By George Nicolas El-Hage

Poetry and art are twins. Both are the offspring of suffering and joy. Gibran translated Blake’s “Innocence and Experience” into a “Tear and a Smile.” Nevertheless, the unending drama of human existence unfolds itself in the pages of both men. Only the elected and gifted soul is capable of creativity, of reading the world differently, and of rebelling against evil clothed in a lamb’s garment. Art knows no boundaries. It transcends all national limits and is only satisfied with the universal. There, time and place lose their ability to imprison the artist in a closed cell. The inspired poet becomes a winged soul floating over life, embracing the infinite. It is in the midst of this vast expanse where the responsibility of the artist becomes eternal and his mission turns holy that we can speak of Kahlil Gibran and William Blake together.

There is evidence that Gibran was familiar with some of Blake’s poetry and drawings during his early years in Boston. However, this knowledge of Blake was neither deep nor complete. Kahlil Gibran was reintroduced to William Blake’s poetry and art in Paris, perhaps in Auguste Rodin’s studio and by Rodin himself. It was then that Gibran read Blake’s works more completely and studied his biography and also viewed many more reproductions of his drawings. In Paris, Gibran was called “the twentieth-century Blake,” and from that time on, Blake played a special role in Gibran’s life. Their reading of the Bible, their rebellion against church corruption, and their sociopolitical visions were very similar.

Both Gibran and Blake were poets and artists. Both rebelled against the decayed and rigid laws of church and society. Both rejected Reason in the name of Imagination and read the Bible in its “Diabolical form.” Above all, the two poets shared a basic prophetic vision and apocalyptic view of the universe. Throughout their works, the messianic mission of the poet and the function of the artist are clear. Poetry is to lead the people back to Eden, and painting must be a step from nature toward the infinite.

Gibran regarded himself as a teacher and a guide for his friends. He also considered himself a peacemaker, a spiritual healer, and a man destined to carry the burden and the suffering of his own people. He was willing to offer his life for the redemption of mankind. Like Blake, who considered himself to be in “constant communication with visions,” Gibran “believed himself alone to be in communication with the truth—a gift given only rarely to unique individuals.” Gibran viewed himself as a poet who had a message to deliver, and he took his mission very seriously. He believed that the poet was a prophet. It was his responsibility to lead the people back to a world of higher innocence and divine truth through imagination. Both Gibran and Blake’s message was that of love, friendship, and above all else, peace. Love was the road to salvation because it not only had a healing power but also a redemptive one. Gibran ultimately believed that love was preordained, a theory which paralleled Blake’s concept of Emanation. He also presented his own “religion of the heart” which he considered to be the “door to paradise.”

The struggle between “body and soul” was a major concern to Gibran. This conflict, which tormented him immensely and prevailed during his early writings, was reconciled once he had matured with Blake and learned that man did not have a body distinct from his soul. This was also in accordance with the teachings of Jesus who said that “the body [was] the temple of the soul.”

To both Blake and Gibran, the basic purpose of our existence is to discover and record new truths about the human soul. This explains why the two poets never wrote a poem or painted a picture without intellectual meaning. So profound was their research in the terra incognita that each of them might be “hailed as the Columbus of the Psyche” as Damon suggested. Their great task was to turn our immortal eyes inward, to make us see eternity in an hour because we are potentially divine but caught in “Old Jerusalem.” We need to open the channels of our perception, to embrace our visions, and everything will then seem infinite. Blake promised us that he who sees the infinite in everything sees God because essentially every honest man is a prophet.

Although Gibran belongs to two distinct worlds and two different alphabets, he succeeded through his global message of love and peace to create harmony between civilizations and unity between languages. He combined the best of the East and of the West and lived a life of simplicity and dignity.

Gibran is considered to be the poet who truly modernized Arabic poetry and infused it with a new breed of ideas and words. He created a stylistic revolution that vitalized the Arabic language and set it on a new course worthy of its magnificent heritage. As for his adopted language, he certainly enriched the English language with a stream of thought and style that is only reminiscent of certain books of the Bible. Next to his mentor, William Blake, Gibran stands out as the poet of the Bible par excellance. He also absorbed influences from ancient and medieval Arabic poetry, the glorious Koran and the Sufi poets and blended it with the majestic mysticism of Blake, the spirituality of the Bible, the ethereality of the Anglo- American poets and the transcendentalist thinkers. Well versed in the psychology of Jung, and armed with two lifelines, poetry and art, he delved into the depth of the human psyche and returned sane while surpassing Nietzsche in his rebellion against the perverted misconduct of the church and its distortion of the teachings of Christ. He responded to Nietzsche’s Anti Christ and humanized his superman. Unlike the German philosopher, and like Blake, Gibran retained his faith. He believed that Jesus is the most powerful personality that walked this earth. Throughout his life, Gibran was constantly guided by the example of “our brother Jesus.” Gibran’s actions, whether towards his friends or his fellowmen, were the practical application of his beliefs and teachings. He never deviated nor compromised and the testimony of those who knew him is a witness to this. He believed that Imagination is the only creator and that Nature is the body of god. He also preached that love is the only universal language and that reincarnation is a reality.

Gibran had a keen interest in music. His first published book was a treatise on Arabic music inspired by Wagner. He himself played the ‘oud, an ancient Middle Eastern instrument still used today. He also loved to sing. Many of his poems were put to music by the famous Lebanese Rahabani brothers as well as other Arab musicians and sung by Fairouz and other well known singers.

Gibran’s works remain a bridge between cultures. His voice speaks to us across the gates of time. His message is one of tolerance, unity and global understanding between cultures, a message that we need today more than ever.