Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Prophet

The Prophet is a book of poetic essays by the Lebanese artist, philosopher, and writer Kahlil Gibran (1883 - 1931). In conception it was to be the first of a trilogy: The Prophet addresses the realities of the human experience such as birth, children, marriage, love, work, pain and death; the second book, The Garden of the Prophet, was to address humankind's relationship to nature; and the third, The Death of the Prophet, would focus on divine union. Gibran was working on The Garden of the Prophet at the time of his death in 1931.

Possibly the original 'self-help' guide, The Prophet is a book I refer to whenever I need solace. Each passage is a jewel of self-contained poetry laced with wisdom. It is as comforting as a well brewed pot of Twinings. Despite the growth of the New Age movement and the barrage of self-improvement books that has accompanied it, nothing quite resembles The Prophet in terms of foresight and philosophy. Many esoteric practitioners have based their psychobabble on Gibran's principles, but most are mediocre imitations of the real deal. The Prophet was written in an era before selfish individualism became an acceptable part of the human condition (was it ever?). The rare quality of selflessness that is virtually non-existent in the new millennium is what streams through the pages of Gibran's words.

For those of you who live in Sydney, The State Library of New South Wales is holding an exhibition of Gibran's artwork and manuscripts until 20 February 2011. The sixty items on display are on loan from The Gibran Museum in Bsharri, North Lebanon (Gibran's birth place). It was euphoric to see the original watercolours and charcoal sketches that compliment the pages of this notable book. Gibran's charcoal drawings in particular are mesmerising - the eyes of his subjects are piercing, particularly those of Almustafa (frontispiece for The Prophet) as seen below on the copy I bought in an op shop in Portland, Oregon about ten years ago:

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