‘People of Orphalese, beauty is life when life unveils her holy face. But you are life and you are the veil. Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror.’
Kahlil Gibran Collective website
Book content from the Kahlil Gibran Collective and The Gibran National Committee of Lebanon (GNC)
Book Content from Project Gutenberg
The Prophet (1923)
Kahlil Gibran
In Summary

In this classic spiritual text, the fictional prophet Al Mustafa offers wisdom on all aspects of life in twenty-six short, memorable prose poems.


Kahlil Gibran was born during a failing Ottoman Empire. The eight-year-old Gibran saw his father imprisoned for embezzlement and their property confiscated. Finding little reason to stay, he left for New York four years later with his mother and siblings where he would soon meet mild success in the world of art. Diligently working to improve his English, he began to experiment in literature and poetry. As his skills increased, so did his reputation and, by 1920, he had become a member of The Pen League, the first American literary society for the Arabic language. Yet his legacy would be sealed only in 1923 with the publication of The Prophet.

The work was initially derided by critics, yet this had little effect on its success. One year after publication, demand for the book had doubled – a feat repeated the following year. Since then, the work has never been out of print and is now available in at least 115 different languages, making it one of the ten most translated works on record. During the 1960s, it would see its popularity peak as it served as inspiration for the American counter-culture movement. Musicians have especially taken to Gibran, with no less than Elvis Presley, The Beatles, David Bowie and Johnny Cash all praising or referencing his various works. To date, Gibran’s magnum opus has generated nine million sales in the United States alone and, nearly a century after its first printing, is regarded as a spiritual masterpiece cherished the world over.


Deep in the distance, the morning rays herald the answer to twelve years of prayer. There, peeking over the horizon, sails the ship that will ferry the prophet Al Mustafa homewards. The prophet has deeply longed to return to his origins, yet the moment is bittersweet. Opposite the ship appears the other half of the prophet’s heart – the people of Orphalese, whom he has grown to adore. While they beseech him to remain, one among them – a seeress named Almitra – speaks up, insisting that the prophet must return to his homeland. She adds only one request – that the prophet offer them his final truths on whatever topics they enquire about. In a series of 26 answers, Al Mustafa reveals the heart of the human condition on topics across the breadth of human experience. Love, pleasure, death, religion, work, pain, freedom and even clothes are all laid bare and unmasked by the man of God in his farewell address.

Despite the variety of different subjects presented, a common stream runs through each chapter – namely that a life of joy is one lived in harmony and love with all that is. Much of our life is dominated by the desire for security and possessions, yet these act as chains that bind us to negativity. The more we allow insecurity and greed to dominate our lives, the more it constrains us within its grip. This is the threat posed by our desire for autonomy, yet our reality is one in which all is intimately connected. Things that we normally see as opposites, such as passion and reason or sorrow and joy, are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. Freedom and wholeness come with total acceptance – a full embrace of all reality as a gift from God. All things, whether pain or pleasure, love or scorn, are guides that draw us into unity with God.

The Prophet thus breaks down the neat categories we erect to divide our lives. Religion is not simply a belief nor a practice we perform but a manner in which we live our daily lives. Joy is not the cessation of sorrow but rather ‘your sorrow unmasked’. Both are needed to experience the other. Likewise, the act of giving is, paradoxically, of greater benefit to the giver than the receiver since the practice frees us from attachment and opens us up to true joy. Giving reveals that the same life pervades and connects both the giver and receiver. Consequently, by becoming united within your own soul, you better reflect the world around you, joyously breaking down the conflicts between yourself and the outside world. This is the divine path – one that sees the beauty of God in all creation. It is a path towards self-knowledge and the discovery of the good that lies at the heart of humanity and all that is.

With these parting words, the prophet steps aboard the waiting ship. Yet in one final pronouncement, he promises the citizens of Orphalese he will return should his words ever fade. With a final command, he beseeches his beloved friends to look towards their inner self to find the ‘vast man’ that connects all humanity and binds one to another. It is love that connects all things, and a heart that has discovered this can bless all, even the darkest darkness. The last words heard by the bereft community were his repeated promise to return, whether in this life or another. As the ship sails off beyond the horizon, the crowd slowly departs. Eventually, only Almitra remains, lingering in thought on his final, prophetic pronouncement.


The preceding synopsis does little justice to a work overflowing with profundity in each line. The words of the prophet are at once utterly foreign yet strangely familiar to our modern ear. They cut through our comfortable boundaries, painting a picture of a far freer and more joyous life, in which we access the inner aspect of our nature that communes with God and everything else.

Further Reading By This Author

Gibran wrote numerous other books and poems, most notably Jesus, the Son of God, The Madman, and Broken Wings.

No items found.
Related works
No items found.
Back to Library of Light