Every man, and above all a poet, draws nourishment from the soil of his birthplace. This was especially true of Gibran Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese-American philosopher, artist and poet whose life and works were honored this spring at an international festival in Beirut.
Although Gibran, author of The Prophet, spent most of his life in America he constantly felt an irresistible pull from his native land. "Every time I close my eyes," Gibran wrote, "I see those valleys full of magic and dignity and those mountains covered with glory and greatness trying to reach the sky." He went back several times during his short life and when he died in 1931, at the age of 48, his body was brought to Mar Sarkees, an old monastery hewn from a cliff below Bisharri. That was the mountain village in which he was born and which he once described as "sitting like a bird on the side of the valley."
Lebanon returned his affection, but it was not until last May that his Lebanese admirers, in conjunction with others from abroad, made that affection official by sponsoring and attending a week-long international festival on the theme, "A Poet and His Country."
The proposal to hold such a festival came out of a meeting at which professors from the departments of English and Arabic at the American University of Beirut were comparing English and Arabic literature through the works of such bilingual writers as Gibran and two other Lebanese authors,' Mikhail Naimy and Ameen Rihani. During the meeting someone mentioned that although The Prophet has been translated into more than 20 languages (and still sells a quarter of a million copies a year in the United States alone) Gibran's own country had never adequately recognized him. Later, when a New York Times announcement of the proposed tribute brought an encouraging response from Gibran's international public, the professors raised their sights. They formed a national committee of cultural, political and industrial figures as well as representatives from other Lebanese universities. Naimy, friend and biographer of Gibran. accepted an invitation to be the festival's guest of honor. President Charles Helou offered his patronage and the government offered help ranging from the issue of a special commemorative stamp to road repairs in Gibran's home village.
From abroad came delegations of Lebanese emigrant communities in the United States and Mexico, and distinguished men of letters, including poets and critics from Egypt, Great Britain, Nigeria, the Soviet Union and the United States. A posthumous award honoring Gibran was presented by the United Poets Laureate International and the World Congress of Poets. The festival week's activities included lectures (principally in English but also in Arabic and French), seminars, panel discussions, poetry readings, radio and television programs, a film, art and photography exhibitions, concerts and tours of the countryside which produced Gibran and nourished his work.