Blake's influence on Gibran was permanent and enduring. He played a special role in Gibran's life for it was in his writings that the younger poet found the support and confirmation for his own early doctrines. Their reading of the Bible, their rebellion against church corruption, and their socio-political visions were very similar. To them, art and poetry were twins. Both were poets of the Bible and they had an analogous interpretation of Christianity. They also shared the basic prophetic vision and apocalyptic view of the universe. Throughout their works, the messianic mission of the poet and the function of art were clear. The poet is to guide his people back to Eden, and painting has to be a step from Nature toward the infinite. The Bible remained for Gibran as it was for Blake, a constant and true source of prophetic inspiration that presented a visionary narrative of the life of man between creation and apocalypse. The philosophy of both men derived its essence from the teachings of Jesus, and never did it divorce itself from its Christian foundations.
During a certain period of his career, Gibran fell under the spell of Nietzsche. This was the period of disillusionment and frustration which ended with 'The Prophet'. At that time Gibran was experiencing personal and social difficulties and his country [Syria] was yielding under the heavy yoke of the Ottoman Empire. There was a conflict between his imagination and his will, and between his ego and society, there was a fierce battle. The young poet wanted to leave his marks on the face of life and, as Mr. Naimy tells us, he was thirsty for recognition. His countrymen were oppressed and starved under the Ottoman occupation. Gibran, who first lamented their situation, changed his attitude and his sympathy was overcome by a strong feeling of resentment. Instead of idealizing their failure, which he portrayed in such moving poems like "Dead are my people," he turned to opposition and forceful criticism manifested in 'The Tempests'. That was a weak moment in Gibran's life and he needed to demonstrate his rebellion. He had already started to read Nietzsche, who offered him 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra' and 'The Will to Power'. Gibran accepted Nietzsche, but when that gloomy phase of his career ended, the influence of the German philosopher ended with it. Besides a temporary need for power, the author of 'Zarathustra' had nothing to offer Gibran. They disagreed on almost every major or minor concept. The author of 'The Prophet' went back to where he started from, with William Blake.
Gibran's criticism of society and the state, his rebellion against the authority of both the Price and the priest, could be traced back to Blake's writings. Also, his understanding of God and the Bible betrays a strong Blakean influence. Gibran did not rebel against the Church because of Nietzsche, nor does his concept of Christianity or of Jesus parallel that of 'The Antichrist'. His faith and love of Jesus, like those of Blake, were firm and everlasting.
Nietzsche blamed Christianity and the social institutions for the dehumanization of the individual and the occurrence of "slave morality." He preached strength, force, and self-assertion to the point of brutality; yet he reproached himself for having pity as second nature, a weakness which he thought was due to his reading of Schopenhauer. He accused Europe of two great vices: Alcohol and Christianity. He thought that the world belonged to the strong, and that it was only the supermen who were privileged to carry out their will. Nietzsche, as Professor Otto Heller writes, had no objective truths to teach, "indeed he acknowledges no truth other than subjective. Nor does he put any faith in bare logic, but on the contrary pronounces it one of mankind's greatest misfortunes."(1)
Nietzsche remains an imaginative dreamer, whose visions were heightened by an inner exuberance. The dynamic power of his philosophy was an intense temperamental enthusiasm "at one and the same time lyrically sensitive and dramatically impassioned."(2) His superman was ultimately the product of his exaggerated dream, the only creature of a utopian fancy. In the Darwinian theory of selection, Nietzsche found an inspiration for his superman, and as late as 1888 he declared that to no other writer of his own century did he feel himself so closely related by the ties of congeniality as to Ralph Waldo Emerson. If in Emerson's 'Self-Reliance' Nietzsche found some seeds for his ideally superior man, it should be clear that neither his faith in God nor his belief in Jesus were as genuine and enduring as they were for the American thinker. It is true that the Concord Sage goes to an extreme of individualism that might have created an affinity of temper between him and Nietzsche, but it is equally true that the latter chose from Emerson's philosophy as well as from that of 'The Prince' only what was suitable to enhance his ideological concepts. More so, "The most superficial acquaintance with these writers shows that Nietzsche is held responsible for certain revolutionary notions of which he by no means was the originator."(3)
In 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra', Nietzsche conceived of a being fitted to a future goal for humanity. If there had never been such a perfect genius in past, let man prepare himself for one and strive through new, but "hard," methods of education to receive the Superman. This new creature will be to man what man is to the ape: "Caesar with the soul of Christ." In 'Zarathustra', written in the middle of a period of profound despair and disillusionment, Nietzsche's heroworship reaches its highest ecstasy and finds its final satisfaction in a self-created hero."(4) The author projects his own pessimism and desperate hope for a dominating power that will abolish all submission and weakness from the body of society. His self-created prophet says:
Could you create a God? -Then be silent co cerning all gods! But you could very well create Beyond-man. Not yourselves perhaps, my brethren! But you could create yourselves into fathers and forefathers of Beyond-man; and let this be your best creating. But all creators are hard.
According to Nietzsche, the only law which should be acknowledged by any creator is the bidding of his own will. He would make his own will o law. The enforcement of this into law that would render the individual supreme and perfect would also deliver the final blow to all established forms and institutions of the social-body. Such institutions, Nietzsche believed, were only instruments for the enslavement of the will, and the most harmful among them was the Christian religion. In 'Zarathustra', he delivered the first shock against its eternal God by declaring him dead and proclaiming the Overman: "God is dead ... Behold, I teach you the overman."(5) And in 'The Antichrist', he condemns Christianity and wages an endless war against it:
I pronounce my judgment. I condemn Christianity. I raise against the Christian church the most terrible of all accusations that any accuser ever uttered. It is to me the highest of all conceivable corruptions. I call Christianity the one great curse...l call it the one immortal blemish of mankind.(6)
Nietzsche condemned the church as an institution. He also raged against its priests:
A parasitical type of man ... with severity and pedantry, the priest formulated once and for all, down to the large and small taxes he was to be paid, (not to forget the tastiest pieces of meat, for the priest is a steak eater) what he wants to have, what the will of God is.. .The priest devalues, desecrates nature: this is the price of his existence ...The priest lives on sins, it is essential for him that people sin.(7)
Against the Church's promise of redemption through pity, he also raged. According to him, pity is merely the coward's acknowledgment of his weakness. For only in so much as a man is devoid of fortitude in bearing his own sufferings is he unable to understand the sufferings of his fellow creatures. In 'The Antichrist' he wrote:
Where the will to power is lacking there is decline ... Christianity is called the religion of pity ... Pity is the practice of nihilism ... It multiplies misery and conserves all that is miserable ... pity persuades men to nothingness! Of course, one does not say nothingness, but beyond, or God, or true life, or Nirvana, salvation, blessedness.(8)
Nietzsche considered life meaningless, without moral law, devoid of values common to all men, and without the prospect of a hereafter. Mr. William Hubben, in his book Four 'Prophets of Our Destiny', argues that such views are not the conclusions of a disappointed idealist, but rather of a nihilist. He adds that Nietzsche's striking thoughts have "remained negative, vacuous, and without a concrete goal."(9)
Nietzsche's pessimistic image of man as a salve to himself and others implies an attack on man's moral principles. His new superman, a term derived from Goethe's 'Faust', would be a law unto himself. He is strong, independent a will impose his will upon the "much-too-many," those of whom Melville's Ahab in 'Moby Dick' had spoken over thirty years earlier (1851) as "a mob of unnecessary duplicates."(10) According to Nietzsche, these weak but tricky ones have subjugated the great and free men to their "slave morality" by adopting Jesus' teachings of humility, meekness, and suffering. Nietzsche argues that a Christian's thinking is perverted. Even when he humbles himself, he does so only to be exalted. Man as a Christian allows himself to judge others, disregarding the fact that Jesus was not a judge himself. Nietzsche respected the personality of Jesus. He regarded Him as a rebel who wanted to destroy the morality existing in his age. Christ attacked the Jewish hierarchy, and Nietzsche called him an "anarchist" who died for this sin. In 'The Antichrist', he argues that Christ did not die on the cross to redeem man, or for the guilt of others:
This brought him to the cross: the proof for this is the inscription on the cross. He died for his guilt. All evidence is lacking, however often it has been claimed, that he died for the guilt of others.(11)
Christianity, Nietzsche goes on, does not have any contact with reality at any point. It is a "holy lie," he says, and its Christ died as a "political criminal not as a redeemer. His life, as well as his death, was the practice of weakness, submission and suffering. He did not have the will or the power to save himself, let alone to save the world or to redeem man:
This "bringer of glad tidings" died as he had lived, as he had taught - not to redeem men - but to show how one must live ... his behavior before the judges, before the catch-poles, before the accusers of all kinds of slander and scorn - his behavior on the cross. He does not resist, he does not defend his right, he takes no step which might ward off the worst; on the contrary, he provokes it. And he begs, he suffers, he loves with those, in those, who do him evil, Not to resist, not to be angry...(12)
This distorted concept of Jesus is the exact opposite of what we shall read in Blake and Gibran. Moreover, Nietzsche calls Jesus ironically "the bringer of glad tidings," only to dismiss them as the "miscarriage of falsehood." All the hopeful teachings and promises of Jesus, Nietzsche classifies as systematized lies.
The concepts "beyond," "Last Judgment," "immortality of the soul," and "soul" itself are instruments of torture, systems of cruelties.(13)
According to the author of 'The Antichrist', Jesus could not have intend anything with his death except to give publicly the strongest exhibition, "the proof of his doctrine," a doctrine that teaches only death and submission.
Nietzsche admired the 'Old Testament'. It was one of his great loves:
The dignity of death and a kind of consecration of passion have perhaps never yet been represented more beautifully ... than by certain Jews of the Old Testament: to these even the Greek could have gone to school.(14)
The 'New Testament', far from representing any progress over the Old, confronts us with "the people at the bottom, the outcasts and sinners, the chandalas within Judaism."
Nietzsche looked at the New Gospel as devoid of all imagination and vision. It is full of "much uncleanliness," he wrote.(15) There was nothing in it that appealed to him as "free, gracious, candid, honest." Everything in the 'New Testament' is cowardice and self-deception. The only noble character whom he met in the Holy Book was Pilate, the Roman governor.
Nietzsche believed that Christ's morality was fit to be lived only by Christ himself. Jesus remains the only Christian who ever lived, but he was crucified by man. The Christians are making of their professed faith a weird comedy. Christian morality is the off-spring of revenge and admits its own inability to differentiate between good and bad. It teaches that God alone has this knowledge. Nietzsche faces the Christians with what he calls the greatest event of our time. He says that God has died, and the teachings of Jesus have no meaning whatsoever for our age. There is no more God, nor gods, his 'Zarathustra' preaches. "If there were any gods, how could I bear not to be one! Therefore, there are no gods."
In spite of the tragic seriousness of his life, and his later influence upon our age, "there has always been something Quixotic about Nietzsche's claim that he was a reformer or revolutionist."(16) He lived most of his life in a void, and his desire to remain a solitary figure was part of his self-chosen destiny. He could promise nothing but a mysterious nobility to man when he succeeded in becoming what Nietzsche wanted him to become: a Superman.
Nietzsche regarded himself as an "atheist by instinct." Towards the end his life the torments of his illness affected his mental health, and there are no more restraints in his thinking. He attacked everything and everybody, exalting himself to the rank of a deity and a world ruler. In his book 'Ecce Homo', he named himself Fate: "Why I Am Fate." He also spoke of himself as the "Successor to the dead God," "Nietzsche-Caesar," "The Crucified One," and "Dionysus." Humanity has yet been spared the Universal madness which he predicted for the moment when man would awaken to the fact that God had died; but the inevitable doom of this nihilistic vision seemed to have been the tragic fate of its author himself.
There is no doubt that Nietzsche's knowledge of the Bible was profound. But his inaccurate and unconvincing interpretation of the 'New Testament' and of the character of Jesus, remain solely his responsibility. In his introduction to 'The Antichrist', Mr. Walter Kaufman writes:
Philosophically, his uncritical use of terms like life, nature, and decadence greatly weakens his case. Historically, he is often ignorant ... and his conception of Jesus - to mention a more important matter - is quite unconvincing ... That the book is meant to be shockingly blasphemous scarcely needs saying.(17)
Although Blake preceded Nietzsche by almost a century, nevertheless he anticipated the revolt of the German philosopher without denouncing his faith in Jesus. Historically speaking, Blake's account of the Bible remains the more accurate. To say that Blake could be approached by way of Nietzsche might present a shock to the students of Blake's thought. But the truth is it that such an approach is very possible and rewarding. Before Nietzsche, Blake had already revolted against all socio-political and religious institutions: Society, State, King, Priest, and Church. Blake also condemned Christianity and the Christian God as preached by the priest, only to prepare a way to the total union with Jesus. But unlike the German philosopher, the English poet retained his faith in the Redeemer, and was never an unbeliever. In his book 'The New Apocalypse', Professor Altizer writes:
I must also confess that I have largely approached Blake by way of Nietzsche, not that Nietzsche has been directly employed in this study, but I know that it was through Nietzsche that I became open to Blake.
Instead of rejecting God, Blake tried to understand him. He considered God to be the essence of all reality. Man is formed out of God's own body and spirit, and man's nature, like God's nature, is primarily imaginative. Moreover, Blake conceived of God as a person with the personality of all persons. In 'Jerusalem' Blake hears Jesus saying:
I am not a God afar off, am a brother and friend;
Within your bosom I reside, and you're side in me;
Lo! we are one, forgiving all Evil,
Not seeking recompense.
Ye are my members.
It is evident that Blake saw an essential unity between man and God. But man's knowledge of his creator is limited by his individual capacities. Blake wrote:
God Appears and God is light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night,
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day.(18)
Blake tells us that a knowledge of God must be reached through a knowledge of man, or more accurately through the understanding of Jesus as he really was, and not as he is misrepresented by the various religious sects. God is Imagination, is infinite, and His Divine Will acts for man's good. He loves man, and if man will not come to Him, God will come to man. "God becomes as we are, that we may be as he is."(19) Blake rejected pity in all its forms as false brotherhood. In his 'Songs of Experience' he wrote:
Pity would be no more
If we did not make somebody Poor,
And Mercy no more could be
If all were as happy as we.
He also rejected submission, weakness, slavery, war, crime, sacrifice, chastity or asceticism, and atheism. Blake considered all these evils to be the result of moral codes.(20) In 'Jerusalem', Blake wrote:
When Satan first the black bow bent,
And the Moral Law from the Gospel rent,
He forg'd the Law into a Sword
And spill'd the blood of mercy's Lord.
Blake considered moral law a negation of the doctrine of forgiveness of sins which he regarded as one of the basic elements in Jesus' teachings. Moral codes, he said, not only enslave man, but also cause wars, crimes, preach penitence, demand asceticism, and above all destroy belief in God. That explains why Blake spoke against conventional moral values, against existing religions, and against the rulers of the world. In brief, "Blake maintains that good comes not through revolution but through revelation."(21)
Blake anticipated Nietzsche's revolt against Christianity. He not only expected such fierce attacks on the Church, but also explained their origins. Blake said that by adopting a false moral code of good and evil, the Church has not only alienated itself from the true God, but also aligned itself with the devil. Organized religion has departed from the teachings of Jesus and pushed those with weak faith towards atheism. The result is a denial of true religion. In 'The Everlasting Gospel' he wrote:
If Moral Virtue was Christianity,
Christ's Pretensions were all Vanity,
The Moral Christian is the Cause
Of the Unbeliever and his laws.
For what is Antichrist but those
Who against Sinners Heaven close.
For Blake, the essence of Christianity was forgiveness of sins as he put it in his preface "To the Public" at the beginning of 'Jerusalem': "The Spirit of Jesus is continual Forgiveness of Sin." He rejected the doctrine of eternal damnation; that the sinful would languish hereafter in a Hell whereby the spirit would be d salvation. Due to the corruption of the Church that distorts the Bible and misinterprets the message of Jesus, Blake attempted to explain the Holy Book in his own way. He, as professor Gaunt says, "offered an alternative version of his faith."(22) In 'Jerusalem' Blake wrote:
I know of no other Christianity and of no other Gospel than the liberty both of body and mind to exercise the Divine Arts of Imagination.
According to him, the Bible was not a collection of precepts concerning the moral virtues but a stupendous series of Imagination and Visions. Heaven and Hell were not places, but an allegory of the forces contending in the human mind, where alone they existed. In the end, after Blake had re-evaluated Christianity and reinterpreted its teachings, he arrived at a religion of his own.
Blake not only celebrated the death of the God of wrath, but he even "went beyond Nietzsche in the violence and comprehensiveness of his at tack upon the Christian God." (23) Unlike the German philosopher who presented us with a horrifying vision of the late hour of mankind when everything that was built upon the faith in a dead God is about to collapse and an appalling sequence of terrors will logically ensue, Blake, arrived safely at a totally Christocentric vision of faith. In his book 'The New Apocalypse' Professor Altizer argues that Blake was not only the most original, but also the most daring and radical of all Christian visionaries. It was not for nothing that after his death one of his friends destroyed many of his manuscripts, for they contained a very severe criticism of the Church.
From the beginning Blake rebelled against the Christian God, ironically disguising his attack by presenting him under the guise of a number of powerful symbols, the most successful of which were the Tiger, Urizen, and Nobodaddy. The idea that when the Western world accepted Christianity, Caesar conquered, was not foreign to Blake. Before Nietzsche, Blake thought that the Church bestowed upon God the same tyrannical attributes which belonged exclusively to Caesar. This theme received its most pro found prophetic expression in Blake, who "along with Nietzsche, became one of the two most passionate enemies of the Christian Church."(24) It remains evident that Blake's prophetic attack not only fully anticipated Nietzsche, but was also the more accurate. While the author of 'The Antichrist' was criticizing to destroy, the author of the Everlasting Gospel was destroying to rebuild. He warned the Church that it will remain enslaved to Satan so long as it remains in bondage to the Christian God.
The New Testament, Blake argued, abolished the authority of the priest and proclaimed a new Covenant of final salvation and total union between man and God. In opposition to this, Christianity exalted the authority of law and cult and transformed Jesus himself into a monarchic Lord. The Christian God became a tyrant of absolute authority demanding humility and sacrifices. Consequently, the Christ of the Church was neither the redeemer nor the breaker of the old law. He, ironically, became the preserver of that tradition of guilt, tyranny and jealousy.
Blake paid more attention to his own doctrine of Divine-humanity than to the concept of the Trinity which the church considers a very basic element of faith. Professor Davies, in his book 'The Theology of William Blake', writes:
It is only incidentally that we find any reference to the relationship of the three Persons; and the lack of available material suggests that the belief had no prominent place in Blake's system.
Blake associated the Church with hypocrisy and superstition. He did not have time to pray. His prayers were his deeds. In 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell' he wrote: "Prayers plow no..." If one wants to reap, let him sow the field of his life with good actions, not with mere words. There is no evidence that Blake ever went to Church more than three times. "I admit," one of his contemporary acquaintances wrote in 1828, "he did not forty the last forty years attend any place of Divine Worship."(25) Among other reasons for Blake's failure to be a practising churchman is that he was fiercely antagonistic to the Church. "The modern church," he wrote in his 'Vision of The Last Judgement', "crucifies Christ with the head downwards." The Church's neglect of social problems disgusts Blake, who notices in "London": ... How the chimney-sweeper's cry / Every black'ning church appalls. The Church's lack of sympathy for the physical needs of mankind receives satiric condemnation in his "Little Vagabond," "The Garden of Love," 'Holy Thursday," and "A Little Boy Lost," all in 'Songs of Experience'. In 'The Chimney Sweeper," Blake, with a painful ironic gesture, shows the tyrannical and hypocritical demand of the Church:
A little black thing among the snow, Crying "weep, weep" in notes of woe "Where are thy father and mother?," say "They are both gone up to the church to pray." And because I am happy and dance and sing, They think they have done me no injury, And are gone to praise God and his priest and king Who make up a heaven of our misery.
Blake's antagonism to the church is further inflamed by the policy of the bishops, who without any guilt played a prominent part in Parliamentary elections, using their influence to obtain support for their party. The priests cursed the earth instead of blessing it, and usurped the labour of the farmer. They are nothing but inquisitors, Blake said. They are the agents of repression, and the cursers of innocent joy: "As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys," Blake wrote in the 'Marriage of Heaven and Hell'. He could not perceive the relation between church going and good deeds. In fact, worshippers seemed worse than other men, and Blake did not tolerate the religious energy which devotes itself to praying and neglects human needs. "The worship of God is" as he says in 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell', "Honouring his gifts in other men, each according to his genius, and loving the greatest men best." Nevertheless, despite his enmity with the Church of his day, Blake distinguishes between the Christianity of the Church and the true Gospel of Jesus. He was not among those illogical persons who immediately condemns a doctrine because he who teaches it does not practice what he preaches.
Blake was careful to stress the point that to be outside the Church does not by any means involve being outside the sphere of redemption. In 'Last Judgement' he wrote:
He who is out of the church and opposes it is no
less an agent of religion than he who is in it.
Blake's religious faith was never weak. He never felt the danger of los ing it, because he and God always communicated.
Blake was "the first Christian atheist, and his atheism was born out of a hatred of repression and a joyous response to a new and universal epiphany of Jesus."(26) He lived beyond his time and anticipated the Western historical consciousness that was later to be proclaimed in Nietzsche's doctrine of Eternal Recurrence. Blake also anticipated Freud, and, before Hegel and Marx, he discovered the alienation of man from Nature.(27)
Blake worshipped only Jesus. His revolutionary vision of Jesus arose out of a rebellion against the Christian Christ. If man was always seeking God, he thought, then God was also seeking man. Jesus himself became a man, and his death on the cross remains the strongest testimony of his love for humanity. In Jerusalem Jesus tells Albion:
Fear not Albion: unless I die thou canst not live; but if I die I shall arise again and and thou with me...
And in Milton, Blake writes: "Christ took on Sin in the Virgin's Womb and put if off on the Cross."
As early as the 'Songs of Innocence', Jesus appears in Blake's works under the figures of the Lamb and the Shepherd. Blake's poem "The Divine Image" depicts Jesus' universal human virtues of mercy, pity, and love. Perhaps "On Another's Sorrow," a poem contained in the same collection, presents the most passionate picture of the Lamb of God. Blake writes:
Can I see another's woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another's grief,
And not seek for kind relief?
Can a father see his child
Weep, nor be with sorrow fill'd?
Think not thou canst sigh a sigh
An thy maker is not by;
Think not thou canst weep a tear
And thy maker is not near.
Blake believed that Jesus was a transgressor from the womb. He offended the Law both in his begetting and in His death. He was born a revolutionary in the spiritual world, and broke, at least by implication, everyone of Ten Commandments.(28) But whatever the mistakes of Jesus the Man, spiritually they were right, because, Blake concluded: "Jesus was all virtue d acted from impulse, not from rules."(29)
Gibran started his career as a rebel. Since his early years, especially during his stay in Paris, he had a storming passion to reform the world. As early as 'Spirits Rebellious', he argued that the institutionalized laws of the church, as well as man-made laws, are decayed, for none of them could help man develop his spiritual life. "What is Law?" Gibran asks:
Who saw it coming with the sun from the depths of heaven? What human saw the heart of God and found its will or purpose? In what century did the angels walk among the people and preach to them, saying "Forbid the weak from enjoying life, and kill the outlaws with the sharp edge of the sword, and step upon the sinners with iron feet?(30)
And about the priests and Church corruption he wrote:
The apostles of Christ were stoned to death in order to revive in you the Holy Spirit, but the monks and the priests are killing that spirit in you so they may live on your pitiful bounty ...Your souls are in the grip of the priests, and your bodies are in the closing jaws of the rulers. ...My fellow men, do you know the priest you fear? He is a traitor who uses the Gospel as a threat to ransom your money ... a hypocrite ... a wolf ... a glutton ... a queer ... Slap his face and spit on him and step on his neck; then invite him to sitatyour board. He will immediately forget and untie his belt and gladly fill his stomach with your food.(31)
Already before reading Nietzsche, Gibran was voicing these condemnations. It is the rebellion of his mentor Blake whose influence was apparent in Gibran's earliest essay "A Vision." In this piece included in 'A Tear and A Smile', the young poet attacks the Prince and the priest as the embodiment of every evil and as agents of all oppression. He calls them sly foxes and false messiahs. He also wages a war against lawmakers, physicians, and the nobility.
Nietzsche's influence did not appear in Gibran's writings until 'The Tempests'. In my opinion, those who claim that 'The Madman' was inspired by 'Zarathustra' are wrong. If Gibran's style and his use of parables are reminiscent of Nietzsche's masterpiece, the contents and the message of the book remain very different. While Zarathustra declared the death of God, 'The Madman' asserted a strong and lasting relation between man and God, the Creator. As for 'The Prophet', again I say that although the book reveals a similarity to the German philosopher's style which no doubt fascinated Gibran, nevertheless, "Gibran is not the least under his spell."(32) The teachings of Almustafa are decisively different from Zarathustra's philosophy and they betray a striking imitation of Jesus, the way Gibran pictured Him. Moreover, Nietzsche himself was no doubt inspired by the figure of Jesus, in his speeches, and in his parables. Zarathustra, like Christ, began his prophetic mission at the age of thirty.(33) Gibran conceived of his Prophet as a poet modeled after Jesus. Like Blake, he viewed him as "an angel" and called him "Holy." On the other hand, Nietzsche calls the poet a liar. He does not believe that poets derive their inspiration from the gods. He rather ridicules the gods. "All gods are ... poets' prevarications," his Zarathustra claims. Unlike Nietzsche, but like Blake, Gibran remained all his life a deeply religious person, practising religion in his own way.
Although he considered himself a social and religious reformer, Gibran refused to be called a politician. In 1903, both the government officials and the Maronite Church in Lebanon issued a joint order proclaiming his exile and excommunication.(34) Gibran suffered from being rejected by his countrymen, but he did not yield, nor did he soften his criticism. He retaliated in an article which later appeared in 'Thoughts and Meditations':
..Such is what people say of me and they are right, for I am indeed a fanatic and I am inclined toward destruction as well as construction. There is hatred in my heart for that which my detractors sanctify, and love for that which they reject. And if I could uproot certain customs, be liefs, and traditions of the people, I would do so without hesitation...
The God-man and the Antichrist between Blake and Gibran
LikeBlake, Gibran's harsh criticism of human codes explains why all of his heroes were rebels and outlaws trying to preserve their own identity in a world governed by stereotyped man-made laws. But none of them was an anarchist or an antichrist. Gibran did not believe that one person is more valuable than the other, nor did he respect the authority of any law that deprives a man of his life. In 'Kahlil The Heretic', when the widow Rachel and her daughter Miriam rescue in the mid of a stormy night a man in the snow, Miriam begins fearing that he might be a criminal. But the mother replies: "It makes no difference whether he is a monk or criminal: dry his feet well, my daughter." Whoever journeys on the road of love, mercy, and truth, Gibran said, fulfills the eternal law of God. He believed that dying for freedom is better than living in weak submission, and that kindness should be the source of every law upon the earth, because it is the shadow of God in man. The voice of the people is the voice of God, and the ruler who abuses the authority given to him by his people should be dethroned. In 'The Wanderer', the King of Sadik banishes the Countess from his city because she abused her subjects. He also banishes the bishop from his kingdom because he was exploiting the efforts of the peasants to build a cathedral, a symbol of religious hypocrisy, instead of allowing them to cultivate their fields. The just king addresses the bishop angrily saying:
That cross you wear upon your bosom should mean giving life. But you have taken life from life and you have given none. Therefore you shall leave this kingdom never to return.(35)
Like Blake, Gibran revolted when Truth, Liberty, and the Will of God were in danger of being misused. Against simony he waged an endless war, and directed the fierce arrows of his attack against the Maronite Church of Lebanon for permitting such unholy and devilish action to be performed in name of the Holy Book. His Orc-like hero in 'Spirits Rebellious' condemned the clergy of Northern Lebanon for practising the sin of simony. Twice he related that the priests used to trade their prayers for gold and that they would punish those who refuse to buy their blessings even with the eat of their foreheads. Khalil says, expressing Gibran's anger:
... What teachings allow the clergymen to sell their prayers for pieces of gold and silver? the pastor sells his prayers, and he who does not buy is an infidel, excommunicated from Paradise.
In 'John The Madman' Gibran says that the priests oppressed the poor villagers and forced them to remain ignorant by forbidding them from reading the Bible. He goes so far as to portray his hero John as being persecuted by the monks for reading the Gospel, "the forbidden book":
The priests objected to the reading of the Good Book, and ... warned the simple hearted people against its use, and threatened them with ex-communication from the church if discovered possessing it.
Gibran argues that this is the law of Jehovah, not of Jesus. The Church is nothing but a corrupted institution hungry for power and prestige. Its members are politicians investing their authority for material and earthly gains. The priests not only ignore but misinterpret willingly the teachings of Jesus to strengthen their positions and add to the ignorance of the people. This is also manifested in Gibran's parable "The Blessed City," included in his book 'The Madman'.(36) Gibran says that all men are brothers before the face of God. Like Blake, he realizes that to be critical of the Church's policy has nothing to do with one's faith in Jesus. He was deeply religious and he believed that all religions are one, which is basically the faith of his mentor Blake. In The Broken Wings, he argued that "men were born religious" but the truly religious man does not embrace one religion. This he again ex pressed in Spiritual Sayings where he writes;
In my thoughts there is only one universal religion whose varied paths are but the fingers of the loving hand of the Supreme Being.
God indwells in everything, he believed, an argument which could also be traced in Blake's 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell', where he writes: "Everything that lives is Holy." Here, it is important to insist once more that the vision Gibran holds of the world, man, and God very much resembles Blake's apocalyptic vision.(37) Unlike Nietzsche who resented the New Testament and rejected the idea of the immortality of the soul, Gibran was constantly fascinated by Jesus' Gospel, and strongly believed that the soul never dies: "... the "I" in me will not perish, it will not be drowned in the great sea that is called God,"(38) he said. Again he wrote:
I'm probably one of the surest of people, and stubborn when I'm sure. If all the other inhabit ants of the earth, for instance, believed that the individual soul perishes with death it would move me not an atom to agree with them, because I know my soul won't perish.(39)
This is in complete disagreement with Nietzsche, whose Zarathustra preaches:
By my honor, friend, - answered Zarathustra - all that of which you speak does not exist: there is no devil and no hell. Your soul will be dead even before your body: fear nothing further.(40)
And in his book 'Jesus The Son of Man', Gibran was attempting to rewrite the New Testament. One of the motives for which Jesus descended upon the earth, he believed, was to change the image of His Father as depicted in the Old Testament. The God of Moses was a God of revenge, jealousy and punishment; while the God of Jesus is too vast to be unlike the soul of any man. He is too knowing to punish, and too loving to judge.(41) He is the God of Kindness, Love and Forgiveness, three major qualities which Blake also stresses in his concept of Jesus.
Organized religion had no attraction for Gibran. He deliberately paid no attention to the rituals and observances of the Church. When he was asked to explain why, he said: "We have eternity ... The Church is within you. You yourself are your priest ... God will not suffer Himself to be hidden from man, nor His word to lie covered in the abyss of the heart of man."(42)
There is no evidence that Gibran went to pray in a church in Boston or in New York City, where he lived most of his life. Although in Boston Our Lady of the Cedars was a block away from his house, he "never attended its incense services."(43) Before his death, he neither confessed nor accepted communion. He "cared little for all rituals."(44)
Gibran was introduced to Nietzsche's works during his stay in Paris. He admired in him his will to power and his soaring ambition, but he also realized that his own philosophy differed in many respects from that of the German philosopher. Their understanding of the New Testament, the immortality of the soul, and Jesus was decisively different. When Gibran returned to New York he read 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra' once again, this time in the company of Mary Haskell. Mary asked him to draw an imaginary picture of "Nietzsche's prophet." When Gibran drew his "best picture so far," Mary first named it "The Beholder," but a day later she wrote: "Here is Zarathustra - here is the hand hungry and wearying to give."(45) Gibran still read Nietzsche but "with reservations."(46) When he was finishing 'The Prophet', he made a deliberate evaluation of his masterpiece:
I may have said this or that very badly but I feel that the amount in this opening ought to be kept... .The beginning, middle, and the end has each its proper weight, and if we misjudge any one of them, a certain harmony is lost.
As for 'Zarathustra', Gibran thought that Nietzsche was wordy and extravagant and in its totality the book lacked a certain harmony:
The mistake of making too short a beginning has been often made. Take Zarathustra, for instance - probably I sound almost sacrilegious, for Zarathustra has much beautiful poetry, and I love it and love the book - But Zarathustra co mes down from the mountain. He talks two or three minutes to an old hermit on the way - that is all - Then he finds the townspeople waiting to see a tightrope dancer, and to this crowd in their present mood he begins to talk - like a god or a superman. Of course they couldn't hear his real meaning. And there's a certain twist in his doing it that way. There was a twist in Nietzsche - a lack of balance in him as an artist. He had an analytical mind. ...And the analytical mind always says too much.(47)
Gibran expresses his admiration for Nietzsche, only to attack him again and oppose his philosophy. On May 1, 1911, he wrote to Mary:
I am glad that you are reading Zarathustra. I want so much to read it with you in English. Nietzsche to me is a sober Dionysus - a superman who lives in forests and fields - a mighty being who loves music and dancing and all joy.
But Nietzsche's argument that there is no life after death, and that the soul perishes before the body, angered Gibran. In answer to that he wrote:
I know....that they (the dead) live. They live a life more real, more beautiful than ours. They are nearer to God than we are.(48)
Gibran understood that Nietzsche hated Christianity because it stood for softness, but he thought that his understanding of God and of Jesus was all wrong. On June 8, 1912, Gibran wrote:
Perhaps the greatest period in my life in recent years was when I got a new conception of Nietzsche.(49)
He was really struggling to accept the author of 'Zarathustra', but it always seemed that every time Gibran convinced himself of the philosopher's genius and the greatness of his thought, there appeared in his mind the image of the Antichrist. Blake, "the God-man," and Gibran's devotion to Jesus left no place for the man who said of himself: "I am an atheist by instinct." On June 10, 1912, Gibran negated what he had said two days before about Nietzsche:
His form always was soothing to me. But I thought his philosophy was terrible and all wrong. I was a worshiper of beauty (God) - and beauty was to me the loveliness of things - the harmony and music and lyric qualities of them...(50)
Gibran called Nietzsche "the loneliest man of the nineteenth century," and "probably the greatest." But when he read in 'Zarathustra': "Behold, I teach you the Superman," he quickly responded: "The concept of Superman was not new with him, but the degree of realization of Superman was ... Christ was Superman."(51) There is definitely a world beyond, he would say, perhaps Nietzsche could not perceive of it. I want to make men realize the infinite.(52)
Concerning Nietzsche's doctrine of Eternal Recurrence and its impact on Gibran, I stated in the first chapter that it did not influence him at all, contrary to what Mr. Matti Moosa argued in his introduction to 'Gibran in Paris'.(53) Here again, we have the testimony of Mary Haskell, who, after discussing the whole issue with Gibran, wrote down a summary of his explanation:
Nietzsche's belief in eternal return rests on the assumption that there can't be unlimited changes though there may be for untold billions of years - that after limit is at last reached there is nothing to do but to repeat. Kahlil does not assume this impossibility of the unlimited - nor the eternal return.(54)
I previously said that Gibran admired in Nietzsche his great determination in life, and his absolute will to power. Now, I would like to trace some precise quotations in his work and compare with the 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra', which Gibran loved the most out of all Nietzsche's other books. In the opening "Prologue," when Zarathustra is about to leave his home and the "lake of his home," he looked at the sun and said:
Behold, I am weary of my wisdom, like a bee that has gathered too much honey; I need hands outstretched to receive it.(55)
Gibran, expressing the same desire which he picked up from Nietzsche, wrote an article entitled "My Soul is weighted with its fruit." It opens thus:
My soul is weighted with its fruit; are there none so hungry as to pluck, and eat, and be filled?(56)
Again when Zarathustra says:
You have made your way from the worm to man, and much within you is still worm. Once were you apes, and even yet man is more of an ape than any of the apes.
Gibran echoes him in his article "Sons of Gods and Nephews of Apes." He writes:
What see you, sons of apes? Have you taken one step forward ever since you issued from the crevices of the earth? Seventy thousand years ago I passed you by and found you writhing like worms in the dark corners of your caverns. And seven moments ago I looked out of my window and saw you crawling in your filthy alleys with chains ... round your feet...(57)
Mr. Naimy, who was the first critic to draw attention to such similarities, adds one more point that I find suitable to quote here. Zarathustra says:
Mine own forerunner am I among this people; mine own cockcrow in dark lanes.
Gibran echoes him in the opening sentence of his book 'The Forerunner', when he starts:
You are your own forerunner, and the towers you have builded are but the foundation of your giant-self. And that self too shall be a foundation.(58)
Mr. Naimy argues that under Nietzsche's influence, Gibran almost divorced his Oriental emotionalism, and that his greatest pleasure was not any longer to praise and sympathize men, but rather "was to mock men."(59) This new era in Gibran's life, as Naimy classifies it, was opened up with a strong article entitled "The Grave-Digger". To this, I would like to add other articles which I think belong to that same "era": "Decayed Teeth", "Narcotics and Dissecting Knives", "The Giants", all included in 'Thoughts and Meditations', and "The Tempest" and "The Ambitious Violet" included in 'Secrets the Heart'.
Naimy also states that under Nietzsche's spell, Gibran passed through a period of disillusionment. I agree with him that Nietzsche's will and his faith were not suited for Gibran, whose line of thought was completely opposite to that of the German philosopher. Naimy describes the negative result of Gibran's first encounter with the author of 'Zarathustra'. He writes:
Nietzsche's first impact on Gibran was so strong that it carried him off his feet and almost uprooted him from his Oriental soil, leaving him much embittered against the world.(60)
Finally, Naimy rightly observes that although the form and style of 'The Prophet' carry certain resemblances to 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra', nevertheless, "the two books are far apart in substance."(61)
Commenting on Naimy's above-mentioned argument, Professor Hawi only rejects it but also refuses to accept that Gibran was indebted to Nietzsche in the way that Naimy claims. Hawi writes:
As for the few images which Mr. Naimy believes Gibran borrowed from Nietzsche, they do not constitute a real or great debt by themselves. In deed, he may merely have been fascinated, as a poet with the images for their own sake.(62)
Hawi argues that it would be better to speak of Gibran's relation to Nietzsche as an "affinity," rather than to say that the latter's influence "carried him (Gibran) off his feet" as Naimy claims, or "Leaving him much embittered against the world." Hawi also observes that there is no relation at all between Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence and Gibran's Reincarnation. He reduces the argument into two words: "God or no God" and concludes"
In the case of Gibran and Nietzsche, these divergences were wide indeed ... Nietzsche's world ... is godless, and Gibran's ... is God-filled ... which gives all men the hope of in finite perfection and ultimate redemption.(63)
1. Otto Heller, Prophets of Dissent: Essays on Maeterlinck, Strindberg, Nietzsche and Tolstoy (New York: Knopf, 1918), p. 115.
2. Ibid., p. 117.
3. Ibid., p. 117.
4. Gerald Abraham, Nietzsche (NY: The MacMillan Company, 1933), p. 107.
5. Walter Kaufmann, trans., The Portable Nietzsche (New York: Penguin Books, 1977), pp. 124-125.
8. Ibid., pp. 655-656.
7. Ibid., pp. 597-598.
8. Ibid., pp. 572-573.
9. William Hubben, Dostoevsky, Kierkegard, Nietzsche, and Kafka Four Prophets of Our Destiny (New York: Collier Books, 1968), p. 121.
10. Ibid., p. 105.
11. Kaufmann, p. 599.
12. Ibid., pp. 608-609.
13. Ibid., p. 612.
14. Ibid., p. 566.
15. Ibid., p. 625.
10. Hubben, p. 101.
17. Kaufmann, pp. 567-568.
18. Geoffrey Keynes, ed., The Complete Writings of William Blake (London: Oxford University Press, 1966), p. 434.
19. Ibid., p. 98.
20. Norman Nathan, Prince William B. The Philosophical Conceptions of William Blake (Paris: Mouton, The Hague, 1975), pp. 95, 102.
21. Ibid., p. 108.
22. William Gaunt, Arrows of Desire, A Study of William Blake and his Romantic World (London: Museum Press Limited, 1956), p. 55.
23. Thomas J.J. Altizer, The New Apocalypse: The Radical Christian Vision of William Blake (Michigan: Michigan State University Press, 1967), p. XI
24. Ibid., p. 37.
25. J.G. Davies, The Theology of William Blake (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1948), p. 8.
26. Altizer, p. 133.
27. Ibid., p. 123.
28. Geoffrey Keynes, ed., The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (London: Oxford, 1975), P. XXVII.
29. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, p. XXVII.
30. Martin L. Wolf, ed., Translated by AR. Ferris, Sprits Rebellious (New York: The Wisdom Library, 1947), pp. 36-37.
31. Ibid., pp. 98-99.
32. Joseph P. Ghougassian, Kahlil Gibran: Wings of Thought (New York: Philosophical Library, 1973), P. 43.
33. Ibid., P. 44.
34. Ibid., P. 112.
35. Kabul Gibran, The Wanderer, His Parables and His Sayings (New York: Knopf, 1972), P. 25.
36. Kahlil Gibran, The Madman, His Parables and Poems (New York: Knopf, 1971), pp. 42-44.
37. See Ghougassian, p. 206.
38. Barbara Young, This Man From Lebanon (NY: Knopf, 1945), p. 147.
39. Virginia Hilu, ed., Beloved Prophet: The Love Letters of Kahlil Gibran and Mary Haskell (New York: Knopf, 1972), P. 343.
40. The Portable Nietzsche, p. 132.
41. See Ghougassian, p. 214.
42. This Man From Lebanon, pp. 38, 123.
43. Kahlil Gibran: His Life and World, p. 386.
44. Naimy, P. 236.
45. Jean and Kahlil Gibran, Kahlil Gibran: His Life and World (Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1974), p. 218.
46. Ibid., p. 262.
47. Ibid., p. 352.
48. Beloved Prophet, p. 16.
49. Ibid., p. 82.
50. Ibid., P. 83.
51. Ibid., p. 93.
52. Ibid., p. 193.
53. Matti Moosa, trans., Gibran in Paris by Yusuf Huwayyik (New York: Poputar Library, 1976), PP. 40-42.
54. Beloved Prophet, p. 197.
55. The Portable Nietzsche, P. 122.
56. See Mikhail Naimy, Kahlil Gibran: His Lifeand His Work (Beirut: Khayats, 1965), p. 120.
57. These two points have been noted before by Mr. Naimy. See Kahlil Gibran: His Life and His Work, pp. 121, 124.
58. Kahlil Gibran, The Forerunner, His Parables and Poems , p. 7.
59. Naimy, p. 127.
60. Ibid., p. 142.
61. Ibid., p. 189.
62. Khalil S. Hawi, Kahlil Gibran: His Background, Character and Works (Beirut: American University of Beirut, 1963), p. 210.
63. Ibid., p. 210.