Welcome to day 9 of 28 Days of Have Heaven, a short month of posts about heaven, paradise, perfection and desire, perfect places, art, theology, gardens, and more, using the Enya song “China Roses” as a jumping off point. Each post will look at these elements in itself, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may only peripherally be related. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They’ll all be listed here, as they are posted
We’re in the midst of a dozen days or so playing with some of the lyrics and elements in the song “China Roses.” It’s packed with interesting plants and allusions, and since I don’t know what was in lyricist Roma Ryan’s head when she concocted this magic, I feel I can construe the lines as I wish (“who can say the way it should be?,” after all).
Yesterday, the topic was the key of heaven. Today’s topic is a thousand nights and one night.
As I mentioned at the start, taken as a whole, the lyrics span time from dawn through day to evening, night, and moon rise, evoking an exotic Eden, mythic and romantic, scented with heady fragrances, planted with unusual specimens made lush by rain and river, under a swirl of celestial motion. Explicit in the words and implicit in the connotations, histories, and mythologies are repetitions and reverberations of these conjurings, a journey through time in a day, time in an eon, eternity in the cosmos.
Here again are the lyrics:
Who can tell me if we have heaven,
Who can say the way it should be;
Moonlight holly, the Sappho Comet,
Angel’s tears below a tree.
You talk of the break of morning
As you view the new aurora,
Cloud in crimson, the key of heaven,
One love carved in acajou.
One told me of China Roses,
One a thousand nights and one night,
Earth’s last picture, the end of evening:
Hue of indigo and blue.
A new moon leads me to
Woods of dreams and I follow.
A new world waits for me;
My dream, my way.
I know that if I have heaven
There is nothing to desire.
Rain and river, a world of wonder
May be paradise to me.
a thousand nights and one night:
There are some plant varieties named Arabian Nights, Scheherazade, and Aladdin, though none I could find called 1001 Nights or any version of that.
Dahlia ‘Arabian Night’ has “profuse and showy warm, deep-red flowers, almost black looking with slightly incurved petals. … The fully double flowers, up to 4 in. wide (10 cm), feature small green floral bracts in their center.”
There’s an “Arabian Night” lavender (Lavender x intermedia ‘Arabian Night’), a cross between the English lavender hybrids (or lavandins) — from which its scent derives — and the French lavender, with dark purple foliage and a low, sprawling habit.
‘Arabian Nights’ jasmine (Jasminum sambac ‘Arabian Nights’) blooms at night and is similar to the ‘Grand Duke of Tuscany’ cultivar, but smaller. It’s native to a small region in the eastern Himalayas in Bhutan and neighbouring Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, but is cultivated and naturalised in many spots, including southern Florida, the Bahamas, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.
There ‘Aladdin’ petunias (Petunia x hybrida Aladdin™ Arabian Nights Mix)
and a Tulipa ‘Aladdin’, an elegant lily-flowered tulip sporting scarlet goblet-shaped flowers with fine yellow edges.
A variety of orienpet, which is a hybrid oriental x trumpet lily, is called ‘Scheherazade’. It’s huge, from 4-8 feet tall on a rigid stem, waxy, very fragrant, with dinner plate-sized deep red flowers edged with gold to white. It’s fragrant in the evening. As one article puts it, “Scheherazade lives on in our gardens as a dark, red, fragrant lily with recurved flowers edged in gold with white margins. Like its timeless namesake this lily is hardy and perennial.”
Flower names aside, almost certainly “a thousand nights and one night” in the song refers to the famous, fabulous collection of stories dating back to the 9th century commonly called “1001 Nights” or “The Arabian Nights.” For one thing, the sleeve design for the album The Memory of Trees, on which “China Roses” appears, is an adaptation of The Young King of the Black Isles, a Maxfield Parrish painting (1906), shown on the left below, that’s based on the story of the same name from The Thousand Nights and One Night; Enya herself is shown as the crying young king on his throne (right).
Each of the “1001 Nights” stories, told by Scheherazade to King Shahryār to prevent him from killing her, ends when dawn — the break of morning — arrives, the dangerous time when 1,000 women before her were executed dawn by dawn by the king.
The collection conjures an exotic world. That world may not seem a heaven to me, but it has become a sort of dreamy (also nightmarey) land of jinns, ghouls, magic lamps, flying carpets, sexual and romantic love, and of the power of fate, destiny, and stories themselves in our lives. As novelist A.S. Byatt remarks in “Narrate Or Die: Why Scheherazade keeps on talking” in the New York Times (1999), “[i]n British Romantic poetry, ‘The Arabian Nights’ stood for the wonderful against the mundane, the imaginative against the prosaically and reductively rational.”
Byatt, in the New York Times article cited above, connects Scheherazade’s storytelling with our own narratives, with storytelling in general, in its ability to keep us alive and hopeful:
“This story has everything a tale should have. Sex, death, treachery, vengeance, magic, humor, warmth, wit, surprise and a happy ending. Though it appears to be a story against women, it actually marks the creation of one of the strongest and cleverest heroines in world literature. Shahrazad, who has been better known in the West as Scheherazade, triumphs because she is endlessly inventive and keeps her head. The stories in ‘The Thousand and One Nights’ (interchangeably known as ‘The Arabian Nights’) are stories about storytelling without ever ceasing to be stories about love and life and death and money and food and other human necessities. … [S]torytelling is intrinsic to biological time, which we cannot escape. Life, Pascal said, is like living in a prison from which every day fellow prisoners are taken away to be executed. We are all, like Scheherazade, under sentence of death, and we all think of our lives as narratives, with beginnings, middles and ends.
“Storytelling in general, and ‘The Thousand and One Nights’ in particular, consoles us for endings with endless new beginnings. … Storytellers like … Scheherazade can offer readers and listeners an infinity of incipits, an illusion of inexhaustibility.”
That infinity of new beginnings, new auroras, that storytelling offers perhaps consoles us because it reminds us, below consciousness, of the ever-new eternity of heaven.
“If you think about why any story moves us, it’s because of a quaking moment of recognition. It’s never the shock of the new, it’s the shock of the familiar.” — Joshua Oppenheimer
“The Thousand Nights and One Night” (Persian Hezār-o yek šab, Arabic Kitāb ‘alf layla wa-layla) is a collection of tales that trace their roots back to ancient and medieval Arabic, Persian, Greek, Indian, Jewish, and Turkish folklore and literature. The earliest Arabic versions, dating from the 9th century in Syria, contained about 300 nights, with the rest added by Arab writers and European translators over time. A 14th-century Syrian manuscript has no narrative ending, while an early 19th-century Egyptian publication ends with the King pardoning Scheherazade.
The first publication in Europe was a French translation (Galland’s) in the early 1700s, loosely adapted from a 14th-century Syrian text. Richard Burton’s 19th century version is probably the most famous. Translations and editions by Malcolm and Ursula Lyons (2008) and Joseph Charles Mardrus (French, 1926-1932) are also considered standards now. The stories best known to Westerners (especially those who watch cartoons and Disney movies) are “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” (where ‘Open Sesame’ comes from) and “Aladdin” (both added by Galland) and “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad,” from a 1637 Turkish edition.
The Thousand Nights and One Night is a frame story, i.e., the tales are told within another story, the story of a Vizier’s daughter, Scheherazade, and a betrayed and vengeful King Shahryār. Wikipedia summarises:
“Shahryār is shocked to learn that his brother’s wife is unfaithful; discovering that his own wife’s infidelity has been even more flagrant, he has her killed. In his bitterness and grief, he decides that all women are the same. Shahryār begins to marry a succession of virgins only to execute each one the next morning, before she has a chance to dishonor him. Eventually the vizier, whose duty it is to provide them, cannot find any more virgins. Scheherazade …, the vizier’s daughter, offers herself as the next bride and her father reluctantly agrees. On the night of their marriage, Scheherazade begins to tell the king a tale, but does not end it. The king, curious about how the story ends, is thus forced to postpone her execution in order to hear the conclusion. The next night, as soon as she finishes the tale, she begins another one, and the king, eager to hear the conclusion of that tale as well, postpones her execution once again. This goes on for one thousand and one nights, hence the name.
The tales include “historical tales, love stories, tragedies, comedies, poems, burlesques, and various forms of erotica. Numerous stories depict jinns, ghouls, apes, sorcerers, magicians, and legendary places, which are often intermingled with real people and geography, not always rationally. … Sometimes a character in Scheherazade’s tale will begin telling other characters a story of his own, and that story may have another one told within it, resulting in a richly layered narrative texture.”
Scheherazade tells her stories and is pardoned each morning for three years, during which she bears three sons by the king, until finally she tells him she’s out of stories and is prepared to be killed. But! The king has fallen for her and her entrancing stories; he declares her wise and makes her his forever Queen.
The themes of the stories include fate, destiny, self-fulfilling prophecy, coincidence, guarded treasures, good and evil, love, the rise from poverty to prosperity, the oppressor and the oppressed, trust and betrayal, et al. The clever Scheherazade incorporates foreshadowing, allegory, fantasy and magical elements, parables, the use of an unreliable narrator, repetition, poetry, satire, and stories-within-stories as she weaves her tales that span genres of romance, fairy tales, crime fiction, horror, fantasy, and even science fiction.
As Jaimie L. Elliott writes in an article at Myth Conceptions, “A Thousand Nights and One Night is vulgar, satirical, humorous, sexist, racist, xenophobic, violent, and brimming with magic. A Thousand Nights and One Night is also lyrical, profound, tragic, tolerant, serene, beautiful, and replete with the mundane.”
The orchestral suite “Scheherazade” (1888) by Russian composer Nicolay Rimsky-Korsakov was inspired by The Thousand Nights and One Night and tells the story with “a kaleidoscope of fairy-tale images.” The suite is structured in four movements, originally untitled but later given names by one of Rimsky-Korsakov’s students; the composer himself didn’t intend for the suite to portray the tale as a whole or in part but rather “meant these hints [themes] to direct but slightly the hearer’s fancy on the path which my own fancy had traveled, and to leave more minute and particular conceptions to the will and mood of each” (Rimsky-Korsakov quoted in an essay at Britannica)
The illustrations here are from watercolours by Danish artist Kay Nielsen, painted by him in during World War I but never published until 2018, by Taschen. (More)
Literature / Arabian Nights at TV Tropes
frame tales: comparison of Decameron and 1001 Nights by Douglas Galbi at purple motes
The 10 Greatest Stories From 1,001 Nights by Courtney Stanley at Culture Trip, 28 October 2016
A Thousand Nights and One Night by Jaimie L. Elliott at Myth Conceptions
One Thousand and One Nights at Wikipedia
Tomorrow: Earth’s last picture
Astronomers Locate a New Planet
by Matthew Olzmann
“Because it is so dense, scientists calculate the carbon must be crystalline, so a large part of this strange world will effectively be diamond.” —Reuters, 8/24/2011
Like the universe’s largest engagement ring, it twirls
and sparkles its way through infinity.
The citizens of the new world know about luxury.
They can live for a thousand years.
Their hearts are little clocks
with silver pendulums pulsing inside,
Eyes like onyx, teeth like pearl.
But it’s not always easy. They know hunger.
They starve. A field made of diamond
is impossible to plow; shovels crumble and fold
like paper animals. So frequent is famine,
that when two people get married,
one gives the other a locket filled with dirt.
That’s the rare thing, the treasured thing, there.
It takes decades to save for,
but the ground beneath them glows,
and people find a way.
On Earth, when my wife is sleeping,
I like to look out at the sky.
I like to watch TV shows about supernovas,
and contemplate things that are endless
like the heavens and, maybe, love.
I can drink coffee and eat apples whenever I want.
Things grow everywhere, and so much is possible,
but on the news tonight: a debate about who
can love each other forever and who cannot.
There was a time when it would’ve been illegal
for my wife to be my wife. Her skin,
my household of privilege. Sometimes,
I wish I could move to another planet.
Sometimes, I wonder what worlds are out there.
I turn off the TV because the news rarely makes
the right decision on its own. But even as the room
goes blacker than the gaps between galaxies,
I can hear the echoes: who is allowed to hold
the ones they wish to hold, who can reach
into the night, who can press his or her
own ear against another’s chest and listen
to a heartbeat telling stories in the dark.
Featured image: The cover of volume 2 of The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights, Malcolm & Ursula Lyons., Penguin Classics.
Astronomers Locate a New Planet
I love this poem. Thank you for sharing. BB
Love the photos of the beautiful flowers! I never realized the song “Scheherazade” was inspired by The Thousand Nights and One Night. I used to have piano music for it. Thanks for sharing your findings. Blessings to you!