My son, now a teenager, is aware that I have a blog, and that it deals with poetry somehow. Limited by his parents in his computer time, and pressingly interested in the other things he’s discovered, he doesn’t listen to it.
But he does want to be helpful. Earlier this month he suggested by asking: “Have you used any poetry by Kahlil Gibran? Have you heard of him?” One of my son’s teachers is from Lebanon, where Gibran was born, and Gibran has come up as a famous Lebanese-American.
Note the art portfolio, the young Gibran’s aims were as a visual artist
Had I heard of him? Yes, I recall buying a copy of “The Prophet” as a somewhat older teenager in a bookstore. I think the edition may have included a now disputed quote comparing him to William Blake, and that may have accounted for my purchase then.
Over the decades since it was published in 1923, my decision to purchase “The Prophet” has been replicated millions of times. It’s an extraordinarily popular book, and not one that achieved its popularity by a burst of sales, but by remaining intriguing to readers for 95 years. Nor am I alone in seeking to combine Gibran with music, as it’s been done more than once already, with everything from a borrowed Gibran line making it into John Lennon’s “Julia” to the as far as I know unacknowledged connections to Queen’s masterpiece “The Prophet’s Song.”
I remember reading that copy of Gibran’s “The Prophet” in an hour or so later that day. My dorm-roommate read my copy too, but I remember he was puzzled that I had read through it so fast.
Unlike many readers of “The Prophet” I had some background. As a young person I had substantial interest in various kinds of occult, spiritual and mystic writings. Gibran in “The Prophet” didn’t impress me as being very good of type. The stilted sort-of King James Version English seemed effected, the matter it tried to convey seemed newspaper horoscope vague, and the typical trope used to express that matter was a litany of everything is it’s opposite.
That was my opinion as an 18-year-old. It has changed slightly as I briefly revisited Gibran this month in search of something I might want to use. First, I have a much greater appreciation for the struggles of those that try to bridge the culture and language of their birth to the culture and language of their new homes, and in the sections of Gibran that dial-back the hazy mysticism I can now read some elements of humor and satire that I missed on first encounter. I wonder how Gibran’s works in Arabic read to a native speaker. Did he present a different face and voice there than he did to English speakers in America? And what I’ve seen of his artwork does have a Blakean tinge, a combination of classical line with esoteric and romantic subject matter.
One of Gibran’s illustrations for “The Madman”
Today’s audio piece, “The Fox” comes from Gibran’s first English language collection “The Madman.” As parables go, it’s quite applicable to the daily grind of creating these pieces. It may not be the camel I set out for, but hopefully it’s a delectable mouse.