Book Report: The Prophet by Khalil Gibran (1922, 1962)

Book coverI bought this book in 2007 (that’s right, seventeen years ago, when I was attending more than one book sale per weekend whilst living in Old Trees), and I picked it up now because I just read The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, and I was prone to confusing the two. After all, both were Middle-Eastern-flavored collections of poetry and parables which were huge in their day and which were still found around middle class households in the late 70s and early 1980s. I am pretty sure that my “rich” aunt and uncle had a copy of this book if not both.

So: The frame is that a “prophet”–a wise man or hermit of some sort–has lived on the edges of an island’s society for some number of years, and a ship has come to take him to his native land. So as he makes his way to the docks, the people want him to make a speech, and he does: 90 pages of individual poems on the philosophy of various topics such as friendship, death, prayer, joy and sorrow, and so on.

To be honest, it kind of read like a garlic-infused Rod McKuen for the most part, but some segments hit me. Like this one:

You may give them [children] your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

Day-um. As I mentioned, my oldest graduates high school next week. So, yeah, this rang true.


Your reason and your passion are the rudder and sails of your seafaring soul.
If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas.

So to call it Lebanese Rod McKuen diminishes it too much. It’s lightweight poetry, easy to read, with aphorisms that will speak to a variety of readers spread throughout. It’s poetry that you could read aloud with the lyric and narrative rhythms to match. And with a taste of the exotic even though Gibran was Lebanese-American and not tenth century Persian (like Omar Khayyám). Still, the sum of these parts explain why the book was very popular; the hardback I have was the 67th printing, forty years after the book first appeared. I wonder if it’s still in print and still read–given that the author was a hyphenated-American, he would not have been eliminated from the curricula based on race.

As I mentioned, I picked up the musical version of it this weekend, and I will have to give it a listen soon. I bet it translates pretty well to music.

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