Valentine’s Day 2023 seems like a timely opportunity to look back on the life of one of the Arab world’s greatest writers, the Lebanese-American poet and painter Gibran Khalil Gibran, who was famous the world over for his touching poetry about love as well as his seminal work, “The Prophet.”
This year marks the 140th anniversary of his birth, as well as the publication of his magnum opus, “The Prophet,” released 100 years ago. After Shakespeare and Lao Tzu, he is reportedly the third best-selling poet of all time. It is no surprise, when his telling observations on the most powerful of human emotions — love — have become something of a touchpoint in popular culture.
“Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself. Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; For love is sufficient unto love,” Gibran wrote in “On Love,” in just one example of why he became a key figure in a Romantic movement that transformed Arabic literature in the first half of the 20th century. For Arab readers used to the rigid traditions of Arabic poetry, Gibran’s direct style was a revelation and may have led to his popularity in the Middle East.
As for the Western world, the work for which he is most well-known is without a doubt 1923’s “The Prophet,” which also features such quotable lines on love as: “Love one another, but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.”
Comprised of about 20,000 words, it took Gibran nearly two decades to write this little literary masterpiece, and its impact has lasted for a century, inspiring millions from around the world with its timeless wisdom and meaningful spirituality. At the price of $2.25, “The Prophet” sold more than 1,000 copies in its first month.
One of the main reasons “The Prophet” resonated with so many readers is because it brought something new to the table, at a time when modern society was materialistic and artificial.
The essential question remains: Why have the verses of “The Prophet” remained so memorable and quotable on special occasions until this day?