THE MAD LOVER

(Quoth Aboulabbas el Muberred (150)), I set out one day with a company to El Berid on an occasion, and coming to the monastery of Heraclius, (151) we alighted in its shade. Presently a man came out to us and said, "There are madmen in the monastery, and amongst them one who speaketh wisdom; if ye saw him, ye would marvel at his speech." So we arose all and went into the monastery, where we saw a man seated on a leather mat in one of the cells, with bare head and eyes fixed upon the wall. We saluted him, and he returned our greeting, without looking at us; and one said to us, "Repeat some verses to him; for, when he hears verses, he speaks." So I repeated the following verses:

      O best of all the race whom Eve gave birth unto, Except for thee the world were neither sweet nor bright:
      Thou'rt he, whose face if God unveil to any man, Eternity is his; his head shall ne'er grow white. (152)

When he heard this, he turned towards us and repeated these lines:

      God indeed knows that I am sore afflicted: I suffer so, I cannot tell the whole.
      I have two souls; one in this place is dwelling; Another country holds my second soul.
      Meseems the absent one is like the present And wearies under the same weight of dole.

Quoth he, "Have I said well or ill?" "Thou hast said well and excellent well," replied we. Then he put out his hand and took a stone, that was by him; whereupon we fled from him, thinking he would throw it at us; but he fell to beating his breast therewith violently and said to us, "Fear not, but draw near and hear somewhat from me and receive it from me." So we came back, and he repeated the following verses:

      When they made their beasts of burden kneel as day drew nigh and nigher, Then they mounted and the camels bore away my heart's desire,--
      When my eyes perceived my loved one through the crannied prison-wall, Then I cried, with streaming eyelids and a heart for love a-fire,
      "Turn thou leader of the camels, let me bid my love farewell!" For her absence and estrangement, life and hope in me expire.
      Still I kept my troth and failed not from her love; ah, would I knew What she did with that our troth-plight, if she kept her faith entire!

Then he looked at me and said, "Dost thou know what she did?" "Yes," answered I, "she is dead; may God the Most High have mercy on her!" At this his face changed and he sprang to his feet and cried out, "How knowest thou she is dead?" "Were she alive," answered I, "she had not left thee thus." "By Allah, thou art right," said he, "and I care not to live after her." Then his nerves quivered and he fell on his face; and we ran up to him and shook him and found him dead, the mercy of God be on him! At this we marvelled and mourned sore for him and laid him out and buried him. When I returned to Baghdad and went in to the Khalif El Mutawekkil, he saw the trace of tears on my face and said to me, "What is this?" So I told him what had passed, and it was grievous to him and he said, "What moved thee to deal thus with him? By Allah, if I thought thou didst this with intent, I would punish thee therefor!" And he mourned for him the rest of the day.




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