‘Chronicles of Majnun Layla & Selected Poems’

Arabic Literature (in English)

It’s easy to see why Ferial Ghazoul and John Verlenden would choose the “Chronicles of Majnun Layla” as the centerpiece of their Qassim Haddad collection, which brings together work that spans the Bahraini poet’s career. The cycle of thirty-nine poems is not just compelling and controversial, but also moves beautifully from Arabic into English:

unnamed (1)It’s perhaps impossible for an English-language reader to get the full texture of this reworking of the ancient tale, built as it is on a thousand previous tellings. The “Majnun Layla,” which loosely translates as “Driven Mad by Love for Layla,” has seeped into English, inspiring Isaac D’Israeli’s 1797 Majnun and Leila and a 1970 love song by Eric Clapton. But this hardly compares to the tale’s influence in Arabic or Persian. In Arabic, the Majnun Layla narrative has been gathering meaning since at least the ninth century, and has inspired major artworks and dozens…

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