Saturday, June 26, 2010

How Can A Pain In The Chest Be Softened - Majnun Laila

This poem comes from a tragic Arab love story based on a (supposedly) real person, Qays ibn al-Mulawwah, who lived in the late 600s A.D. in the northern Arabian peninsula,  fell in love with a woman (Layla), was not allowed to marry her, and became a mad poet living in the desert.  (He became known is "Majnun-e Layla" or "Layla's Madman".)  Really.  In another version, they lived in India.  Versions of the poems were collected in later centuries by Persian writers and passed into their literary realm.  (There is a 1933 Indian movie (Laila Majnun) as well as a more recent Bollywood version.)  

Regardless, someone wrote the group of poems about star-crossed lovers,  from which comes  this one.  I can't vouch for the quality of the translation, but given that these poems began in folklore, the vernacular tone is not surprising.  No matter: the ache of the longing cuts through the centuries and the language barrier.  The last two lines resonate to the point where, if I were a bridge, they would be an army of words marching across with such force and cadence that I would collapse.
How Can A Pain In The Chest Be Softened?

How can a pain in the chest be softened?
The darts of death are closer than your hands.
Too much loss; too much want; absence. I tremble,
You can’t come to me, I can’t come to you.
Our love is a small bird tied by a child,
The bird sips the lake of death and the boy
Goes on with his game. He doesn’t have the sense
To feel the bird’s pain: and the wings can’t fly.
I know a thousand roads, a thousand places,
But without a heart there is nowhere to go.

                                                                       Majnun Laila ( ? -682) Arab

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