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How Did Jean Jacques Rousseau Influence Gibran Kahlil Gibran?

posted on: Jun 30, 2021

Bettmann Archive

By: Noura Abou Hamze / Arab America Contributing Writer

Gibran Khalil Gibran is a notable Arab intellectual of Lebanese origin who influenced and got influenced by both Eastern and Western thinkers.  He is a Lebanese-American poet and writer and often considered a philosopher.  Gibran is best known for his work, especially “the Prophet”, which was translated to more than 100 languages. 

Hailing from the village of Bcharre in Lebanon, Gibran’s personality and character was influenced by his village and its beauty. He began to know the real and true meaning of grief, pain, and worry when sitting in the village and admiring the trees, flowers, rain, sun, clouds and environment. The beauty of Bcharre made him fall in love with nature and its freedom. He would sit and admire the birds flying, the bees working, the ants hiding food, and all the natural rhythm.

Gibran reflects his Arab nationality in his work, especially the ones written in Arabic. He would learn about the Italian Renaissance and since the age of five years old, was a huge fan when he discovered Italian men of cloth living at St. Sarkis Monastery. He loved the way they spoke, dressed, and thought. He was very interested in everything that revealed the glory of the Renaissance back then. 

Gibran went back to Lebanon after moving to Boston to study and became immersed with works such as Al Muqaddemah by Ibn Khaldoon, Al Mutannabi, and ethnology content. Gibran spent most of his time in the Library reading and discovering books. He studied and read the Bible, followed up on works from the Al Nahda movement, and Rousseau, Voltaire and Balzac from a young age. He also had time to read topics by Ralf Waldo Emerson and Maurice Maeterlinck in order to satisfy his curiosity about metaphysics. 

Jean-Jacques Rousseau/

Jean Jacques Rousseau’s theory of social principles, reflected that a persons’ moral and/or political obligations are dependent upon a contract or agreement among them to form the society in which they live. Rousseau defined the general will as the collective need of all to provide for the common good of all. Gibran Kahlil Gibran reflected his influence by the social contract theory in his work “ Al Mawakib” or “the procession”. In this work, one could directly notice the heavy influence Rousseau made on Gibran. To illustrate, even though Gibran barely stated the name of Rousseau, all of the opinions and expressions were influenced by him and the way he wrote.

For example, in Gibran’s poem Al Mawakib, he calls back man to nature and symbolizes the nature of the big forest.  He sees nature as an eternal, powerful, peaceful, and happy place. Nature for him is the essence of renewal and reincarnation and art. Rousseau mainly influenced Gibran in teaching him that nature was the place for humans and that humans always return back to nature no matter what, he said that civilization is ruining that relationship and drifting us apart. However, Rousseau and Gibran have always thought about saying that the only solution for beings is returning back to nature and thus being alive again. For them, nature is the place for rebirth, joy, and peace of mind. 

“Nature reaches out to us with welcoming arms, and bids us enjoy her beauty; but we dread her silence and rush into the crowded cities, there to huddle like sheep fleeing from a ferocious wolf.”

–Gibran Kahlil Gibran

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