Apr 04 | The Walls of Layla (Quarantine Hymn #5)

Last year I wrote The Quarantine Hymns, a set of twelve songs (at least so far) written during social isolation. Although I will only be posting excerpts on Soundcloud, the full album will be available for purchase on Bandcamp. This one, though, is my favourite, so I decided to post it in full.

This song was written in the immediate aftermath of my first livestreamed Eucharist back at the beginning of lockdown in March of 2020. As I watched the Body of Christ being received and then taken away from me through the video window on my laptop, I had an unexpected and visceral reaction, bending over and wailing at my inability to reach out and take what I had taken so easily and sometimes without much thought so many times before.

I had at the time been taking part in a course on Rumi’s masterwork the Masnavi, which included some passages about the famous and doomed lovers Majnun and Layla. Sufis understand their story as an analogue for the ardent longing shared between the soul and God, the divine Beloved. This was in my mind as I wrote the song in an almost white hot fury of grief. The line about “gathering other love-mad rogues on this creaky bark” references a Zoom Eucharist I celebrated that night with two friends, before my Archbishop forbid them. It was my first and only time presiding over or attending a Zoom Eucharist, and while I neither condemn nor necessarily condone them, I needed to do it that night, and I will always defend my conviction that it was efficacious.

Because of the song’s connection to Sufism I have included several lines from illahis, Sufi devotional songs, penned by two great poets: the 13th century Turkish dervish Yunus Emre and the 14th century Azerbaijani poet Seyyid Nesimi.

At the beginning, the whispered voice says, “Inside waters wide and deep, I wander thirsty all around. For this problem of mine, no solutions can be found.”

In the bridge, you’ll hear one voice sing, “The one who doesn’t burn can’t know the fire of Love.” (tr. Seemi Ghazi).

And finally, one phrase in particular pops up over and over throughout the hymn: Aşıklar ölmez.
“Lovers never die.”

Aşıklar ölmez. Alleluia.

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