Home > 1920, 20th Century, Classics, Gibran Khalil, Lebanese Literature, Made into a play, Poetry > The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, made into a play

The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, made into a play

The Prophet by Khalil Gibran (1923)

Gibran_prophete_livreI don’t remember how or when I first heard of The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. My copy dates back to 1993; perhaps Amin Maalouf mentioned him in one of his books. Anyway. I had fond memories of that little book of wisdom, so I jumped on the opportunity to see a stage version of this text.

Khalil Gibran (1883-1931) was a Lebanese writer, born in a small village in the North of the country. He later moved to Boston with his mother and siblings, moved back to Lebanon to study in Beirut. Then, he spent a couple of years in France before immigrating to New York. He wrote The Prophet in English and it was published in America in 1923. It was immediately a huge success.

The Prophet is a collection of parables. In the introduction, the prophet Almustafa is about to leave the city of Orphalese, where he has spent twelve years in exile. He’s saying goodbye to the place and its people when they question him about life. What does he have to say about love, marriage, self-knowledge, children, pain…? In twenty-six chapters, Almustafa will answer the questions. It’s a bit written like the New Testament, a bit like poetical philosophy and I suspect a bit in the Arabic literature tradition. (I wouldn’t know that since I haven’t read any, just heard about the importance of its poetry in novels by Maalouf, Mahfouz or more recently Awwad) Gibran’s text is a mix of Eastern and Western culture, of poetry and philosophy. Each chapter is one to three pages long and tackles with a different question. It explores life from a human point of view and gives advice to live your life more peacefully. Personally, I like his vision of marriage, children, giving, joy and sorrow or teaching. I want to share with you the part on Reason and Passion, it will be a long quote but it gives you an idea of the atmosphere of the book and the tone of the text:

AND the priestess spoke again and said: Speak to us of Reason and Passion.

And he answered, saying:

Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgment wage war against your passion and your appetite.

Would that I could be the peacemaker in your soul, that I might turn the discord and the rivalry of your elements into oneness and melody.

But how shall I, unless you yourselves be also the peacemakers, nay, the lovers of all your elements?

YOUR reason and your passion are the rudder and the 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.

For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.

Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing;

And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes.

I WOULD have you consider your judgment and your appetite even as you would two loved guests in your house.

Surely you would not honour one guest above the other; for he who is more mindful of one loses the love and the faith of both.

AMONG the hills, when you sit in the cool shade of the white poplars, sharing the peace and serenity of distant fields and meadows – then let your heart say in silence, “God rests in reason.”

And when the storm comes, and the mighty wind shakes the forest, and thunder and lightning proclaim the majesty of the sky, – then let your heart say in awe, “God moves in passion.”

And since you are a breath in God’s sphere, and a leaf in God’s forest, you too should rest in reason and move in passion.

I won’t tell more about the book as The Prophet is a highly personal text for the reader. It resonates differently according to who you are and what your life has been. I believe that everyone can find something good for them to meditate. If it’s a personal journey for the reader, it must have been a personal one for the author too. I’d love to ask Gibran why he wrote something so oriental and personal in English and not in Arabic. It’s his native tongue, he studied in that language (and in French) while English is his third language. Few authors choose to write in another language than their mother tongue. Sure, writing in English helped being published but was that all?

Gibran_prophete_pieceThe Prophet was made into a play by Noredine Marouf. I saw it in a tiny theatre in Paris, the Guichet Montparnasse. Imagine: there’s room for fifty spectators, seated on five rows of benches. The stage is minuscule. We were nine spectators and it was the premiere. The actor and director Noredine Marouf was a few meters away from us, I’m sure he could see every move we made on those benches. He stayed after the show was finished and chatted with us. He said he was nervous for the premiere and we gathered he wasn’t happy with his performance. He’d been working on the text for ten months but it didn’t take away the anxiousness of the premiere. He explained that he chose to work on this text because Gibran’s words speak to him and because he wanted to play something that would make the audience think. He wanted to bring more than entertainment and to leave us with thoughts to ponder when we went home. We were nine people in the audience and one of us was Lebanese. She pointed out that Gibran’s village was really a tiny village and that it was incredible that he moved out of there to live in cities like Paris and New York, especially at his time. Nordine Marouf confessed that working on Gibran’s text had been trying, that he had ached physically while learning the text, as Gibran’s words sank in. It was fascinating to hear him talk about the preparation of the play. He said that with powerful texts as this one, at first, the actor carries the text on their shoulders and after a while, the text carries them. Noredine Marouf is French of Algerian origin; his parents are from Oran. Like Gibran, like Maalouf, his personal history is made of the fruitful meeting of Eastern and Western cultures.

So yes, it’s true, the acting wasn’t perfect. But being there, nine people on benches in a tiny theatre and discussing the play and its preparation with the director and actor was a treat. If you have the chance, go and see Noredine Marouf tell Khalil Gibran. He will be there until April 27th. These theatres must survive and as Gibran points out in the chapter about Bying and Selling:

AND if there come the singers and the dancers and the flute players, – buy of their gifts also.

For they too are gatherers of fruit and frankincense, and that which they bring, though fashioned of dreams, is raiment and food for your soul.

For most of you who won’t have that opportunity, the book is available and worth discovering or re-reading

  1. Christine Shaikin
    March 17, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    Always I have loved Kahlil and his words have touched and fed my soul in my happiest and darkest times… Thank You Kahlil…
    ..

    Like

    • March 17, 2014 at 11:31 pm

      Thanks for the message. One can find a lot of comfort in Gibran’s book.

      Like

  2. Geetanjali
    March 17, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    You write so beautifully well.

    Like

    • March 17, 2014 at 11:32 pm

      I believe Gibran is the one who writes beautifully.

      Like

  3. Alisa Doll
    March 17, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    The words of Kahlil are beautiful and speak to the soul!

    Like

    • March 17, 2014 at 11:34 pm

      They do. And differently to everyone.

      Like

  4. March 17, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    Lovely post, Emma. I think you’re very right. the prophet speaks to all of us in different ways and I guess at different times it will be another experience again.
    I hadn’t thought about this at all, but it’s interesting indeed – why did he wrire this in English?
    I like the idea of such a tiny theatre. Sounds like a very special and intimate experience, I’d certainly watch it given a chnace.
    Your post puts me in the mood to pick up my copy of The Prophet and read it again and find out how it would affect me now, some ten years later.

    Like

    • March 17, 2014 at 11:40 pm

      You’re right, it resonates differently at different moments in life. When I first read I wasn’t married and didn’t have children. It seems to me that what he says about marriage and parenthood makes a lot of sense. He has a way to speak that makes you think “how didn’t I see this myself before?”
      I love these tiny theatres and I truly respect the actors who play there in front of a public that is so small that they don’t play in front of an anonymous crowd but in front of individuals. It takes some courage to act and meet the spectators’ eyes.

      Like

  5. Ricardo Chua Cifra
    March 17, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    Kahlil…your WORDS transcends BOUNDARIES much more BEAUTY

    Like

  6. Mary
    March 18, 2014 at 4:24 am

    I have had this book for over fifty years and it is my guide to life.

    Like

    • March 19, 2014 at 10:16 pm

      What’s your favourite chapter?

      Like

  7. March 18, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    Somebody managed to turn 84, Charing Cross Road into a play so I suppose The Prophet could be turned into one too. This book used to be ubiquitous – every home I went into during my childhood had a copy.

    Like

    • March 19, 2014 at 10:14 pm

      I don’t know 84, Charing Cross but I’ve seen a theatre version of The Tartar Steppe and it is harder to turn that into a play than Gibran. After all, the whole text is made of short speeches. Doesn’t that agree with the stage?
      I didn’t know it was such a big hit in the US. Here, I don’t think so. Le petit Prince, yes, but this one?

      Like

  8. April 9, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    I didn’t know he wrote it in English – or maybe I did when I read the book, but that was years ago. You’re right, it’s strange that he decided to do that, when it was his third language. And quite impressive that he managed to create something so beautiful in his third language. The experience of the play sounds very intimate. Those can be the best theatrical experiences, I find. More of a personal connection with the performance than when you’re one of hundreds of people sitting in a massive theatre. Thanks for posting – and you don’t have to answer my question in the email now 🙂

    Like

    • April 9, 2014 at 10:02 pm

      Perhaps he had a special relationship with the English language. It can be very liberating to not to write in your native language were words are more loaded with your personal history.
      It was an amazing experience in the theatre, a bit unsettling for someone like me who likes being unnoticed. That wasn’t possible there.
      Great actors manage to connect with the audience even if we’re hundreds in the theatre. I’ve just seen Louis Garrel on stage; he’s amazing. He’s saying his text as if he were speaking to you in your living room. He’s still young, he’s going to have a great career.

      Like

  1. April 27, 2014 at 6:38 am

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