Booknotes: Layla and other assorted love songs

The legend of Layla: From Layla bint Mahdi ibn Sa’d to Pattie Boyd

The legend of Layla: From Layla bint Mahdi ibn Sa’d to Pattie Boyd (pictured above).

The legend of Layla: From Layla bint Mahdi ibn Sa’d to Pattie Boyd (pictured above).

Mike Selby

It is a story most people know, yet at the same time have never heard of.

In 7th century Najd (Saudi Arabia), a young poet named Qays ibn al-Mulawwa fell deeply in love with Layla bint Mahdi ibn Sa’d — the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. She occupied his thoughts, his dreams, and soon all of his poetry. Happily for Qays, she felt the exact same way about him. Both could do nothing but swoon in each other’s presence; wedding vows would have been immediately exchanged except for one small wrench in their plans.

They were cousins.

Forbidden to marry his heart’s desire, the young poet’s mind snapped. Crazed with grief, he withdrew from society and wandered the surrounding wilderness. He became known as  ‘Manjun,’ a term meaning ‘one possessed by spirits’ or more simply ‘madman.’

Back in reality, Layla bint Mahdi ibn S’ad got on with her life and married a local official. Still in love with Manjun, she begins to look for him at night after her husband has fallen asleep. Unable to find him, she loses her will to live and perishes. Manjun also perishes; his dead body is found lying across her grave.

The story of these two doomed lovers was orally passed down through the generations until the 12th century, when the poet Nizami Ganjavi decided to write it down. ‘The Story of Layla and Manjun,’ now told through Nizami’s poetic brilliance, was a massive hit. It appeared in hundreds of editions in Persian and Turkish (53 of which miraculously still exist), during Nizami’s lifetime. After his death many more editions in many more languages spread throughout Russia and Africa.

The exact date that the West became aware of it remains unknown, although Byron knew of it, calling it “the Romeo and Juliet of the East.”  While the similarities between the two stories are striking, scholars have been unable to find any evidence that Shakespeare knew of it. It wasn’t translated into English until 1866, but a Latin edition may (or may not) have existed in Shakespeare’s time.

In 1966, Omega Publishing in Britain published a prose edition of ‘The Story of Layla and Manjun by Nizami.’  It wasn’t long after this that a copy found its way into the hands of guitarist Eric Clapton. The story resonated strong with him, as he was suffering the type of madness the tale described, having fallen deeply in love with Pattie Boyd, his best friend’s wife.

With his band Derek and the Dominoes, Clapton wrote the song ‘Layla,’ a mash up of his and Manjun’s feelings. ‘Layla,’ one of the most recognizable and popular rock songs ever written, is why most of us know the story of Layla and Manjun — even if we weren’t aware of its origins. And unlike his Persian counterpart, Clapton went on to marry Pattie Boyd, much to the chagrin of his best friend (George Harrison).

Mike Selby is Reference Librarian at the Cranbrook Public Library

Just Posted

The City of Cranbrook and the Ktunaxa Nation raised the flag of the Ktunaxa Nation at the arches entrance into the city’s downtown core during a ceremony on Monday, June 21. Photo courtesy City of Cranbrook.
Ktunaxa Nation flag raised at downtown arches entrance

The Ktunaxa Nation flag was raised at the Cranbrook arches — the… Continue reading

Kimberley Search and Rescue were able to quickly respond to a call for service and transport an injured mountain biker to East Kootenay Regional Hospital over the weekend. Kimberley SAR file photo.
Kimberley Search and Rescue respond to injured mountain biker on Bootleg Mountain

Kimberley Search and Rescue responded to a call for service this past… Continue reading

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

City of Cranbrook, Ktunaxa Nation to host flag ceremony on National Indigenous Peoples Day. (Corey Bullock file)
City of Cranbrook, Ktunaxa Nation hosting flag ceremony on National Indigenous Peoples Day

A temporary road closure and speed limit reduction will be in effect during the ceremony

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
B.C. student’s yearbook quote equates grad to end of slavery; principal cites editing error

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

A blood drive in support of 1-year-old Rielynn Gormley of Agassiz is scheduled for Monday, June 28 at Tzeachten First Nation Community Hall in Chilliwack. Rielynn lives with type 3 von Willebrand disease, which makes it difficult for her to stop bleeding. (Screenshot/Canadian Blood Services)
Upcoming blood drive in honour of Fraser Valley toddler with rare blood condition

The Gormley family has organized a blood drive in Chilliwack on June 28

Most Read