The lover, madly in love cannot think of anything else but his love. All his thoughts and dreams are about the beloved. In the mirror, he sees himself through the eyes of his lover. Fantasizes about what she may be doing or whether if she thinking about him…he goes to sleep thinking about her, wakes up with an image of her. Wherever he goes, he is intoxicated with this love, all else fades away. At times, he laughs or he sighs turning his gaze to a point far ahead. The states of love – as we recognize are plenty, much richer and deeper than what words can describe.
One of the most touching love stories I read is Layla and Majnun. It goes back to the 12th century and since then it has been translated to many languages, both in the east and west.
The story begins when Layla and Majnun fall in love with one another at a young age.
Majnun’s family is willing for them to get married, but Layla’s father, in disapproval, arranges another marriage for his daughter. Layla, first prisoner of her father then became the prisoner of her husband. Though her husband was kind and generous, Layla did not allow him to get near and she preserved her fidelity to Majnun throughout her marriage, until the end. She strolled through the rose gardens shedding tears, thinking back and forth in the flickering hope of joining with Majnun and in the painful sadness of seperation. Majnun, not being able to join Layla, became lovesick, left his beloved parents and went wandering in the deserts and mountains like a bedouin. Out there in the wilderness, the lion, the fox, birds, and other animals got attached to Majnun, became his friends; they protected him and never abandoned him. The stag prepared his chest as a bed for Majnun, the gazelle, with her head, relieved the pain of his feet, the fox, with his tail, swept away the pastures, and cleared the way for Majnun. The wolf, leopard and tiger made a circle around him, not allowing anybody to draw near Majnun; whereas the lion kept the night watch next to him every night. The birds along with the bedouins carried his messages and his poems to Layla. Many many people heard about their love. In the beginning, they felt pity for Majnun, which later gave away to mocking thoughts for he was a mad man choosing to live in wilderness. Meanwhile though, they memorized the beautiful poems Majnun wrote for Layla; and that’s how their love was heard by many. In one of her letters, Layla wrote to Majnun:
It comes from me, a prisoner, and is meant for you, who have broken your chains. How long ago, my love, did I seal my bond with you? How fare you? What fills your days, you to whom seven planets show the way? I know that your are guarding the treasure of friendship, and love drives its splendor from you. I see that your blood colors the mountains red at dawn and at dusk, but you live hidden deep down in the rocks like agate. In the midst of darkness you are the water-spring of Khizr, gushes forth the water of life. You are the night moth, encircling the candlelight of an eternal morning. You have stirred up the world and yet you turned your back to it, living in the tomb of your loneliness, where only two or three wild animals are your companions. Here on earth you are a target for the arrows of reproach, but what is it to you? Is not your caravan on its way towards the day of resurrection?
I know that you have not spared yourself and you threw fire into your own harvest. You dedicated your heart to my service, and so became the target for slander. What matters it to you, wha to me? We remain loyal to each other. If I only knew what you are feeling, how you look and what you are doing. With all my love I am with you and you are, tell me –with whom? Like your happiness, I’m seperated from you; but even if remote from you, I remain your companion.
…Oh my love! How I wish we could build our nest together in this world! But we may not. It is denied us. Is that my fault? My heart, which cannot make you happy, weeps over our sad fate.
Beloved! Send me a strand of your hair, and it will mean the world to me.
…I am the moon which looks at you from afar, to receive your light, my sun. Pardon my feet for being so weak that they can never reach you….Patience and hope. What is life in this world? But a hassle in an inn where we stop for a short rest. How quickly the days pass between arrival and departure!…and the bud still closed and hidden holds the promise of a blossoming rose.
Do not be sad! Do not let your heart become heavy and do not think that no one is your friend. Am I no one? Does it not help you that I am here and yours alone? Believe me, it is wrong to complain of loneliness. Remember God. He is the companion of those who have no other friend.
Majnun’s answer to Layla:
Having lost everything which binds me to this world, I am writing this letter to you who hold my fate in your hands…you say I am the keeper of the treasure? I am so close to it, yet so far! My key has not yet been made, the iron from which it is to be forged still sleeps in the rock. I am the trampled dust at your feet. You are the water of life –for whom?…your arm embraces –whom? I would even suffer harm from you, while you are soothing whose grief?
… You ar my salve for a thousand wounds, yet you are also my sickness and the wine in my beaker which does not belong to me. You are my crown which does not adorn your brow. Yes you are my treasure enjoyed by a stranger, while I am but the beggar…
you are my garden of paradise! Nowhere can I find a key to open the gate. My heavenly bosquet, how inaccessible you remain! From your forest comes the tree of my being. This tree is yours and if you cut it down, a part of yourself will die. I am the earth which you tread, you caress me, I am the spring which bids flowers grow for you. But if you bat me, I am but the whirling dust which envelops you.
Am I not famous as your slave? Be my Mistress and act your part. Where is my shield? I have thrown it away and surrendered to you. I have beceom your prisoner without a fight, but if you now refuse me, I shall be put to the sword.
Show mercy to me and to yourself… Do not fight your own army..be gentle and mild, giving solace to my heart; thus slaves are set free…You, my dearest, who bought me: can I read in your face the signs of love? Show me where they are! Don’t be heartless, share my grief. My eyes search only for you and, looking for the signs which herald my fate, I think only of you. Where can I find peace? Only when I look at you. You are everything to me good and bad, my sickness and my cure…You cannot imagine how much I am “Majnun”. For you, I have lost myself.
Majnun’s letter only increased Layla’s longing and one night, she escaped from the tent. Feeling that this was not an ordinary night, she followed the voice in her heart. It her to the edge of a palm grove where she has once met the old horseman who took her letter to Majnun. The same inner voice suggested that she may receive a word from him here and there it was! First she noticed the shadow and then recognized the old horseman. Standing in the darkness, like Layla, he also seemed to be guided by the flaming torch in his heart. Layla did not ask who he was or if he was God’s messenger; she sensed that she would meet him here. Without hesitation, she said:
What news do you bring about the course of heaven? What does he do, my wild love in his wilderness? Of whom does he dream? What does he say?
The old man did not seem surprised either, by Layla, or by her words. He gently replied:
Without you and your light, my moon, I am like Joseph –the youth at the bottom of the pit. His soul is like the ocean at night, whipped up by the gale under a moonless sky. Like a herald, he roams through mountains and valleys, shouting at every step: “Layla”, and what he seeks is Layla. Good or bad he no longer knows himself. He is on his way to nowhere, for he has no goal left but –Layla.
Burst into tears Layla said: “It is I who have burnt my lover’s heart and brought this fate upon him! I will see him, whatever I have endure!” She asked him to bring Majnun over –where they can secretly meet in the hidden garden. The old man crossed the desert through the night; along with Layla’s hopes and fears. Fate alone led them. Finally he found Majnun at the skirts of a mountain surrounded with his wild animals. He was happy to see the old man and calmed down the animals so that he can enter their circle. He bent down and bowed in front of Majnun and told him in sweet words that Layla, the sultan of love wants to see him: “ She wishes to see you, so that eye can look into eye, if only for the passing of a breath…I know a garden where palms trees as dense as a forest, will protect you from prying eyes. The sky above and a carpet of living green below…Come! spring awaits you there and the key to your fate!”
After saying these words, the old man took a garment from his sack and with blessings, he put it on Majnun. Majnun, drunken with these words wondered: “Would it be possible to to steal a glance at paradise while living on earth? Could a small particle of eternity break the chain of hours? How could this old man understand? What did people beyond the wilderness know about Majnun? Their happiness was not his; there was fulfilment for their wishes, but not for his longing.”
Still, Majnun could not resist his lover’s call and set out on the journey followed by his animals. At dusk, they happily arrived at the palm grove; impatience and a “feverish desire” took over Majnun. Majnun sat under a tree waiting while the old man went to signal Layla. Layla came, her eyes met with Majnun’s and the story goes…they could not unite. Majnun drunken with love, recited heart burning poems and went back to the desert.
“As for Layla, the enchantress, she was a treasure to others but a burden for herself.” For her, the existence was torment. Autumn had come. “The jasmin’s silver lost its precious gleam and the rose petals became a book of mourning. As the garden fared, so fared Layla. Her spring had faded by the evil eye of the world, and her flame flickered in the gusts of the wind.” She became weak and transparent, as the full moon became half, Layla left this world.
When Majnun learned about the death of his beloved, he fell on her grave with his burnt heart as if struck by lightning. People who saw him in that state screamed, and some others wept. Majnun stayed there for 2-3 months, according to some a year with his circle of animals who did not allow anybody to approach Majnun. Majun’s soul left his body there and then. The animals did not touch his body, nor allowed anybody near. They kept their watch until Majnun’s body became dust and returned to earth. Only then the animals left and went back to wilderness.
Many people visited their grave. People from Majnun and Layla’s tribes, bedouins who were passing by, lovers, strangers with pure hearts; they were all coming for a visit and they shed tears. Whether they knew the whole story or not, a thread in their heart would tremble and they would remember “love”.
Nizami. 1141-1209. The story of Layla and Majnun. 3rd edition. NY: Omega Publications Inc.Translated by R. Gelpke, E. Mattin & G. Hill. 2011.