by Ahmad al-Alawi

English version by Martin Lings

Full near I came unto where dwelleth
Layla, when I heard her call.
That voice, would I might ever hear it!
She favored me, and drew me to her,
Took me in, into her precinct,
With discourse intimate addressed me.
She sat me by her, then came closer,
Raised the cloak that hid her from me,
Made me marvel to distraction,
Bewildered me with all her beauty.
She took me and amazed me,
And hid me in her inmost self,
Until I thought that she was I,
And my life she took as ransom.
She changed me and transfigured me,
And marked me with her special sign,
Pressed me to her, put me from her,
Named me as she is named.
Having slain and crumbled me,
She steeped the fragments in her blood.
Then, after my death, she raised me:
My star shines in her firmament.
Where is my life, and where my body,
Where my willful soul? From her
The truth of these shone out to me
Secrets that had been hidden from me.
Mine eyes have never seen but her:
To naught else can they testify.
All meanings in her are comprised.
Glory be to her Creator!
Thou that beauty wouldst describe,
Here is something of her brightness
Take it from me. It is my art.
Think it not idle vanity.
My Heart lied not when it divulged
The secret of my meeting her.
If nearness unto her effaceth,
I still subsist in her substance.

-- from Music of the Sky: An Anthology of Spiritual Poetry, Edited by Patrick Laude / Edited by Barry McDonald

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This beautiful poem builds on the traditional romance between Layla and Majnun, a story of two lovers popular throughout the Muslim world. But here, in Shaykh Ahmad al-Alawi's poem -- as in the sacred romances of the Troubadors -- this ideal has been transformed from the earthly beloved to the Beloved of the spiritual seeker. Layla, here, is the Divine Beloved.

This is God experienced in such an intimate form that it takes erotic language to convey the sense of closeness and melting into one another.

Yet the language quickly takes on a transcendent quality. In this union, "my life she took as ransom." We are "marked... with her special sign." We are so completely "transfigured" that we receive a new "name," a completely new identity, we are named "as she is named;" in other words we take on her divine identity as our own.

I love the closing lines:

If nearness unto her effaceth,
I still subsist in her substance.

Recommended Books: Ahmad al-Alawi

Music of the Sky: An Anthology of Spiritual Poetry A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century: Shaikh Ahmad al-Alawi Two Who Attained: Twentieth-Century Sufi Saints: Fatima al-Yashrutiyya & Shaykh Ahmad al-'Alawi The Uniqe Name