Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Memorial to Kahlil Gibran, 20th century Muslim philosopher and poet

Located on Massachusetts Avenue across from the Embassy of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is this tranquil monument to one of the world's most revered religious mystics, philosopher and poet Kahlil Gibran. Gibran is to Islamic mysticism what C.S. Lewis is to Christian mysticism. His best known publication in the West is a small, but enormously influential volume titled The Prophet. Gibran was born in 1883 in Lebanon and died in 1931 in New York City; he was barely 48 years old.

As this memorial--sculpted by Gordon S. Kray, designed by Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum, and erected in 1991 by the Kahlil Gibran Centennial Foundation as a gift to the peoples of the United States--is located in the capital of the country that considers itself the bastion of freedom and standard bearer of democracy, I'll let Gibran's words speak. (Click on images to enlarge.)

And an orator said, Speak to us of Freedom.
And he answered:
At the city gate and by your fireside I have seen you prostrate yourself and worship your own freedom,
Even as slaves humble themselves before a tyrant and praise him though he slays them.
Ay, in the grove of the temple and in the shadow of the citadel I have seen the freest among you wear their freedom as a yoke and a handcuff.
And my heart bled within me; for you can only be free when even the desire of seeking freedom becomes a harness to you, and when you cease to speak of freedom as a goal and a fulfillment.

You shall be free indeed when your days are not without a care nor your nights without a want or a grief,
But rather when these things girdle your life and let you rise above them naked and unbound.

Photo copyright: D.C. Confidential, 4/08
Text copyright: Gibran, Kahlil, The Prophet, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1993 (123rd printing), 1923 (1st printing), pp. 47-49.


Fénix - Bostonscapes said...

Wonderful post, Jane.

(I can't believe I missed this monument when I visited your city!)

D.C. Confidential said...

Fenix: It's not an easy one to get to. There's no parking on Mass. Ave., so most people drive right by it and miss it. But, if you're doing the pedestrian thing and walking Embassy Row between Observatory Circle and the Islamic Cultural Center, you can't miss it.

April said...

Very nice that there is a monument for him. I think he is internationally known and estimated.

The Artful Eye said...

I read "The Prophet" many years ago in my early twenties and was moved by Kahlil Gibran's writing. Nice to see this beautiful monument.

D.C. Confidential said...

April: Gibran is, as you point out, quite well-known and respected worldwide. This is a lovely monument and a nice place to reflect.

Andrea: I read "The Prophet" in my 20s, too, and was likewise moved by his writings. I love the simplicity of this monument to one of modern histories great philosophers and humanists!