Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet comprises twenty-seven poetic essays on various aspects of life, preceded by an introduction and followed by a farewell. In the farewell, the Prophet, newly born, promises to return to his people after a momentary rest upon the wind. Thus, the continuity of life is implied—the circle of birth, death, and rebirth.
The Prophet belongs to a unique group of works that include Edward FitzGerald’s The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (1859) and certain works of William Blake, to whom Gibran has been compared. FitzGerald’s translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám appeals especially to impressionable young adults: The poem had been bound in leather in a miniature edition and used as a prom favor at college dances.
Similarly, The Prophet owes much of its popularity to the young, who find in Gibran’s poetry the elusive quality of sincerity. At the height of its popularity in the 1960’s, The Prophet sold about five thousand copies per week. In large part because of personal recommendations rather than marketing, this best known of Gibran’s seventeen published books (nine in Arabic and eight in English) has been published in more than twenty languages and has sold tens of millions of copies, making Gibran one of the most widely published poets, behind only William Shakespeare and Lao Tzu. The hardcover sales of this thin volume made Gibran the best-selling Arabic author of the twentieth century, a remarkable feat considering The Prophet is a book of poetry. The Prophet has sold more copies for publisher Alfred A. Knopf than any other book in the publisher’s history.
Gibran intended The Prophet to be the first part of a trilogy—followed by The Garden of the Prophet and The Death of the Prophet. The second of this series was published posthumously (in 1933) and the third title was written by Jason Leen and released in 1979. Often compared to Friedrich Nietzsche’s Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen (1883-1885; Thus Spake Zarathustra, 1896), another philosophical, prophetical work in which divine beings walk among humans and dispense wisdom, The Prophet has been interpreted as Gibran’s longing to return to Lebanon. Penned after twelve years of living in New York City, Gibran views his absence from his homeland as an exile. The...
(The entire section is 1000 words.)