|My copy of The Prophet.|
I've been aware of Gibran's The Prophet every since I was a little girl. I think it was my dad's and I remember always seeing it about, but I was too young for it, and then by the time I was the right age it wasn't about any more. Then, happily, it resurfaced not too long ago and I've finally read it, after about thirty years of being aware of it. This front cover is as much a part of my childhood as old Kate Bush and Patti Smith vinyl, Postman Pat, fossils and stones from Egypt, Libya, and Algeria (my dad used to work there, and this is back in the day you could bring them home), and old pets long gone, so this book, despite having not read it until today, is as precious to me as my first toy just for that familiar front cover.
It wasn't until relatively recently I learned about what The Prophet actually was. I assumed it was one of my parents' old hippy type books: in fact it's a short collection of inspirational fables by the Lebanese American writer Kahlil Gibran (جبران خليل جبران), whose writing was inspired by his faith (he was raised as part of the Syriac Maronite Church) and also Islam, in particular Sufism, which is characterised by its mystical leanings and emphasis on inner perfection (I wrote a while ago about Farīd ud-Dīn Aṭṭār's The Conference of Birds, also inspired by Sufism). It was first published in 1923, and such is its popularity it has never been out of print.
Almustafa, the chosen and the beloved, who was a dawn unto his own day, had waited twelve years in the city of Orphalese for his ship that was to return and bear him back to the isle of his birth.
And in the twelfth year, on the seventh day of Ielool, in the month of reaping, he climbed the hill without the city walls and looked seawards; and he beheld his ship coming with the mist.
Then the gates of his heart were flung open, and his joy flew far over the sea. And he closed his eyes and prayed in the silences of his soul.Almustafa, the prophet of the tale, awaits his ship but the people of Orphalese beg him to stay, and if he cannot, he must impart his wisdom:
And he answered:
People of Orphalese, of what can I speak save of that which is even now moving within your souls?
Then said Almitra, Speak to us of Love.
And so he remains a while and answers a variety of questions, each asked by a different member of the community, on marriage, children, giving, eating and drinking, labour, joy and sorrow, houses, clothes, religion, beauty, prayer, death, and many other subjects. Each question Almustafa answers with his gentle wisdom and insight, and emphasising the beauty of life, and when the questions stop he boards his ship and leaves Orphalese.
The Prophet is a very moving book, very beautiful, and has with it a sense of unity in religions, I think, because of its emphasis on the individual and human condition. It is easy to dismiss the 'inspirational reading' genre, but this one is a gem. I wish I'd read it well before now, but perhaps I wouldn't have appreciated it as much. It's a lovely book, simply and humbly presented, and one to read and re-read regularly.