- Expected 9 Feb 2021
The Persian epic that inspired Eric Clapton's unforgettable love song "Layla" and that Lord Byron called "the Romeo and Juliet of the East," in a masterly new translation
A Penguin Classic
The iconic love story of the Middle East, by a twelfth-century Persian poet who has been compared to Shakespeare for his subtlety, inventiveness, and dramatic force, Layli and Majnun tells of star-crossed lovers whose union is tragically thwarted by their families and whose passion continues to ripple out across the centuries. Theirs is a love that lasts a lifetime, and in Nezami's immortal telling, erotic longing blends with spiritual self-denial in an allegory of Sufi aspiration, as the amenities of civilization give way to the elemental wilderness, desire is sublimated into a mystical renunciation of the physical world, and the soul confronts its essence. This is a tour de force of Persian literature, in a translation that captures the extraordinary power and virtuosity of the original.
In this substantial volume, Davis offers the first verse translation of the 12th-century Persian poet Nezami, whose love story between Layli and Majnun has been likened to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Similarities abound between the two texts, which both relay the trials of lovers thwarted by their families: "Their mingled scents were sweet, as though no care/ Or sorrow could survive when they were there,/ But even so their mingled, bitter cries/ Proclaimed their sadness to the morning skies./ Love came; its sword did not discriminate/ But cleared the house, and left it to its fate." Written in a highly regular rhyme scheme, Davis's rhythmic translation is full of lush imagery, with each title signaling a section of the story ("Majnun's Father Advises His Son," "Majnun Frees Another Deer from a Huntsman"). As Davis states in his introduction, these poems are "hybrid affairs in which... mores and sensibilities are blended with something that has originated in a remote time or place, or both," and the story shares notable affinities with the prose romances of other cultures. This is a highly engaging tale of impossible love.