Nobody’s waiting by your side

Once in a while one of those image macros actually gets to me. I lost the link, and I can’t bring myself to go back through three weeks of Facebook ephemera to find it, so I’ll simply tell you that it’s a simple picture of an old man on a bench under a streetlight, saying “For fifty years, I have loved only one woman.”

Next panel: “If only she knew.”

Now jump back in time six centuries or so:

Majnun Dies on the Tomb of Layla by Behzad

This is a miniature attributed to the Persian painter Kamal al-din Bihzad, circa 1495, depicting Majnun (“he who is possessed”), the poet formerly known as Qays, laid to rest beside his beloved Layla, whom he could never, ever approach.

The story goes back at least to seventh-century Arabia, though the best-known version was created by Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi in 1192. They met as children, and were promptly barred from each other’s company by the parental units. In time, she was betrothed to another; Qays slowly, then not so slowly, seemed to go mad. In an effort to free the lad from his madness, his father took him on the Hajj; not only did it not work, but Qays actually raised a hand to the Kaaba itself:

“None of my days shall ever be free of this pain. Let me love, oh my God, love for love’s sake, and make my love a hundred times as great as it was and is!”

By now Layla must have forgotten him, and the madman wandered through the desert, singing the praises of his lost love. Passers-by listened to his songs, and sometimes they wrote them down. Eventually those songs reached Layla, who has not forgotten him at all: she could not, of course, respond, but she wrote her own messages and cast them forth, hoping the wind would carry them to him. And while she had married, that marriage had not been consummated, as she could not in good conscience participate. Her husband, understanding, chose not to press the issue.

Years passed, and the wind, helped by travelers who knew of Majnun and his plight, did bring Layla’s messages to him, and he gave thanks that she lived. A man named Zayd became their go-between, carrying messages back and forth; eventually they would meet at twilight, keeping a decent distance of ten paces between them, speaking in that mysterious tongue only lovers know, until the break of dawn.

And they were still apart when Layla’s husband died, and Layla, despairing, died of grief. Majnun returned to her, but too late, and having nothing further to live for, was laid to rest beside her. Zayd has a vision of them in the next world:

“Eternal companions: he is Majnun, the king of the world in right action, and she is Layla, the moon among idols in compassion. In the world, like unpierced rubies they treasured their fidelity affectionately, but found no rest and could not attain their heart’s desire. Here they suffer grief no more. So it will be until eternity.”

And Zayd himself notes:

This world is dust and is perishable. That world is pure and eternal… Commit yourself to love’s sanctuary and at once find freedom from your ego. Fly in love as an arrow towards its target. Love loosens the knots of being, love is liberation from the vortex of egotism. In love, every cup of sorrow which bites into the soul gives it new life. Many a draft bitter as poison has become in love delicious… However agonizing the experience, if it is for love it is well.

Now what you want to know is probably: Did Eric Clapton know about all this?

I am yours.
However distant you may be,
There blows no wind but wafts your scent to me,
There sings no bird but calls your name to me.
Each memory that has left its trace with me
Lingers forever as a part of me.

You may be absolutely certain that he did.

And you would never believe how I arrived at this topic in the first place, so I cut this down from the original thousand words to a shade under 700.





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