Their souls were One in the spirit of the moment, and so are we. He was blessed as she kept him in her journal and letters, and blessed I am for you keeping me. Our gratitude to her for having been his Almitra and my gratitude to you for who you are to me. Henri Zoghaib

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introduction

These Testimonials

Is He Following Me or Am I Following Him? A deep sense of euphoria set in the moment the stewardess announced our arrival at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on an April morning in 1985. I was not only excited to begin a new life as the Editor-in-Chief of Al-Hoda (The Guidance) newspaper, but also thrilled to explore the places once frequented by one of Lebanon’s most world-renowned poets, Kahlil Gibran. I soon realized the Al-Hoda office, located on 34 West 28th Street, was near 28 West 9th Street, Gibran’s first home upon arrival in New York in 1911. It was there his dear friend, Ameen Rihani, hosted him prior to a subsequent move to a studio a few metres away at 51 West 10th Street. This flat remained his home for twenty consecutive years: 1911 until his death in 1931. 11


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Gibran’s New York City became my New York City. Fifty-four years separated my visit from this great man, however, I felt a close bond and kinship with him as if he were my neighbour in New York City. He became my connection to, and a kind of lens through which to, experience the wonder of New York City. I grew eager to taste the things he tasted and live as he lived during his time there. I began to believe Gibran and I were bound by a form of spiritual propinquity whenever I looked up at the West 10th sign on the street corner or whenever I walked in Lower Manhattan, specifically in the Village, streets frequented by Gibran during his twenty-year stay in New York City. My propinquity with Gibran was not only reinforced roaming the streets of New York, but also through interviews and discussions with the people he knew. The larger-than-life figure of Gibran loomed large during my time in the United States. The shadow of Gibran oriented my path and spurred my curiosity to discover as much as possible about the New York City he lived and experienced. From the moment I arrived in New York City in 1985 until the time of my departure in 1986, I felt the shadow of Gibran on the streets I walked, the places I visited, and in all of the people I met. The footsteps of Gibran loomed large and accompanied me over the course of my stay. I imagined Gibran decades earlier walking the streets, contemplating the remarkable words that would propel him to worldwide fame and immortality. 12


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One of the gnawing questions I frequently pondered was: what if he lived in Lebanon? Would he be as famous as he is now, and would he have reached this international reputation and fame? Gibran’s shadow not only loomed large during my time in New York City, but also accompanied me throughout much of my life in Lebanon. His potent words swirled in my head during my youth, formative years, and continue to inspire me to this day. Gibran’s shadow lived with me since I can remember and I often reflect on whether I am following him or if he is following me. This shadow of Gibran is not abstract, but has most explicitly materialized in my home library, where I have dedicated a special section – the largest and richest of all – to his brilliant works. This extensive collection includes numerous books about him and his life, pictures of Gibran and the places he lived, as well as a wide range of magazines and other manuscripts I refer to when writing or when in need of inspiration from his words. I have always found the commemoration of his birth and death to be a time of inspiration. The 50th anniversary of his death and the centenary of his birth stand out most prominently. On such occasions and even on an annual basis, I take a moment to reflect in the form of pieces or interviews with newspapers, magazines, radio or television on the life and work of this poet with unparalleled genius. One moment when I felt particularly connected to Gibran was when my dear friend, Farid Selman, 13


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approached me to translate Gibran’s most prominent work, The Prophet, into Lebanese language. I immediately dropped all activities in which I was engaged in order to dedicate exclusive energy to the translation until it was finished and ready to be published as a special edition by Gibran’s National Committee. Returning to my arrival in New York City in 1985. One of the most important items in my bag on that day was the book, Kahlil Gibran: His Life and World, by Kahlil George Gibran and his wife, Jean Gibran. This book proved an invaluable key to unlocking many of the mysteries revolving around this towering literary figure. The younger Gibran, a renowned sculptor, was a frequent companion of mine when in Boston. I read and re-read this book for two reasons: firstly, to know more about Gibran’s life, and secondly to improve my English proficiency. I neglected the latter for some time when in Lebanon, but the younger Gibran’s work not only fostered greater familiarity with this iconic poet and his time in New York City and Boston, but also enabled a better communication in my new home. Is He Following Me or Am I Following Him? Kahlil George Gibran’s book introduced me to many of the places the poet lived during his life in the United States. I dedicated a significant amount of time during my one year in the United States to visit the places the Lebanese poet lived. I wandered 14


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the Boston neighbourhoods once frequented by Kahlil Gibran during his stays in America between 1895  –1910. I visited Mary Haskell’s School on Marlborough Street, and the Church of Our Lady of the Cedars, where his body was shrouded, as well as the square named after him with a memorial. I also spent time with the sculptor Kahlil George Gibran and his wife, Jean, at their house. I saw Gibran’s Nay (flute), some of his clothes, plus hundreds of documents Kahlil and his wife collected and used as reference for their famous biography on the life of Gibran. In New York, I visited the street of Gibran’s former studio, the hospital where he died, and the places he frequented in Lower Manhattan. I travelled to Savannah, Georgia to visit the house of Mary Haskell and the nearby Telfair Museums, which benefitted from Mary Haskell’s donations of Gibran’s paintings. I also visited the rich archives to browse original correspondence between Gibran and Mary as well as her journal at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. My sojourns into Gibran’s past spurred further curiosity into his life in the United States. I subsequently returned to the United States on several occasions to learn more about Kahlil Gibran’s life in the United States. I had the honour of contributing to the first international conference on his life and work at the University of Maryland in 1999. I also had the honour to be chosen by the conference Chair, Professor Suheil Bushrui, on behalf of the University, as a founding associate for the “Kahlil 15


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Gibran International Research and Studies Project” for Lebanon and the Middle East region. More than anything, this honour serves as a testament to my interest in and strengthened my relationship to the life and work of Gibran. I also had the honour of participating in the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Gibran’s death in 1981 and the centenary of his birth in 1983. Perhaps the most prominent engagement with the author was the 125th anniversary of Gibran’s birth organized by the Centre for Lebanese Heritage at the Lebanese American University. This event served as a platform for four new seminars that shed light on different aspects of Gibran’s literature and biography. Is He Following Me or Am I Following Him? Gibran’s American journey (1895 –1931) shaped his life and literature in profound ways. Like Gibran, my American experience investigating the life of this elusive poet had a similar impact on me. The more I learned of Gibran’s psychological, mental and emotional situation in the US, the more curious and inspired I became to learn more. This experience rendered a deeper appreciation for his complexity. I also came to understand Gibran’s nostalgia for Lebanon, the bitter taste of estrangement from Bisharri and the Qadisha Valley, as well as his dream – as he once told his Al-Mahjar colleague, Mikhail 16


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Naimy – to return to the Qadisha Valley to buy the Mar Sarkees Monastery so as to be laid to rest there. He had a strong nostalgia for Lebanon, whose plains, mountains, and valleys appear in numerous backgrounds in his paintings created in his New York studio. Yet the last seven years of his life in New York City propelled him to an international fame and stature he simply could not have reached if he remained in his motherland. At the same time, he never relinquished his Lebanese identity, even at the height of his American fame, and this identity ushered in a seminal moment for all artists. Specifically, Gibran represented a new era when a creator could be both a citizen of the world and proud of his Lebanese roots at the same time. From his small studio, Gibran showed his diverse artistic talents to the outside world. There was only 25 years from his first Arabic published book, Nabza Fil Mousiqa (A Brief about Music), in 1905 until his last book written in English, The Earth Gods, in 1931. Gibran’s words enriched an epoch and continue to inspire individuals all around the world to this day. I like to think of Kahlil Gibran as the sea: wherever we walk on a beach, we are bound, in one way or another, to step on the sand of his beach. He was at the forefront of linguistic innovation of Arabic and English languages and is the definition of a visionary who charted his own path both through his art and as a man. 17


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Posthumous Testimonials of People and Places This book is not a study of Gibran’s literature. The literature about him is vast and has been translated into most world languages. It is similarly not a biography, as his life story is well known and documented in a variety of research and scholarship on his life. This book is about my quarter-century long journey toward Gibran. I unravel strands of his personality through interviews and discussions about his life through the people he knew during his life. I blend these discussions with my own experience wandering the neighbourhoods Gibran frequented and places connected in some way to his life in Boston and New York. As much as it was a pleasure for me to hear new things about him from his contemporaries, it saddened me to lose other memories from people who knew him and died without sharing their experiences with this special and peculiar personality. Sadly, many such memories were lost. This book is my own intimate journey to engage with this Gibran’s work and life beyond mere text or an easel. While I do draw upon his literature as a scholar, critic, researcher, and analyst, I also enter aspects of the world, which contributed to the production – in part or in whole – of his famous works, whether published or not. These materials include the sketches, drafts, and letters which remained unknown manuscripts until the Gibran National Committee published a large number of them in a 18


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book entitled, Oqloub al Safha Ya Fata (Turn the Page Young Man). This book is an attempt to grapple with the question of whether I am following Kahlil Gibran or whether he is following me. I may be answering the question of whether it is me following him, wherever I go in person or in my writings, or it is him following me whenever he is the subject of some discussion, occasion, and national or international conference. This book, then, represents the synthesis of a vast collection of twenty-five years of writings on the work and life of Kahlil Gibran. This includes my writings published in consecutive articles in newspapers and magazines, whether in Lebanon or in the United States. These writings demonstrate my perpetual exploration and never-ending search to learn more about Gibran and his art. The pages of this book are a unique testimony to the places and times, testimonials of Gibran’s friends, acquaintances or people interested in him, who were inspired by him or were deeply involved in his literature. These testimonials of people and places demonstrate the significant impact this man had on individuals whether through personal encounters or through his work.

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PEOPLE



I

Andrew Ghareeb Andrew Ghareeb 1: “Words of thanks failed him, so he left the tribune in tears.”

Kahlil Gibran’s door was open, but not his heart. He remained an unreachable mystery, even for those closest to him with the exception of one woman to whom he opened his heart and who opened her heart to him. His relationship with Mary Haskell remained an unfathomable secret and was revealed only following both of their deaths in his letters to her (325 letters) and her letters to him (290 letters). These letters combined with her journals (47 notebooks), all of which she deposited at the Library of the University of North Carolina at 1 I met with Andrew Ghareeb on June 17, 1990 following which he lived for ten more years and died in Springfield on Sunday, March 12, 2000 at the age of 101. The Near East Section of the Library of Congress honoured him on May 23, 1991 within the framework of a series of ceremonies in Gibran’s honour, following the inauguration of the Kahlil Gibran Memorial Garden in Washington by the then-President George Bush Sr.

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Chapel Hill, where they are still kept in the Rare Book Collection. Virginia Hilu consulted all of the documents and published many of them in her book, Beloved Prophet. Tawfiq Sayegh similarly used these materials for his book, Adwa’ Jadida ‘ala Gibran (New Lights on Gibran). These treasures indeed shed new light on the mystery of Gibran and his relationship with Mary Haskell, his long-time patron who shied away from the spotlight. These materials make clear he never published any text in English – from The Madman to The Earth Gods, published two weeks before his death – without her perusal and blessing. Gibran knew, in life, how to prepare for his immortality after death. His ability to prepare for his death remains a mystery to this day. It is as though he lived his life with a clear sense of how best to memorialize his life after passing. He succeeded, for he is still defying death, appearing every now and then in a new persona, a new revelation, and a new light that is added to the many spotlights already focused on him. Death seems but a foreign concept when it comes to the man who is still living every day in our spoken and written words. He remains the daily focus of readers and researchers in numerous languages, and the demand for his books keep many printing press staff busy with new editions the world over. For no sooner is one work reprinted than it runs out of print. *** On one stormy and snowy afternoon in Baskinta at the end of February 1988, I was the last person 24


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to leave the funeral of Gibran’s long-time friend, Mikhail Naimy, in the house where he penned the majority of his works in Al-Shakhroub. When I gave his coffin one last look, I thought I was bidding farewell to the last grape in a blessed bunch that revolved around Gibran and I recall whispering to myself, “The last of his friends died today.” Little did I know that I would later meet the last of Gibran’s living friends in the United States. Andrew Ghareeb is mentioned in the book co-authored by Boston sculptor, Kahlil George Gibran and his wife, Jean, Kahlil Gibran: His Life and World, published in 1974 (in English, large format, 456 pages). Prose Poems (New York: Knopf, 1934), by the publisher of Gibran’s works, features a foreword by Barbara Young, with a noticeable mention of Andrew Ghareeb, who translated the twelve poems in the volume from Arabic into English. Grape Leaves, A Century of Arab American Poetry (University of Utah Press, 1988), by Gregory Orfalea and Sharif Elmusa, asserted Ghareeb was the first to have translated Gibran’s Arabic works into English and the last one who did so during his lifetime. The thought I would one day meet this man, the last living memory of Gibran, never crossed my mind. One day, I was visiting a friend, Professor Adnan Haydar in Amherst, Massachusetts, and he told me about Andrew Ghareeb, the father of his friend, a fellow professor, Edmund Ghareeb. I asked 25


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him to accompany me to Chicopee, near Springfield, MA, where Ghareeb, then 92, was living. On the ensuing trip, I pictured Ghareeb as a debilitated man who retained whiffs of Gibran’s memory. When I came in, however, I encountered Ghareeb, a man as tall as an oak tree who had a husky voice reminiscent of the sturdiness of our blessed rocks in Lebanon. I realized that I, in my forties, could learn not only much about Gibran, but also about life from Ghareeb, who was in his nineties. He offered a wide range of stories about Gibran. My interview with him is below. Henri Zoghaib (HZ): How was Gibran’s aura before you met him? Andrew Ghareeb (AG): Great, it was great. When I was growing up here in America he was widely famous. We would wait for his writings in Mir’at al-Gharb (by Najib Diab), Al-Founoun (by Nasseeb Arida), As-Sayeh (by Abdul Massih Haddad) and the Al-Nisr newspaper (by Najib Gergi Badran). He was well known and much loved; a subject of pride for the Lebanese community. His subjects and style were new. Newspapers in Beirut would often republish what he published here, even though his writings often resulted in negative reactions by puritanical clerics there. He was particularly active within the Lebanese community to help his compatriots in Lebanon in the wake 26


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of WWI. Ameen Rihani, a prominent figure in the Lebanese community in those days, contributed to the defence of our folks there. Rihani and Gibran were the first to write prose poetry in Arabic. Rihani did not continue this poetic journey as he rather devoted himself to politics, philosophy, and travel, whereas Gibran persisted in writing in his modern style. H Z : What prompted you to get to know Gibran? AG: His writings had a great impact on me and were quite close to my beliefs and aspirations. One day in 1926, I read “Wa’azatni nafsi”, a piece he wrote in Mir’at al-Gharb, and I enjoyed it. So I translated it into English and published it in our local newspaper, The Springfield Republican, along with an article on Gibran. I sent the translation to my friend, Mikhail Naimy, who had an office in the As-Sayeh magazine in New York. He replied by sending a letter of appreciation and congratulations along with two of his poems in English to be published in The Springfield Republican. A few days later, he invited me over for lunch in New York and introduced me to Nasseeb Arida in whom I immediately sensed an attachment and loyalty to Gibran. In 1928, I read “Ayyouha Al-Layl”, a piece written by Gibran in Mir’at al-Gharb. I translated this piece into English and sent it again to Naimy, who showed it to Gibran and wrote back, saying: “Gibran loved your translation and asked 27


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me about you. I told him you are Lebanese and you love his writings, which you translate into English. He said that your translation is quite faithful to the original text and asked to be introduced to you.” A month later I was in New York and I went to the As-Sayeh office (on 21 Rector Street in Lower Manhattan) where I found Naimy having a heated phone conversation with Gibran over his latest book Jesus, the Son of Man. Naimy was seemingly preparing an article on the book and was discussing with Gibran the words he had written about the Sermon on the Mount. I heard Naimy say: “I understand you take liberties with people and have them say things about Jesus as you wish, but I don’t understand how you took liberties with the Sermon on the Mount, wherein you cannot change so much as one letter because that’s how it was pronounced by Jesus himself.” I do not know how Gibran answered, but I understood that the man knew what he had written, believed in what he said and was certain that what was mentioned in his book was indisputable, as proven by the fact that Naimy ended the conversation without getting any answers to his questions. When he told Gibran I was at his office, Gibran asked for me to come to him. And so I did. I took the subway to West 10th Street, then walked to building no. 51, where Gibran lived on the third floor. His door was open (as I would always notice later on). He welcomed me in with his drawing apron on, and he was 28


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alone. I remember that moment as if it had only just occurred: his pale face, his elegance, the clutter around the studio, which he referred to as the “hermitage”, and an ancient stove filled with old ash in the middle. He inquired after me, my family and many other details. His questions were affectionate and he was a fine listener. I immediately gained the impression he cared much about me, despite the fact I just met him. I understood later on that he was always like that, i.e., caring for his fellow Lebanese. I felt that he liked my company and my translations of his writing partly because I was a Lebanese. Then he asked me to read what I had translated for him. He listened intently and was deeply moved. I was reading his piece, titled “Al-Shuhra”, and I got to the last line, which read, “All I found in the sand was my ignorance.” He liked the fact that I had translated the word “ignorance” in English as “blindness” (in Arabic) and he said: “That is exactly what I wanted to say. You have translated my thought rather than my word. I am pleased with your translation.” He stood up and offered me a copy of his new book, Jesus, the Son of Man, which he signed in Arabic. Before he left, he questioned me closely about his aura within the Lebanese community, the impact of his books on community members and what they were saying about him and his books. He was extremely keen to know what people thought about him, and this keenness and inquiry persisted throughout all 29


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my subsequent visits with him. On one of these visits, I offered him a rare old book from my private collection that contained ancient Persian drawings and poetry, which he appreciated. He thanked me profusely and offered me a copy of a new, recent edition of The Prophet, which he signed in Arabic. H Z : How do you remember him now? AG : He was a recluse who did not like to go out. He lived permanently with hidden anger and yearned for the time he spent in nature. He was aware of his mounting importance on the world level and this awakened in him a special feeling. This was neither conceit nor arrogance. Rather, it was steering away from anything that did not serve this road to fame. One sign of his living as a recluse was to dedicate himself fully to writing, drawing, and his request to not give out his phone number (Chelsea 9549) so that he would not waste time. He was always well dressed anytime I came by. Whenever I came to New York, I would pay him an impromptu visit. His door was open so I would knock and go in, and he always welcomed me with his low, husky voice and treated me to a Lebanese welcome. He would go to the corner of the studio and brew Lebanese coffee, and we would talk, sometimes in English and sometimes in Lebanese Arabic, which on his side, was laden with a Bisharri accent. He used to smoke a lot, 30


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barely finishing one cigarette before lighting up the other. His elegance was an indicator of his mood. He loved beauty in all things and often talked to me about it. He walked sedately and I never saw him nervous or stressed. When outside the studio, he would always walk with his cane, as was the habit in those days. H Z : Did you meet with him outside your quiet sessions in the studio? AG: I met him once, during a major ceremony organized in his honour by the members of the Pen Bond on the eve of his birthday (January 5, 1929), which coincided with the Silver Jubilee of his literary life (25 years between 1904 and 1929). Mikhail Naimy sent me an invitation to that celebratory dinner at the McAlpin Hotel in New York. I met Naimy in Manhattan and we went there together about two hours ahead of time. Nasseeb Arida rode with us. Gibran had already arrived there ahead of us and he was pacing the grand hall with his cane. He welcomed me and asked me to help him sign the book, Al-Sanabil (The Spikes of Grain), which was published by the Pen Bond, especially on this occasion as a means to gather excerpts of Gibran’s writings. We sat side by side and I started opening the books on the first page where he would write, “With love” and sign, “Gibran Kahlil Gibran” until he finished signing all 400 copies. He was calm and composed 31


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with an elegant handwriting and bearing. About four hundred people were present in the hall on that night, including Lebanese and American poets, painters, lawyers, and businessmen. Eighteen speakers took the floor, including Mikhail Naimy, William Catzeflis, Abdul Massih Haddad, Raschid Ayoub, Nadra Haddad, Elia Abou Madi, and Philippe Hitti. In conclusion, Gibran took the floor to deliver a thank-you address. No sooner had he started in Arabic and expressed his thanks in English than he choked on the words. His lips quivered and he started crying, and subsequently left everyone in the audience in tears at his outpouring of emotion. We were about to leave the hall when a New York Times correspondent stopped to discuss his impressions of the event, then asked whether he agreed with the controversial 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which prohibited the sales of alcohol, spirits, and intoxicating liquors and was opposed by alcoholics. Gibran immediately said: “Yes, I agree with it.� When I visited him on July 15, 1929, I asked him if he was pleased with my work. He never once discussed with me a word in my translations. I asked him for written permission to translate his Arabic texts into English and he gave it to me without any hesitation, as he went to his table to write and sign the permission in English. 32


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I started publishing my English translations of his Arabic texts in The Springfield Republican (Massachusetts) and The Golden Book magazine (New York). When I sent my translation of the piece, “Al-’Ard” (The Land), to the latter, they asked to publish my English translation along with the Arabic original. I sent them the Arabic text, which was published in As-Sayeh. However, they published it with a faulty layout because the printing officer did not speak Arabic. Gibran was sad, but he understood the situation and did not get angry. He was forgiving and always busy with some mystery, as if always waiting for an unexpected development. HZ: What memories do you have of your last visits? Did disease sketch the lines of death on his face? AG: On my penultimate visit, he told me upon my arrival to the studio: “Come, Andrew, see what my brothers and loved ones at the Pen Bond have done to me.” He showed me an issue of As-Sayeh in which “Al-Soufi”, the last piece he wrote in Arabic, was published, albeit without his name at the end. I consoled him as I asserted that this was certainly an oversight on behalf of the printing officer and that neither Abdul Massih Haddad nor any of his friends had anything to do with it. He remained calm as he answered: “I like to think about it like that and I do not doubt any of these loved ones.” He was forgiving and always focused on what was most 33


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important. Indeed, the next issue of As-Sayeh published the following in a prominent position on its first page: “The poem, entitled “Al-Soufi”, which was published in the previous issue without mentioning the author’s name, was written by our genius Gibran Kahlil Gibran.” During this penultimate visit, I promised him that I would translate “Al-Soufi” into English and that I would show him all my translations of his Arabic works. He was pleased with the idea and we agreed that I would visit him on March 20. On that day, March 20, 1931, I was on my way to visit him (little did I know that it would be my last visit to him) when I heard a voice calling out to me on one of Manhattan’s crowded streets. I turned around and there was my friend Salloum Mokarzel. I told him I was going to see Gibran to show him my translation of his new poem, “Al-Soufi”, before sending it to The Golden Book magazine. He insisted on taking it to be published in his own magazine, The Syrian World. So I gave it to him and went on my way to visit Gibran. We had a long session together, during which he seldom spoke as he was concentrating upon listening to my English translations on his texts without making any comments. When I was done, he said: “I will seek a publisher to have this book published in your name. Your work is quite close to my spirit. You have translated the spirit rather than the shape of words.” He went to his table and brought a 34


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copy of his new book, entitled The Earth Gods, which had been published during that same week. He wrote his autograph in it, offered it to me, and promised to give me one of his drawings as a present. I noticed he was unusually pale and I asked him if he was in pain, upset, or ill. He waved the answer away with a distressed smile and asked me, as usual, about what the Lebanese community thought of his writings. My answer fulfilled his expectations and his curiosity to know the extent of his widespread fame. Then he said in a deep voice: “Andrew, all my fame among our people, whether here or in the Arab world, has not brought me a penny’s worth of copyrights or printing rights for all the articles and books I published in Arabic. They publish my works without my knowing about it. They use my articles and writings without my permission. They take advantage of my works in Arabic and they don’t send me a single penny. When I publish here in English, I get revenues from the articles and poems I publish in newspapers and magazines, and from the books published by Knopf. If it were not for the drawings and paintings I am selling, I would be in need now.” Then he went into a deep silence. During that session, I understood why he was no longer interested in having his works published in Arabic. I remembered what Mikhail Naimy told me when he asked him about his opinion about the translation of his English works into Arabic by Archimandrite Antony Bashir, and Gibran said: 35


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“Let him write what he wants Mischa. Whichever way he translates, my spirit will be in him.” Before I left Gibran on that March evening, he told me: “I will ask Alfred Knopf to publish a book with your translations of my texts. Bring me the full manuscript towards the end of September, which is the publishing season, and I will have talked to him about it.” I bid him farewell and I left. I was worried about his paleness and the way in which he could hardly walk, but I did not have an intuition that this would be the last time I’d ever see him. Three weeks later, on the noon of Saturday, April 11, 1931, I was going out of a café in Springfield when I heard a newspaper boy shout: “late edition … late edition for the latest news.” I drew near and I bought the latest issue of The New York Times, which announced the sad news of Gibran’s death on the front page. His death had a tremendously tragic impact on the Lebanese community. H Z : What about your book after that? AG: A while after Gibran’s death, I took the manuscript to Knopf and he said: “You have to go to Barbara Young. She is now entrusted with his legacy and is his executor.” I met her for the first –  and only  – time in Gibran’s hermitage, where she had been along with her daughter. She was a tall, corpulent woman with 36


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a strong personality and I knew she had been with Gibran ever since she met him in 1923, when The Prophet was published and she offered to be his secretary. She said she would allow for my book to be printed by Knopf, provided she could write its introduction. I told her Mikhail Naimy had asked to write the introduction, but she harshly refused and asserted in a tough tone: “Then the book will not be published and I will not allow you to publish it.” I told her I would have it published by another publisher since I had an authorization signed by Gibran, which I showed her. However, she firmly retorted, “This allows you to translate, albeit not to publish. I alone am allowed to publish and I give the final permission.” I was baffled, because Mikhail Naimy had returned to Lebanon in 1932 and I, too, was preparing to return soon after. I felt there was no choice but to accept her demand. And so it was that the book was published in 1934 with Young writing an introduction in which she said that I had masterfully “assimilated the Arabic original of Gibran’s spirit and conveyed his magic into English.” She made slight modifications to some pieces, including “Ayyouha Al-Layl”, and added some prose to sections while downtuning my translation of Gibran’s poetic streaks in the original English text. I went back to Lebanon and Knopf subsequently sent me the translation royalties twice a year (in early January and early July) at a rate of $4,000 a 37


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year. I kept receiving this sum for many years as new editions were published of the book. It became part of Gibran’s classical collection and was sold along with his other popular books. When I returned to Lebanon, I told Mikhail Naimy about Barbara Young’s demand, but he did not comment. I understood that he was at odds with her and that he held her responsible for the disappearance of Gibran’s first will in which he had stated that he had earmarked amounts of money for his Pen Bond friends. Indeed, Gibran used to provide them with financial assistance on an individual basis and this explains why they dispersed after his death, why their magazines and newspapers stopped and why things deteriorated into personal disputes between them. Therefore, all of this came to the light following his death, when his second will dated March 30, 1930, which contained no trace of what Gibran had told his Pen Bond friends (knowing that Naimy later alluded to in his book about Gibran that he had written two wills). Barbara Young, with her authoritative personality, might have had something to do with the new will. Her severity was such that she was compelled, when Gibran was dying, to send after Naimy to the hospital through Salloum Mokarzel, albeit only when Gibran had entered into his final coma. As Naimy recounted in his book on Gibran, all he heard from him was “Gh-r-r… Gh-r-r… Gh-r-r…” Naimy’s aversion towards her was so intense that he did not name her in his book, 38


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merely referring to her as “an American poetess who met Gibran towards the end of his life.” I later learned that following Gibran’s death, she “camped” in the studio, arguing that she feared things would be stolen, and started issuing copies of his paintings and selling them in various exhibitions as Gibran’s works in order to finance projects to print his legacy. HZ: Following Gibran’s death, why was there all this fuss about Naimy publishing his book on Gibran? AG: I went back to Lebanon in 1934, two years following Naimy’s definitive return. I used to visit him in Al-Shakhroub and he always told me that in his book he removed the towering stature of his friend, Gibran. During one of my sessions with him, he told me: “If I had only written about Gibran’s merits, I would not have been objective and I would not have served Gibran, for people would have labelled me as his panegyrist without taking my writings seriously. I wrote about some of his human lapses. For instance, he used to drink a lot towards the end to alleviate the tremendous amount of pain he was in. Some blamed me for divulging this. However, it will be left up to people to sift Gibran’s shortcomings from his merits and they will remember his merits, which are many.” Naimy himself may have had exaggerations in his book because he was not familiar with Gibran’s life as he was growing up, or with his love life, 39


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which Gibran kept as a carefully guarded secret. Furthermore, Naimy derived the information he did not know about Gibran from a single source, namely Mary Haskell, when he met with her on the morning of April 21, 1931, ten days after Gibran’s death. The meeting lasted for four hours in a spa near Grand Central Station before she took the train back to her Savannah (Georgia) home, after attending Gibran’s funeral in Boston. During that session, she summarized for Naimy various aspects of Gibran’s life in Boston and some of her own life, which Naimy used as a basis for his book. Years later, I followed a debate between Naimy and Ameen Rihani, who blamed Naimy for smearing his friend Gibran in the Lisan Al-Hal newspaper. Naimy answered, “He was my friend more than he was yours. When were you his friend? We still remember how Gibran threatened you with his cane during one meeting in New York, because you had adopted a hesitant stance between Lebanese and Arab loyalty, and this caused aversion towards you among all Pen Bond members, and even within the Lebanese community.” Rihani’s famous violent reply in Lisan Al-Hal came as follows: “The New York incident was distorted by Naimy, for he sees things from his own angle.” Moreover, resentment rose against Naimy from members of the New York Lebanese community, specifically in Nasseeb Arida (whom I sensed 40


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was the closest to Gibran), Raschid Ayoub and Abdul Massih Haddad. Yet the most virulent of all was Ameen Rihani. I visited him many times in Freikeh, as I had come to know him during a debate between him, an Englishman, and a Jew in Massachusetts in 1930. Ameen went back and forth between the two men and silenced them with his strong arguments backed by critical thinking and sound logic. Even though Rihani disagreed with Gibran towards the end of his life on political and national matters, he remained nobly loyal to his friend, who had tremendous respect for him. Gibran even abstained from publishing with Al-Hoda Publishers (despite its fame and broad readership) out of solidarity with his friend, Rihani, who was locked in a dispute with Al-Hoda owner, Naum Mokarzel. H Z : Do you think that Naimy’s return to Lebanon had something to do with Gibran’s death? AG: Yes, Gibran used to help his friends and provide them with financial assistance. He was an umbrella for them in New York. Following his death, they dispersed as if they no longer had any protection over their heads. In 1974, before I returned from Lebanon to Massachusetts, I visited Naimy in Baskinta to bid him farewell and I asked him if he ever thought about going back to the United States to achieve fame there as he had done in the East, and he said, “Isn’t it a bit too late for that, Andrew?” 41


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H Z : You translated Gibran into English. What do you think of the translation of his English texts into Arabic, specifically “The Prophet”? AG: I conjure up Gibran’s answer to Naimy’s question about Archimandrite Antony Bashir’s translations into Arabic, and I add nothing to that. Whichever way they translate his texts into Arabic, his spirit and influence will remain clear and unique. As for The Prophet, Bashir’s translation conveyed the spirit without caring for the language. Naimy’s translation delved into Gibran’s thinking and lost the subtlety of Gibran’s astonishingly simple expression, whereas Tharwat Akasha’s translation did not grasp the depth of Gibran’s imagination. Therefore, I believe that the best translation of The Prophet and the most faithful to Gibran’s spirit and simple – though deep – language remains that of Youssef Al-Khal. *** I spent five hours discussing memories with Andrew Ghareeb. My hand grew tired of writing and this 90-something young man never grew tired of telling his story. I wonder if he has mentioned all memories. If the answer is yes, could this be the last of the “new light” shed on Gibran – knowing that Ghareeb is Gibran’s last living contemporary? 42


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When I visited the Rare Book Collection of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I felt an odd chill run down my spine as I handled Gibran’s original letters to Mary Haskell. More than once, I could almost smell his fingerprints on the letters, which he had touched with his poetic hands. When Andrew Ghareeb shook my hand, I felt it like a Lebanese oak branch, and I shuddered when I thought I was touching the hand that shook Gibran’s so many times. I left Ghareeb and went out on the broad crowded streets of Massachusetts, where strangers resembled shadows following one another. A faraway shadow was following me on the inside, saying with a smile: “Not yet… not yet… Sixty years have gone by and many sixty years will go by still and the mystery shall remain intact and the well-kept secrets will not be told.” I know that well, because I realize this enigmatic poet will remain an unreachable mystery, even for those closest to him. This holds all the more true now that the bunch of friends and memories is down to one grape, which adorns our conversations about him. Is it possible that the man who is still reborn in our conversations every day has ever died? Springfield, Massachusetts – 1990

43



II

Fouad Khoury 2 “My friend Gibran was a ‘Don Juan’, and complained of being disturbed by the phone.”

It is a story of defiance between Fouad Khoury and time. As if he forgot, or feigns to forget, that 84 years lie upon his shoulders; those shoulders which are not burdened with time and the years which have passed. Before I came to New York, Fares Estephan, owner of Al-Hoda, told me that the editor, Fouad Khoury, “is a contemporary of Gibran, Naimy and the Pen Bond.” He talked about him with deep respect, which encouraged me to meet with him as soon as I arrived in New York in 1985. His name was among the first names on my agenda. Once I entered the office at Al-Hoda, I recognised him instantly. I knew him from the grey hair that crowned his head and the creases etched on his face. 2 Fouad Khoury died in Brooklyn in 1988, three years after this meeting.

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“This is Fouad Khoury,” I said. I rushed towards him and greeted him with respect for his stature, feeling that the hand I was shaking now had shaken the hands of Gibran, Naimy, and that blessed cohort of the Pen Bond. I sat down with him, seeing in his wrinkled face the pictures of those whom we read and wrote about. And just in front of me existed the living testimony of them. The meeting with the editor of Al-Hoda was laden with history. The paper was founded in 1898 and, at the time, served the Lebanese diaspora for eighty-seven years. This goes without mentioning the memories of he who was a contemporary of the prominent figures who served as beacons for our expatriates. I asked him, “Mr. Fouad, I would like to visit your old memories. Do you mind?” He relented to my request. “You may say, son, to visit what remains of my memories. Here I am – try your best.” I wondered whether “my best” would ever be enough as I was standing on the shore of that wide ocean of memories. Fouad was a young man of 19 years hailing from Lebanon when he first set foot – along with his father, Gerges – in New York Harbor in 1920. It was pure coincidence that, before the family moved to Colorado, Gerges met his wife’s relative, Matta Faris, who was then responsible for the printing press of the Al-Majalla Al-Tijariyya (Business 46


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Magazine), owned by Salloum Mokarzel (brother of Naum, owner of Al-Hoda). Matta asked Gerges, “Does your son Fouad have a job in America?” Fouad quickly replied with the enthusiasm of youth: “What job might suit me, Uncle Matta?” In less than an hour, the young Lebanese, Fouad Khoury, freshly arrived from Lebanon, was standing in the offices of the Business Magazine and busy answering the questions of Salloum Mokarzel. Once the meeting ended, Salloum Mokarzel assigned Fouad Khoury assistant of the “printing master”, Matta Faris in typesetting the letters on the Linotype, which Salloum had bought years ago for his magazine. It was the first Linotype with Arabic script in the United States. And so it was that Fouad remained in New York while his family went on to Denver, Colorado. In New York, Fouad met the members of the Pen Bond, and he participated in their reunions, befriended the members, and attended their meetings and discussions. It was there that he met Gibran. Henri Zoghaib: What do you remember about Gibran? Fouad Khoury: Oh... Gibran… Gibran... so many years together... He used to come to the As-Sayeh magazine offices on Rector Street, the headquarters of the Pen Bond. He always walked, carrying his cane with which he hit the ground, grumbling or out of shortness of breath: shortness of breath due to his permanent nervous temper, and sometimes grumbling because of 47


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those who wasted his time on the phone to no avail. He liked to focus on his work-long hours alone and undisturbed. He had a surprising endurance for work. He was never exhausted from spending a whole day and night working. He liked to get paid for all the work he did, even if the payment was only symbolic. Money was very important to him and he never wasted it. Despite this, he was always elegant and chose his outfits properly. He never showed up in a bohemian look, but rather in a very simple elegant style. He was an artist in every sense of the word. This is what gave him such distinctive fame in our circles and among women. I often heard he was indifferent to women and focused more on spiritual issues. What?! (The old man laughed as he knew everything) Of course not. Our friend was a ‘Don Juan’. I never knew anyone who did not love him for the famous literary figure he was and the attractive personality he enjoyed. In the last years of his life – especially the last ten years – he was no longer interested in writing in Arabic anymore and Arab readers were of less interest to him. He left them his literature translated into Arabic, and took to writing in English, a language he mastered with a very particular style. As for financial revenues, he relied mainly on his drawings and paintings more than upon his writings and publications. New York – 1985

48


III

Monsignor Mansour Estfan “I gave The New and the Marvellous its title and published the book in Cairo. Gibran called me twice as he was writing Jesus, the Son of Man.�

Monsignor Mansour Estfan is a few steps away from the century mark. He lived ninety-three years of a life to the fullest. Some weakness in hearing is compensated for by a vivid memory unaltered by the passage of time. He forgets no details, no names, and does not even skip a place or a date. His history as a priest cannot be limited to words, as he served for fifty years as the pastor of the Lebanese Maronite community in Brooklyn. In 1980, he returned for good to his motherland, to his hometown of Ghosta, a sash of shadows and lights in the middle of Keserwan. Gibran sleeps in his memories. Eager to know about Gibran, I visited him one morning in 1983. No sooner had I told him about the purpose of my visit than he started to answer my questions way before I could even ask them. Memory did not betray him 49


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as he remembered every detail. He described entering Gibran’s hermitage the day of his passing, and gestured around us with both his hands, depicting the premises in such an expressive manner that I could almost touch the hermitage furniture and feel the warmth of Gibran’s bed. In the Monsignor’s room were stacks of books and papers, and bundles of memories. As he spoke, he looked out of the window over the beautiful Bay of Jounieh. He recounted memory after memory, and I sat there, immersed in my writing, without interrupting him. Monsignor Estfan confided: I was a priest of 23 years old when my superiors summoned me to Cairo in 1913 to teach the Arabic language and translation at the Jesuit Fathers’ School in Faggala, near the “Arab Library”. I met its owner, a Lebanese man named Youssef Touma Al-Boustani, who asked me to help him edit and supervise the publishing of some Arabic books. One day, he said: “Gibran Kahlil Gibran has several articles published in various magazines and newspapers in Egypt, Lebanon and the United States. I intend to collect them and publish them in one book. What would you say if I entrusted you with this task?” I immediately accepted as I was tempted by Gibran’s fame. I reviewed many of his articles, among which I selected 35 articles from his books, A Tear and a Smile and The Tempests the last book he wrote in Arabic. I also chose articles from many magazines and newspapers. I classified the articles and selected 50


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some of Gibran’s paintings, and I entitled the book, The New and The Marvellous. Afterwards I supervised its printing in 1923, after a dispute with Gergi Zeidan who wanted to publish it in Al-Hilal publications. In New York during the same year, Gibran published his book The Prophet at Knopf. *** In 1924, I was transferred to New York to serve the Parish of Our Lady of Lebanon in Brooklyn. And one day in 1926, I passed by Manhattan to visit my friend Ibrahim Hitti (owner of a Lebanese tourism agency, and agent of the American Fabre Line shipping company). His office was in the Faour Building in the middle of Washington Street and Lebanese nationals often met there. His office, on the first floor, was accessible via four iron steps. On that day, no sooner had I reached the fourth step when Hitti saw me from the desk where he sat at the end of the vast room. He then called to a short man who was about to leave the office, the man stopped in the middle of the room, and Hitti said to him: “May I introduce you to our pastor, Father Mansour Estfan, who came to New York almost a year ago now.” Before the other man replied, Ibrahim turned to me and said: “I want you to meet our Lebanese man of letters, Gibran Kahlil Gibran.” In swift seconds, I carefully examined the man who was 51


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short in stature: in his right hand a cane, and around his neck a cashmere scarf; he had a yellowish complexion and was worryingly skinny. Before he could speak, I said: “I have known you even before meeting you.” He remained silent, as I continued: “I collected various articles of yours and entitled them The New and the Marvellous, and supervised their publication in a book in Egypt.” Coming out of his dreamy silence, he thanked me with excessive politeness and brevity, then took his cane and left. Whilst leaving the office, I followed him with my eyes and said to those who were around me: “This man will not live long. He is too lean and feeble.” My friend Yaacoub Raphael replied: “This man is a rare bird.” The Lebanese men in the office started to tell me more about him and his fame in New York, especially after the release of his book The Prophet three years ago. They told me that he visited no one, and no one visited him. He did not go to public places, lived in isolation in his hermitage, and worked days and nights on his writings and drawing. *** Since that first meeting, the image I kept of him in my memory was that of his simple elegance and short stature with his neck slightly leaning forward. I met Gibran afterwards four or five times on literary occasions. One occasion was 52


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organized by the Pen Bond, in the hall of an association and in memory of the late Sleiman Boustani. On that day, Gibran was one of the prominent speakers. In 1927, Gibran called me asking for a Syriac version of the Bible. I had told him I had it: it was an expensive copy, which I had bought at the time for fifty dollars due to its importance. I promised him I would look for it. A week later, he called me again: “I hope I am not disturbing you, Father,” he said. “I hope you did not forget the Syriac copy of the Bible I asked you about.” I told him I could not find it. I had probably loaned it to someone who had yet to return it. He apologized again and thanked me politely. That was the last time he called me. I understood afterwards from a member of my congregation that he was writing a book about Jesus. Jesus, the Son of Man was published a year afterward. His visitors were limited to four or five, among whom were Nasseeb Arida, Abdul Massih Haddad, and his brother, Nadra. We heard news about him from time to time. And since he had but limited contact with people, no one ever knew about the severe illness he suffered in his last days. My friend Naum Mokarzel had, in addition to his building in Manhattan, bought another one in Brooklyn near the church of Our Lady of Lebanon, and transferred the Al-Hoda offices and printing presses to the building in 53


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Brooklyn. In 1931, he became severely ill and, as we were friends, I used to visit him almost every day. On the morning of April 11, I went to see him and I was shocked to see such extreme sadness in his eyes. Before I even asked him what was the matter, he announced the heartbreaking news, “Our friend Gibran is dead,” before drawing a deep, silent breath. I immediately said the “Prayer for the Dead”, and as soon as I finished it, Naum asked me, “Would you come with me to visit his hermitage?” I immediately said, “Yes.” My friend got out of bed as if he was no longer sick, and we took the car of one of my parish members to Manhattan. Once there, we found ourselves in front of an old building of four floors, with old tiles on the roof. The building entrance was wide with a double staircase. We went up the first, second and third floor, and we turned right into a long, rather dark corridor. The first door was that of the hermitage. We did not knock – it was open so we entered. The door gave onto the centre of a narrow and extremely long room. Facing the door stood two tables: the one on the right was covered in a white tablecloth with a statue of a 20 centimetre high Virgin Mary holding the Holy Child in her arms surrounded by two copper chandeliers with melting candles. On the left table was placed a chalice, a tray and two 54


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other copper chandeliers with melting candles above the white tablecloth. In the corner, as in all American houses stood a stove to burn wood, coal or charcoal, and in front of which was a small table with a large copper tray holding a coffee pot surrounded by eight cups in copper moulds. To the left corner from the door was a low simple bed covered with a Persian carpet, above it was a statue of the crucified Christ. Next to that and affixed onto the wall hung an old life-sized canvas of the three women who accompanied Christ to Calvary. Various paintings of differing sizes, painting tools, and unfinished paintings leaned against the wall to the right of the entrance. There was no bathroom in the room; rather, there was a common one for the entire floor, as was the case for these poor floors. As we left the room, I said to Naum, “This man was truly an ascetic living in a hermitage.” We continued our way to St. Vincent’s Hospital where his body was held. Two days later, the corpse was transferred for the four-hour train ride to Boston. There was no funeral in Brooklyn, as his sister Marianna wanted the service to be held where she lived near the Our Lady of the Cedars Church in Boston. Father Stephen El-Douaihy, the pastor of the parish, led the funeral ceremony. Gibran’s death deeply saddened New York and Boston, although most knew him as a solitary 55


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figure. However, he had a great impact on the authors and members of the Lebanese community, especially after the publication of The Prophet. That was fifty-two years ago. Every time I remember Gibran, or someone talks about him in front of me, I remember that lean and feeble man who was short in stature with his elegant cane and cashmere scarf around a slender, forward-leaning neck, a man of excessive politeness and brevity.

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IV

Mary Haskell

the Guardian She-Angel “She would correct secretly Gibran’s manuscripts and return them to him by mail.”

The occasion of the first International Conference on Kahlil Gibran at the University of Maryland in December 1999 brought together speakers to discuss Gibran’s life. At one session, speakers praised Mary Haskell for her relentless encouragement for him to write in English and for the financial, moral and emotional support she offered Gibran. Whilst looking around the conference room, I noticed a tearful young lady. Professor Suheil Bushrui, the president of the conference, also saw her and whispered to me: “She is Mary Haskell’s relative.” I approached her after the session. I introduced myself as a connoisseur of Gibran’s writings and also of Mary Haskell’s history. She pointed to the necklace she had around her neck, saying: “This is from her.” It was a beautiful necklace inlaid with finesse. 57


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I asked her, “What is your kinship to her?” She replied, “she was my mother’s aunt, my maternal grandfather’s sister.” I did not want to continue the conversation in the room, so I invited her into the university salon. This was the first time anyone met a relative of Mary Haskell. Up until that day, no one had ever spoken or written about any of Mary Haskell’s family members. I showered the young lady with questions, after I expressed my interest in knowing and following the various stages of Gibran’s life as well as Mary Haskell’s. We discussed everything from the school in Boston at 314 Marlborough Street to the Telfair Academy Museums in Savannah, Georgia. Mary Haskell deposited her private collection of Gibran’s paintings to the latter. We also discussed her house in Savannah, located at 24 Gaston Street, where she lived after her marriage to Jacob Florance Minis. I also told this young lady about the day I spent reviewing – among other things – Mary Haskell’s original letters to Gibran and his to her at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The young lady said that she felt comfortable while talking to me and that it was the first time she wanted to speak about her mother’s aunt in all sincerity. Indeed, she stated, she had never met anyone who already knew so much about Mary Haskell. This young woman’s name was Elizabeth Davis, born in 1956. Her grandfather, the father of her mother Mary, was Mary Haskell’s brother, John Haskell. Her 58


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mother named her Elizabeth after her aunt Mary Elizabeth Haskell. The first three letters of her name M.E.H., appear on some of Gibran’s paintings and on some of his Arabic books, which he dedicated to her. She told me she read The Prophet when she was fifteen, and she liked Gibran before she knew about his relationship with her mother’s aunt. On her eighteenth birthday, her mother gave her the Beloved Prophet, The Love Letters of Kahlil Gibran and Mary Haskell, and Her Private Journal (edited and arranged by Virginia Hilu, Knopf Edition, New York, 1972). When she told her mother that she knew Gibran through his book The Prophet, her mother revealed to her the relationship between her aunt, Mary Haskell, and Gibran. Elizabeth did not previously know about this relationship, and she then began to discover the world of Gibran and Mary, her mother’s aunt. She showered her mother with questions the latter answered for the most part with few exceptions. Quoting her mother, Elizabeth told me how Mary Haskell kept her relationship with Gibran a secret after she got married to Jacob Florance Minis on May 7, 1926. She left Boston – where her school was and where she had spent years with Gibran to travel to Savannah – to live with her much older husband. When she used to travel with her husband to New York, she used to steal short interludes of time to spend with Gibran, while Minis tended to business in offices around Manhattan. She also 59


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used to review Gibran’s latest manuscripts secretly and return them to him by mail. In October 1930, she reviewed the manuscript of his last book, The Earth Gods, at night, in her salon, after her husband had gone to sleep. When she returned the corrected manuscript to Gibran in early November, he sent it to the publisher and signed with him at the end of the month a contract to publish his next book, The Garden of the Prophet. When she received the printed version of The Earth Gods on March 31, 1931, she read it and, on the morning of April 6, 1931, she sent Gibran a letter, which he received at noon on Wednesday, April 8. That was the last thing he ever read before his health deteriorated on Thursday evening, as he went into a coma on Friday morning and died in Room 316 on the third floor of St. Vincent’s Hospital, a few metres away from his hermitage on 51 West 10th Street, at 10:55 p.m. on the evening of Friday, April 10, 1931. In conclusion, Elizabeth said: “On my wedding day, the most precious of all gifts was this necklace my mother gave me. She had received it from her aunt. I am proud to wear the necklace that once belonged to the great Mary Haskell.” She asked to be excused and went to her room. When she returned, she was holding two large pictures of Mary Haskell with all her family members. Pointing to the pictures, she said: “This is Mary, and next to her is her brother, my maternal grandfather John, who died years ago. And just two weeks ago, 60


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his wife, my grandmother Audrey, died at the age of 104. Her funeral was held in Los Angeles and it was the occasion for me to meet a Lebanese producer who was writing the script of a film on Gibran and Mary Haskell’s biographies. She told me about this conference, so I came with her to attend it.” Did you come with her? You mean she is… here? A few minutes later, Elizabeth introduced me to her new friend, the Lebanese producer, Sola Saad. In the quick conversation I had with Sola, she told me she was writing the script of a feature film about Gibran, based on the letters he exchanged with Mary and on the forty-seven notebooks of Mary’s journal about her relationship with Gibran. While I was speaking with Sola Saad, a young lady joined us, and Elizabeth introduced her as “My friend, Tania Sammons who is in charge of the Telfair Museums in Savannah. She is currently writing her PhD thesis about Mary Haskell.” Having visited the Telfair Academy Museums in Savannah in 1992, I was familiar with the collection of Gibran’s works there, so I enjoyed speaking to Tania about insights on Mary Haskell. She explained the following. Mary corresponded with many men among her contemporaries and kept journals of this correspondence. These correspondences and journals, however, were not as rich and frequent as the ones she had with Gibran. She was an emancipated and rebellious 61


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woman compared to other women of her generation at the turn of the century. Born in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1873, she was ten years older than Gibran. Haskell established and led movements for the liberation of women from male restrictions prevailing at the time in the American South. She was among the first southern women to wear pants, and she also organized mountain camps in remote rural areas as well as nature walks in rugged areas. Mary was so daring that she proudly displayed Gibran’s paintings, despite the nakedness in them, in her school in Boston. Haskell kept her relationship with Gibran secret after her marriage to Jacob Florance Minis, who died on September 3, 1936 – just five years after Gibran’s death. In 1954, when she started to feel that her health was deteriorating and her memory was betraying her, she donated her private collection of eighty-three drawings by Gibran to the Telfair Museums before entering a stage of confined mental illness in 1959. She was then admitted to a nursing home, where she spent five years until her death on October 9, 1964. Tania sighed and continued, “We have drawings we know nothing about, and we need an expert on Gibran to visit us, and explain to us the circumstances that led to these drawings. Some of these paintings have no titles and others no dates.” At the end of a day saturated with more knowledge about Mary Haskell, I met a fascinating 62


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physician at dinner, who also was attending the conference. Elizabeth introduced him as: “Doctor Joseph Cilona from Chicago, who treats his patients psychologically through readings from Gibran.” I was interested in what he was saying, and he started to tell me how his parents wanted him to study medicine and how he joined the University of Boston, though unconvinced of what he was doing, and then shifted towards psychiatry. On his graduation day, a friend of his offered him The Prophet by Gibran. He read it that night and felt a profound change in his life. He had been afraid of facing society after his graduation, but after reading The Prophet, he felt society was too small for his ambitions. He started to see the world from another perspective with greater simplicity and a clearer philosophy. “Gibran cured my sense of loss,” he said with confidence. “Since I started to treat my patients, I treat them with readings from The Prophet, I invite them to read it or I read chapters to them. I can see the difference in them and the relief they feel when they hear the thoughts of Almustafa. When I signed a contract with the Department of Health, I started to treat young men and women by simplifying chapters from The Prophet and giving them these chapters to understand and be cured. Instead of a fifteen-minute session, I sometimes spent thirty minutes curing them with Gibran’s thoughts. For those who wanted more, I read paragraphs from Gibran and Mary Haskell’s love letters, which enchanted the patients and gave them a feeling of relief. Mary Haskell was an extraordinary woman.” 63


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One day, one place, four meetings – Elizabeth Davis, Sola Saad, Tania Sammons, and Joseph Cilona spoke of one woman, Mary Haskell. Were it not for this woman’s letters and journal, there would be many aspects of Gibran’s personality and milestones of his literature and personality that would have remained unknown to us. University of Maryland, College Park – 1999

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V

Boutros and Soumayya Gibran “Gibran was our best man in 1914.”

I was invited to a social event Connecticut where I met a friend of just arrived from Lebanon. After a introduced me to another person him: Charles Gibran.

in Waterbury, mine who had short chat, he accompanying

I greeted him and asked if he could take me to see Kahlil George Gibran, the Boston-based sculptor. I hoped to meet him and gather new information about the author of The Prophet. The man clearly resented my request. I inquired into the matter, and he explained: “I advise you against it. He is arrogant and incredibly overbearing and refuses to meet anyone. Plus he gives no information. A month ago, I became certain that he had the two manuscripts.” I replied, “What two manuscripts?”

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Charles explained: “Two unknown manuscripts written by Gibran, which he keeps to himself, Lazarus in the Garden and The Blind, although he had promised my mother a while ago that he would publish them for Gibran’s birth centennial in 1983. But… why do you insist on seeing him? If you want to know something new about Gibran, why don’t you meet my parents? They will surely tell you everything they remember of him. They were his close contemporaries and knew him well.” I did not wait for more details and we immediately set up an appointment to meet them. *** The next morning I travelled with Charles to Springfield, Massachusetts. We waited to meet his eighty-two year old mother, Soumayya Khadra Gibran. She had a mild hearing difficulty, added to a severe difficulty in speaking and a weak memory. Charles and I started to ask her questions about Gibran. It was difficult to understand some of her words, but not her sighs when she remembered Gibran: Poor Gibran… Is he still as sad today as when he used to visit us? He always had a pale face. I only remember him as being sick. He used to stay with us for two or three days. He always walked around this field you see, she motioned to the place with her shivering hand. He did 66


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not eat much, spoke but little, and was always absent-minded and dreamy. Being my husband’s cousin, he was the best man at our wedding. We got married in that church over there – do you see it? It is called the church of Saint Anthony. It was Monsignor Boulos Saab who married us. Charlie, do you remember which year? Charles quickly replied: “It was in 1914, mother. That is the date you used to tell me every time you remembered Gibran.” She continued: “Poor Gibran! I still have two of his books containing a special dedication in his own handwriting. Whenever he visited us, he asked us not to receive anyone else. He liked solitude and wanted to be alone. He preferred to escape in his dreams, or into his writing and drawing. He did not like to be bothered. Charlie, are you still visiting your uncle Gibran in New York?” This question made me aware that the interview with this Soumayya was over and that we could not hope for any more information. I turned to Charles and asked him: “Where is your father Charlie?” He replied, “He is in Worcester, three hours from here.” Without a moment of thought, I responded, “Let us go to him then.” *** 67


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Boutros Youssef Gibran was an eighty-five-year-old man who needed no questions from me and no invitation to speak. He indulged naturally in nostalgia. Below is my interview with him. Boutros Youssef Gibran (BYG): I am three years older than my wife, but I am more conscious than her. Poor woman, she has gone senile. Henri Zoghaib (HZ): What is your kinship with Gibran? BY G: His father Kahlil, is a cousin of my father, Youssef Gibran. Didn’t you tell him that Charlie? H Z : Where did you meet him? BY G: At my house in Springfield. He was my best man, and I visited him sometimes in Boston, which was a two-hour trip from my home. H Z : Did he visit you often? BY G: Often? No, he did not have time. His work was mainly in New York, but he regularly visited his sister Marianna for two to three days before going back to his work in New York. He had so many travel plans and engagements. H Z : How do you remember him? BYG: He was an extremely sad person who always had a long-suffering expression on his face as if 68


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he had a fearful pain. He liked to walk, to be accompanied by someone even if he did not talk to that person. I used to walk with him sometimes and he would talk to me – but only a little. He thought as he walked. He was a philosopher. He once showed me a magazine published in Egypt in which they portrayed him as a philosopher. H Z : Did he read his writings to you? BY G : No, never. He wouldn’t share his writings with anyone. I would say he was arrogant from this perspective. He considered what he wrote to be perfect and didn’t need the opinion of anyone else. A friend of his from Boston used to walk with us. His name was Assaf Jouriyye and he used to ask Gibran about his writing; Gibran would be irritated by his questions and would not answer. He did not like to read what he wrote to people like us, those he thought had a lesser level of intellect than himself. H Z : Was he really arrogant to such an extent? BY G : Just when it came to his writing. For other issues, on the contrary, he was endearing and soft-hearted, a good speaker whose words never bored you. When he was not thinking about his writing and art, he liked to speak to adults and children alike. He was modest with people and even affable – gentle and shy. 69


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H Z : Did he receive many visitors when he came here? BY G : No. Only a few would come to say hello. He used to joke and speak out frankly and ask them about their family and their work. Whenever he laughed with them, sadness, illness and tiredness would wholly dissipate from his face and body language. H Z : Did he stay for a long time with them? BY G : Never. Visits were abridged as he was always busy and in a hurry to go on a business trip, to finalize a transaction or meet someone “about work�. H Z : How would he come to Boston? BY G : By train. He was poor and would not allow himself any extravagance. He used to give some money to Marianna, especially at the end of his life, as his financial situation had improved. HZ : What did he talk about with others? BY G: Nothing special, they spoke of general issues or topics, and he avoided getting into literary discussions with them. It was as if he needed to rest from the environment he came from in New York. And this did not bother his visitors. They loved him and cared for him, and they were mostly proud to be visiting him. He was an interesting speaker, his discourse was sweet and he treated people with respect and honesty. 70


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H Z : Do you remember his appearance and stature? BY G : He dressed “comfortably” at home, but when he went out he took care of his appearance. He was always well dressed and presentable. He never went out without his American hat and his cane, and his clothes were always clean, shiny, and elegant. HZ : Did he smoke much? BY G: Oh, such a lot of smoking and drinking coffee. During the last period of his life, he drank too much Arak, and Marianna was silently torn apart. The poor woman died quietly in 1948. H Z : When was the last time you visited him and what did you talk about? BY G : It was in March 1931. A month before he died. He talked about Lebanon with a strange nostalgia, as never before. We spoke passionately about Lebanon. On that day he said: “Oh Boutros… I miss Lebanon.” The old man burst bitterly into tears and silence prevailed. Springfield/Worcester, Massachusetts – 1985

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VI

Barbara Young Visits Bisharri “Such an enchanting country. It would be no wonder if it gave rise to many such as Gibran every day.”

Barbara Young arrived in Bisharri at 10 a.m., on Sunday, October 8, 1939. She was accompanied by Director of the National Museum, Emir Maurice Chehab, Director of Arabic Studies at Saint Joseph University, Fouad Efram Al Boustany, and David Azrak, a professor at the American University of Beirut. Prominent figures of the village accompanied by members of the Gibran Committee welcomed “the American friend of Gibran Kahlil Gibran.” “Barbara Young in Bisharri, Gibran’s hometown. The American writer cries in front of the house where the author of The Prophet was born, and kneels in prayer before his tomb for ten minutes” declaimed the headline of  As-Siyasa newspaper 3, on the morning of Friday, October 20, 1939. 3 Newspaper published in Beirut by Nayef Succar, a native of Bisharri. Issue no. 37, first year.

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The newspaper detailed her visit as follows: “Before the American author had a chance to rest from her journey, she asked to visit the house where Gibran was born. Just a few minutes standing in front of this fifty square metre house prompted the sadness on her face and brought tears to her eyes. She whispered brokenly: “It was in this house that Gibran Kahlil Gibran was born! One of its rooms witnessed the birth of an inspiring and unique messenger!� In a quiet and inquiring tone of voice, she started to ask: Where are the roof logs of the house? Did they not withstand the test of time? Where are the wall stones? Did storms scatter them like ash blown on the wind? Where is the wooden closet Gibran always told me about, wherein walnuts, raisins, dried figs and all those dried winter fruits were stored? Where are the honey and wine jars, the pellet stove that would devour the grapevine rods whilst winter storms burst in the skies outside? Where is the large straw tray, which served as a table for lunch and dinner? What happened to the stone font that was extracted from the foot of the Cedar Mountain?

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Where is the little place Gibran used to put his books in? Where is the nearby spot within which he used to play? Where is the nut tree he was shaded by at noon, and to which his father tied him as a punishment for always drawing? Where is that neighbour who played his organ in the quietude of the night; playing melancholic Lebanese tunes? What happened to him? Gibran used to like his music and spent all night listening to him. Where is the road which he strode along every morning, encountering cows, sheep, and goats running towards the same spacious fields and green meadows? Where are the Saint George rocks? The grottoes of the Qadisha Valley? Where is the Mar Sarkees Monastery? The Cedars? The Daher Al Qadib Mountain crowned with perennial snow? Where do the “Nabat”, the “Al-Qaos”, and “Mar Semaan” spring from? In which of these meadows grow the muchloved violet flowers and the cyclamen? Barbara Young asked about all of these things while standing in tears before the ruins of the small house that witnessed the birth of her poet Gibran.

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In Gibran’s Museum and the Qadisha Grotto She asked to be taken to the museum. There, once she saw it, she regretted that there wasn’t a proper art museum within which all Gibran’s eternal drawings could be gathered together. The people there asked her to explain some of the symbolic drawings of Gibran and she obliged them. Afterwards she went to the Qadisha grotto accompanied by Father Antonios Geagea. Along the road she admired the marvellous scenery. When she entered the grotto, she wondered aloud if she was still in this world, or if she had travelled to some other enchanting place. Once out of the grotto she exclaimed: “Such an enchanting country. It would be no wonder if it gave rise to many such as Gibran every day.” Barbara left the grotto site and headed towards one of the Issa Al-Khoury family houses. There, she had lunch in the presence of the Bishop Abdallah Al-Khoury, the president of Gibran’s Committee, Selim Rahme, Monsignor Badri, and a number of Bisharri townsfolk. At the Tomb After lunch, the writer, accompanied by a large number of people, went to Gibran’s tomb at the Mar Sarkees Monastery. When she entered the church where Gibran lay, she was so touched that she asked the accompanying people to leave for a while. They 76


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left and she stayed alone in the church. She knelt in prayer before his tomb for about ten minutes. Then she stood up and left the church to go and stand on the monastery patio, where she admired the beautiful scenery Gibran had told her about in New York. At the Patriarch The writer laid a gentle kiss on the temple walls, which embraced the author of The Prophet, and then left the Mar Sarkees Monastery to travel to Al-Diman, the summer residence of the Maronite Patriarchate, where she met with Patriarch Antoun Arida accompanied by the president of Gibran’s Committee and some of its members. His Beatitude treated her to a warm welcome and asked her to stay in Bisharri for a longer time, telling her that it would be an occasion for her to explain some of the ambiguous symbols in Gibran’s drawings and also to arrange the museum in a proper artistic manner. After spending fifteen minutes at the Patriarch’s, she apologized, saying that would be impossible as she had to go back to Beirut. *** In the same issue of As-Siyasa, a small paragraph explained how Gibran wrote The Prophet. It said that “he wrote it in 1902 in Arabic and read it aloud to his mother who stated: ‘The style is weak, my son, compared to the idea.’ Disillusioned, he then tore the book into pieces. He wrote it again a second and 77


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third time but the result was the same as the first. After the war, Gibran rewrote The Prophet in English, and that was it! The Prophet was immediately published and is still being acclaimed worldwide.” This “emotion-laden” description, which was not based upon historical facts, was followed in the same issue by some important writings, shedding light upon Gibran. The article stated, “Mrs. Young had in her purse four of Gibran’s private notebooks written in Arabic and English”: 1) A small notebook without a cover, perhaps one of Gibran’s school notebooks with pictures of letters to a Superior General, a patriarch, an archbishop, a friend, and so on, and which abounded with numerous seminary messages and letters in particular. 2) A second notebook, a little larger than the first, also without a cover; having on its first page the sentence “From Gibran Kahlil Gibran’s notebooks – October 1900”, and below it two verses repeated three times: Oh book borrower leave me As lending books is a shame. My book I found it a lover in this world My lover is neither for sale nor for lending And, in the same notebook, appeared a selection of poems cited from Ibrahim Bin Sahel, Ibn Maatouq and Cheikh Selim Hanna Dahir, all taken from the Sahat al-Moulouk. Following 78


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these poems there were some writing exercises in prose and verse, most of which were incomplete although they abounded with metaphors and comparisons. 3) There was also a regular notebook with a cover and a small number of pages, which comprised some English writings and Arabic poems, which were obviously not finished. Two verses were written under the title “Under My Drawing”: It is the fantasy of a boy who loves life and loves it not, and in both cases he is full of angst. If he seems inactive and filled with silence, recite the prayer of love and he shall be disturbed… The same notebook contained a long article of ten pages in Arabic with many corrections and annotations, probably the draft of an article he published in Al-Hilal. In that article he discussed and referred to the Eastern renaissance and the possibility of solidarity among the Arab countries. At the end of the notebook there was an incomplete draft letter, which was probably going to be addressed to May, in which he wrote: “Now that you’re back from Lebanon. I salute you for going to Lebanon, and I do not know yet if I have to greet you for coming back safely to Egypt. Lebanon, Lebanon, Lebanon – tell me what did you see in Lebanon? If I were to send you all the letters I have received from the most humble Lebanese to the most sophisticated ones, you would have never thought if you 79


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were me – and apologies for this assumption – to go to Lebanon, or to any corner in the East.” 4) A large notebook, most of it remained blank, comprised many paragraphs of The Earth Gods in English; on the following pages some draft sketches appeared, among which was one of a woman cradling and feeding her baby. The sketch appeared in enclosed leaden circles and exuded mystery and clarity all at once. In the same notebook were Arabic draft paragraphs of poems and known articles, the most famous one being Al-Mawakeb (The Processions). Among the written notes was one saying: “Politicians are busy dividing the Earth’s surface, and the clergy is busy dividing the heavens. And I, with my temper and my dreams, am a stranger to those busy with such divisions and partitions. I devote myself to psychological, mental, earthly and heavenly solitude.” A Hasty Return The As-Siyasa newspaper described the final details of Barbara Young’s visit to Lebanon, thus shedding a light on previously unknown facts about her. The newspaper text read: “on October 12, Barbara Young went back to New York before accomplishing the mission she came for. We received information about her hastened return saying that in London, lived a German lady who admired Gibran. When she found out that Barbara Young had accompanied Gibran in his last years, she wrote to her to New York and suggested 80


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that Barbara might visit Lebanon and write a book about Gibran. She offered her 2,000 dollars to pay for the trip. Barbara Young accepted the suggestion and received an advance payment of five hundred dollars. She then left New York in the middle of August. On her way to Lebanon, she received information about the war breaking out. This did not deter her and she pursued her trip to Beirut. Whilst in Lebanon, she ran out of money, and she wrote to the German woman requesting the remaining amount. However, the latter apologized for not being able to send her the money due to the war. At that time, Barbara Young sought to go back to her country and had recourse to the president of the American University of Beirut, Mr. Bayard Dodge, who gave his fellow citizen an amount which helped her reach New York.” *** This new information, which As-Siyasa shed light on in 1939, revealed how Barbara Young deliberately portrayed herself as dedicated to Gibran, and devoted to him after his death in the same way she had been during the last seven years of the life he had spent in his hermitage, having also accompanied him during the last morning of his life on that fateful Friday, April 10, 1931. While he was being transferred in the ambulance to St. Vincent’s Hospital, two blocks away from the hermitage, he had reassured her saying: “Don’t be afraid Barbara, all is well.” Those were his last words, and Barbara was the last person he saw, because at midday he entered into a profound state of unconsciousness. 81


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His sister Marianna, who had hurriedly come by train from Boston to see him, did not make it on time. According to the sculptor, Kahlil George Gibran 4, after Gibran’s Boston funeral at the Church of Our Lady of the Cedars on April 14, Barbara returned to the hermitage in New York on Friday April 17, “to hide any trace of Gibran which can hinder her from appropriating the story of knowing it.” However, Mary Haskell had fortunately preceded her to the hermitage with Marianna and Zakia Rahme, daughter of Kahlil’s cousin, Melhem Gibran, to look among his papers for the original copy of the will he had filed in 1930 at the Edgar Speyer office. Among his papers, she found some of his manuscripts she had worked on with him, or on her own, and had returned to him. She also found perfectly wrapped packs of her letters, which she later on classified with his letters to her, later offering them to the Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also gathered her personal holdings of paintings and drawings which Gibran had given to her and donated them afterwards to the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, where they are still well preserved and exhibited. These letters constituted the major wealth of materials used by Virginia Hilu in Beloved Prophet, published in New York in 1972. Tawfiq Sayegh referred to it in writing his book, New Lights on Gibran 5, these letters shedding hitherto unknown light on periods of Gibran’s life. 4 Kahlil George Gibran, Kahlil Gibran: His Life and World, p. 404. 5 The book was published in Arabic.

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In 1945, Knopf published Barbara’s book, This Man from Lebanon, in which she briefly mentioned her visit to Lebanon and referred to how the journey ended on that night she “stood upon the terrace of… the Grand Hôtel d’Orient, close to the water, the beautiful bay of Saint George” and waiting for dawn to break before she could set off for the Port of Beirut in order to return to New York. It was obvious that Barbara had repeatedly taken advantage of Gibran after his death: her book, her memoires, her articles about him, four exhibitions of his paintings which she organized and benefited from, and the tours she used to charge for, in order to lecture about him in some American states, describing herself as “being Gibran’s sole friend over the last seven years of his life.” Oh, what a great difference between her behaviour and Mary Haskell’s pen, the latter to whom Gibran owes the most. It had been such a lucky coincidence in shedding light on Haskell’s correspondence: if Mary Haskell had not taken that pack of letters, there would have been a great danger indeed as Barbara Young might have sought to destroy those letters, conspiring to remain the main star in the memory of Gibran’s fans, under the pretext that she had accompanied Gibran dayby-day during his last seven years (1924  – 1931). She had known nothing about Gibran’s long relation with Mary Haskell. Not even Marianna knew, except for some ambiguous allusions Gibran had mentioned to 83


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her. Likewise, Mikhail Naimy knew nothing about the relationship between Gibran and Mary Haskell until he met her in Boston on the day of the funeral, during which he expressed his intention to write a biography about Gibran in Arabic. She asked him to join her at the Thompson Spa near Grand Central Station before she took the train from New York to her aging husband in Savannah on the morning of April 21, 1931. There she talked with Mikhail for four hours, during which time Mikhail took note of every piece of information she imparted about her relationship with Gibran and about the period Gibran was in Boston before Naimy met him in New York City in 1911. The book Naimy published later on, Gibran Kahlil Gibran, was the result of that long important meeting with Mary, although he did not mention this fact in his text. Moreover, he did not mention Barbara Young except on page 5 where he described her as: “She is tall, bony, sallow of complexion, with deep-set eyes and a prominent nose. She is an American poetess nearing her sixth decade. She met Gibran some seven years before and made herself quite useful to him in transcribing his manuscripts. I had met her once before in his studio.� Naimy was aware that Barbara Young was not as sincere as Mary Haskell. Therefore, he did not mention her in his book, except in this brief paragraph above. And he was right.

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I

What Is Left of His House in Bisharri

Boston – December 7, 1910 Mary Haskell wrote in her journal: “Tonight he talked of his family… His grandfather on the Gibran side was a man of leisure – wealthy, aristocratic, athletic, brilliant… His son, Kahlil Gibran’s father, was a peculiar man… magnetic and a man of tastes. He was however a tax collector for the government, and he had an enemy. He was accused… of embezzlement of taxes… Gibran remembers the morning when the summons was served on his father – how the crowd rode into the courtyard of the big old house and how his mother stood bravely smiling… At the end of three years, Gibran was found guilty, all his property, houses, orchards, fields, the old family dwelling, the statues, books, curios, furniture, etc … was confiscated so that the family became guests of the government in their own house.” 87


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Boston – Wednesday, August 25, 1915 She wrote: “Kahlil got to talking about his childhood… After his father’s death, relatives settled everything – and everything went except the actual house. That, heavily mortgaged and eating itself away with interest and taxes, stands. Several people have wanted to get it for Kahlil. K. could not live at home because he was dependent on his father and his father was absolutely out of sympathy with his work.” New York – August 31, 1918 Mary quoted Gibran as saying: “When I was in Paris, there came to see me the French officer who had been in the French Expedition of 1886 (?) in Syria. He was a great friend of my father and had stayed at our house. He came to see me because he wanted to tell me that my mother was the most wonderful person he had ever met. In Bisharri many people say today, ‘I swear by the grave of Kamilah Gibran.’” Sunday, October 8, 1939 The American poet Barbara Young visited Lebanon and Bisharri in preparation for writing her book This Man from Lebanon (which was later published by Knopf in New York in 1945). While in Bisharri, she was well received because she was recognized by everyone as being “Gibran’s American friend.” On that day, the As-Siyasa newspaper covered 88


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her visit to the house where Gibran was born. It had not been renovated as it is now and, at the time of her visit, lay in ruins. The memories in and of that place will never die. Historically, this house is not the one where Gibran was born, but it is important since he lived a part of his childhood there. It was originally the house of Eid Gibran, brother of Gibran’s father, Kahlil. Kahlil’s family lived there when they were displaced from their own house, which had been of great luxury and elegance, and which Kahlil Gibran had inherited from his own father, Gibran. It was known as the house of esteem, eminence and leadership. When the Ottoman authorities arrested Kahlil Gibran and imprisoned him, they confiscated all his properties and the soldiers of the Mutasarref Wasa Pasha 6 also confiscated the large house. Gibran’s mother Kamilah and her children, Peter and Sultana, moved to the house of Eid, Kahlil’s brother. The young Gibran stayed at the nearby house of his paternal aunt, Leila Gibran Bitar, for a few days, then spent the rest of the time with his mother at his uncle Eid’s house. Gibran’s young eyes long gazed with sorrow upon his father’s house, which was adjacent to his uncle’s house, and which the Ottoman soldiers had occupied. When Kahlil was arrested and imprisoned, the small family was in distress and Kamilah spent all the money she had to try and save her husband from the 6 Mutasarref (Ottoman governor in Lebanon) between 1883 and 1892.

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clutches of the Ottoman prison. The apparent charge was as follows: “Tax collector Kahlil Gibran is accused of embezzlement of taxes collected on livestock and failing to pay them in full to the Ottoman State.” However, there was more to this story. Kahlil Gibran had not embezzled money, as this was not of the moral behaviour of a proud mountain villager. The truth of the matter was that the atmosphere prevailing in Lebanon at the time led Lebanese to refuse to pay taxes to the Ottoman State, which had violated the 1860 constitution, stipulating the partial abatement of taxes and the abrogation of taxes upon livestock. And because the “tax collector” Kahlil Gibran was of a determined and austere personality, he colluded with the citizens in refusing to pay and delayed in paying the levy. Opportunists thus denounced him before the Mutasarref soldiers who ordered the regional governor to arrest and imprison the “tax collector”. Kahlil Gibran Faces His Destiny In June 1895, Kamilah and her children – Peter, Gibran, Marianna, and Sultana – set off on a journey to Boston. Kahlil refused to leave Lebanon so he remained alone in Bisharri and lived at his brother Eid’s home, since Ottoman soldiers were still occupying his house. When the young fifteen-year-old Gibran came back to Beirut in the fall of 1898, he visited his father in Bisharri. He found a changed man. His father was miserable, had prematurely aged (Gibran’s father 90


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had been born in 1844), and his temperament had shifted to that of a state of increased anxiety and nervousness. Hence, he did not stay with him at his uncle Eid’s house, but rather at the home of his aunt, Leila Gibran Bitar. The family in Boston was also not living in comfort and prosperity. The younger sister Sultana died on April 4, 1902, and upon receiving the tragic news, Gibran left Beirut on the first boat heading to New York. His brother Peter died afterward on March 13, 1903, and then his mother Kamilah died on June 28 of the same year. On July 20, 1903, Kahlil was in the Bisharri town square, in front of his brother’s house, when he received a letter from his son Gibran in which Gibran bewailed the loss of his mother Kamilah. Kahlil was tremendously shocked at the news – a shock that immediately affected his vision. He felt guilty for letting his family emigrate to the United States and for them dying one after the other. His response was to ask his friend Selim Hanna Dahir to write this reply to Gibran: “Your father was about to travel to you when he received your letter, telling him that you would be coming back to Lebanon soon, as you had come to hate the land where all the world misfortunes have fallen upon you. The fact is that your father and your uncle Eid are in a deplorable condition. Your father needs you to send him a pair of eyeglasses, which would be suitable for his 58 years as he can no longer see clearly.” 91


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Gibran received the letter while still in Boston, and he replied: “All I ask from my father is his blessing. He knows quite well that I am not content with my stay in the United States. I yearn every moment to be with my father, a shepherd leading a flock of sheep and playing my flute in the shade of trees.” About six years later, on June 17, 1909, Gibran received a letter from Bisharri mourning his father who had “died alone and strained by debts.” He wrote to Mary Haskell on June 23, “I have lost my father… He died in the old house where he was born sixty-five years ago.” Does this mean that Kahlil Gibran had, before his death, regained his house, even if this caused him to incur heavy debts? Was it his pride, honour and dignity, typical of the Bisharri townsfolk and the Lebanese mountains, which did not allow him to remain a burden at his brother Eid’s house? After the death of Kahlil Gibran, his relative Nakhli Gibran came from Brazil to take care of the inheritance. He sold the house and wrote to his cousin Gibran, who at that time was studying art in Paris, to inform him that he was obliged “to sell whatever little remained of his father Kahlil’s properties in order to pay a small part of the latter’s accumulated debts.” Gibran answered him, saying: “Distribute the furniture in the house to those who have need of it in Bisharri, and let them remember my mother fondly.” The house was sold to the Dahir family who went on to live there. 92


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The House After Kahlil Gibran Gibran’s father Kahlil inherited the luxurious house where Gibran was born in 1883 from his own father and died in it in 1909. The house remained standing after his death for merely 45 years before the Bisharri Municipality tore it down to widen the road in 1954. As for Eid Gibran’s house, which was adjacent to his brother Kahlil’s and which Gibran frequently visited while he studied at the Al-Hikmat School (1898 – 1902), it became the property of the Gibran National Committee in early 1940s, which then renovated it and opened it to the public in 1971 following the installation of sound and light equipment. However, the house was left neglected again during the war in Lebanon between 1975 and 1990. Following the war, the Gibran Committee restored the house again, bringing in specialists who cleaned the stones with sand and coated its doors and walls with oil. It replaced the lighting, music system, and furnished it with items almost similar to those used in Gibran’s time. The only “authentic” thing that remained from Gibran’s days was the big walnut tree in front of the house, in a nice small garden at the centre of which stood a statue of Gibran sculpted by Halim Al-Hajj. The house was furnished with simplicity: to the right was a high and large bed next to a closet, and beside it was a wide tray made of straw, which the family used as a table. There was a low stone barrier 93


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upon which stood a stove and a clay cooking pot, in addition to a large box and low benches. The wall ends with a large opening where a lamp is placed. Three high arches, starting at mid-to-ceiling height shape the room. This provides a complete picture of the only remaining place from Gibran’s time that is faithfully preserved in Bisharri. The house where he lived part of his childhood and youth, and not far from it, a museum which contains his tomb and his works. Gibran has “returned” to Bisharri as he had always dreamt – from far away, from his New York hermitage. Throughout the twenty years he spent there, Bisharri was never far from his eyes, from his dreams, and from his drawings.

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II

What Is Left of His House in New York

Speaking about Gibran in New York differs from speaking about him in Beirut. In New York City, every street corner has a different flavour, a different atmosphere compared to how things were like back when Gibran, a man of medium height with his American hat and wealth of Lebanese dreams, walked through these places. Here, in this city, we get a deeper understanding of the deep and sensitive emotions that romantic man had in his heart. On April 10, his commemoration day, I wanted to visit him and the places where he lived. Bisharri and my visit there had completed part of the complex jigsaw puzzle that was Gibran. Now I wanted to inhabit the same places he did in New York to understand what sort of person he was during his time there. I hoped my visit to America would let me get closer to him. 95


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What I hold of Gibran in my memory, is that he first came to New York on April 26, 1911, and lived in 164 Waverly Place, Manhattan. This humble single room apartment constituted his studio, his bedroom, and his living room. Thereafter, his friend Ameen Rihani invited him to come and live in his apartment in 28 West 9th Street. This was because he had a large room for painting and also Gibran could sleep and receive people in another room. During that summer, Gibran went to Boston to pack whatever books and things he left there and brought them back to New York in September. At that time, he learned of a vacant studio in a new building exclusively for painters at 51 West 10th Street. He wrote to Mary asking her opinion to which she quickly replied: “Go straight… and take it.” This he did: the studio had an atmosphere and a small balcony and rented out for 45 dollars per month. The light in it was as good as that which he had in Paris. It was these two places that I wanted to visit on Gibran’s commemoration day. It was a warm spring day, and walking around the streets of Manhattan was certainly not boring: every street had its own feel. There was no way you could get lost because at every corner there hung a sign bearing the street number and direction. From the Al-Hoda headquarters at West 28th Street, I walked eighteen blocks, to 10th Street in less than eighteen minutes. Images spun around my imagination with every step I took: I was imagining Gibran walking on that 96


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sidewalk, stopping at that juncture, bothered by the burning sun or sodden from a sudden rain shower. When I reached 9th Street, I slowed down. There was no trace of No. 28. I found building 26 and building 30 next to it. I asked the first person I saw about No. 28. He feigned ignorance and walked away. How strange and rude were the manners – far from the Lebanese joviality and consideration shown to you when you ask someone passing by for directions. An old man passed me. I stopped him. I asked him, “Are you a resident of this street?” He replied, “Yes.” “Where is building no. 28?” He said, “It was here. The New York Municipality demolished it. And this building replaced it: building number 26, is a four-storey building which has replaced two two-storey ones. That is why one can see buildings no. 26 and 30 but no building no. 28 in between. “Thank you,” I told him. I contemplated the “new” building nowadays, known as Prasada, an old building which was more than forty years old. The Municipality could demolish it again. I started to imagine Gibran and Rihani walking along the sidewalk of this street. I moved afterwards to the next street, West 10th. I stood for a long time at the corner. I contemplated the entrance by walking across it from right to left. This was the entrance which Gibran set foot in 97


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thousands of times between 1911 and 1931. He had gone in and out of there for twenty years, and probably more than once per day. How many times did he enter this street feeling sad, and how many times was his head full of fantasies and dreams? I was between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue, the street extended west in front of me: old trees shaded the sidewalks and old buildings stood like sentinels on both sides. The street was calm and silent and so were the passers-by. Not one of those passing by on the street cared that the day was April 10, the anniversary of Gibran’s death. This genius from my country lived on this street, and died fifty-four years ago to the day. I tried to tell myself: “Enough imagination, boy. Move on and quit these romantic fantasies.” I moved along, reading the building numbers and searching for number 51. I couldn’t find it. I found number 45 and number 55 next to it. Again I waited for someone who could help me. An old woman passed by – she might know. She might have been a resident here for 65 years. I asked her. She replied, “Oh yes, the building was here. It was torn down by the municipality twenty years ago, in 1965. They then replaced it with this large building.” I approached the “large” building. It had number 45 on it and was named, Peter Warren. This was 98


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a ten-storey building which replaced the five-storey one, and right next to it was number 55. Strange! I couldn’t find Gibran in building number 28 on the adjacent street, nor here on West 10th, where the hermitage had been at no. 51. Nothing remained in the street that pointed to Gibran and his fantasies and fertile imagination. Nothing remained at all except this sidewalk lying down in the silence of the old times, stretching in the shade of trees which witnessed the living and the dead – this echoing pavement which former years had carved out into memories. Upon Gibran’s arrival in Manhattan, he wrote to Mary Haskell: “New York is not the place where one finds rest. But did I come here for rest? I am so happy to be able to run.” Running? Indeed, it is about all that one does in New York City. People rushed to reach their work were smashed by these tall buildings. When walking, you felt as if the earth was running downward, and you were shrinking with every step while buildings rise around you as if to stifle your every movement. This was the New York of the Twin Towers, 110 stories each, the highest buildings in the world, of the Empire State Building and the Verrazano Bridge, which was the longest suspension bridge in the world. This was the New York of computers, the subway, long distances and seventeen million residents. 99


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In this New York of today, was there still a place for the dream and romance of Gibran? New York changed since the time of Gibran. It changed a lot. I left 10th Street, and in my imagination I saw a man of medium height wandering on the sidewalk, and carrying, in his imagination, a special Lebanese flavour from Bisharri. New York – 1985

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A Tour of Gibran’s New York

A tour of Gibran’s favourite spots? This may be the best New York offers to a researcher interested in walking Gibran’s footsteps in an attempt to grow closer to the man, to break through the halo surrounding him and to gain a better sense of his daily life. This can be achieved by walking the same streets and standing on the same corners as he did. Indeed, the halo surrounding Gibran as a man was distorted and magnified by a seven-hour time difference across the Atlantic, which distances him from his beloved homeland and which was detrimental to him as a man, albeit without affecting his unquestioned genius. A New York tour was, therefore, in order to see the places we read about in Gibran’s books wherein our imagination and knowledge situated him. I tried in vain to convey, through my looks and voice, my 101


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eagerness to the U.S. photographer accompanying me. I implored him to take his time and to capture each shot twice for an added guarantee and to take heed of the writing and numbers I cared to highlight. I spoke to him excitedly and eagerly, but all I got in response was a cold stare. He wondered about this person who was telling him about a Lebanese genius from the East who lived in New York and who, from there on, shone out onto the world. He walked by my side idly and coldly, just automatically taking the shots I asked him to take with a strange mechanical neutrality. I confirmed with him: “Shall we go, Thomson?” “Yes, sir.”… and so off we went. Greenwich Village We were in Manhattan, one of the five boroughs of New York City. Manhattan Island is the heart of New York, with about five million people travelling there every day. It is the heart of the United States and some go as far as to say it is the heart of the world due to the daily operations and deals conducted in it, which change the course of world politics and the global economy. Greenwich Village is an overcrowded neighbourhood located in Lower Manhattan. It is home to black people, poor people, hippies, and shops with relatively cheap goods comparing itself favourably to the harsh cost of living in New York. Cleanliness 102


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leaves much to be desired. Streets were chaotic and packed with cars while houses were constantly being renewed, albeit with little taste. This is “downtown” as New York puts it. Subway stations are dirty. Drunkards and junkies take up residence on the sidewalks at night. Hippies, alternative people, beggars, loiterers, and a mixture of Chinese, Indians, black people, poor, and miserable people huddle in tight groups around street corners in the evenings. It has not changed much since Gibran’s time. In his book on Gibran, Mikhail Naimy described it more than half a century ago as follows: “Greenwich Village, an old neighbourhood of lower Manhattan, that artists of all categories appropriated as a smaller Montmartre in Paris. Poets, poetasters, musicians and music players, the dancers and the would-be dancers, the photographers, the painter and the human ape gather there by one trait. They are creative, they create fashion and dress differently from people. They do in public what others do only in secrecy. They often take pride in the appearance of poverty (…). In one of the suburbs of this village, an old building of red bricks, 51 West 10th Street, Gibran set his studio which he used as residence.” The “Hermitage” Was Here On April 26, 1911, Gibran took the train from Boston to New York. Charlotte Teller had arranged a series of audiences and gathered a micro-community 103


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of friends for him in Greenwich Village, the neighbourhood where numerous artists of various types congregated. Upon his arrival, Gibran stayed in the same furnished apartment building as Ameen Rihani. Due to the lack of space, he would use Rihani’s room to draw and he would go each morning to Charlotte’s nearby house for breakfast. “Here we are on West 9th Street. Take a picture of building 28, Thomson.” We looked around in vain. We found building number 26 and building number 30 right next to it. The concierge told us that building 26 was replaced by four other buildings. It is now collectively known as Prasada – a nine-storey condominium. While Thomson took a picture of the new building, I walked ahead to the adjacent West 10th Street, the famous headline of Gibran’s letters. There it was, a yellow sign indicating West 10th Street, bordered by Sixth Avenue on one side and Fifth Avenue on the other. I stood there in awe, and wondered how many times Gibran walked down its sidewalks. Perhaps he was happy on occasion and other times sad with a lump in his throat, or hurrying, with his hat and cane, back to his hermitage, in order to quickly write down threads of The Prophet as they crossed his imagination. Oh, old trees on West 10th, do you remember a genius from my homeland, a man of medium height with stray, dreamy eyes and vigorous as a tall cedar of Lebanon? I looked for building 51, but I could 104


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not find it. I did find building 45 and building 55 right next to it. The concierge of 45 West 10th explained to me: I have been here for fifteen years. This huge twelve-storey building (building 45) dates back to 1970. Before that, there was an eight-storey building dating back to 1952 and before that another six-storey building dating back to 1939. The building you are asking about was torn down by the New York Municipality in 1938. It was an old, derelict three-storey structure. This is New York, with buildings being erected and torn down fast. It asks no questions nor does it take its time; rather, it keeps up with the times and progress. Take a look at this street: half of its buildings are destined to be torn down. Very soon not a single old neighbourhood will remain in New York. We turned to 45 West 10th and I wondered 70 years back in time, remembering Mikhail Naimy’s description of the old building 51: “I was quite anxious to see [Gibran’s “hermitage”]. The studio was on the third floor of an old, brick building, which gave me as I entered it, the feeling of entering a monastery. [My friends led me through] dark passageways… lighted dimly by a small gas jet – the light casting queer shadows on the walls which seemed to ask a thousand questions and to resent our disturbing their quiet. The old wooden steps [of the twisting staircases] squeaked under our feet as if groaning. At the top of the stairs, to the left, 105


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we halted before a grim wooden door with an iron knocker in the centre. Immediately after we knocked the door was flung open… That was “the hermitage”. It spoke more eloquently of Gibran’s poverty and his magnificent struggle against it than of his love for austerity and self-denial.” I remembered an excerpt from Gibran’s letter to Mary Haskell on February 14, 1913: “There is a chance of my getting a fine, large studio here in this building (51 West 10th Street). It is three times as large as mine (28 West 9th Street) and it has both north light, south light (sunshine) and skylight, very cheerful and good for work. The rent is $45.00! … I shall have to spend some money to make the place look nice and clean – about $50.00. May I take it?” He took the flat and his “hermitage” there became a key station in his and our literary history. I woke from my daydream in the past and found myself in front of a modern twelve-storey building, which as the concierge explained had replaced three other buildings under the designation, “Peter Warren Building – 45 West 10th Street”. “Thomson, take a photo of where the hermitage was.” His Money in Several Banks Gibran’s will read as follows: “There are also 40 (forty) shares of the Fifty-one West Tenth Studio 106


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Association stock lying in my safe deposit box with the Bank of Manhattan Trust Company, 31 Union Square, New York… There are in addition to the foregoing two (2) bank books from the West Side Savings Bank, 422 Sixth Avenue, New York …” I looked around and found 422 Sixth Avenue right on the intersection between West 10th and 11th, a few metres away from Gibran’s hermitage. Therefore, his bank was quite close to his residence so he needed not travel long distances and remained focused on his work. This tied in with the facts I had learned; I had found out the importance of Gibran’s wish of being able to write or paint day and night. Sometimes, he would remain a recluse for several days and nights in a row. 422 Sixth Avenue was, however, no longer a bank: it had become Balducci’s, a place serving sandwiches and refreshments to the hordes of people scurrying after work and money. The building gleamed and shone – a new, ten-storey building. Thereafter I moved on to Union Square, a banking neighbourhood on West 14th, between Fifth Avenue and Broadway and a brisk half-an-hour walk away from the hermitage. I found 31 Union Square, but the Manhattan Trust Company was nowhere to be found because it had been replaced by the Bank of the Metropolis. Once again, New York landmarks seem to have changed at a relentless pace. “Do take pictures, Thomson.” 107


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A “Park” for Reading and Meditating Several references to Gibran mentioned that he sometimes left the solitary hermitage to visit a nearby park as a way to meditate, read, or rest. I certainly had to go to see it. There it was, Washington Park, a wide-open space visited by turtledoves looking for safety and some grains. It was a mixture of old, new, and renewed benches scattered under tall, young trees. It was visited by hippies, poor people, and lovers hiding from prying eyes. Some brought along books and others memories. The sun shined through tree branches in broken rays … on broken dreams. So this is where Gibran used to sit, lost in dreams about The Prophet or unwinding after strenuous and continuous work. The park is located between West 6th and 8th, a few metres away from the hermitage. Once again, Gibran had proved that he would not be troubled with distances. And yet again, I found out how his life fitted into an incredibly small area – simply because he was busy writing all day and all night with no time to waste on going out and socializing. “Take pictures, Thomson, take pictures of these people in the park.” The Prophet’s Church Henrietta Boughton, aka Barbara Young, was 45 years old when she first heard chapters from 108


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The Prophet read by Pastor Butler Davenport at Saint Mark’s Church one Sunday in the autumn of 1923. She soon became one of Gibran’s disciples, admirers, and lovers. In his book on Gibran, Mikhail Naimy says: “In New York, there is an episcopal (Anglican) church, Saint Mark in the Bowery, which is one of the oldest churches in the city. It is run by a pastor, William Guthrie, who has his own vision of bringing worship closer to believers: he turned his church into what resembled a theatre or an old Greek temple, wherein dancing, poetry and acting took place. The bishop was not happy and this put him at odds with the pastor. Gibran invited me one day along with Nasseeb Arida and Abdul Massih Haddad to this church, saying that there would be readings of some of his writings and an enactment of The Prophet. So we went there.” I continued walking at a fast pace, along with Thomson, who followed me breathlessly and without understanding why this “Lebanese journalist” cared about places like buildings, banks, churches, and Washington Square Park. The Bowery is a neighbourhood located to the east of downtown, which is more upscale than the west. Saint Mark’s church was located at the intersection of Second Avenue and East 11th Street. It stood there, large and tall, surrounded by a spacious yard and a high, pointed steeple with a grand, elegant entrance. Its dignified structure constructed 109


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of stone showed that it was old, yet untouched by the New York Municipality, which refrained from tampering with it in the same manner as numerous other older buildings. Worshipers poured down the church stairs and I thought someone’s father or relative might possibly have been present on one of the days when The Prophet was read at this church. Then I thought: When will The Prophet be read in our churches? “Take pictures, Thomson, do take pictures.” Gibran’s Telephone Number In his book, Mikhail Naimy wrote that he often rang Gibran to enquire after him. Barbara Young also recounted more than once that she used to call him to ask about matters of interest to him. It seems his telephone dates back to 1920, as proven by the fact that Naimy was talking about The Tempests (published in 1920) in the following terms: “Gibran could now sleep without thinking of the morrow with its incessant calls for mere necessities. On the contrary, he was now able to put away some money in savings accounts. The $75.00 from Mary Haskell continued to come monthly and regularly. The gaslight in the studio gave way to electricity; the wood-stove to a gas-stove; the telephone being the last touch of new material comforts.” 110


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My curiosity as a journalist got the better of my literary and poetic sensibility, so I indulged myself in curiosity of wanting to know Gibran’s telephone number. How could I know that? The only place to find such a thing is the State Directory Services. I went there and the person in charge directed me to the New York Public Library, where I searched on microfilm for the Manhattan phone directory during that era, which goes back more than seven decades. The New York Public Library is also a few metres away from the hermitage at the edge of West 10th Street. I believe Gibran walked there sometimes for research and investigation, especially when he was writing Jesus, The Son of Man. I went into the library and asked for the 1920 film directory microfilm. The attendant brought the box, taught me how to use the microfilm screen and how to flick through the film, and turned away. I searched in vain under the letter G (for Gibran) and K (for Kahlil), but Gibran’s name was nowhere to be found. I repeated the procedure for all microfilms between 1920 and 1931, the year of his death. I would find the same names, but not his name. The attendant, who was in her seventies, was certainly annoyed by this visitor who would ask for the microfilms of year after year without finding what he wanted. I explained the case to her. I told her I could not find the name of the person I searched for even though I was sure he had a phone number. She 111


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answered laconically: “Then he must have asked not to be listed.” As soon as she said that I immediately remembered that Fouad Khoury, the only surviving contemporary of Gibran and the Pen Bond, told me: “Gibran used to complain about people uselessly taking up a lot of his time on the phone to no avail, and he liked to focus on his work for long hours without anyone bothering him. He had incredible stamina for work and he would not be at all tired after working for two consecutive nights without getting any rest. He used to set financial targets, even if merely symbolically, for everything he used to do. He did not care much about money, but he was not negligent with it.” I immediately understood why I could not find his number, 9549 Chelsea in the Manhattan directory because it had remained unlisted. Gibran was right – for there is no creativity without dedication and total devotion to creative work. “Take pictures, Thomson. Take pictures of the Public Library since we have been unable to take a picture of the phone directory page.” As-Sayeh (The Tourist) Fouad Khoury told me that Gibran used to visit the As-Sayeh premises at 19 Rector Street. As-Sayeh was owned by Abdul Massih Haddad, the mouthpiece of the Pen Bond. In his book on Gibran, Naimy wrote: “Just then Gibran telephoned saying that he 112


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was coming down.” He liked to let people know he was coming. I asked, “Uncle Fouad, how did Gibran go from one place to another?” Fouad responded, “he used to go to nearby places, as he liked to walk. He would be striking the pavement with his cane, wearing his hat and walking with his characteristic bearing whenever he went out. When he travelled for slightly longer distances, he used to take the subway.” A half-hour subway trip separated West 10th Street from Rector Street, so I wanted to cross the distance the same way as he did. I called out to my travel companion, “to the subway, Thomson.” I was on Rector Street, a narrow alley right on the harbour. The sea was a few metres away and the alley was merely a few metres from the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre, the highest towers in the world at 110 stories each. This neighbourhood was then home to the greatest concentration of financial institutions and banks and Wall Street. Rector Street allows a view onto the stretch of sea between Manhattan and Staten Island, at the farthest end of which stands the Statue of Liberty. Rector Street is located in Lower Manhattan, bordering the sea. It was filled with the scents of the sea, the harbour, and travel. There was building 19, the goal of our search. Yet it had become a high rise 113


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of approximately 40 stories – whereas Fouad Khoury had told me that it was a four-storey building back when it housed As-Sayeh. This was yet another landmark, which had disappeared. “Still, Thomson, do take a picture.” This Is Where Gibran Died In a letter written by Barbara Young to Margaret Lee Crofts, Young recounted: “Thursday [April 9] I called and his voice frightened me, so I went at once and found that the janitor’s wife [Anna Johansen, who daily brought Kahlil his breakfast] had sent for the Jacobs that morning… They had brought a doctor and would take him to St. Vincent’s Hospital Friday morning... Just a short time before the ambulance came in the morning… before he went downstairs he said – seeing my terrible anxiety – “Don’t be troubled. All is well,” and these were his last conscious words. He breathed away at eleven that night.” In his book on Gibran, Mikhail Naimy wrote: “The day is Friday. The hour about 5:30 p.m… The telephone rings… ‘Gibran is in a coma in St. Vincent’s Hospital. The doctor does not think he will live beyond midnight… Hurry’.” I hurried as well and the American photographer followed me breathlessly on those sidewalks, undoubtedly wondering why he had agreed to film with me. 114


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St. Vincent’s Hospital took up a vast area between Seventh and Eighth Avenue. The hospital occupied a great part of two major streets, namely West 11th and 12th, about one street and one avenue away from Gibran’s hermitage. This Gibran is really something. It is as though he took care of everything during his lifetime: his literature, his biography, his friends, his women friends, even his death… and his posthumous commemoration. He knew how to craft everything beforehand, his creativity and his glory. Here we were many years later standing in front of St. Vincent’s Hospital. I remembered Naimy mentioning that Gibran died in a room on the third floor. A policeman stopped me in the main entrance. I explained everything to him and I excitedly lingered on the importance of this location for my subject. Without displaying any emotions, he lifted up his stick and arched his eyebrows, saying: “The photographer stays here. It is forbidden to take pictures.” I persisted, “but the picture in such a subject is important because it…” He snapped with a single twitch of his lip: “no pictures.” Thomson did not give me another chance to ask the policeman for a respite as he sat on a chair at the entrance, pleased with his compatriot rebuking this “weird journalist” who was asking him to take pictures of churches and hospital rooms. I then asked 115


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him to take a picture of the hospital from the outside and to wait for me. I then asked at the information desk for the archives employee. I was instructed to: “take the other door on the other street.” At that other entrance, I get another answer: “take the east entrance at the extremity of the street.” I reached the relevant office at last and explained the issue to her. She said with astonishment: “Kahlil Gibran? Wait a minute (she bent down to reach for a desk drawer from which she pulled out a book). This is his book, The Prophet. It is always in my desk and on my bookshelf at home. I buy a copy and offer it as a present every time I get the chance. It is my favourite book. I first read it twenty-five years ago and I’ve never stopped reading it and every time I read I find out something new. How can I help you?” I asked her, “did you know that Gibran died in this hospital?” “Yes, in Room 316.” I told her my purpose, “I want to take a picture of its door and photocopy the death card in the archives.” She replied, “it is forbidden to take pictures here and the death card no longer exists. It is on microfilm and the microfilm contains 490,000 names. You want to go back to a death that occurred 34 years ago. The search will take too long. You cannot access the microfilm room and I do not have the time needed for this task. I am sorry.” 116


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She expected me to take my leave, but I didn’t. I kept making small talk about her kindness, her extensive knowledge of Gibran’s work, and her personality until I withdrew my hand from my pocket and covertly handed her a handful of dollars. She turned around and headed towards the microfilm room. I waited for approximately a half hour, wondering whether Thomson, the photographer, still waited outside, before she returned with a white sheet of paper bearing some inscriptions. It was the original 4 x 6 white hospital card bearing a list of necessary information about the patient – with handwritten answers. I could not photocopy the card since it was on microfilm, so I transcribed exactly what she had copied: * Name : Mr. Kahlil Gibran * Address : 51 West 10th Street * Date of admission to the hospital : Friday, April 10, 1931 * Room number : 316 * Date of death : Friday, April 10, 1931, at 10:55 p.m. * Profession : Poet * Duration of stay in the United States : 20 years in New York 117


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* Gender : Male * Marital status : Single * Age of death : 48 * Father’s name : Kahlil * Mother’s name : Kamilah * Birthplace : Bisharri – Lebanon 1883 Last Indication And thus my New York journey came to an end. I would have loved to have gone on a similar journey to the places where he lived in Boston and shared the story of his relationship with Mary Haskell, and would have loved to have gone on another visit to the library of Archimandrite Antony Bashir (who was later ordained a bishop), which contained important documents – including letters and short poems – that have now been moved to the archives of the Saint George Diocese in New Jersey. Yet the atmosphere prevailing in the places where he lived and which I visited in New York offered some insight into his genius, for try as we might to stop portraying him under a legendary light, he remains a man and a genius who is far from ordinary. He remains a visionary, as he told politicians and those who speculated on the fate of nations 75 years ago:

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“I hate you, My Countrymen The Spirit is a sacred blue Torch, burning… … and illuminating The faces of the goddesses; but You, My Countrymen... your souls Are like ashes which the winds Scatter upon the snow, and which The tempests disperse forever in The valleys. I hate you, My Countrymen, because … you despise Yourselves. I am your enemy, for You refuse to realize that you are The enemies of the goddesses.” This explains why he pulled away from them and shouted out loud across time: “You have your Lebanon and… I have my Lebanon.” New York – 1985

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Jesus, Son of Man    Pencil drawing (44.5 × 70 cm)

Marianna Crying her Mother Oil painting (50.8 × 68.6 cm)


Kneeling Woman and a Baby Pencil drawing (18.4 × 24.8 cm)

The Front Figure of The Madman Pencil drawing (19 × 26.5 cm)

The Greater Self Pencil drawing (20.5 × 26.5 cm)


Charlotte Teller Pencil drawing (38 × 40.5 cm) Charlotte Teller Pencil drawing (35.6 × 48.3 cm)


Untitled Pencil drawing (20.3 × 26.7 cm)

Untitled Pencil drawing (1919)


Face Pencil drawing

Mary Haskell's Profile Pencil drawing

(15 × 20.5 cm)

(26.7 × 36.8 cm)

Micheline’s Profile Pencil drawing (30.5 × 44.5 cm)


Untitled Water painting (21.5 × 28 cm)

The Great Longing Water and pencil drawing (30.5 × 44.5 cm)


A Mother and her Son Pencil drawing (42.9 × 20.1 cm)

The young Mary Haskell with her family (p. 60)


Gibran arrived to Ellis Island port (New York) as “Jubran Rhamé” (in reference to the correct spelling “Rahmeh”, his half-brother’s family name), according to the ship manifest where he was listed as the passenger number 273, along with his half-brother Boutros (No. 271), his mother “Camé”, No. 272 (in reference to the correct spelling “Kamleh”, his mother’s first name), his sister Marianna (No. 274), and his youngest sister Sultané (No. 275). The ship, coming from Rotterdam via Boulogne, line 0273, moored on June 17, 1895.


GIBRAN BEYOND TIME AND PLACES



I

Gibran’s Nostalgia for Lebanon

You ask me if I would like to go back to Lebanon. Yes, I do want to go back to the land of my youth, the land of inspiration; to the valley banks that fed my soul. I wish to go back to Mar Sarkees to pick the Lent flowers in spring. I wish to go back to sit on the porch of Saint Georges Church, from which slide the birds; to see the Holy Valley where the Qadisha River flows like a silver thread below me while I am sitting 500 metres above it. I would like to go back there every day, to go back to Lebanon, to Bisharri, to see the land of Kahlil the Heretic, of Martha of Ban and of Yuhanna the Mad. I wish I could go back to Bisharri to attend the Holy Week services, those which immortalized, in my soul, the picture of Jesus crucified. 123


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I wish to go back, to visit Marjaheen, the village behind the mountain of the Cedars, where my family had a farm. I wish to go back to revive my childhood memories in its forests. I wish to go back to Lebanon, to the Cedars, to reap the thyme in the fall, drink milk with the goat herders, and listen to the voice of the oriental cane flute filling those hills… *** In another letter to his friend, Felix Farris, Gibran wrote: “I must go back to Lebanon, and I must withdraw myself from this civilization that runs on wheels. I must embrace that civilization showered upon by the sun’s rays. I wish to go back to Lebanon, to Bisharri, and remain there forever.” Bisharri… Bisharri... Gibran held on to the memory and appeal of Bisharri throughout his life. It was there, where he first opened his eyes to the world on January 6, 1883, and it was there on a June day of 1895, where he closed his eyes to savour the scent of local thyme, then left for Boston. When he returned to Bisharri three years later, Gibran filled his lungs with the fragrance of the natural beauty before leaving again in 1902. He carried with him a now well-known love story later recounted in his book, The Broken Wings, and promised to return. However, he left Bisharri for thirty years, yet the memories of 124


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Bisharri and Qadisha Valley were held dear until he passed away on the night of Friday, April 10, 1931. His posthumous return to Bisharri in August 1931 was a moment when the residents of his hometown and those of neighbouring towns welcomed him, and carried him to his resting spot in Mar Sarkees Monastery, as he had requested in his will. At sunset on November 16, 1922, he was in the studio he called, “hermitage”, and he was drawing a portrait of his friend Mikhail Naimy. While doing so, he said: “Mischa, Mischa! God save us from civilization and the civilized, and from America and Americans; and we shall be saved. We shall return to the white peaks of Lebanon and to its peaceful valleys. We shall eat its grapes and figs, drink of its wine and oil, sleep upon its threshing floors, talk to its scintillating stars, and dream to the accompaniment of its brooks and the flutes of its shepherds… Yes, Mischa. You and I must some day flee this land... These I shall not regain except in Lebanon. If you only knew the “hermitage” I have selected… in Lebanon! It is a real cloister, Mischa, and not an imitation one as this studio. It is a small, deserted monastery right near my hometown of Bisharri. The name of it is Mar Sarkees. It stands at the upper end of the gorge of Qadisha on the slopes of Cedar Mountain.” The Qadisha Valley... The Cedars… Bisharri… Lebanon… Was this man truly living in the United States? 125


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The part of him that “lived” for twenty years in New York, in a humble apartment on the third floor of 51 West 10th Street, in Greenwich Village, in Lower Manhattan, had but one obsession and one obsession only: Lebanon! This man was strange indeed. He was not physically close to Lebanon and yet Lebanon was ever closer to him: “I am Lebanese and proud to be so, I am not Turkish and I am proud not to be. I am a Levantine, and although in exile I remain Levantine by temperament, Oriental by inclination, and Lebanese by feeling.” It was as though he spent his whole life waiting to go back to Bisharri, and while awaiting this return, he wrote, drew and painted. Does Orphalese not symbolize New York, and the island of Almustafa the land of Lebanon, even if connoisseurs see behind Orphalese, Almustafa and behind the ship a world transcending space and time, one that befits every space and time? Is Salma Karamy from Beirut not a remembrance of Hala Dahir from Bisharri and of all the memories, lifelong love and rebellion against the clergy, all of which accompanied him in his rebellious writing? Does the death of Salma not represent the symbol of Gibran’s psychology of broken wings, knowing that the true Hala did not die but was rather among the women in black from Bisharri who gathered around Gibran’s coffin and mourned the “Prophet” when he finally returned to Mar Sarkees? 126


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Gibran’s nostalgia for Lebanon was no utopian idyll disconnected from reality. Didn’t he participate in many movements, or organizations for the Lebanese people, to save them from hunger and occupation? Didn’t he – when Ottoman tyranny prevailed in Lebanon – fight against it in New York, within the Lebanese community, as one of its prominent members? Didn’t he write, work and participate in meetings, in order to gather subsidies and financial and social assistance and send them to Lebanon? In a certain period of time, he stopped writing and drawing in his New York hermitage as he sought to “reunify the Lebanese community and motivate them to gather urgent funds for families suffering from occupation.” Mary Haskell (the closest person to him and the loyal lady who recorded not only his words but also his thoughts) mentioned in her personal journal her admiration for Gibran’s attachment to his people in Lebanon. In her journal entry for Sunday, December 20, 1914, she wrote: “I asked Kahlil his opinion about the corrections I’ve done to his first English writing of his first book in English The Madman. He replied with intense anger and grief: ‘I care about nothing now except Lebanon and my people there’. And then a deep silence prevailed.” In a letter Gibran wrote to Mary on Sunday, June  11, 1916, he said: “A Syrian relief committee has been formed. As secretary of the committee, I shall have no personal life during this summer. It is a great responsibility, but I must shoulder it. Great tragedies 127


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enlarge the heart. I have never been given the chance to serve my people in a work of this sort. I’m glad I can serve a little and I feel that God will help me.” He urged his people to rise against the tyrant and oppressor: “Lebanon could never be divided nor joined to others. He is sovereign, free, and independent. Pity the nation divided into fragments; each fragment deeming itself a nation.” Gibran urged his idle people to rise towards a new dawn, the dawn of freedom and independence: “Life is a resolution that accompanies youth, and a diligence that follows maturity, and a wisdom that pursues senility; but you, my countrymen, were born old and weak. And your skins withered and your heads shrank, whereupon you become as children, running into the mire and casting stones upon each other.” However, his longing for his people would get the better of him, the life of an expat would grind him down and his heart would be wrenched because he was far away from his suffering, broken people. His love for his people bore suffering: “Dead are my people…, but I exist yet, lamenting them in my solitude. Were I a ripe fruit in the gardens of my country… Were I an ear of corn grown in the earth of my country… Were I a bird flying the sky of my country… They died because they did not befriend their enemy. They died because they loved their neighbours.” That separation would pull at him again to a greater longing; nostalgia never really left him, as he 128


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bowed: “You have your Lebanon and I have mine. My Lebanon consists of the cosy warm evenings while storms are thundering outside, and the mountains are crowned by pure snow. They are farmers who would turn the fallow field into garden and grove. They are those who migrate with nothing but courage in their hearts and strength in their arms but who return with wealth in their hands and a wreath of glory upon their heads. They are the lamps that cannot be snuffed by the wind and the salt which remains unspoiled through the ages.” Nevertheless, and despite his pride and inclination for his people and his urging them to persevere, reject and revolt, he was always sad and melancholic, haunted by loneliness and the bitterness of exile. He found in the United States, especially during the last ten years of his life, and mainly after the publication of The Prophet, the honour he would not have found in Lebanon. Yet to be honoured in a foreign land remains imperfect, if one’s country and countrymen do not take part in it. Therefore, Gibran kept Lebanon in his heart and soul, and gave only his mind and body to America. With his painful nostalgia for Lebanon, he was able to live the magic of nature and its inspiration, always mentioning the moon, the field, the vineyards, and other natural wonders. Georges Saydah was right, “Gibran did not tackle the country to which he emigrated in any picture or subject in all his articles and writings. He wrote, drew and painted 129


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them everything with an oriental spirit as if he had blocked his ears from the noise of wheels and whistles of the boats around him. It is strange how you cannot see, in any of his English writings the shadow of night, the dawn, the valley, the river, the mist, and the sea; and you cannot hear the pastors’ flute and the peasants’ songs in the vineyards, the plains and the mill.” Therefore, we understand the opinion of Ameen Rihani about the Gibran he knew well and also about New York, when he said: “In a city of the New World, with a heart of steel, among a deafening hustle and bustle, in the shadow of skyscrapers, in the city that weighs and counts and measures every single thing, lived a person who did not know how to count and never respected rules and measures. However, he excelled in writing and in thinking; his words were heard by nations which refrained from hearing about the East, and his wisdom was quoted by those who sat on the thrones of wisdom after Gibran had a throne among them.” But that one who “had a throne among the wise” spent his short life longing for a true throne, a small shack on a hill in Bisharri, Lebanon. He carried Lebanon in his heart all his life and so it remained after his death, as he stated in his will: “The royalties on my copyrights… are to go to my home town… But I would like to have Mrs. Minis (Mary Haskell’s married name), send all or any part of those things to my home town should she see fit to do so.” 130


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As for Barbara Young, Gibran’s companion for the last seven years of his life – she wrote a book about him, and couldn’t find a better title than, This Man from Lebanon, as she says in one of its pages: “He dreamed of a glorified future for his country.” A future? Better say a glorious sustainability. Yes, this man from Lebanon did not live in Lebanon; rather, Lebanon lived in him. Gibran did not dwell in Lebanon; rather, Lebanon haunted him. Gibran was not a citizen in Lebanon; rather, he became Lebanon’s homeland around the world. And not any homeland: it is the Lebanon of ultimate creativity embodied in one man; when he wanted to show gratitude towards his country, he said, “If Lebanon were not my country, I would have chosen it to be.”

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II

Gibran The Lover

“When love beckons to you follow him, though his ways are hard and steep” – The Prophet Kahlil Gibran wrote about love like few lovers ever did. Yet… how passionate a lover was he? Did waiting cause him to burst into flames, turning each second and each breath into a blazing inferno? Did he lie awake for nights in a row, consumed by the desire to hear a beloved voice or to catch a glimpse of a beloved face? He lived alone in his hermitage. Are lovers known for embracing solitude? He came to know twelve women for varying lengths of time, whether closely or from afar. 133


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What kind of lover was he, who moved from one face to another? “He grinds you to whiteness…” So did love “grind” Gibran? Did he experience the agony of coercion? Did he yearn for a fleeting moment? Did he feel the scourge of worrying for an eager lover? Still, he wrote about love like few lovers ever did. There is a difference I make here between Gibran and women, between Gibran and love. “Gibran and women” was a story of relations and exchanged letters. “Gibran and love” was a way of life, one of monastic devotion. Did Gibran adopt this way? Did he lead a monastic life up to the point of total devotion? He once told his friend Mikhail Naimy, “Mischa! I’m a false alarm,” and again, “I am a stranger in this world, Mischa.” Between this “stranger” and this “false alarm” lies a whole lifetime of delving deep into one’s own soul. Has the Oedipus complex really had an effect on his shying away from “relations” with women, 134


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as Ghassan Khaled posited in his book, Gibran Faylasoufan: Sycologia Al-‘Abqari Al-Marid (Gibran the Philosopher: Psychology of a Sick Genius)? According to Khaled, this complex affected Gibran’s sexual relationships “as he rejected sexual intercourse,” in addition to narcissism, which gave rise in him to self-worship and the desire to toy with women’s emotions. Is it possible for the close relationship with his mother to have had an impact on him, because of the injustice to which she was subjected? Wahib Keyrouz, the curator of Gibran’s museum, indeed revealed that she was married not twice, but three times: the first time to Hanna Abd-al-Salaam Rahme, with whom she had a son, Peter. The second was a secret marriage, but the relationship did not last long, and the third was to Kahlil Gibran; and this was before she had divorced her second husband. This provoked the Bisharri townsfolk to anger. Is it really possible, as Jamil Jabre deemed it likely in his book, Gibran Fi-Hayatihi Al-‘Asifa (Gibran in His Stormy Life), that Gibran did not like women, but rather liked to see himself in women? This would explain why the “model” in Paris spoke to Youssef Houwayek about Gibran, saying: “Your friend is impotent, he’s no good.” This would also explain his telling Mary Haskell that he had slept with only two or three women in his whole life, thus justifying why he abstained from any sexual relations with her and others, and how he stated he would not squander his physical energy, in order to save it for creativity. 135


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In his book, Jamil Jabre mentioned this Oedipus complex, arguing it was due to the fact that Gibran did not like his father who had a preference for his brother Peter because the latter helped him in Marjaheen, whereas Gibran was always dreamy and lazy. In his youth, his mother used to spoil him a lot, because she knew how smart he was. Therefore, she would always defend him against others. This may explain why nine of the twelve women in his life were older than he was, why he would always refer to them in his letters as “Mother” and why the mother’s face was a recurrent theme in his drawings. Even Marianna became a surrogate mother to him following his mother’s death. If this is true, could it really be that Mary Haskell epitomized this maternal figure for him and remained the mother, the friend, and the patroness? Does a motherhood complex explain the gratitude, appreciation, reciprocation, and loyalty central to the relationship between the two? Gibran’s conversations with Mary Haskell allow a greater insight into framing their relationship in such a way. He told Mary exaggerated stories, knowing in advance that no one but her would believe them. He deluded himself into considering her “his lover” and confided in her that The Broken Wings was not born out of reality and his personal life, despite the fact “the events and people in it are entirely fictional.” Moreover, he told Mary the heroine’s name (Salma Karameh, in Arabic) was an anagram of hers, even though Gibran’s followers knew that Salma 136


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Karameh’s character is a combination between Hala Dahir and Josephine Peabody. Because he knew that Mary kept notes of her conversations with him and also kept a journal, according to Hareth Boustany he would tell her those things he wanted the world to remember of him. In several letters he sent her in 1911, he asserted to her that he had lived “many previous lives,” citing two short stays in Syria, one in Egypt where he lived to a ripe old age, six or seven lives in Mesopotamia, one in Italy – until the age of 25 years, one in Greece – until the age of 22 years, one in India, and one in Persia. His narcissism may have affected his relationship with women, prompting him to tell Mary Haskell that he had come “to spread his message to the new civilization and save humanity based on a human being’s teaching in his real life because the terrestrial man will only be saved by he who carries the message.” Therefore, he wrote to Mary in one of his letters that he was born on January 6th, which is the birth date of Christ in the Eastern churches. *** The questions are endless. How can we explain that, on 26th May 1921, he sent three different letters to three women named Mary: Mary Haskell, Mary Ziadeh (May), and Mary Khoury – a woman he disdained, but was the wife of literary salon founder, Issa Khoury. He started all three letters with “Dear Mary” and poured out his emotions in each as 137


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an expression of ethereal love and chaotic emotion, which was anything but physical. How else can we explain that he called every woman he loved “Mother”? How come all the women he had come to know throughout his life were many years older than him? Gibran knew twelve women. Did any of them make a great lover out of him? He knew Hala Dahir, who was two years older than him, in Bisharri in 1899. He then left her behind to return to Boston, leaving her heartbroken and resistant to marriage from other suitors, whereas his life was filled with links to many other women. Is it possible for the plot of The Broken Wings to have been inspired by his love for her? In 1956, journalist Riad Honein visited Bisharri to meet with Sa‘ida Dahir, Hala’s sister. He published the interview in his book, ‘Ahadith ‘An Gibran (Conversations about Gibran). He wrote: “Sa‘ida Dahir, a blind, bedridden woman in her nineties, told me that her brother, Iskandar prevented Gibran from marrying his sister, Hala ‘because he is not up to our standards.’ Then she sighed and said: ‘Oh my. Who knew that Gibran would become so great?’ She went on to say: ‘Before Gibran went to America, he gave my sister Hala a precious ring and a vial with a few drops of his tears, and he also left her his cane and a lock of hair. Hala held on to them until she died. She never married and she died blind in 1955. Once in Bisharri, Gibran came 138


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to our house and found Hala crying. He asked her why she was crying, but she did not tell him about what she was going through due to our brother Iskandar’s rebuttals.’ She merely smiled and said: ‘Life is like that, Gibran: A tear and a smile.’ He liked the answer and later used it as the title for one of his books. One afternoon, Hala and Sa‘ida were taking a stroll with Gibran among the vineyards. They came across a shepherd playing the flute. Hala told Gibran: ‘People bicker and argue and this shepherd is peacefully walking behind his herd. He is so lucky.’ When Hala later read the 1919 poem titled Al-Mawakeb (Processions), which contained verses about the flute in the forest, she told me: ‘Do you remember, Sa‘ida, our stroll with Gibran among the vineyards?’” In 1901, Gibran met Sultana Tabet, who was fifteen years older than him and the sister of Ayoub Tabet, his friend from the Al-Hikmat School. However, he never professed his love to her and kept his feelings to himself. He never made any advances to her and only discovered after her death that she had loved him. However, this incident did not appear in any of his writings. Sultana was beautiful, educated, and divorced. He typically saw her when he visited her brother, his friend Ayoub. When she fell ill and died, her brother Ayoub brought Gibran many unsent letters she had written to him. Gibran then found out that Sultana had loved him in secret – much like he loved her. He once told Mary Haskell that many of his paintings were inspired by Sultana Tabet’s face. 139


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Was it a failure to remain silent when faced with the love Sultana Tabet showed for him? He did love her, yet kept his feelings to himself following her husband’s death. Little did he know she also maintained feelings for him at the same time. Gibran also knew Josephine Peabody, who was nine years older than him, and he wrote to her from Beirut, when he was a student at the Al-Hikmat School. However, he did not act on those feelings, even though she was of noticeable importance as a poet. She had written a book, entitled, The Prophet. Her book was a long rhapsody, the structure of which was roughly similar to the book of the same name Gibran later published. Gibran knew Micheline (Emilie Michel) who was a few months older than him, but he did not venture too far with her, contrary to some who assert they had a physical relationship. This was perhaps because Micheline was a teacher at Mary Haskell’s school and he neither wanted to affect the latter’s feelings or her dignity. Another woman Gibran knew was the American poet Charlotte Teller, who was two years his elder. The fact she was a poet did not fuel the flames of passion in him, and their relationship remained a spiritual one between two poets. He also knew Mary Haskell, who was ten years older and 13cm taller than him (he measured 163 cm compared to her 176 cm). She probably was the one woman held in the highest regard among all the 140


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women he knew and his relationship with her led to countless writings, yet he never wrote to her as “beloved” and never wrote about her as a “lover”. Moreover, he knew Mary Kahwaji, who was four years his elder, but his relationship with her ended after a short while, and the only traces she left upon him were the clear, chiselled facial features of Almustafa –  in The Prophet  – whom he modelled after her face. Mary Khoury, nine years Gibran’s elder, was another woman in his life. He was not overly attached to her per se, but he gravitated toward her literary salon, where he sometimes read his writings. She, in contrast, used to consider him more than just a visitor of her salon. He also knew May Ziadeh, who was three years younger than him. Her intense feelings for him were expressed from a distance in the form of letters, whereas “his passion” for her materialized in writing heated words in his letters – without him making any attempt to reach out to May as a woman. Gibran also knew Corinne Roosevelt, the American President’s sister. She was three years older than him, but they were not in contact, perhaps because she would not write to him or about him. Hence, their relationship remained completely neutral. Another woman he knew was a Mrs. Mason, who was five years younger than him and who remained his model for a long time. Her body, however, did not ignite the flames of passion in him. 141


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Finally, his last relationship was with Barbara Young, who was six years younger. He welcomed her into his hermitage as a secretary, an assistant, a scribe, and a friend, but he never went so far as to share with her the love to which she alluded in her book, This Man from Lebanon, published after Gibran’s death. He also had a special affection for his model, Marietta Lawson, who referred to him as “Uncle”. The following is portions of a letter he sent her: My precious princess, No one writes a sweeter letter than yours. No other princess can draw a picture that is half as sweet and magical as yours. I am so proud of you. My beautiful Marietta, although I am not feeling well, I had to come and give two lectures. The life of a poet these days is not a dream on the blessed land behind the seven seas. Human beings nowadays have a cruel way of turning a poet into a machine and I don’t like it. No Marietta, no my princess, you are no Ford or Rolls Royce and our apartment is no garage. You are a princess living in an ivory tower behind the enchanted mountain. A princess can hide away skilfully but “her uncle” knows who and where she is. For uncles – just like mothers – know a lot more than you think. I am afraid I may have to stay for yet another week in this city of strange shadows. I had to make commitments, which I have to fulfil. Humanity, as I have told you, has 142


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broken the wings of poets so they cannot fly whenever they want. It was sweet of you to say that you miss “your uncle” so much. I shall be happy when I come back and see you and your mother. We shall certainly have us a “party” at the studio. May the heavens bless you, my sweet, precious Marietta. Say hello to your mother for me and tell her how happy I am to have met her. I bid farewell with the sweetest thoughts and a thousand blessings to the sweet spirit of Marietta. Your ever faithful uncle Kahlil Gibran New York, May 26, 1920

*** Twelve women, and not one image of a lover. Twelve women, and not one raging passion. Twelve relationships, and not one love. Yet he wrote about love like few lovers ever did. What kind of lover was Gibran? What kind of passion did it take to make him drunk with love? We say it with a mixture of reluctance and astonishment: he probably never loved a woman per se, as he rather loved himself in a woman. He loved the fact 143


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that he loved her. He loved to “be in love” so that he could contemplate how he himself “was loved” and tried to prepare for the state of “lover” and followed his passions as a “loved one.” He loved to be loved for the sheer pleasure of feeling like a “lover”. Or perhaps was it the other way around: He would put his heart in a state of love, for he was in agony since he had yet to put a face on his loved one. So he took to dreaming about her, drawing her in his imagination before she materialized and writing about her as if she already existed, thus turning his word into a concretized woman. It may be for this reason that he loved the idea of love for its own sake rather than for the sake of the loved one or through the loved one. Ever since the beginning, he seemed to settle issues with the physical aspects of love. His friend Charlotte Teller introduced him to Freud’s interpretation of dreams and the theory of the “elevation and sublimation of love” (Freud’s theory monitors the transformation of libido into written tendencies and its depletion in other fields). Thus, Gibran managed to transform sexual desire into creative energy. He harnessed the “inferior” sexual energy into a “superior” creative power to use the vital physical energies of love as momentum for the vital intellectual energies evident in his brilliant work. The relations and pursuits his friends talked about were either distortion on their part or delusion on his. Ever since he was a young man, he used 144


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to tell his friends what he wanted them to know about him. Later, he abstained from talking and isolated himself from his friends, sometimes even from Mary Haskell. He was cautious to not let anyone in on his secrets, hence his saying: “The more people know you, the more they enslave you. Be like the Sphinx: whose silence has an aura of prestige among people.” His earlier letters contained some revelations and news. However, at a later stage (following WWI), he revealed visionary talent, so he kept to himself and was, for everyone, this faraway, closed-off secret. Many of his friends only discovered more about him following his death. *** Gibran remains a major riddle. He was never known to have had any sexual relationships with a woman. However, in the second edition of his famous biography, Kahlil Gibran: His Life and World, sculptor Kahlil George Gibran mentioned he received a letter from a certain lady saying that Gibran had a sexual affair with her aunt and that she had a handkerchief with “traces” of this relationship. The letter of this professor at Boston University read as follows: I read your book and I was surprised it did not have any mention of my aunt Gertrude Barry who had a sexual relationship with your relative Gibran. I have many pictures of him with her and several letters, which he wrote to 145


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her.” When Kahlil met her, he discovered 66 letters written by Gibran to Gertrude between 1906 and 1927. This was really a discovery, for no one knew about Gertrude Barry. She was Gibran’s “secret woman” whose existence he successfully concealed from all those around him. No one ever mentioned her before then. She lived in Boston and no one knew she was Gibran’s “lover”. Their intimate relationship lasted for 21 years and he never mentioned her to anyone. Her name did not appear in Mary Haskell’s journal, nor in his letters to his friends, nor in the conversations of the people who knew him. He hid her from everyone. They had a “complete” relationship as revealed by her letters to him, which embodied the “heat” and “blazing passion” of “their encounters”. A “handkerchief ” that Gibran used in “intimate moments” was also discovered along with the letters and pictures. *** Some believe Kahlil Gibran “was afraid” to welcome a woman into his hermitage and that his sexual “impotence” drove him to live his life outside the body, thus leading him to steer away from sex and replace it with literary and artistic production. Others went as far as to conclude that a “suspicious” relationship in his early youth, with homosexual photographer Fred Holland Day, subsequently caused young Gibran to have an aversion to sex throughout his whole life. Yet sex is a “relation” while love is a “life”. Did Gibran ever reach the climax of life in great love? And if he did not, is it because he chose not to, or for 146


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want of capacity to do so? The latter is most probably true. Gibran loved to be loved. He sought to be loved. Yet how come that, out of all the women who passionately loved him or dedicated their lives to him, not one ignited in him the throes of true love? Were none of them beautiful? Did he seek beauty? Did he abstain from enjoying the sense of touch? All of the women in his life showered him with affection. Was he waiting for someone – one who never came – whom he wanted to be different? Did he truly remain ‘in waiting’ up until the very last day of his life? Perhaps. Gibran was a great lover of a different kind. His relationships were all quests that gave him everything he wanted, except that only thing he ever truly wanted: love. The abundance of women does not make a lover. Rather, one woman, one who is assimilated into the universe, creates an eternal lover. The absence of this woman, whom he would assimilate to the universe, drove him to picture her clearly in his imagination. Waiting for her throughout his whole life gave him a clear vision of her, and yearning for her with all his being created a fusion between the words of love and the closest possible thing to a lover’s heartbeat. Gibran had a rich imagination. He was a visionary and a master of yearning. These three attributes inspired him to “wait for her” to appear in his life, yet the woman who would crown him as her lover for all eternity remained elusive. She did not come, 147


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and he grew tired. He left her the words by which he described her and went away. In the twelfth year, on the seventh day of Ielool, the ship came and Almustafa boarded it and went back alone, just as he had come alone to the city of Orphalese. Almustafa went back, leaving behind in the city words that defy time. His words remain among its sons, as in Almitra, like the budding light at dawn, ushering in a new day. So this is Gibran: he left us his words about love as a magnificent light dawning on the foreheads of lovers. How peculiar is it that this man wrote to lovers even whilst he knew not love. He treated love like a hermit: “He grinds you to whiteness.” He rose to such whiteness and white he remained until he reached that moment when he went away. And when he did, he was most probably alone, just as he was when he arrived. Almustafa arrived in Orphalese alone and when his ship came, he boarded it and alone he went. Was it not so for Gibran? He arrived alone from Bisharri to the major “whirlpool” of New York and he lived there alone. He started his wait alone and finished it alone, hoping on the day he left that another woman would give birth to him so that he could make the wait worthwhile with his presence. Those who have written about love without being lovers are doomed to be burned. Those who have waited and had their wait rewarded wrote about love 148


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because they loved and had a fusion with love. They are blessed compared to all lovers. Let Gibran remain their light, a volcano whose lava they can bring to an explosion anytime. Let his words on love remain a light quoted by lovers among themselves or at their weddings. In so doing, he will have written to lovers without being one himself. In so doing, he will have written about love like few lovers ever did.

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III

Forever Immortal

In New York, the air of Manhattan enveloped me with characteristic noises and sights while walking down West 10th Street, retracing Gibran’s footsteps over twenty years between 1911 and 1931. An image of the woman who truly believed in Gibran and supported him both in his life and his writings came to mind. That woman was Mary Haskell. It is not only Lebanese literature that owes a huge debt to this ascetic woman, but also international literature – an area in which Gibran has and still distinguishes himself. He did not only owe her his talent, but also the networks and facilities she provided, within which any great talent needs to flourish. What is a talent worth if it only shines in a tunnel? *** 151


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On October 2nd, 1923, Mary Haskell received, by post, the first edition of Gibran’s The Prophet while she was in Savannah, Georgia. She wrote back to him on the same day stating, “This book will be held as one of the treasures of English literature. And in our darkness we will open it to find ourselves again and the heaven and earth within ourselves. Generations will not exhaust it, but instead, generation after generation will find in this book what they would fain be – and it will be better loved as men grow riper and riper.” Did Mary Haskell use those words out of love? Or out of faith? It might be a bit of both. Therefore, knowing Gibran’s spiritual essence in the most delicate details of his heart and his pen, she concluded that letter by stating: “More will love you as years go by, long long after your body is dust. They will find you in your work.” Mary knew that Gibran would never simply exist as a mere poet or artist. Her instinct told her that he would become a “phenomenon”. Her instinct was right. Long after Gibran’s death, his legacy still shines as if he died yesterday, as if he died today, or as if he had never died and will never die. His words are as comforting and powerful as they were the day he wrote them. That is because he knew, while he was still alive, how to prepare for his immortality and how to remain a mystery. It is as if he had always prepared for his death and “afterlife”. It is natural for Gibran to remain alive in his own country, a country to which he dedicated his 152


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entire heart and every drop of his ink when he said “If Lebanon were not my country, I would have chosen it to be.” Is it not normal for him to live in the heart of the Lebanese that he so lovingly embraced in his article, “You have your Lebanon and I have mine”? Is it also not natural then for him to remain so much alive in America where millions hail from a mosaic of races and nationalities? Is it enough that Gibran has lived in America to keep honouring him that much? Is it just because he was a resident there that he remains alive till this day, in a country where millions have lived and died without being remembered? *** On the night of Friday, April 10, 1931, Gibran took his last breath – as if he was bidding his farewell to this world by citing the last sentence of The Prophet: “A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me.” That night, a staff member at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York wrote: “Mister Kahlil Gibran was admitted to the hospital at eleven a.m. today, Friday, April 10, 1931. He died at eleven p.m. from a cancerous tumour in the liver.” By his body, in Room 316 on the third floor of the hospital, his sister Marianna weeped out of grief. Mikhail Naimy prepared for the burial service and Barbara Young dictated a telegram on behalf of Marianna to Mary Haskell in Savannah, Georgia, to 153


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inform her of the wake on Saturday or Sunday in New York. Gibran’s body would then be moved to Boston where there would be a wake in the Maronite church of Our Lady of the Cedars on the following Monday. Prayers would then be said for his soul on Tuesday. The day Gibran died, America bid him a proper farewell. On Saturday, April 11, 1931, the Herald Tribune published news of his death at the top of the fifth column of its first page under a three-line title: “Kahlil Gibran, Philosopher and Poet, Dies at 47.” Then the text continued: “Kahlil Gibran, Syrian poet, philosopher and artist, died in St. Vincent’s Hospital Friday night of a tumour of the abdomen. He was forty-seven years old. Mr. Gibran had a studio at 51 West Tenth Street. He was unmarried. Surviving is a sister, Miss Marianna Gibran of Boston. Kahlil Gibran was to some 60,000,000 persons whose tongue is Arabic the genius of the age. But he was a man whose fame and influence spread far beyond the Near East. He painted the great figures of the western world and exhibited his work at the Paris Salon and in New York. His writings have been translated into twelve languages. Two years ago, his birthday was celebrated by admirers in countries from Germany to South America.” On page twenty-three of the same edition, the newspaper published a two-column article on Gibran, the poet and philosopher. The New York Times also published the news on its first page that day. 154


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When I called Mrs. Lauri del Commune, the head of the Publishing Department at Knopf in New York, I asked her about the latest figures she had concerning Gibran’s books. She answered me in less than a minute saying that The Prophet is in its 109th edition, and sold some nine million and a half copies over the years. She continued: “We are preparing the publication of Gibran’s complete works in a new book. It will have around nine to fifteen editions. Soon, we shall release the twelfth edition of Barbara Young’s book, This Man from Lebanon”. I then asked Del Commune: “Do you still consider The Prophet as the best-selling book in the history of your publications?” She answered confidently: “After the Bible, The Prophet is the best-selling book in all of the American publishing houses.” This answer really does not surprise me. I have frequently come across it and often heard it mentioned by Americans who are involved in the American literature milieu. During my stay here in the United States and during my travels to its multiple universities and cultural institutions, in addition to the dozen of houses I have visited, I seldom found a place where there is not a single copy of The Prophet. What I have noticed concerning Gibran’s heritage in the United States is that The Prophet is more widely known than its author. It is true that some did not recall Kahlil Gibran’s name, as is pronounced by the Americans since they find it hard to pronounce the Arabic “Kh” sound. However rarely do we find someone who has not heard of, read, or known about 155


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The Prophet. Many Americans know of The Prophet and Gibran. They also think that he is either an American or from the Far East. Few, in fact, know that he is from Lebanon. Nevertheless, this Lebanese man is more renowned in America today than many American creative figures. He did not merely live on the margins of its public life, but rather, he was invoked at the highest echelons in the form of two nods to his work by American presidents: Ronald Reagan – the day he was competing to rule the world with his Soviet nemesis – and George H. W. Bush when he became the president of the world’s sole remaining superpower. How is that so? On April 7, 1983, the centenary of Gibran’s birth, Bill Baroody and Sheryl Ameen established the Kahlil Gibran Centennial Foundation and became the President and VicePresident, respectively. This foundation has since sought to immortalize the memory of Gibran at the highest levels. On October 19, 1984, during the plenary session of the 98th session of the U.S. Congress headed by Ronald Reagan, the members of the U.S. Congress unanimously approved Public Law 98-537 awarding the Kahlil Gibran Centennial Foundation 8,000-square-metre site of federal land on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington D.C., to erect a memorial for Gibran in the middle of a public garden which would be called the Kahlil Gibran Memorial Garden. In appreciation of a major literary 156


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man who enriched the American and international libraries with his valuable writings that were translated into more than fifty international languages, the public law read as follows: Public Law 98-537 98th Congress Joint Resolution Authorizing the Kahlil Gibran Centennial Foundation to establish a memorial in the Oct. 19, 1984 District of Columbia or its environs. Resolved by the Senate and House of Repre­ sentatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled. That (a) the Kahlil Gibran Centennial Foundation is authorized to establish a memorial on Federal land in the District of Columbia or its environs to honour the Lebanese-American poet and artist, Kahlil Gibran. (b) In carrying out subsection (a), the Foundation shall be responsible for preparation of the design and plans for the memorial, which shall be subject to the approval of the Secretary of the Interior, the Commission of Fine Arts, and the National Capital Planning Commission. That same day, Congress gave the Institute a five- year period (between 1984 and 1989) to gather one million dollars, in order to construct and equip the Kahlil Gibran Memorial Garden. 157


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The word “exceptionally” was used in the text since the American Constitution forbids any memorial for non-Americans on American soil. There were only two exceptions to this rule in Washington: a memorial for Winston Churchill who vanquished the enemies of Britain, America and Europe (built on the grounds of the British Embassy) and the memorial for Gibran. On the afternoon of November 17, 1989, and two days before the end of the five-year period, a delegation headed by the United States Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan officially celebrated the inauguration of land dedicated to Gibran. In the pouring rain, he planted three cedars, one of which was more than nine metres high and came from the Cedar Forest in Bisharri. The next day, an architectural logistic team arrived in Washington and headed to Massachusetts Avenue, across the British Embassy and the residence of the U.S. Vice-President and halfway up the hill between Washington’s principal mosque and the historical Washington National Cathedral. There, the work lasted two years. Once the work ended in Washington, a celebratory program was set for four days in 1991: * Thursday May 23, 12:00 p.m. Marriott Hotel–Washington: Guests Reception *  08:00 p.m. Congress Library – Readings by Gibran accompanied by music. 158


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* Friday May 24, 11:00 a.m. Official inauguration of the “Kahlil Gibran Memorial Garden”. *  08:00 p.m. National Museum – Official Reception. * Saturday May 25, 11:00 a.m. “Constitution Hall”– Gibran Paintings Exhibition. *  09:00 p.m. Chorographical Artistic Celebration. (This was supposed to be presented by Danny Thomas but was in fact performed by Casey Kassem after the former died.) * Sunday May 26, 10:30 a.m. Closing Ceremony and distribution of Gibran souvenir medals. Hence, at eleven a.m. on Friday, May 24, 1991, President George H. W. Bush stood in front of the participants to inaugurate the Garden and speak of This Man from Lebanon in front of the media broadcasting the event to the entire world. At the entrance of the garden sits the memorial of Gibran by American Sculptor Gordon Grey: an anxiously timid head under which the water floods from three Cedars amongst green passageways while the sweet chirping reminds us of Bisharri’s rivulets. Surrounding him are three doves, an apple branch and a garland of grapevine. Benches form a circle near a 159


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water fountain in the middle of an octagonal pond filled with pebbles that shimmer below the water in the middle of the garden’s courtyard. A circular passageway surrounds the benches and the fountain, while the courtyard is filled with beautiful flowers, green grass, and poplars offering a scent of nostalgia and remembrance. Quotes from Gibran’s work are inscribed on each of the six stone benches. The quotes include: “We live only to discover beauty. All else is a form of waiting,” “We extract your elements to make cannons and bombs. But out of our elements, you create lilacs and roses. How patient you are Earth and how merciful.” “Life without freedom is a body without a soul. And freedom without thought is confusion.” “Do not the spirits who dwell in the ether envy man his pain?” Underneath the memorial, we find the words: “Kahlil Gibran, poet and philosopher.” In his dedication speech, George H. W. Bush stated: “It’s an honour – I mean this from the heart – it is an honour to be asked to dedicate this garden to a man who has done so much for poetry and, through poetry, for all of us through his belief in brotherhood, his call for compassion, and perhaps above all, his passion for peace. The cedars of Lebanon that will someday canopy the poet’s memorial remind us of those who once 160


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sheltered his birth. His words carved on these benches – and they are so beautiful – echo those he has etched on our memory. And as we survey today’s world, we see progress towards Gibran’s vision, but we also see promises unfulfilled. And we see the need to renew Gibran’s message of tolerance and compassion for a world too often at odds rather than at peace. Perhaps nowhere is this more important than in the Middle East, Gibran’s homeland, where peace still wanders as the region’s prodigal son. We shall continue our efforts to help bring peace back home to this vital and historic part of the world. Gibran once wrote, “Love is a word of light written by a hand of light upon a page of light.” The hand is his; and the page, our hearts.” In 1938, when writing about “this vital historical part of world”, the American writer and critic Claude Bragdon wrote of Gibran in his book, More Lives than One: “His [Gibran’s] power came from some great reservoir of spiritual life else it could not have been so universal and potent, but the majesty and beauty of the language with which he clothed it were all his own.” In respect of that frame from which Gibran stemmed and excelled, the American Knopf publishing house – the same publishing house for Gibran’s writings since its founder, Alfred Knopf met Gibran and published The Madman in 1918, continues to publish Gibran’s books with the following cover: “Kahlil Gibran (1883 –1931), poet, philosopher and artist, was born in Lebanon, a land that has produced many prophets. The millions of Arabic-speaking 161


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peoples familiar with his writings in that language consider him the genius of his age. But he was a man whose fame and influence spread far beyond the Near East. His poetry has been translated into more than twenty languages. His drawings and paintings have been exhibited in the great capitals of the world. In the United States, which he made his home during the last twenty years of his life, he began to write in English. The Prophet and his other books of poetry, illustrated with his mystical drawings, are known and loved by innumerable Americans who find in them an expression of the deepest impulses of man’s heart and mind.” These profound words from Gibran’s publisher, who best knows about his books and other publications, given the fact such works are published without interruption, may explain, in such an eloquent summary, the secret of Gibran’s popularity in America and the secret of his words resonating with the hearts of so many Americans. In fact, Doctor Suheil Bushrui (Director of the George and Lisa Zakhem Kahlil Gibran Chair for Values and Peace at the University of Maryland) said: “While a great American poet such as Robert Frost has remained unknown for years by his own people, the increase in “The Prophet’s” popularity is a clear proof of its standing in the hearts of the Americans. Thus, Gibran has become an integral part of the US’s literary heritage.” For Said Akl, “Gibran’s peculiarity: his writing is simple yet moderately elegant, bothersome if 162


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increased and no longer elegant if abated. This is what helped cement his reputation and will always keep him alive in the hearts of Americans from generation to generation.” Gibran anticipated all of the above in the Syrian World magazine by Salloum Mokarzel (in which Gibran published some new English pieces) where he wrote in the April 25, 1926 edition to the Lebanese and the Arabs in the United States: “To be a model citizen means to stand in front of the New York, Washington, Chicago and San Francisco towers saying in your heart: I am the descendant of a people who built Damascus, Byblos, Tyre and Sidon. Here am I today to build this world with you.” By reason of this exhaustiveness and universality, Michel Halbouti, the man in charge of the Gibran American Institute in Houston Texas, while he worked on setting up Gibran’s garden stated in his speech: “He was born in the shadows of the cedars of Lebanon, and no one before him or since has exhibited such a beautiful approach to life and its meaning. Gibran represented the soul of Lebanon. His writings reach the deepest recesses of the reader’s emotional and spiritual awareness. He loved Lebanon with a passion matched only by his corresponding love for its people.” Gibran did not lose this Lebanese spirit while in the States, which made the American readers see in him a tint of the exotic strangeness they loved and embraced; although their literati, artists and academics still considered him a non-American intruder. Gibran might have sensed this. Nevertheless, it did 163


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not limit his faith. This is what Sheryl Ameen from the Kahlil Gibran Centennial Foundation tried to emphasize during her speech on the Garden inauguration: “Our objective is not only to promote Gibran, but also the ideas behind his work: brotherhood and the common humanity of all people. We are happy to make this gift to America.” Nevertheless, this sense of being between Lebanon and the United States caused him a lot of trouble. In her August 6, 1912 journal entry, Mary Haskell quoted him as saying that he was “in two worlds… and the waiting is heavy.” She later remarked on August 31, 1914 that “K.’s English is remarkable… It will not be long before he will be so a master of English that he need look nothing over with anybody… And his English prose is poetry-prose.” Mary Haskell’s encouragement had a big influence on Gibran’s transition from writing in constructed English in the early Arabic translation to “thinking in English structure”, according to the letter addressed to him on January 12, 1915. This is apparent in the first text he published in English. Mary edited it with a lot of enthusiasm and encouraged him until he offered it to the great American artist, Albert Pinkham Ryder. Gibran printed the text on a special paper on some private copies sent to the artist, who showed interest in one of Gibran’s paintings at his exhibition in New York on December 14, 1914. From that day, Gibran became widely known for his writings. On March 3, 1917, American critic Alice 164


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Raphael wrote: “It is at the dividing line of East and West, of symbolism and representation, of sculptor and painter that the work of Mr. Kahlil Gibran… presents itself as an arresting force in our modern conception of painting.” After his first book, The Madman, was published in English on November 25, 1918, several New York circles started to engage Gibran more frequently. They even invited him to their literary events. According to the echoes, the critics presented him to the Americans as “the genius of his time” and described him as “the Middle East’s Tagore”. His fame spiked even more after Gibran published his second book, The Forerunner, on October 10th 1920. His writings eventually peaked with The Prophet, which appeared on September 28, 1923, and thus earned Gibran his seat amongst the literary giants. Between the emergence of The Prophet in 1923 and Gibran’s passing in 1931, Gibran spent eight years sitting on an outpouring of American appreciation. He delegated his friend, Archimandrite Antony Bashir, with the translation of his English writings from English into Arabic, so that he could cement his fame and his American writings. Gibran then respectively published Sand and Foam on May 9, 1926, Jesus, the Son of Man on October 27, 1928, and The Earth Gods on March 15, 1931 – less than a month before his death. Those eight years were used to expand the network of his American contacts. In April 1925, the 165


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Indian-American publisher, Syud Hossein, invited Gibran to participate in founding the New Orient journal. Gibran accepted and thus entered American literati and artistic circles. In the editorial of the first issue, Hossein wrote: “There is no more sincere and authentic or more highly gifted representative of the East functioning today in the West than Kahlil Gibran.” On the eve of his forty-sixth birthday, Gibran’s brothers in the Pen Bond invited him, on January 5, 1929, to a large honouring ceremony in the grand hall of the McAlpin Hotel in New York. They not only honoured a Lebanese poet as their most illustrious member, but honoured an international literary star. On March 7, 1930, Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral wrote to her friend, Idella Purnell, the Editor-in-Chief of the Mexican poetry magazine, Palms, “that there was one person she wished above all others to see in New York, Kahlil Gibran.” In Boston, on the afternoon of April 14, 1931, when the mourners were in The Lady of the Cedars church taking their last view of Gibran, they knew that he had not abandoned them. On the evening of Wednesday, April 29, 1931, during the commemoration ceremony held by Charles Fletcher in the Hall of the Zurich Museum in New York, he started his eulogy by quoting Gibran’s Sand and Foam: “Mayhap a funeral among men is a wedding feast among the angels.” Similarly, others paid their respects: Claude Bragdon, Syud Hossein, 166


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Mikhail Naimy, and Barbara Young stressed that they were not celebrating a man who died, but a man who was still alive amidst them. All those who gathered on the morning of July 23, 1931 at the Providence port, the state capital of Rhode Island and New York’s neighbour, to bid their farewells to Gibran’s body while the casket was lowered into the ship, S.S. Sinaia, of the Fabre Line (whose Lebanese agent was Ibrahim Hitti), that would carry him to the port of Beirut and then to his final resting place in Bisharri. Each of the mourners knew that it was Gibran’s body leaving the States and not Gibran himself. As for his soul in his pen – his quill and his influence will remain for a long to come. Years have gone by since his absence. However, Gibran’s brilliance is regenerated with every new day – not just in his small land under the shades of the Cedars, but in the large avaricious United Sates, where millions of faces and names turn into forgotten and unknown figures. But he still shines upon Americans – generation after generation, carrying his Lebanon to the States, seeding the spirit of the East in the body of the West, remaining in the thoughts, hearts and references as an everlasting name. Here, in the United States, he is no longer a just a man. He has turned into a phenomenon. He became an “American” phenomenon from Lebanon. Within seven years, two presidents of the biggest state in the world (Ronald Reagan in 1984 and George Bush in 1991) participated in honouring 167


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the Lebanese poet, who, at five minutes to eleven on the night of Friday, April 10, 1931, in Room 316 on the third floor of St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York, took his last breath. His body may have died but Gibran’s soul has lingered on – breathing the flame of life into generation after generation, and thus remaining immortal. New York – 1994

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IV

Archimandrite Bashir’s Préface of His Arabic Translation of The Prophet

“Gibran, the genius of the diaspora and the East’s messenger to the West.”

Talking about Gibran in New York is definitely different form talking about Gibran in Beirut. The longer I stayed in New York, the more I discovered how accurate this statement proved. The cosmopolitan city was the environment in which he lived and the atmosphere of that city affected and influenced him to a certain degree, albeit without affecting the intellectual writings he created which he ultimately shared with others. Much was said and written during the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Gibran’s death in 1981 and on the centenary of his birth in 1983. Yet what is said about Gibran here in America relates to a separate milieu and perspective than in Lebanon. In Beirut, writing remains about books on bookshelves, while here it is “alive”. Here, we get a better 169


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understanding of his relations with people (both Lebanese and Americans), friends (close ones and those he kept at bay), and women (those whom he loved and those who loved him). Here, we get a better sense of why he retired, removed himself from everyone’s sight, and withdrew from the world, and why, in his final years, he seldom wrote in Arabic after he had begun writing in English and “relished” the echoes of his writings in that language. Even when his friend, Archimandrite Antony Bashir, translated his works into Arabic, he did not care about reading them before they went to print. And when Monsignor Mansour Estfan collected articles published in newspapers and classified them in a book, The New and The Marvellous, the manner in which Gibran reacted was to thank him politely and briefly on the day he met him, without asking if he could review these articles before they went to print. Also when Nasseeb Arida collected Gibran’s articles, published them in Ameen Ghorayeb’s Al-Mohajer newspaper (The Emigrant), and gave them a title A Tear and a Smile, he came to Gibran to ask for his opinion about the selection. Gibran replied with words from one of his poems: That was a period of my life, spent between rhapsody, complaint, and grief… All of this is perceived by whoever comes to New York and becomes acquainted with its strangeness and harsh atmosphere, which is far removed from any hint of tenderness and nostalgia. 170


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While visiting a friend in New York, I encountered the first Arabic edition of The Prophet, translated by Archimandrite Antony Bashir, in his father’s library. And since the owner was a friend of Archimandrite, the book had a special dedication by the author. Because of this, the owner refused to lend me the copy even for one day. This compelled me to leaf through it in his house and photocopy what I wanted – the cover and a few inside pages, while his son wearily monitored my every move. This particular book, published by Youssef Touma Al-Boustani – owner of the Arab Library in Faggala, Egypt, was printed at the “Rahmaniya Printing Press in Egypt” in 1926. The cover was battered and torn, and the copy itself was old and flimsy. The first page read: “The Prophet by Gibran Kahlil Gibran, written in English, and translated into Arabic by Archimandrite Antony Bashir.” Below it was a sentence in small letters: “All of Gibran’s writings call for deep thinking. If you are afraid of thinking, you’d better not read Gibran.” I also read that this was the “First Edition”, and that “All rights are reserved to the Arabic translator.” The cover was handwritten by the then-famous calligrapher, Najib Hawawiny. The book comprised 120 medium-sized pages, in addition to a 40-page annex, consisting of James Frankel’s address about Gibran delivered in English and translated into Arabic by Archimandrite Bashir. What was new to me was not the translation by the Archimandrite, but rather his introduction of the translated version, entitled, “Translator’s 171


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Word�. This began on page 3 and ended on page 10. I hereby reproduce it literally before writing my own conclusion. Introduction of Archimandrite Bashir If we confine religion to its external apparel, Gibran would be an infidel, and the translator of this book at fault for translating it into Arabic, even if the translator of infidelity is no infidel. Yet if we examine the essence of religion without its shell, we notice that Gibran is at the forefront of all believers spreading the eternal truth, devoid of illusory adornments and embellished drawings, bedecked with a delightful garment of eternal art. Dogmas, doctrines and all social systems prevailing in the world today are plagued by fossilized shells from the past, that threaten to eliminate whatever little remains of the quintessence of these dogmas and doctrines. On the one hand, one finds the materialists with all their available war apparatus and the evil they inherited from their forefathers, the zealots upholding the Law and the prophets. These are the sons of yesterday’s darkness who have spent their whole lives clinging on to the deaf Law, even as the Law was killing their soul and seeking to defeat, fossilize and humiliate them. On the other hand, the followers of the life-giving Spirit constitute the minority among people: they fight the army of darkness and unveil the truth with all the wisdom and knowledge they have been given. These are the sons 172


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of tomorrow’s light: they respect the Law inasmuch as the Law respects the life in their hearts, and they ignore it inasmuch as it weighs down on their will and burdens their shoulders with the yoke of ignorance and stupidity. Gibran Kahlil Gibran, the renewing writer who was rightfully called the genius of the diaspora and the messenger of the East to the West, is at the forefront of the latter Spirit followers. Therefore, I am pleased to present to the Arab-speaking readers the summary of his thoughts and opinions on life from birth to death, collected in this book, which abounds with his genius. Indeed, deep within Gibran’s heart is a soul, which aspires to what is new and useful, and dislikes any foolish tradition. He only writes what he thinks is right and correct. Therefore, his writings are a crystal-clear mirror, which reflects a great personality that refuses to be enchained to the past or wear a garment that is not his. However, the glory and spirituality of this excellent personality have culminated in this book wherein the author expresses the essence of his thoughts on love, marriage, children, houses, clothes, buying and selling, on crime and punishment, freedom, laws, reason and passion, friendship, religion and death; speaking through a prophet he called “Almustafa” (The Chosen). It is as if the author spent his life preparing to produce this valuable book. His previous books, whether in Arabic or English, are mere introductions to the wisdom, philosophy, poetry, and art expressed in this book. In this book, you will 173


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not see Gibran, the rebel of The Tempests and Spirits Rebellious, nor the poet of “The Earth”, “O Night” and others. You will not see Gibran in pain like you saw him in “You have your Lebanon and I have mine” and in “My mother’s face is my Nation’s face.” You will not see Gibran, the wise teacher in “The Peel and the Pulp”, The Madman and The Forerunner, nor Gibran the symbolist painter, painting with the magic stroke of his brush, nor even Gibran the fantasy seeker in “Between a Night and a Morning” and “The Grave-Digger”. In this book, you will see Gibran as a combination of all these elements; the chosen essence of it. You will not read a chapter void of wisdom, philosophy, eloquence and beauty. A well-known Western writer said: “Gibran is young in age but wise in life. He is like all youngsters longing for beauty and like elders fond of wisdom and truth. It is as though one were saying: I shall apprehend all facts, I shall perceive measures in their whole, I shall be sad with those in sorrow, and rejoice with others when they rejoice. I shall roam all seasons and wherever I go, I shall find my way.” Another one said: “There is no trace of tradition or inertia in Gibran’s life. Neither optimistic nor pessimistic, he is neither a priest nor an infidel. He is, in fact, a farsighted prophet singing for evermore the everlasting hymns of art. His Eastern eyes probably see what we, in the West, will never be able to see. It’s no wonder that the masters of humanity have always come from the East.” 174


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Another poet said: “All of Gibran’s writings provide food for thought. They force those who read them to make use of their minds and thinking. If you are afraid to think, you’d better not read Gibran.” According to yet another poet, “We believe that Gibran’s works are an eternal grove filled with the fruits of elation and joy. Rather, he is a garden of marvellous light, wherein not even the enemies of truth will fall.” Another remarked: “Gibran approached the West wearing the beautiful smile of the East. He holds a precious gift in his heart to offer to the West. He came, just like Christ, with an overwhelming love.” Auguste Rodin, the famous French sculptor of the current era; after meeting Gibran when the latter participated in exhibitions in Paris, he stated: “The world should expect much from Lebanon’s poet and genius, Gibran. He is the William Blake of the twentieth century.” These are but a few testimonials by western scholars about the author of The Prophet. We brought them to the attention of the people of the Middle East so that they know how Westerners value renowned people from the East, and how they give them the standing and respect that they are entitled to. These are probably the most prominent features distinguishing the West from the East when it comes to making use of people’s talents. Before concluding this address, it is necessary to focus the attention of our esteemed readers on the following remarks: 175


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1) Gibran expresses his thoughts in drawings before putting them into words because he is a genius in the art of drawing. Therefore, readers should examine the image underlying each of the author’s thoughts before examining the words expressing them. 2) Gibran is a deep thinker and a poet whose poetic talent does not have a will of its own. Each word he utters is laden with thinking and poetry. If you do not experience the same feeling and thinking as Gibran’s, it would be futile to attempt to accompany him on his journeys. 3) Far from being an infidel, Gibran is a true believer in his religion. He believes that religion is about all actions and contemplations that life has to offer. The difference between his religion and the religion of those who handed down the heavy sentence of excommunication upon him is similar to the difference between Jesus’s religion and that of the hypocrite scribes and Pharisees who used to say that he was possessed. 4) We decided to have the Arabic translation of The Prophet include the twelve drawings sketched by the author for the original English text, as the book would not have been complete without these magnificent drawings. The last one is the finest representation of the driving force behind this universe: a hand that works, an insight that sees, and around them worlds that are made in concentric rings. This kind of symbolic drawing was new to the Arab world, yet it is the most 176


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beautiful thing adorning museums, scientific institutions and houses of worship in the civilized world. Therefore, let the reader look at the truth behind each and every drawing before looking at the drawing itself. 5) The Prophet is neither a romance nor a story that a reader should read through to realize its content and understand the truth it encompasses. The book is a circle of sciences, literature, wisdom and philosophy. Do read the truth behind every expression, and understand the new doctrine it offers you. If it agrees with what you know keep it, and if it does not accord with what you know do not reject it, grasp it in your mind where you can have recourse to when needed and remember that those who persecuted Galileo and despised his weird views would not have done so if they were living today. North America Archimandrite Antony Bashir

Conclusion So what can we deduce from this introduction? If we were to review the first four English to Arabic translations of The Prophet, we would find that Mikhail Naimy’s translation offers a personal introduction, which tries to get closer to Gibran but remains close to Naimy. Tharwat Akasha’s introduction offers a brief academic and scientific word on 177


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Gibran’s genius, whereas Youssef Al-Khal’s translation is devoid of an introduction except for the editor’s word from Dar An-Nahar publishers. In comparison, the introduction by Archimandrite Bashir – the only one published while Gibran was still alive – remained the most faithful to Gibran’s time and emotions. It shows how much Bashir loved his friend Gibran and appreciated the man, his fame, and ideas. He took readers by the hand and highlighted different aspects of the text to ensure no feature, idea, or philosophical notion was lost in translation. As a man of the cloth, Archimandrite Bashir was keen on absolving Gibran from the accusations of atheism and interested in stressing his deep commitment to the religion of Christ, rather than to that of the scribes and Pharisees. He appreciated the true worth of Gibran’s stature and called him “the genius of the diaspora and the East’s messenger to the West.” Furthermore, he was keen on emphasizing the pre-eminence of The Prophet among Gibran’s books, and insisted on quoting remarks made on Gibran by western intellectuals and writers, when Gibran was still alive. It is important to note quotes were seldom made in Lebanon or across the Lebanese diaspora regarding any poet other than Gibran during his lifetime. This clearly testifies to the great aura of mystery with which Gibran had cloaked himself vis-à-vis his closest friends and other people. This is a true testimony to how much the Archimandrite valued his loyal friend as a poet, an 178


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intellectual, a painter, and as an artist. He was afraid readers would not perceive the depth inferred by his friend Gibran, so he insisted, towards the end of his introduction, on stating these five remarks. He wrote: “Before concluding this address, it is necessary to focus the attention of our esteemed readers on the following remarks.” Moreover, he made sure that the book contained, following the 120-page Arabic translation, a 40-page annex consisting of his translation of the lecture delivered by Michigan University philosophy professor, James Frankel, before an audience of writers and intellectuals on the morning of December 28, 1924. His words constituted one of the rare statements on Gibran during his lifetime. Of all of Gibran’s friends and acquaintances, Archimandrite Antony Bashir may have been the closest to him in terms of honesty, friendship, and objectivity. He is probably the first to have presented Gibran’s works in English to Arabic readers. After he had done so, Gibran’s fame expanded – and is still growing and gathering momentum to this day. New York – 1985

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V

The Poet of the Culture of Peace

When Dr. Suheil Bushrui invited me to take part in the first International Conference on Kahlil Gibran at the University of Maryland in December 1999, he succinctly asked: “As a poet from Lebanon, what did Gibran give you and what is he still giving you?” I took part in a four-party panel, moderated by British poet, Francis Warner, and three US-based female writers: Kathryn Abdul-Baki, Mariam Qasem El-Saad, and May Rihani. My contribution to this panel allowed me to discuss what Gibran gave me during my temporary estrangement in the United States (1988  –1994), and both before and after this estrangement in Lebanon. My contribution is included below. *** 181


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My Story with Gibran How can I come to him when he lies within me? Where would I go to meet him knowing that he meets me every day in my thoughts, my memory and the aspirations of my pen? How can I express what he means to me, knowing that he is the very essence of meaning? Anytime I say something, the range that opens up before me is linked with him. Every time I head somewhere I think of him. I do not know the depth of the influence his literature has had on me, but I do know that he has played an active role in my life through his daily personal journey and his remarkable personality when dealing with others. I was in the United States for only one-sixth of the time he spent there. I was only there for six years compared to his thirty-six years. Yet I never gained an ‘in-depth’ understanding of him as I did when I came to the United States; when I was exposed to the same things to which he had been exposed and saw what he had seen. Before coming to the United States, I had a conception of him and after I lived there, my conception changed as I gained a closer, clearer look at him, and as he became my occupation inasmuch as he left his mark on me. Upon coming to the United States, I devoted myself to visiting most of the places where he had lived. I walked around Manhattan in Greenwich 182


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Village and visited the street where he had lived and his apartment building situated in 51 West 10th Street. I pictured him coming back every night to the third floor of that building; that building of artists – climbing up the old wooden staircase to the studio that was his home for twenty consecutive years, from 1911 until 1931. I thought of that place where he was so comfortable that his friends called it the hermitage. I visited St. Vincent’s Hospital near his home at the West 11th intersection and I also visited Room 316 on the third floor where he died at 10:55 p.m. on Friday, April 10, 1931. I journeyed to Boston and followed his life there, street-by-street, and apartment-by-apartment. I visited Mary Haskell’s school at 314 Marlborough in Boston. I retraced Mary Haskell’s footsteps all the way to her home in Savannah, Georgia, and I stopped for a few minutes at the train station from which she had set out for New York when she had received Marianna’s telegram informing her of Gibran’s death. In Savannah, I visited the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, to which Mary Haskell had donated her private collection of Gibran’s paintings. This allowed me to see, one by one, works that do not exist in his Bisharri museum. In Boston, I visited the sculptor Kahlil George Gibran who co-authored with his wife Jean the wonderful biography, Kahlil Gibran, His Life and World. I sat with him for four hours during which he gave me various previously unknown insights on Gibran. I held Gibran’s Nay (flute) in my hand, which was an 183


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amazing experience, and I saw some of his remaining stuff that had been gathered together by his relative, the sculptor of the same name. When in 1992 I was invited to give a lecture in North Carolina, I spent a whole day at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to consult all of Gibran’s letters to Mary (325 letters) and Mary’s letters to Gibran (290 letters), in addition to the 47 notebooks in Mary Haskell’s journal. All I can say about these notebooks and letters is that whoever has not read them knows but very little about Gibran. This is the world that introduced me to Gibran while I was in the United States so that I could understand his comprehensive and global thinking. The following are my points of contact with him, which I have divided into chapters: His life in Boston, his life in New York, reading his letters and Mary Haskell’s letters, reading Mary Haskell’s journal, examining Boston sculptor Kahlil George Gibran’s book, and reading Barbara Young’s This Man from Lebanon. This was the extent to which I was engrossed myself in Gibran while I was in the United States. It is as though my former knowledge of him had been merely superficial. This American world allowed me to understand three happenings that characterized Gibran’s life, all of which are tied to the same thread; that thread being one woman named Jessie Fremont Beale. This woman provided him with his first opportunity when she arranged for him to meet Fred Holland 184


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Day on December 9, 1896. Day encouraged him to paint and draw, developed his artistic skills and organized the first exhibition of Gibran’s drawings in his own studio in Boston on April 30, 1904. In so doing, Day gave Gibran his second opportunity, when Mary Haskell visited the exhibition on May 10th, its last day, henceforth changing the course of Gibran’s life. By urging him to write in English, she gave him the third major opportunity in his lifetime, to meet on May 26, 1918, with a young American publisher named Alfred Knopf who would publish for him later that year The Madman, which had been previously rejected by Macmillan. Thanks to his friendship with Knopf, the young publisher’s faith in him, and in Knopf ’s urging him to write another book, Gibran wrote The Forerunner (1920), which was followed in 1923 by The Prophet, the everlasting masterpiece that propelled Gibran to worldwide fame. As stated above, Gibran owes these three opportunities to one woman, Jessie Fremont Beale, who held the tip of the thread when she wrote to Holland Day on November 25, 1895, asking him to welcome a boy named Kahlil Gibran and assist in his education. She also held the other tip when she also wrote to Holland Day on January 11, 1932, following Gibran’s death to remind him of “that boy to whom I introduced you thirty-six years ago and who has now become a great poet.” These three opportunities in Gibran’s life laid the foundations for Gibran’s global, comprehensive, and humanitarian heritage. I was impacted by this 185


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itinerary in Gibran’s life because it affected me perhaps even more than Gibran’s literature. Not only did Gibran engineer his life, but he also knew how to make preparations for his death as he wanted, and to prepare for posthumous fame that he planned. Sixty-eight years after his death 7, we are still talking about him. It is as though he planned what he wanted us to be saying about him in the past, present, and future. This is what affects me as a poet in the story of Gibran, who was inspired by the American life he lived, in order to design his own through the letters he sent and received as well as the journal, which he knew Mary Haskell kept. Without letting her suspect it, he would have her write about him and tell her exactly what he wanted her to say about him – so that the image projected by him to future generations would be just as he wanted it. This is what impressed me about the life of this poet: his permanent nostalgia for his roots, and also his longing for Bisharri and the Qadisha Valley. He once told his friend Mikhail Naimy, while he was drawing him in his New York hermitage on November 24, 1922: “Mischa, I wish to visit the Cedar Valley before I die.” He did eventually return to the Cedar Valley, albeit only after his death. He died attached to that dream that was realized, as if by proxy, through his prophet Almustafa, when he decided to return to the isle of his birth following a twelve-year stay in 7 At the time the conference was held in 1999.

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the city of Orphalese. It is as though Lebanon was on the very tip of his pen as he was writing The Prophet. For all his attachment to his roots, I was impressed by his overture and response to international prospects. He thus started out from his Lebanese heritage and civilizational roots to achieve a comprehensive international notoriety, embracing numerous heritages and many civilizations. I was inspired by his faith in going beyond the geographical frontiers of the nation and crossing into the human nation; by transcending earthly boundaries to achieve unity and abrogate boundaries between human beings, and by raising awareness to a spiritual communication between people without any distinction pertaining to confessions, sects, and religions. This drove him to call for a global citizen to whom each land would belong and in which every citizen would become his brother and sister – he believed that unifying the human race was the means by which to achieve the unity of human beings and reconcile them with their Creator. His message was global and comprehensive, just like those of all the great poets of the world who unite the world in a poem, a word, and a message to human beings in any place and at any time. Since he wrote for all epochs and times, his books became famous in all of the world’s living languages – for readers in each language felt that his words were addressed to them. He left his mark on me when he said, “I am indebted for all that I call ‘I’ to women”, and placed women on the highest of pedestals and in the purest 187


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of positions. I learned from him that “my mother’s face is that of my nation.� I also learned God made flesh in Man, nature, land and poem, and that the womb is the primary source and ultimate reference of all things. He left his mark on me with his call for love, the supreme form of human love that rises above worldly and lowly matters; a love where total passion and total abandonment are clad in respect and dignity; a love with which he brushed his paintings, leaving nothing but the features of the body when the body was no longer there; a love where womanhood identifies with manhood and bodies become intertwined in a material revelation in permanent yearning for God towards whom they rise. His paintings thus spread worldwide as a global plastic language, which everyone understands, even if it has its own individuality and world. He left his mark on me with his ability to move beyond language and borders. He infiltrated the Arabic language with a new and special style to which this language was unaccustomed to before him. By joining fluidity to simplicity and imagination to emotions, he had a positive impact in an era during which the Arabic language was dormant and Arab literature was in shambles. He also infiltrated the English language with a special transparency that was foreign to the traditions of American English. He thus captured the attention of readers from the early versions of his books and became popular like none of his contemporaries. By using this living American 188


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language, he spread his message. Nowadays, The Prophet is the most widely read book in the world. He left his mark on me; myself the poet from his country and from the East, as his life and works remained inspired by his experiences as an immigrant to a land he chose as his nation, one which respected him and to which he remained loyal. However, he also remained loyal to his homeland as proven by the fact that he never requested American citizenship and was content with the Green Card. He died holding nothing but Lebanese nationality, as Mary Haskell revealed in her journal. Nevertheless, he did not confine himself to his Lebanese identity. Rather, he opened up to being a citizen of the world, tackling cultural and humanitarian issues and spreading, through his writing, a unique and special awareness that erased the boundaries between East and West. And so it was that two worlds met in his writings: he brought the spirituality of the East and the materialism of the West together, giving the West a new flavour and the East a dose of Western thinking, which it needed in order to rise from its prolonged darkness. Gibran charged it with ideas on equality between men and women, justice, freedom, democracy, faith and logic, the environment and its preservation, world peace and the unity of religions. Unity of the world! The globalization of peace! It is as though he talked about globalization more than half a century before the rest of the world. He lived for all that and had his vision for a universal society, 189


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an international nation and a global citizen. He was a visionary in his mission as a poet. We are gathered here today around his heritage and look at it from two angles, looking forward and reminiscing about the past. The past and the future are reconciled: with him, we reminisce on the past, in order to look forward to the future as a single space bringing people together, because he knew how to respect other people’s spaces in order to achieve human sovereignty. Therefore, it is no longer a coincidence to be united here by both Lebanon and Gibran: Lebanon as the nation of culture and peace, and Gibran as the poet of the culture of peace on the eve of the year 2000, which had been designated by UNESCO as the International Year for the Culture of Peace. I bring to you from Lebanon this spiritual dialogue on Gibran’s heritage, knowing that UNESCO has chosen the Lebanese capital, Beirut, as the Cultural Capital of the Arab World in 1999. In UNESCO’s International Year for the Culture of Peace in 2000, Lebanon is offering a present to the world, namely Gibran whose writings drew comprehensive and universal world peace. We are happy this conference is not meant to honour or remember Gibran, but rather to delve deeper into his heritage, as his writings and paintings embodied a comprehensive culture of peace spreading around the world and turning it into an oasis of sheer humanity. 190


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This is what Gibran, the poet, gave me through his person, his writings and his paintings: he taught me to be from Lebanon without confining myself to my country’s borders. He taught me to come out to the world as a global citizen from Lebanon, carrying the culture of peace as a message from my nation to each nation that believes in culture and seeks to achieve the message of peace. University of Maryland, College Park – 1999

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Centre for Lebanese Studies List of Books

Rethinking Education for Social Cohesion – Edited by Maha Shuayb Breaking the Cycle – Civil wars in Lebanon – Edited by Youssef M Choueiri / ISBN 10: 1905299532 – ISBN 13: 9781905299539 Distant Relations – Iran and Lebanon in the last 500 years – Edited by H.E. Chehabi and Hassan Mneimneh / ISBN 9781860645617 Lebanon and Arabism, 1936 –1945 – National identity and state formation – Raghid el-Solh / ISBN 1 86064 051 6 Struggle in the Levant. Lebanon in the 1950’s – Caroline Attie / ISBN 9781860644672 The View From Istanbul – Ottoman Lebanon and the Druze Emirate – Abdul Rahim Abu Husayn / ISBN 9781860648564 193


All Honourable Men – the social origins of war in Lebanon – Michael Johnson / ISBN 9781860647154 The Challenge of Human Rights – CHARLES MALIK and the Universal Declaration – Habib C. Malik / ISBN 1-87055-237-7 A Vision of the Middle East: An Intellectual Biography of Albert Hourani – Abdulaziz A. Al-Sudairi / ISBN 7981860645815 The Politics of Interventionism in Ottoman Lebanon 1830 –1861 – Caesar E. Farah / ISBN 7981 86064 056 7 The Merchant Republic of Lebanon: Rise of an Open Economy – Carolyn Gates / ISBN 7981 86064 047 8 The Breakdown of the State in Lebanon – Farid El-Khazen / ISBN 9781 86064 320 5 Islam, Multiculturalism and Transnationalism – From the Lebanese Diaspora – Michael Humphrey / ISBN 1 86064 356 6 Lebanon on Hold: Implications for Middle East Peace – Edited by Rosemary Hollis and Nadim Shehadi / ISBN 1 86203 020 0 The Long Peace: Ottoman Lebanon, 1861–1920 – Engin Akarli / ISBN 1 85043 655 An Occasion for War: Civil Conflict in Lebanon and Damascus in 1860 – Leila Fawaz / ISBN 1 85043 651 7 Coexistence in Wartime Lebanon: Decline of a State and Rise of a Nation – Theodor Hanf / ISBN 1 85043 651 7 194


Politics and the Economy in Lebanon – Edited by Nadim Shehadi and Bridget Harney / ISBN 1 870552 18 0 State and Society in Lebanon – Edited by Leila Fawaz / ISBN 1 870552 23 7 The Lebanese in the World: A Century of Emigration – Edited by Albert Hourani and Nadim Shehadi / ISBN 1 85043 303 8 The Formation and Perception of the Modern Arab World: Studies by Marwan R. Buheiry – Edited by Lawrence I. Conrad / ISBN 0-87850 064-2 A House of Many Mansions: The History of Lebanon Reconsidered – Kamal Salibi / ISBN 1 85943 091 8 Lebanon: A History of Conflict and Consensus – Edited by Nadim Shehadi and Dana Haffar Mills / ISBN 1 85043 119 1

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Layout by Dergham sarl Printed on May 2016 in Beirut, Lebanon





This book represents a vast collection of the author’s twentyfive years writings about Gibran, published in newspapers and magazines throughout Lebanon and the United States, demonstrating his perpetual exploration and never-ending search to learn more about Gibran and his art. The pages of this book are a unique testimony to the places and times, testimonials of Gibran’s friends, acquaintances or people interested in him, who were inspired by him or were deeply involved in his literature. These testimonials of people and places demonstrate the significant impact this man had on individuals whether through personal encounters or through his work.

Henri Zoghaib is a Lebanese writer with many literary books to his credit. He is currently the director of the Centre for Lebanese Heritage at the Lebanese American University (LAU) – Beirut. This English version is an adaptation of his original Arabic book Kahlil Gibrân, shawâhed al.nâs wa al.amqinah (Testimonials of people and places).


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