Ever wonder if there is meaning behind the name Layla? By 'Layla' I mean as in the song by Derek and the Dominos (i.e. Eric Clapton). And that maybe it's more than just the code name for Pattie Boyd, who was the object of Eric Clapton’s obsession, and the wife of George Harrison (a former Beatle)?
Well, there is.
As you might already know, I teach English at the UAE University in the Middle East. The other day I asked my students how to pronounce the ‘q’ sound in Arabic, as in the name ‘Qais,’ a common Arab boy’s name in the old bedouin days.
This led to a discussion of the ultimate long distance relationship love story ‘Qais and Layla,’ of which I had seen hanging pictures in the hallways drawn by students in the past, but thought it was a modern romantic creation. My students informed me that this love story stems from an ancient Arab oral tradition that has been passed down for over a thousand years.
What I came to find out following this discussion was mind-boggling.
According to Wikipedia, the story of ‘Qais and Layla,’ also known as ‘Majnun Layla’ (Driven mad by Layla) was a true story created in 7th century Arabia.
Two versions of this love story exist. In the first one, Qais the poet tended the flocks as a boy with Layla and came to fall in love with her. In the second version, Qais the poet falls in love with Layla at first sight. He writes love poetry to her, but Layla’s father rejects Qais’ marriage proposal, (scholars disagree as to why: either because they were from separate tribes or due to his love poetry having caused a disgraceful scandal) thus driving Qais absolutely crazy.
Layla’s father forces her to marry another older man and they go to live in what is now Iraq. When Qais hears the bad news, he begins wandering the desert day and night heartbroken and devastated, writing poetry for Layla. Meanwhile, Layla becomes sick and dies. Not long afterwards, Qais is found dead near her grave. Before he dies, he carves three verses of love poetry into her tombstone.
Here is an example of one of his many romantic poems Qais wrote to Layla:
“I pass by these walls, the walls of Layla
And I kiss this wall and that wall.
It’s not Love of the houses that has taken my heart
But of the One who dwells in those houses.”
Nizami, a 12th century Persian author, wrote a famous adaptation of their love story in which the young virgin lovers meet at school and fall desperately in love, but are forbidden to marry due to a family feud. Some scholars debate as to whether this love story influenced Shakespeare’s 17th century Romeo and Juliet.
Below is an illustration from Nizami’s Khamsa of Nizami, titled Laila and Majnun at (mosque) School, published cerca 1432 A.D.
Getting back to modern day culture, Eric Clapton learned about the love story ‘Qais and Layla’ from a friend during the time he was driven mad with passion over Pattie Boyd. Fueled by unrequited love, the classic Arab/Persian tale helped inspire the creation of his album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. He even credits Nizami for his contribution on his album.
Aside from its title track Layla, the song “I Am Yours” is a direct quote from a passage from Nizami’s adaptation of Layla and Majnun.
I Am Yours Lyrics:
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.
I am yours.
[ Lyrics found at www.mp3lyrics.org/J7K ]
To find out other love songs that have been attributed to her, and for more fascinating insights into their famous love triangle, you can read Pattie Boyds autobiography titled Wonderful Today, or visit this link to an article written by Pattie Boyd: www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-473174/Pattie-Boyd-My-hellish-love-triangle-George-Eric--Part-One.html