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The Perfect Mate
Mary and Kahlil
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Kahlil Gibran (1883 – 1931) is famous for his work The Prophet. He’s considered to be one of the greatest romantic poets of all time. In 1904, when Gibran was 21, he met Mary Elizabeth Haskell (1873 – 1964). They would share a love-affair for the remainder of Gibran’s life.
The following are excerpts from the love-letters and journals of Mary and Kahlil [Kah-lee].
Kahlil’s letter, November 8, 1908, Paris
When I am unhappy, dear Mary, I read your letters. When the mist overwhelms the “I” in me, I take two or three letters out of the little box and reread them. They remind me of my true self. They make me overlook all that is not high and beautiful in life. Each and every one of us, dear Mary, must have a resting place somewhere. The resting place of my soul is a beautiful grove where my knowledge of you lives.
Mary’s journal, December 10, 1910, Boston
Kahlil spent the evening. Told me he loved me and would marry me if he could, but I said my age made it out of the question. “Mary,” he said, “whenever I try to get nearer to you in speech, to be personal at all – you fly up into remote regions and are inaccessible.” “But I take you with me,” said I. And I said I wanted to keep our friendship enduring, and feared to spoil a good friendship for a poor love-affair. This was after Kahlil had explained what he meant. The next afternoon Kahlil was here a while and I told him yes.
Mary’s journal, April 14, 1911, Boston
He held my hand hard, and I said, “I’ve stopped thinking that I shall ever be your wife – and I want to be.” He went white… [I said] how insuperable remained to me my age, the fact that I am worn and wearing, that in spite of a certain youthfulness and my great vigor, I shall be soon on the downward path while he will still have a long climb upwards – that he is yet unripe, has still his best work and his best love before him, and that they will come together. But I am not the woman – how if he were tied to me when this new love came, all that is honorable and chivalrous in him would cry out in my behalf – and I should be chained upon him by gratitude… But he could not speak… Upon my tears after I went to bed it was suddenly as if a great peace and light broke – and he and I were in it – so that I cried, “Thank you, God, thank you!” again and again. I was so ineffably happy. That I have given him up I realize. But it has not parted us – it has brought us even much nearer together.
Mary’s journal, April 17, 1911, Boston
I told him of the peace and light that came suddenly to me – both of us in it – and the sense of greater union than ever. He said, “Yes, a new world of oneness – that I had never imagined before. I feel as if the last veil had fallen between us.” … “A great fear” is what he has felt at the idea of marriage – just what he tried to express to me one night while he was still maintaining that he wanted to marry. I said tonight that I hoped he would marry: because it is a big, vital experience and the men of this age who have done best work have married. But it is plain he has not realized himself fully enough yet. When he does, and has “conquered life,” he will probably marry. In loving more, yet no longer expecting to marry, lies a difficulty which I thought well to face with him at once. “You are so clear,” he said, “and so holy. Isn’t it better to desire and to change and lift the desire to something higher – than not to desire? You be just as have been – just as you are – and don’t mind me. If you hear me wanting, don’t listen.”
Mary’s journal, April 20, 1911, Boston
I can almost see him growing – he is changing and developing so fast… A simplicity is coming to him… And I feel sure a new knowledge of loving is coming to him. Things he has only imagined he is now realizing. The whole basis of consciousness is broadening within him. About loving, he often says that he is living in a revelation.
Kahlil’s letter, May 7, 1911, New York
Just came from the museum. O how much I want to see beautiful things with you. We must see these things together someday. I feel so lonely when I stand alone before a great work of art. Even in Heaven one must have a beloved companion in order to enjoy it fully. Good night, dear, I kiss your hands and your eyes.
Kahlil’s letter, September 14, 1911, Boston
My summer has been quite full – too full. I rewrote Broken Wings, baptized it in fire and made a new thing of it… I have a thousand things to tell you, and a thousand plans for this coming winter. Mary, I am just beginning to fall in love with Life! There are so many things to do, so many questions to solve, so many dreams to dream. But will you let me come and see you tomorrow, if you are not very tired? I will be here all day waiting to hear your voice over the telephone.
Kahlil’s letter, October 31, 1911, New York
Mary, beloved Mary… It is rather late and I am tired, but I could not go to bed without saying good night to you. You have been so near – so very near me today and yesterday. Your last letter is a flame, a winged globe, a wave from That Island of strange music. These days, beloved Mary, are full of images and voices and shadows – there is fire in my heart – there is fire in my hands – and wherever I go I see mysterious things. Do you not know what it is to burn and burn, and to know while burning, that you are freeing yourself from everything around you? Oh, there is no greater joy than the joy of Fire! And now let me cry out with all the voices in me that I love you.
Kahlil’s letter, November 10, 1911, New York
There is an old Arabic song which begins “Only God and I know what is in my heart” – and today, after rereading your last three letters, I said out loud “Only God and Mary and I know what is in my heart” … there is no deeper desire than the desire of being revealed… is it not this mystic pain – the pain of not being known – that gives birth to art and artists? It is surely a noble thing to say “art for art’s sake” but is it not nobler to open the eyes of the blind so that they may share the silent joy of your days and nights? True art should be practical by revealing beauty to people…
Kahlil’s letter, November 26, 1911, New York
I am rearranging my thoughts. I am getting rid of all the old spirits and shadows. To understand the world one must be far, far away from the world. To live is the greatest of all arts. To be an artist is to have glimpses of real Life. Real Life is God and God is everywhere. I am loving you all the time, Mary… O I have a million things to say to you.
Kahlil’s letter, January 21, 1912, New York
The days are filled with burning ideas and the nights are drowned in a sea of strange dreams… There is much painful joy in life, and much sweet pain, too. Your Kahlil must sink into the depth of both joy and pain so that he may know how to paint a picture or write a line.
Kahlil’s letter, February 1, 1912, New York
I have many things to say about Life after Death. I will not do so now. But I feel, and perhaps I shall always feel, that the “I” in me will not perish. It will not be drowned in the great Sea which we call God… I talk to you, Mary, as I would talk with my own heart. You and my Destiny are inseparable – and what is there to hide from one’s Destiny?
Mary’s letter, February, 1912, Boston
Ending a letter to you lays shadow on my heart – I sneak inside – and there you are, burning away like a bright fire! So I warm up again till my fingers are limber enough to write Ha ha! Let’s laugh again…
Mary’s letter, February 6, 1912, Boston
God lends me His heart to love you with. I asked for it when I found my own was too small, and it really holds you, and leaves you room to grow.
Kahlil’s letter, February 7, 1912, New York
My heart is full today, full of strange, calm serene shadows. I saw Jesus in my dream last night. The same warm face. The large dark eyes burning peacefully… O Mary, Mary. Why can’t I see Him in my dreams every night? Why can’t I gaze at Life half as calmly as He does? Why can’t I find any one in this world so dearly simple and warm as He is?
Kahlil’s letter, February 29, 1912, New York
I am always writing about myself to you. Tell me, Mary, are you not tired of “I am this” and “I am that” and “I am between this and that”? You see, Mary, I live so much within myself, like an oyster. I am an oyster trying to form a pearl of my own heart. But they say that a pearl is nothing but the disease of the oyster.
Mary’s letter, Spring, 1912, Boston
What are you writing – and how does it go? And what are you thinking about – and how does it go? … And why aren’t your arms six hours long to reach Boston? … And when will You come to me in a dream and make night sweeter than night?
Mary’s journal, April, 1912, Boston
We met on Friday… the type of woman physically attractive to him is extremely rare, he says. He’s met only three or four in his life – and what is not attractive is extremely repellent in physical intimacy… All men seem to be a good deal approached by women with sexual offers. He is and always has been so approached from time to time… I gathered from things he said to me that he had had a good many successive liaisons, and I confessed I had never been able to reconcile this with his stability and fastidious reserve, as I know him… I had said I thought he would not talk to me about his relation with women. A year ago, he said, he would not have, but he had learned to love me so much – had never conceived such a freedom of confidence as possible, nor such sharing... He spoke of the impossibility of his marrying now and the probability that always the urge to express what is in him will absorb too much for marriage… I gave him too my guess that after he is established he will marry a rare but younger woman. “Well, irrespective of that hypothetical ideal being,” he said, “let me say that I want to work always with you, to grow always with you… And I feel this thing between you and me is lasting. 70,000 years hence I shall be saying the same thing to you.”
Mary’s journal, April, 1912, Boston
… he told me in the Library that what he was planning for and looking forward to was marriage! “As soon as I’ve conquered my work and a little of the world. I need a little time for that. But we are just waiting, Mary.” And on Friday he had said, as he had said months ago, that probably he would never marry! Somehow in that interim he lived through a cardinal stage in himself… I don’t understand how it came about – unless it was just part of the expansion from nearness into oneness… I said, as I had said before, that I am too old to marry him – and gave my conception of the change that would come as he grew older toward liking women not his senior… [but] his mind had actually changed from friend-lover to friend-husband… To deny that I long inexpressibly for marriage would be lying – but the drawbacks are so evident that I do not long to have it take place.
Mary’s journal, April, 1912, Boston
He said to me once, “When I am with you I often don’t think; I just live – and I do things without realizing or even being fully conscious of what I do.”
Mary’s journal, June 5, 1912, Boston
We met at the Athenaeum… The Chinese are young of soul, said Kahlil. Their art is primitive: Egyptian art is simple but not primitive, for it expresses the soul, the essence.
Mary’s journal, June 7, 1912, Boston
We met at the subway… [he said] “I want to be alive to all of life that is in me now, to know each moment to the uttermost. I don’t want to be just a painter of pictures, or a writer of poems. I want to be more.” … With Kahlil I feel as free as alone…
Mary’s journal, June 10, 1912, Boston
Every work of beauty is a discovery of a rhythm that is in Life – is a part of Reality made manifest.
Mary’s journal, June 15, 1912, Boston
At supper I said how much I longed to let him know what richness he is to me. “You mean what we have together,” he said… Kahlil has had all his life an absorbed longing for the lasting – for eternities.
Kahlil’s letter, November 19, 1912, New York
My life is quiet. There is little beside working and walking. I have no desire to see people, and I feel as though I am waiting for something new and strange which will burn the unburnt side of my soul. I want to write more but I cannot. I am a little weary and the silence in my soul is black. I wish I could rest my head on your shoulder.
Mary’s journal, September 2, 1913, New York
I was late for lunch, but we went first to the Bank. I told him that I had been dishonest in saying I wished I were a married woman or an actress, that I saw at last that he had always been simple in his sex attitude and had made little of it, that he had always told me to be, and I thought I was, but I had never been. And that henceforward I would be. That if the sex element went out of our life I’d take it simply and not make much of it; if it increased, I’d take it simply and make much of it; and if it remained as it is, I’d take it simply and not make much of it. He was silent, as so often, but I think he approved and believed.
Mary’s journal, September 3, 1913, New York
His loneliness and his suffering I know as never before. And my own brutality to him is new to my knowledge. Marriage! The wonder is that we are friends! He has said to me,
“You have hurt me as nobody else ever hurt me. Nobody else has power to hurt me as you have. You have said the most bitter things to me. You have made me suffer more than almost anything else in my life. But I know what is fundamentally in you. And I have waited.”
“Since I look forward to leaving ‘the world,’” said Kahlil, “I feel a new freedom in it and from it. I am independent of it, for I have my hermit-home before me…”
Spirit Rebellious, published while Kahlil was in Paris, was suppressed by the Syrian government … the Church considered excommunicating Kahlil… He comes … from a race of priests and scholars and church rulers… [The Holy Patriarch said to Kahlil] “You are making a grave mistake. You are using your gifts against your people … against your church… Give this up, return, and the Holy Patriarch’s own arms and the arms of the Church are open to you… And now destroy every copy of the book and let me take from you [of your recanting].” Then Kahlil told his Holiness that far from “returning,” he was working then on a book to be called Broken Wings. He hoped his Holiness would read it. They would see in it how entirely he disagreed with them. And he said Goodnight. Did not stay for dinner. As he passed through the outer room … and stopped to bow farewell to the bishop, the latter said, “Well, Effendi [“Sir”], have you had a good talk with his Highness?” “Yes, your grace,” said Kahlil, “delightful. But I am only sorry I was not able to convince him.” The Bishop laughed. He understood the case was hopeless.
Kahlil’s letter, October 8, 1913, New York
Beloved Mary, I have lived so much during the last three weeks. I’ve crossed an ocean and I am now in a new land. Things seem so strangely different. I am tired of the world. Why should any lover of life put up with such a stupid, soft-headed world? … My new book is almost ready…
Mary’s letter, November 15, 1913, Boston
I am only half here. I want to take the train to New York and see you with my own eyes. You would not have to talk; you could be silent; you need not even smile. I should just be with you instead of 200 miles away.
Mary’s journal, December 21, 1913, Boston
It was a heart-rending talk. I confessed my recurrent desire to marry him, and the happiness of my larger self in not marrying him, and the struggle I still have at time before the larger self dominates.
Mary’s journal, January 10, 1913, New York
The afternoon, 3 to 5 with Kahlil. I never felt his peculiar glow more, embracing and deep. His consciousness no longer has moments with Reality, like the rest of ours; he lives with Reality. It is that he is always perceiving. His times are all superlative, his retina seeing freshly, his thoughts moving on… While we were talking about intercourse, Kahlil said, “There is nothing indifferent in your body. You are alive, and vital and loving and you are strong and well. Safety would be peculiarly hard to secure for you. – And I too, have great warmth sexually. I think a great deal of sex power goes transformed into my work.”
Kahlil’s letter, February 8, 1914, New York
[Your] letters create a soul in my soul. I read them as messages from life… Whenever my heart is bare and quivering, I feel the terrible need of someone to tell me that there is a tomorrow…
Kahlil’s letter, March 1, 1914, New York
A mighty snow storm is raging outside… A storm frees my heart from cares and pains. A storm always awakens whatever passion there is in me.
Kahlil’s letter, March 8, 1914, New York
W. B. Yeats came to one of Mrs. Ford’s dinners. He was more than charming – and there was a sad, sad look in his dim eyes… [Yeats won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913.]
Kahlil’s letter, April 5, 1914, New York
As I grow older, Mary, the hermit in me becomes more determined. Life is a vision full of infinite, sweet possibilities and fulfillments. But people are so thin, Mary; their souls are thin, and their speech is thin. Life is mighty. Man is small… Here in New York I see and talk only with the normal, educated, polite, moral man. And he is so thin. He is hanging in the air between heaven and hell – but he is so comfortable there that he is always smiling at you!
Mary’s journal, April 26, 1914, New York
I watched Kahlil move about the room – so slight his frame looked; his shoulders beginning to stoop; his hair thinning. His face at 31 often nearly 50 in agedness… Often we have suffered intensely from sex – longing and abstinence. At our last meeting, pain was so racking that without words we knew we should have to become free from such strain. His sketches had told me, during our following separation, that he was thinking, living it out. So was I. I learned by chance what are sure preventatives of conception. But I did not provide them today. I went to him with no resolve save to be with him as completely as I could. His suffering is the greater, his being more shattered by it… Freely we touched; often he kissed me or I him – never with more absolute sweetness and nearness of heart…
Kahlil’s craving for solitude is a great growing thirst. Dinner parties are tasteless to Kahlil. He love people and if they could meet him, the real him … they would know how surpassing most love his is.
Kahlil’s letter, July 22, 1914, New York
I am in a silent, thinking mood, and there are many new strange things in my heart. I want to give them forms, but just now my hands are not working. I walk much in the woods.
Kahlil’s letter, January 28, 1915, New York
Perhaps our spring is not in this life, Mary. This life may be nothing but a winter.
Kahlil’s letter, March 14, 1915, New York
I walk in the park. I wander in lonely places until night falls… Walking alone with a notebook is the greatest joy I can find in this city. I think my thoughts and I talk to you… [I] talk to you about things which I cannot very well write.
Mary’s journal, April 10, 1915, New York
I didn’t want Kahlil to think I grieved because we aren’t married, or that I want to live with him – for I don’t – because he doesn’t want it.
Mary’s letter, April 18, 1915, New York
All week the past has been opening before me and I have remembered more of what I did and said – the outrages and the unkindnesses. And I so feel that I did not believe the few loving things you said, or hear the many you did not say; and how far from simply and tenderly I loved you. And I know somewhat how I hurt you and what I threw away and kept away from both of us. Seeing these things, I feared that I had harmed that which is between us, and had made it forever less than it might have been. That would be the hardest punishment I could have, for all eternity. I asked our Greater Selves if it were so – for a while I heard nothing. Then I saw with my eyes a mountain through the mists and I knew my fault had been not from the heart but because I was not yet at the heart. Our Life, yours and mine together, is the life of our Greater Hearts; and I do not affect it; but it by degrees affects me and will confirm me in time to itself, as it has already confirmed you. But I am sorry for all I spoiled, and for every pain I gave you – and sorry that sorrow cannot undo what I did.
Kahlil’s letter, May 23, 1915, New York
I have always thought, Mary, that a Revelation is simply the discovery of an element in us, in our larger self, the self that knows what we do not know, and feels that which it does not feel. And what we call growth is nothing but knowledge of that larger self.
Kahlil’s letter, July 17, 1915, New York
You and I and all those who are born with a hunger for Life, are not trying to touch the outer edges of other worlds by deep thinking and deeper feeling – our sole desire is to discover this world and to become one with its spirit. And the Spirit of this world, though ever changing and every growing, is the Absolute. The saints and sages of the past ages were … always one with Life.
Mary’s letter, mid-July, 1915, on a trip to the West
My soul treated you as an inferior – and I did not even rise, to do you honor. I have been in one long continued sin against you, Kahlil.
Mary’s letter, August 9, 1915, on a trip to the West
My desire, beloved Kahlil, is to discover you and to become one with your spirit. It is for this that I am alone in the mountains and alone everywhere… All division from you has been for me division from Life – and all oneness with you, oneness with Life.
Mary’s journal, March 12, 1922, New York
[Kahlil said] “If we had married you would not have put up with my wanting solitude for ten days at a time.”
In 1923 family business induced Mary to move from Boston to Savannah, Georgia. In 1926 she agreed to marry Jacob Florance Minis. Mary continued, however, to both edit Gibran’s manuscripts and to provide encouragement in his work.
Kahlil Gibran died April, 1931. He was 48.
Mary’s husband died a few years later. She herself passed on in 1964 at the age of 91.
Kairissi. I feel exhausted, and frustrated, reading these love-letters; especially, when we learn what happened later.
Elenchus. Give me your opinion - don't think about it too much, just tell me - did Mary and Kahlil experience Twin-Soul love?
K. I'm tempted to say no.
E. Why not?
K. I'm just not feeling it. Their love was filled with cross-currents and contradictions. I think what they had was what Andrew Jackson Davis called “the intellectual marriage,” the third level of evolved marriage in a roster of seven.
E. But, as we ourselves well know, they could be Twins but, due to present immaturity, have repressed and blocked their own souls from realizing the higher-order love.
K. That is possible, and later in coming days, or coming worlds, of more sentience, they will find out, but, for right now, they’re living on a lower-plane of love-relationship. I think I’m correct in this. Look at what Jackson Davis said:
"The intellectual marriage" is the union of two, through intellectual appreciation. Certain temperaments and mental structures can be attracted to the opposite sex only through the Knowledge department. Such, love through the intellect … never fully satisfies the soul … they are as the marriage of two solar rays; all light, but no warmth.”
“All light, but no warmth.” For all of their well-articulated poetic talk about love, they experienced precious little of it in any practical sense and ended up with a handful of air, each going their separate ways in terms of marital love. And notice, even when she married Colonel Sanders in the Savannah, they kept and maintained what was really important to them – the intellectual property. He kept on churning out books and she kept on editing them.
E. Why did the chicken cross the road and move south to Savannah? – to get away from the cold northerly “solar rays.”
K. (small smile) Your irreverent evaluation, buddy, actually has a good deal of merit. She just couldn’t take the “cold solar rays” anymore. For them, it was as Elvis sang, “too much talk and not enough action” – even though the talk was high-faluten.
E. Believe what people do more than what they say.
K. Yeah; but also, just because a woman finally gives up on a man doesn’t mean that they didn’t have something together and that she didn’t love him. There’s a saying somewhere in the author’s collection,
“When a girl gives up, it’s not because she doesn’t love you, but because she’s tired of getting hurt and feels like you’ll never really care.”
E. Yeah, but, Dear, it's so strange -- they continually affirmed their love for each other over many years.
K. And all that sweet affirmation, plus four dollars, will buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Lawyers call that kind of banter "puffing in the marketplace," but there's no real contract until people "put up or shut up." We discussed this in "constructive assent." Some people say that the relationship of Mary and Kahlil was larger than marriage - uh-huh. I'm more apt to say there's less here than meets the eye. I don't think there's anything "larger" than authentic marriage.
E. Krissi, what do you think their main problem was?
K. Simply stated - too much ego. For all of their high-talk, romantic love, per se, was not most important to them – it was the intellectual property, the concept of romance, and its marketing, that drove them. They wanted to make a big splash in the world, make history, be bright stars. And I will tell you this, My Dearest, if putative-lovers think that way, engage in that subtle form of materialism, even if they are Twins, the Guides won’t let you get within a Savannah country-mile of each other. You won’t be ready. You won’t have made your inner music pure.
K. There are many phrases in the letters of Mary and Kahlil that rank among some of the beautiful professions of love in history. It would be wonderful to comment on all of them, but I will leave that dissection to our readers. I feel compelled, however, to speak on something Mary said. She knew she was in trouble, and not in a small way.
E. You're our expert on love, Kriss – what do you see?
K. She knew she had been unfair to him. She had hurt him more than any other human being in life – “what I did and said, the outrages and the unkindnesses.” We’re not given the details; it doesn’t matter - but she knew and realized too well. She speaks of what she “threw away,” the most precious part of life, and eternal life. We feel her utmost deep regret seeping through her veiled words. And then, from the lowest reaches of personal hell, she tears at herself in wild remorse, “I feared that I had harmed that which is between us, and had made it forever less than it might have been. That would be the hardest punishment I could have, for all eternity.”
E. Tell me, Dear... what you see in this darkness.
K. (sighing) I see great despair, with no remedy in sight. The dysfunctional ego does not believe in remedy but only condemnation. It is one thing to be angry or selfish and know that it has caused offense; but to contemplate that one’s sins against another might form an enduring barrier, that any sweetness of reunion, albeit welcomed, could be “forever less than it might have been,” is a blackest pit of hell -- a true and warming love forever out of reach. Even if he forgives her, or says he does, she is terrified that any such forgiveness will not be full-bodied, and that, even “for all eternity,” their love might “be less” because of what she did, and this is a cross too heavy to bear… (very softly) Does any of this sound familiar, My Love?