A Hymn to Liberty
By Kahlil Gibran
Translated by Suheil Bushrui
From the depths of these depths
We call you, O Liberty – hear us!
From the corners of this darkness
We raise our hands in supplication – turn your gaze toward us!
On the expanse of these snows
We lay ourselves prostrate before you, have compassion upon us!
We stand now before your terrible throne
Wearing the blood-smeared garments of our fathers;
Covering our heads with the dust of the tombs mingled with their remains;
Drawing the swords which have been sheathed in their entrails;
Raising the spears that have pierced their breasts;
Dragging the chains that have withered their feet;
Crying aloud cries that have wounded their throats,
And lamentations that have filled the darkness of their prisons;
Praying prayers that have sprung out of the pain of their hearts –
Listen, O Liberty, and hear us!
From the sources of the Nile to the estuary of the
The wailing of souls surging with the scream of the abyss rises;
From the frontiers of the peninsula to the mountains of Lebanon
Hands outstretched to you, trembling in the agony of death;
From the cost of the gulf to the ends of the desert
Eyes are uplifted to you with pining hearts –
Turn, O Liberty, and look upon us.
In the corners of huts standing in the shadow of poverty
From prison to prison our bodies move, and the mocking ages pass us by –
How long are we to bear the mockery of the ages?
From yoke to heavier yoke our necks do pass
And the nations of the earth look at us and laugh –
How long shall we endure the mockery of nations?
From fetters to fetters our path leads us
And neither do the fetters disappear nor do we perish –
How long shall we remain alive?…
From the grasp of Pharaoh
To the claws of Nebuchadnezzar;
To the nails of Alexander;
To the swords of Herod;
To the claws of Nero;
To the fangs of the devil;
Whose yoke is going to enslave us now?
And when shall we fall within the grasp of death to find comfort away from the silence of nonexistence?
With the strength of our arms they erected the pillars of
their temples and shrines to glorify their gods;
On our backs they brought clay and stones to build castles to strengthen their strongholds;
And with the power of our bodies they built pyramids to render their names immortal;
How long are we to build castles and palaces
And live but in huts and caves?
How long are we to fill granaries and stores
And eat nothing but garlic and clover?
How long are we to weave silk and wool
And be clad in tattered cloth?
Through their cunning and treachery they have set clan
Breasts are being beaten for you;
In the emptiness of houses erected in the darkness of ignorance and folly,
Hearts are cast before you;
And in the corners of houses buried in the clouds of oppression and tyranny,
Spirits are longing for you –
Look upon us, O Liberty, and have compassion.
In schools and offices
Despairing youth calls upon you;
In the churches and mosques
The forsaken book invites you;
In the counsels and courts
The neglected law implores you –
Have pity, O Liberty, and save us.
In our narrow streets
The merchant barters his days only to pay the thieves from the West,
And none is there to advise him!
In our barren fields
The peasant ploughs the earth with his finger-nails,
And sows the seeds of his heart and waters them with his tears,
And nothing does he harvest save thorns and thistles,
And none is there to teach him!
In our empty plains
The Bedouin walks bare-foot, naked and hungry
And none is there to have mercy upon him –
Speak, O Liberty, and teach us…
From the very beginning the darkness of the night has
descended upon our souls –
How long until the dawn?
Have separated group from group;
Have sown the seeds of hate twixt tribe and tribe –
How long are we then to wither like ashes before this cruel hurricane,
And fight like hunger young lions near this stinking carcass?
In order to secure their power and to rest at heart’s
ease they have armed the Durzi to fight the Arab;
Have instigated the Shi’i against the Sunni;
Have incited the Kurd to slaughter the Bedouin;
Have encouraged the Mohammadan to fight the Christian –
How long is a brother to fight his brother on the breast of the mother?
How long is a neighbour to threaten his neighbour near the tomb of the beloved?
How long are the Cross and the Crescent to remain apart before the eyes of God?
Listen, O Liberty, and harken unto us
Turn your gaze towards us, O mother of the earth’s inhabitants,
For we are not the offspring of your rival;
Speak with the tongue of any one of us
For from one spark the draw straw catches fire;
Awaken the sound of your wings the spirit of one of our men
For from one cloud one lightning flash illuminates valley-lanes and mountain-tops.
Disperse with your resolve these dark clouds;
Descend as a thunderbolt,
Destroy like a catapult
The props of those thrones erected on bones and skulls,
Plated with the gold of taxes and bribery
And soaked in blood and tears.
Listen to us, O Liberty,
Have compassion on us, O Daughter of Athens,
Rescue us, O Sister of Rome,
Save us, O Companion of Moses,
Come to our aid, O beloved of Mohammad,
Teach us, O bride of Jesus,
Strengthen our hearts that we may live;
Or strengthen the arms of our enemies against us
That we may wither, perish and find peace.
Translated from a passage from “Khalil al-Kafer” in al-Arwah
al-Mutamarridah [Spirits Rebellious]. The
title given to this piece is the translator’s.
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