Kahlil Gibran's Association with the Bahá'í Faith
Religion is a well-tilled field,
Planted and watered by desire
Of one who longed for Paradise,
Or one who dreaded Hell and Fire.
Aye, were it but for reckoning
At Resurrection, they had not
Worshipped God, nor did repent,
Except to gain a better lot -
As though religion were a phase
Of commerce in their daily trade;
Should they neglect it they could lose
Or preserving would be paid.
So many of the contemporary leaders, thinkers and poets in the world not only knew about the Bahá'í Faith but also had an intimate relationship with the Bahá'ís. Some of them even came in direct contact with the Central Figures of the Bahá'í Faith, especially 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Prominent among the Indian leaders and Scholars who were aware of the Bahá'í Revelation are Swami Dayanand Sarswati, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. S. Radhakrishnan. World renowned Writers and scientists like Leo Tolstoy, Albert Einstein Queen Marie of Romania, August Forel, Edward Browne and Arnold Toynbee knew about the Bahá'í Faith and appreciated its teachings. Their views often beautifully sum up the Bahá'í beliefs and inspire the readers to delve more deeply into the life- giving teaching of Bahŕ'u'llŕh and partake of their richness to their heart's content. I have, therefore, always enthusiastically sought to find out what world leaders have said about the Bahá'í Faith. And at times, it has so happened that while reading the writings of a great personage, I have intuitively felt that he must have had somehow known about the Faith, read Bahá'í Writings or met some Bahá'í is at some point of time in his life. It is indeed a great joy when sooner or later this intuition is confirmed and the Bahá'í connection fully comes into light.
Kahlil Gibran's writings fascinated me in a very special way. Many of the other Bahá'í friends who were familiar with his writing shared my view too. I even tried my hand, once or twice, at reproducing a Few sketches from his very popular book 'The Prophet'. However, whenever I read him, I had this mysterious feeling that he had some close Bahá'í connection. After some seven years of my association with Gibran's writings, my heart went wild with excitement, the other day, when while reading the book 'Other Places' by the noted Bahá'í authoress Marzieh Gail, I came across a reference to Gibran in a story she has entitled 'Juliet Remembers Gibran'. Nothing in the world would have drawn me away from the article as I read it again and again until my thirst was somewhat quenched. So this was it, I said to myself and thanked Marzieh for the wonderful book and especially the piece on Gibran.
To briefly recount the story, I will take you to the times when Kahlil Gibran lived and worked. In the early years of the 20th century, the Syrian poet lived in a house in Greenwich Village at 51 West Miss Julia (sic) H. Thompson, an early believer of the West, a serious artist and a great beauty shared a home with another artist Daisy Pumpelley Smythe. Juliet, a Virginian by birth, was related to Edward Fitzgerald, translator of the Rubaiyat. Her house was the Center of Bahá'í activities and many Bahá'í guests stayed there at "48" for days or weeks. At one time Dimitri Marian off, the former son-in-law of Albert Einstein stayed there on the third floor and was engaged in writing a Bahá'í book.
Juliet recalls at that time "Gibran worked on an Arab newspaper, free to paint and write. His drawings were more beautiful than his paintings. They were misty, lost things-mysterious and lost, very poetic". Soon Juliet and Kahlil were to become great friends. Recollecting their moments together Juliet says, "Kahlil always said I was his first friend in New York. We became very, very great friends, and all of his books - The Madman, The Forerunner, The Son of Man, The Prophet - I heard in manuscript. He always gave me his books. I liked "The prophet" best ……. He wrote his books in the studio across the street. Then he would call me up and say come over and hear a chapter".
Juliet tells us how Gibran got in touch with the Bahá'í Cause No doubt it was she who told him about it - and he listened. Later, he got hold of some of the Arabic Writings of Bahŕ'u'llŕh. "He said it was the most stupendous literature that ever was written, and that He even carried words. That there was no Arabic that even touched the Arabic of Bahŕ'u'llŕh."
A little while later, Kahlil Gibran became known as 'The Master'* and got a following. He said that he did not feel the need for a Manifestation of God and thought that he was in direct contact with God.
Time passed and one day Juliet told him of the forthcoming visit of 'Abdu'l-Bahá to the City. Gibran asked for permission to draw His portrait. The Master gave him one hour 6-30 one morning. He made an outstanding head. According to Juliet, it did not look like the Master but there was very faint likeness. She explains, "Great power though the shoulders. A great radiance in the face. It's not a portrait of the Master, but it's the work of a great artist."
Gibran had never met 'Abdu'l-Bahá before and that began his friendship with the Master. He simply adored the Master. He was with him whenever he could be. He would go over to "48" West 10th to see the Master. In Boston he was often with the Master. When the Master went away, Kahlil settled with books. But he often talked of him, most sympathetically and lovingly. The only thing was that he could not accept the intermediary for himself. He wanted to keep his direct contact.
Then one night, years afterward when the Master's motion picture was going to be shown at the Bahá'í Centre, Juliet recalls that Gibran was sitting next to her in the front row. He saw the Master come to life again for him in the picture. And he began to sob, "We had asked him to speck a few words that night. When the time came for him to speak, he controlled himself and jumped up on the platform and then…. still weeping before us, said : 'I declare that 'Abdu'l-Bahá is the Manifestation of god for this Day : 'Of course he got it wrong but…. He was weeping and he didn't say anything more. He got down and he sat beside me, and he kept on sobbing and sobbing and sobbing. Seeing the picture brought it all back. He took my two hands and said, 'You have opened for me a door tonight ! Then he fled the hall.' "
Barbara young in 'This Man form Lebanon - A study of Kahlil gibran' has written that in his later years Gibran liked to talk about his early years in New York and his spacious studio where he had felt a new Freedom saying that he could spread his wings there. It was in this studio that the drawing of revered 'Abdu'l-Bahŕ was made one day early in the morning in 1912. Talking about it, gibran said, "I remained awake all night, for I knew I should never have an eye or a hand to work with if I took my sleep."
Can we then infer that there was some connection between 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Gibran's most celebrated work, 'The Prophet'? Juliet tells us, "I don't believe that there was any connection between 'Abdu'l-Bahá and 'The Prophet'. But he told me that when he wrote 'The Son of Man' he thought of 'Abdu'l-Bahŕ all through. He told me definitely that 'The Son of Man' was influenced by 'Abdu'l-Bahŕ. At the end of the book, 'The Son of Man', Gibran writes : "But Master, Sky-heart, Knight of our fairer dream, you do still tread this day ; Nor bows nor spears shall stay your steps ; You walk through all our arrows ; You smile down upon us, … And you father us all."
In the last years of his life Gibran was terribly Sad because of Cancer. He was very sick while Juliet was away. When she came back he asked her to see him every day. He was in bed. These were his last days and he would pour out the story of his life to her. In the words of Juliet; "These last days he just wept and wept. His head on my shoulders. He never said he was dying He never said a word. Except that one thing : I want to give you all I can while I can. So come every day. At one time he had told Juliet that he was going to write another book or 'Abdu'l-Bahá as the Centre and all the Contemporaries of 'Abdu'l-Bahá speaking. Unfortunately, he died before he wrote it at the age of forty- nine. He lies buried in Boston.
Kahlil Gibran is buried, but not his work. The Bahá'í influences on his life have escaped the dust of time and are available to us. How else would the posterity have known that 'the Master' had his Master too ! Let us hope that the future Bahá'í Scholars will unveil more details of the influences that the Writings of the Blessed Beauty and the contact with the Beloved Master had an gibran's brief but intense life and his momentous work.
--Prof. Anil Sarwal
* Not to be confused with the beloved Master of the Bahá'í Faith i.e., 'Abdu'l-Bahá
**Kahlil Gibran known to the world as the 'Immortal Prophet of Lebanon', was born in 1883 in the famous town of Bcharri which is very near to the Holy Cedars of Lebanon. At a very young age he, along with some of the members of his family, migrated to the United States and except for a few short visits to different parts of the world, Kahlil spent the rest of his life in America.
The poet died in 1931 at the age of 49. His death came to be greater than his life and proved true his words which he had written in 'The Voice of the Master'.
"I came here to be for all and with all And what I do today in my solitude Will be echoed tomorrow by multitude."
Some of the books written by Gibran are : The Prophet', 'Broken Wings', 'The Voice of the Master', 'Tear and Laughters', 'A Tear and A Smile', 'The Procession', and 'Jesus-the son of Man'. **