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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

From Nizami’s ‘Laila and Majnun’

By Nizami Ganjavi (1140/1–1202/3)

Translation of James Atkinson

[Lailā and Majnūn are children of rival tribes.]

SHAIKHS of each tribe have children there, and each

Studies whate’er the bearded sage can teach.

Thence his attainments Kais [Majnūn] assiduous drew,

And scattered pearls from lips of ruby hue:

And there, of different tribe and gentle mien,

A lovely maid of tender years was seen;

Her mental powers an early bloom displayed;

Her peaceful form in simple garb arrayed;

Bright as the morn her cypress shape, and eyes

Dark as the stag’s, were viewed with fond surprise:

And when her cheek this Arab moon revealed,

A thousand hearts were won; no pride, no shield,

Could check her beauty’s power, resistless grown,

Given to enthrall and charm—but chiefly one.

Her richly flowing locks were black as night,

And Lailā she was called—that heart’s delight:

One single glance the nerves to frenzy wrought,

One single glance bewildered every thought;

And when o’er Kais [Majnūn] affection’s blushing rose

Diffused its sweetness, from him fled repose:

Tumultuous passion danced upon his brow;

He sought to woo her, but he knew not how.

He gazed upon her cheek, and as he gazed,

Love’s flaming taper more intensely blazed.

Soon mutual pleasure warmed each other’s heart;

Love conquered both—they never dreamt to part:

And while the rest were poring o’er their books,

They pensive mused, and read each other’s looks;

While other schoolmates for distinction strove,

And thought of fame, they only thought of love;

While others various climes in books explored,

Both idly sat—adorer and adored.

Science for them had now no charms to boast;

Learning for them had all its virtues lost;

Their only taste was love, and love’s sweet ties,

And writing ghazels to each other’s eyes.

Yes, love triumphant came, engrossing all

The fond luxuriant thoughts of youth and maid;

And whilst subdued in that delicious thrall,

Smiles and bright tears upon their features played.

Then in soft converse did they pass the hours,

Their passion, like the season, fresh and fair;

Their opening path seemed decked with balmiest flowers,

Their melting words as soft as summer air.

Immersed in love so deep,

They hoped suspicion would be lulled asleep,

And none be conscious of their amorous state;

They hoped that none with prying eye,

And gossip tongue invidiously,

Might to the busy world its truth relate.

And thus possessed, they anxious thought

Their passion would be kept unknown;

Wishing to seem what they were not,

Though all observed their hearts were one.

[The lovers are separated.]

Lailā had, with her kindred, been removed

Among the Nijid mountains, where

She cherished still the thoughts of him she loved,

And her affection thus more deeply proved

Amid that wild retreat. Kais [Majnūn] sought her there;

Sought her in rosy bower and silent glade,

Where the tall palm-trees flung refreshing shade.

He called upon her name again;

Again he called,—alas! in vain;

His voice unheard, though raised on every side;

Echo alone to his lament replied;

And Lailā! Lailā! rang around,

As if enamored of that magic sound.

Dejected and forlorn, fast falling dew

Glistened upon his cheeks of pallid hue;

Through grove and frowning glen he lonely strayed,

And with his griefs the rocks were vocal made.

Beautiful Lailā! had she gone for ever?

Could he that thought support? oh, never, never!

Whilst deep emotion agonized his breast.

[Still Lailā thinks only of her beloved Majnūn.]

The gloomy veil of night withdrawn,

How sweetly looks the silvery dawn;

Rich blossoms laugh on every tree,

Like men of fortunate destiny,

Or the shining face of revelry.

The crimson tulip and golden rose

Their sweets to all the world disclose.

I mark the glittering pearly wave

The fountain’s banks of emerald lave;

The birds in every arbor sing,

And the very raven hails the spring;

The partridge and the ring-dove raise

Their joyous notes of songs of praise;

But bulbuls, through the mountain-vale,

Like Majnūn, chant a mournful tale.

The season of the rose has led

Lailā to her favorite bower;

Her cheeks the softest vermil-red,

Her eyes the modest sumbul flower.

She has left her father’s painted hall,

She has left the terrace where she kept

Her secret watch till evening fall,

And where she oft till midnight wept.

A golden fillet sparkling round

Her brow, her raven tresses bound;

And as she o’er the greensward tripped,

A train of damsels ruby-lipped,

Blooming like flowers of Samarkand,

Obedient bowed to her command.

She glittered like a moon among

The beauties of the starry throng,

With lovely forms as Houris bright,

Or Peris glancing in the light;

And now they reach an emerald spot,

Beside a cool sequestered grot,

And soft recline beneath the shade,

By a delicious rose-bower made:

There, in soft converse, sport, and play,

The hours unnoted glide away;

But Lailā to the bulbul tells

What secret grief her bosom swells,

And fancies, through the rustling leaves,

She from the garden-breeze receives

The breathings of her own true love,

Fond as the cooings of the dove.


“O faithful friend, and lover true,

Still distant from thy Lailā’s view;

Still absent, still beyond her power

To bring thee to her fragrant bower:

O noble youth, still thou art mine,

And Lailā, Lailā, still is thine!”
[Majnūn, frenzied and distracted, vainly seeks his Lailā, whom her father has betrothed against her will to a man she can but hate. The unhappy girl is long imprisoned in a closely guarded tower, until unexpectedly one night the word is brought of the death of her enforced and loathed husband. The situation is depicted in an Oriental manner.]

How beautifully blue

The firmament! how bright

The moon is sailing through

The vast expanse to-night!

And at this lovely hour,

The lonely Lailā weeps

Within her prison tower,

And her sad record keeps.

How many days, how many years,

Her sorrows she has borne!

A lingering age of sighs and tears,—

A night that has no morn;

Yet in that guarded tower she lays her head,

Shut like a gem within its stony bed.

And who the warder of that place of sighs?

Her husband! he the dragon-watch supplies.

What words are those which meet her anxious ear?

Unusual sounds, unusual sights appear;

Lamps flickering round, and wailings sad and low,

Seem to proclaim some sudden burst of woe.

Beneath her casements rings a wild lament;

Death-notes disturb the night; the air is rent

With clamorous voices; every hope is fled:

He breathes no longer—Ibn Salim is dead!

The fever’s rage had nipped him in his bloom;

He sank unloved, unpitied, to the tomb.

And Lailā marks the moon: a cloud

Had stained its lucid face;

The mournful token of a shroud,

End of the humble and the proud,

The grave their resting-place.

And now to her the tale is told,

Her husband’s hand and heart are cold.

And must she mourn the death of one

Whom she had loathed to look upon?

In customary garb arrayed,

Disheveled tresses, streaming eyes,

The heart remaining in disguise,—

She seemed, distraction in her mien,

To feel her loss, if loss had been;

But all the burning tears she shed

Were for her own Majnūn, and not the dead!
[In after life the two lovers meet but for a moment of enchanting rapture, and an instant for interchanging mutual vows of devotion; when the woe-worn Majnūn and the unhappy Lailā are separated forever, to be united only in death. Legend tells us how Lailā’s faithful page beheld a glorious vision of the beatified lovers joined in Paradise.]

The minstrel’s legend chronicle

Which on their woes delights to dwell,

Their matchless purity and faith,

And how their dust was mixed in death,

Tells how the sorrow-stricken Zeyd

Saw, in a dream, the beauteous bride,

With Majnūn seated side by side.

In meditation deep one night,

The other world flushed on his sight

With endless vistas of delight—

The world of spirits; as he lay,

Angels appeared in bright array,

Circles of glory round them gleaming,

Their eyes with holy rapture beaming;

He saw the ever verdant bowers,

With golden fruit and blooming flowers;

The bulbul heard, their sweets among,

Warbling his rich mellifluous song;

The ring-dove’s murmuring, and the swell

Of melody from harp and shell;

He saw within a rosy glade,

Beneath a palm’s extensive shade,

A throne, amazing to behold,

Studded with glittering gems and gold;

Celestial carpets near it spread

Close where a lucid streamlet strayed:

Upon that throne, in blissful state,

The long-divided lovers sate,

Resplendent with seraphic light;

They held a cup, with diamonds bright;

Their lips by turns, with nectar wet,

In pure ambrosial kisses met;

Sometimes to each their thoughts revealing,

Each clasping each with tenderest feeling.

The dreamer who this vision saw

Demanded, with becoming awe,

What sacred names the happy pair

In Irem-bowers were wont to bear.

A voice replied:—“That sparkling moon

Is Lailā still—her friend, Majnūn;

Deprived in your frail world of bliss,

They reap their great reward in this!”