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Leyli and Majnun

Chahar Shanbe Suri

The most famous version of "Leyli and Majnun" poet

"Leyli and Majnun" is an immortal love story sometimes compared to "Romeo and Juliet" through Shakespeare. Today, it is still one of the most popular epics of the Middle East and Central Asia. The story's influence extends beyond Eastern tradition.

Nizami Ganjavi

He (1141-1209) penned the most popular version of “Leyli and Majnun” love story who lived and died in Ganja, an ancient city in Azerbaijan. He wrote in Persian as the literary custom of the day Azeri ethnicity.

Jean-Pierre Guinhut (pronounced geh-NOO)

He is the French Ambassador to Azerbaijan polyglot, fluent in Azeri, Turkish, Persian, Arabic, English and French. He not only places the poem in its historical regional context, but also sheds light on its various philosophical interpretations.

The Display of Leyli and Majnun

This story displayed at the Opera and Ballet Theater in Baku; listening to the talented Alim Gasimov play Majnun. Hajibeyov’s version of the story is an enormously successful synthesis between East and West, and between European classical music and Oriental culture.

What are the origins of this work? Coming from where? And meaning what? To whom?

 

At Baku's Movie

The movie of Leyli and Majnun  at Baku’s Manuscript Institute aptly fit all the criteria of the sub-continent’s film industry such as musical, full of splendor and deeply emotional.

The themes and topics of the Bedouin Majnun tradition revived in these poems and include the period of peaceful friendship between youth. The sudden and absolute love that begins with just a glance. The separation caused fate brought about the refusal of the bride’s family. The long wait to see one another and the rare occasions where the couple actually met.

Another similarity between Aragon’s work and the Oriental traditions of courtly love is that the poems intermingled with poetic prose. Many deemed so beautiful that they were set to music. These are modern versions of “Leyli and Majnun.” 

Leyli and Majnun Story:

Prince Imru’ al Qays wrotean elaborate poem that taught in Arabic literature classes. It begins: “Kifa, nabki, min zikra habibin oua manzili, ala sikkat el’liqua”. (My friends, let’s stop here and weep, in remembrance of my beloved, on her traces, here at the edge of the dune). The scene is dramatic and the reader is at once immersed in an atmosphere of nostalgia and sorrow. The time for love passed. The beloved will never return, and the lover so carefully portrayed in the poem remains prisoner of his own endless wounded passion. Fueled by the evidence of the missing beauty and memories of happier days gone by. But he loves this anguished confinement and cannot stop loving it, sealing an irreversible fate.

 

True Love

The story of Leyli and Majnun is of the same tradition. Majnun is left at the crossroads between death and madness. At first he becomes mad and his poetry becomes his salvation. He survives his sorrow because he is living in another realm with his mind wandering amidst poetic symbols. Poetry, in the context of “poesis” of the ancient Greeks, becomes his “creation.” And for this reason, he does not die out of pain but stokes it alive, renewing it daily.

Trying to ease the pain in the boy’s heart, Majnun’s father takes him to a sacred temple to ask for God’s help. However, instead of praying for relief from his madness, Majnun pleads. “Dear God, for Your own sake and for the sake of love, let my love grow stronger with each passing hour. Love is all I have, all I am, and all I ever want to be!”. Without this emotion, Majnun knows his life would be deprived of all meaning.

Deduction

Eventually, Majnun retreats to the wilderness, preferring the company of wild beasts to that of men. There he communes with the animals and recites his poetry. He continues to decline and eventually dies, out of madness, having exhausted all symbolic and psychological desire.

Upon his final meeting with his beloved, he no longer wishes to live and cannot prevent his death and so he dies, contented. Leyli dies as well. The conclusion clearly elaborates the death of the lovers, but not the death of love. In some versions of the story, it is Leyli who dies first and then afterwards Majnun. Lying upon her tomb, he passes away, guarded by his only friends, the wild animals.

Description

So many art miniatures have been painted depicting this scene from Nizami’s lines. They were especially prevalent between the 15th and 17th centuries, inspired by the Miniature Schools of Tabriz, Isfahan, Shiraz, Herat and Bukhara. Today, these paintings can be found in St. Petersburg, Paris, London and Tehran. At least one such original manuscript kept in Baku at the Institute of Manuscripts.

This brings us to consider the very nature of Majnun as understood through the ages. First, and foremost, Majnun is a poet and that sets him apart from others. He is able to create a sanctuary within his soul, from which he re-creates his love in the poems he recites. Eventually, his idealized portrait of Leyli differs so much from her real personality that she ceases to be the object of his love. The gaps between the pristine purity of Majnun’s feelings and the commonness or “petitesse” of Leyli as an object of his feelings diverges.

Poetry History:

In the Persian world, the mystic tradition of Majnun gave birth to innumerable works, mainly in the form of “gazals,” (love poems on the archetype form of the poet Hafiz) or “akhbar” (recollections on illustrious persons of the past). This form continued between the 9th-12th century.

Then comes the period of Nizami. His influence became so wide and so deep that it has influenced all the major thinkers and writers in the Persian language after him. For geographical reasons, we will come back to more discussion about him in the last section of this article – Azerbaijan.

At about the time of Nizami, the shape of poetic writing starts to change. It becomes “mathnawi,” like Rumi’s long epic and narrative poems, comprised of independent verses but characterized by internal rhyme and rhyming of couplets.

After Nizami, the most famous poet of the Leyli and Majnun narrative was Jami (1414-1492), a poet of Herat (now Afghanistan) who initiated into the Nakshbandi Sufi order. His influence on Ottoman literature was immense, especially on Ahmad Sinan Beheshti, who also lived in Herat for awhile. A French translation of his divan was made in 1805 by Chezy.

Poets writing in Ottoman and other classical Turkic languages found their inspiration mainly in the Sufi traditions, in Nizami and Jani, as well as Fuzuli. Keep in mind two names: Mir Ali Shir Nava’I (known as the Prince of Poets) and Mohammad Ali Khan (Prince of Khakand) who wrote in Chagatai (Turkmenistan) and died when he was only 20 years old in 1842.

Nizami's Voice

The following are some quotes taken from Nizami’s immortal poem “Leyli and Majnun.” This prose version has been adapted by Colin Turner and published by Blake in London, 1970 (ISBN 1-85782-1610).

Every breeze that blows

brings your scent to me;

Every bird that sings

calls out your name to me;

Every dream that appears

brings your face to me;

Every glance at your face

has left its trace with me.

I am yours, I am yours,

whether near or far;

Your grief is mine, all mine,

wherever you are. (103)

In the garden, the leaves were falling like tears. The flowers had cast off their many-colored summer gowns and donned the somber robes of autumn. The silver of the jasmine had lost its luster; the rose wept petals as it mourned the passing of summer; the narcissus bade its companions farewell and made ready to depart. . . As the garden slowly withered, so did Layla: her spring was over, made winter by the freezing finger of Fate, by the icy touch of life’s most trying tribulations. (243)