by Nizami Ganjavi
Adapted by Torange Yeghiazarian
PREFACE: Exceptional in content and style, Nizami Ganjavi (c. 1141-c. 1203) broke new ground in Persian narrative, penning a quintet (khamsa) of epic poems that remains vital today. Layla and Majnun is one of the five. His verse encompassed both the heroic and romantic dimensions of human relations, with new focus on the human pscyhe. Groundbreaking in language too, Nizami became one of the first Persian poets to marry the courtly lyric style (full of allegory and metaphor) to narrative form. His words paint extremely vivid pictures of settings and describe emotions in remarkable detail, in surprisingly playful language.
Newly adapted from the Persian poem is the dramatic reading below, presented in traditional storytelling style: A naghal or rawi (storyteller) would begin by thanking his audience, his host, the poet, and perhaps the story's heroes and heroines. The opening and closing below, not directly from Nizami, echo this tradition; they frame the story in a naghal’s typical opening and closing. On paper, Nizami, like other poets, regularly began with an ode to the creator and gratitude to his benefactors, a custom the naghals adopted.
Hello, hello and many hellos! Welcome to this sacred scene of the story, a tale as amazing as any other, a story that is sure to take you away from here. So gather around and hear . . . the immortal tale of Layla and Majnun as told by Nizami Ganjavi. May the light of heavens shine on his grave.
Layla and Majnun—their names reverberate across the globe anywhere true love is cited, anywhere that young hearts quiver at the thought of lifelong devotion. We thank you, our honored audience for joining us today and begin our story with His name which is the best beginning. As the poet says, "You are the thought that occupies my soul. Your name fills my every word. You unlock every closed door, and Your name solves all mysteries."
When the storyteller spoke, these words rolled from his tongue like pearls: It began in the ancient land of Arabia. There lived a man rich with worldly gifts and the respect of his clan. His only wish was to have a child. When the Almighty finally granted him a child, the little boy was delicate as pomegranate blossoms. From the moment his father laid eyes on his son's brilliant face, he lavished all his worldly goods on the boy, whom the father named Qays.
 Sources: Nizami Ganjavi. Khamseh, edited by Seyyen Hassan Mirkhani, Rudaki, 1984. This adaptation was originally commissioned by UC Berkeley Cal Performances’ Reaching for the Stars program and presented Sept. 30, 2016. The reading accompanied a performance by Mark Morris Dance Group, The Silk Road Ensemble, and mugham folk-music vocalists. IMAGE: Illus. manuscript, 1431, Metropolitan Museum of Art—for full image, CLICK PICTURE.