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The Signs of Love

Abű Muhammad ‘Alee ibn Ahmad ibn Sa‘eed ibn Hazm

Excerpted with modifications and deletions from his book, Tawq al-Hamâmah (Ring of the Dove), translated by A.J. Arberry © 1953 Luzac & Co. Ltd.


 

Love has certain signs which the intelligent man quickly detects, and the shrewd man readily recognizes. Of these the first is the brooding gaze: the eye is the wide gateway of the soul, the scrutinizer of its secrets, conveying its most private thoughts, and giving expression to its deepest-hid-feelings. You will see the lover gazing at the beloved unblinkingly; his eyes follow the loved one’s every movement, withdrawing as he withdraws, inclining as he inclines, just as the chameleon’s stare shifts with the shifting of the sun…

The lover will direct his conversation to the beloved, even when he purports however earnestly to address another: the affectation is apparent to anyone with eyes to see. When the loved one speaks, the lover listens with rapt attention to his every word; he marvels at everything the beloved says, however extraordinary and absurd his observations may be; he believes him implicitly even when he is obviously in the wrong, testifies on his behalf for all that the may be unjust, follows after him however he may proceed and whatever line of argument he may adopt. The lover hurries to the spot where the beloved is at the moment, endeavours to sit as near to him as possible, sidles up close to him, lays aside all occupations that might oblige him to leave his company, makes light of any matter however weighty that would demand his parting from him, is very slow to move when he takes his leave of him…

Other signs of love are that sudden confusion and excitement betrayed by the lover when he unexpectedly sees the one he loves coming upon him unawares, that agitation which overmasters him on beholding someone who resembles his beloved or on hearing his name suddenly pronounced…

A man in love will give prodigally to the limit of his capacity, in a way that formerly he would have refused; as if he were the one receiving the donation, he the one whose happiness is the object in view; all this in order that he may show off his good points, and make himself desirable. How often has the miser opened his pursestrings, the scowler relaxed his frown, the coward leapt heroically into the fray, the clod suddenly became sharp-witted, the boor turned into the perfect gentleman, the stinker transformed himself into the elegant dandy, the sloucher smartened up, the decrepit recaptured his lost youth, the godly gone wild, the self-respecting kicked over the traces – and all because of love!  

All these signs are to be observed even before the fire of Love is properly kindled, ere its conflagration truly bursts forth, its blaze waxes fierce, its flames leap up. But when the fire really takes a hold and is firmly established, then you will see the secret whispering, the unconcealed turning away from all present but the beloved…

Other outward signs and tokens of love are the following, which are apparent to all having eyes in their heads: abundant and exceeding cheerfulness at finding oneself with the beloved in a narrow space, and a corresponding depression on being together in a wide expanse; to engage in a playful tug-of-war for anything the one or the other lays hold of; much clandestine winking; leaning sideways and supporting oneself against the object of one’s affection; endeavouring to touch his hand, and whatever other part of his body one can reach, while engaged in conversation; and drinking the remainder of what the beloved has left in the cup, seeking out the very spot against which his lips were pressed.

There are also contrary signs, that occur according to casual provocations and accidental incitements, and a variety of motivating causes and stimulating thoughts. Opposite are of course likes in reality; when things reach the limit of contrariety, and stand at the furthest bounds of divergency, they come to resemble one another. This is decreed by God’s omnipotent power, in a manner that baffles entirely the human imagination. Thus, when ice is pressed a long time in the hand, it finally produces the same effect as fire. We find that extreme joy and extreme sorrow kill equally; excessive and violent laughter sends the tears coursing from the eyes. It is very common phenomenon in the world about us. Similarly with lovers: when they love each other with an equal ardour, and their mutual affection is intensely strong, they will turn against one another without any valid reason, each purposely contradicting the other in whatever he may say; they quarrel violently over the smallest things, each picking up every word that the other lets fall and willfully misinterpreting it. All these devices are aimed at testing and proving what each is seeking in the other.

Now the difference between this sham, and real aversion and contrariness born of deep-seated hatred and reconciled after their disputes. You will see a pair of lovers seeming to have reached the extreme limit of contrariety, to the point that you would reckon not to be mended even in the instance of a person of most tranquil spirit, wholly exempt from rancour, save after long interval, and wholly irreparable in the case of a quarrelsome man; yet in next to no time you will observe them to have become the best friends once more; silenced are those mutual reproaches, vanished that disharmony; forthwith they are laughing again and playfully sporting together. The same scene may be enacted several times at a single session. When you see a pair of lovers behaving in such a fashion, let no doubt enter your mind, no uncertainty invade your thoughts; you may be sure without hesitation, and convinced as by an unshakable certainty, that there lies between them a deep and hidden secret – the secret of true love. Take this then for a sure test, a universally valid experiment: it is the product only of an equal partnership in love, and a true concord of hearts. I myself have observed it frequently.

Another sign is when you find the lover almost entreating to hear the loved one’s name pronounced, taking an extreme delight in speaking about him, so that the subject is a positive obsession with him; nothing so much rejoices him, and he is not in the least restrained by the fear that someone listening may realize what he is about, and someone present will understand his true motives. Love for a thing renders you blind and deaf. If the lover could so contrive, that in the place where he happens to be there should be no talk of anything but his beloved, he would never leave that spot for any other in the whole world.

It can happen that a man sincerely affected by love will start to eat his mean with an excellent appetite; yet the instant the recollection of his loved one is excited, the food sticks in his throat and chokes his gullet. It is the same if he is drinking, or talking – he begins to converse with you gaily enough, then all at once he is invaded by a chance thought of his dear one. You will notice the change in his manner of speaking, the instantaneous failure of his conversational powers; the sure signs are his long silences, the way he stares at the ground, his extreme taciturnity. One moment he is all smiles, lightly gesticulating; the next, and he has become completely boxed up, sluggish, distrait, rigid, too weary to utter a single word, irritated by the most innocent question.

Love’s signs also include fondness for solitude and a pleasure in being alone, as well as wasting of the body not accompanied by any fever or ache preventing free activity and liberty of movement. The walk is also an unerring indication and never-deceiving sing of an inward lassitude of spirit. Sleeplessness too is a common affliction of lovers; the poets have described this condition frequently, relating how they watch the stars, and giving an account of the night’s interminable length…

Trepidation overtakes lovers in two situations. The first is when the lover hopes to meet the beloved, and then some obstacles intervene to prevent it. I know a man whose loved one had promised to visit him; thereafter I never saw him but that he was coming and going the whole time, quite unable to be still or to remain in one place; now he would advance, anon he would retire; joy had made him positively nimble and spritely, though formerly he was exceedingly grave and sedate…

The second cause of trepidation is when a quarrel breaks out between the loving couple, in the course of which reproaches fly about, the true grounds whereof only a detailed explanation can make clear. Then the lover’s agitation becomes violent indeed, and continues until the matter comes completely into the open; when either the burden under which he has been struggling is lifted, if he has cause to hope for forgiveness, or his trepidation converts into sorrow and despair, if he is fearful that the beloved will thenceforward banish him. The lover may however submit humbly to the loved one’s cruelty, as shall be expounded hereafter in its proper context, God willing.

Among the accidents of Love may be mentioned an extreme impatience under affliction, such a paroxysm of emotion as completely overwhelms the lover and leaves him speechless, as when he sees his beloved turning from him in undisguised aversion…

Another sign of Love is that you will see the lover loving his beloved’s kith and kin and the intimate ones of his household, to such an extent that they are nearer and dearer to him than his own folk, himself, and all his familiar friends.

Weeping is a well-known sign of Love; except that men differ very greatly from one another in this particular. Some are ready weepers; their tear-ducts are always overflowing, and their eyes respond immediately to their emotion, the tears rolling down at a moment’s notice. Others are dry-eyed and barren of tears; to this category I myself belong. This is a result of my habit of eating frankincense to abate the palpitation from which I have suffered since childhood. I will be afflicted by some shocking blow, and at once feel my heart to be splitting and breaking into fragments; I have chocking sensation in my heart more bitter than colocynth, that prevents me from getting my words out properly, and sometimes well nigh suffocates me. My eyes therefore respond to my feelings but rarely, and then my tears are exceedingly sparse…

It will happen in Love that the lovers have evil thoughts of one another; each suspects every word the partner utters, and misconstrues it willfully; which is the origin of reproaches which lovers often level each against each. I have an acquaintance who is normally the most unsuspicious man in the world, extremely broad-minded, possessed of great patience and untold tolerance, indulgent to a fault; yet when he is in love, he cannot endure the slightest thing between him and the object of his affection; let the least difference between them, and he will forthwith utter all kind of reproaches and give voice to every manner of mistrust…

You will see the lover, when unsure of the constancy of his loved one’s feelings for him, perpetually on his guard in a way that he never troubled to be before; he polishes his language, he refines his gestures and his glances, particularly if he has the misfortune and mischance to be in love with one given to making unjust accusations, or of a quarrelsome disposition.

Another sign of Love is the way the lover pays attention to the beloved; remembering everything that falls from his lips; searching out all the news about him, so that nothing small or great that happens to him may escape his knowledge; in short, following closely his every movement. Upon my life, sometimes you will see a complete dolt under these circumstances become most keen, a careless fellow turn exceedingly quick-witted.

I was seated one day at Almeria, with a knot of other people, in the shop of Ismâ‘eel ibn Yűnus, the Hebrew physician who was also a shrewd and clever physiognomist. Mujâhid ibn al-Haseen al-Qaisee said to him, pointing to a certain man named Hâtim – he was familiarly known as Abű’l-Baqâ’ – who was withdrawn apart from the rest of us, “What do you say about this man?” He looked at him for a brief moment, and then said, “He is passionately in love”. Mujâhid exclaimed, “You are right; what made you say this?” Ismâ’eel answered, “Because of an extreme confusion apparent in his face. Simply that; otherwise all the rest of his movements are unremarkable. I knew from this that he is in love, and not suffering from any mental disorder.”

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