Uns-El-Wujood and El-Ward Fi-L-Akmam is a tale of love, separation, and reunion. Set in legendary kingdoms in times of yore, Chapter 18 of Arabian Nights is a quintessential romance. The daughter of the king's Weezer falls in love with one of the king's soldiers. Both become completely smitten with one another, but when their affair is discovered, the Weezer fears that the Sultan will not approve. The Weezer, Ibraheem, consults his wife, who prays for guidance. The parents of El-Ward Fi-L-Akmam decide that their only recourse is to send their daughter to a land far away, in "the midst of the Sea of the Kunooz...on the Mountain of the Bereft Mother," (p. 200). There, they will build an "impregnable palace" in which she will spend the rest of her days in isolation (p. 200). The lovers, who have been exchanging verses of love poetry since they first fell for each other, suffer the pangs of separation in their minds, hearts, and even in their bodies. Throughout the narrative, both Uns-El-Wujood and El-Ward Fi-L-Akmam describe their anguish and desire in both mental and physical terms. Love, loneliness, and estrangement are felt as acutely in the body as in the soul. Both the lovers are noticeably depressed; they cannot eat, sleep, drink, or enjoy any of life's pleasures. They cry constantly and feel various sensations of heat and soreness in the body. Some of these sensations are completely literal, as the eyelids sore from crying. Others are like psychosomatic sensations, like the "fire in the bosom" they both feel (p. 208). However, the lovers definitely feel their desire in their bodies, and their passion functions as both poison and as cure.
Desire and passion are described as both affliction and as salve throughout the story. Desire initially creates craving and addiction: "She looked at him again and again, and was not satiated with gazing at him," (p. 194). Thus, desire perpetuates itself by creating longing in the mind and body of the lover. From the moment El-Ward Fi-L-Akmam sets her eyes on Uns-El-Wujood, she must have more of him. She is not alone in her feelings, for "he withdrew not his eye without his heart's being engrossed by love for her," (p. 194). Being afflicted with desire is not unlike being afflicted with a physical disease. As soon as she becomes infatuated with Uns-El-Wujood, El-Ward Fi-L-Akmam is unwell in both mind and body. "Her mind was fired, and she uttered groans," as she was "affected with a violent passion for Uns-El-Wujood," (p. 195). Her desire is continually felt and described as being a physical disease. Her personal nurse tells her that "love is difficult, and the concealment of it would melt iron, and occasioneth diseases and infirmities," (p. 195). The pangs of love are recognized not only by those who suffer but by all those around them. The nurse, the parents, the kings, the hermit, and even the lion all acknowledge that desire is a disease that must be healed.
As it dawns on her that she is afflicted in mind, body, and soul, El-Ward Fi-L-Akmam asks her nurse for the "remedy for desire," (p. 196). El-Ward Fi-L-Akmam knows that her feelings will not change, and that some kind of action must be taken to remedy the situation. Her nurse replies, "Its remedy is an interview...letters and gentle words," (p. 196). In other words, El-Ward Fi-L-Akmam must speak with her beloved through her delicate verses of poetry. By doing so, the nurse tells her, "things that are difficult are rendered easy," (p. 196). Acting on her love and passion is the cure for desire. It will "soothe" her heart and assuage her pain (p. 197). Therefore, desire is its own cure. Only a union with will cure El-Ward Fi-L-Akmam and Uns-El-Wujood of their affliction. Desire functions as this dual role of poison and cure throughout Chapter 18 of Arabian Nights.
As the poison of desire sets into his soul and his body, Uns-El-Wujood describes his affliction in explicitly physical terms. He is obviously depressed, but he feels his depression in his body as well as his mind. First, he cries so much that his eyes become sore. Uns-El-Wujood reiterates his having this symptom throughout the story, as weeping is one of the most constant and consistent side-effects of unfulfilled desire. "When my tears flow, I say, my eye is sore," (p. 197). As soon as Uns-El-Wujood discovers that his beloved has been wrested from him, his tears flow freely. "My eyelids are sore from continual weeping," he moans as he searches for his beloved throughout the desert. Moreover, along the way, he creates even more physical pain and tension in his body by being unable to eat, drink, or sleep. The harshness of the landscape, the long duration of his journey, and his depression cause him to waste away. Desire, by forcing him to follow the trail of El-Ward Fi-L-Akmam, creates the conditions for starvation and further physical deprivation. This is depression's secondary action on the physical body. Both Uns-El-Wujood and El-Ward Fi-L-Akmam translate their mental and emotional pain into acute and authentic physical suffering. "Often are our bodies afflicted by our passion," El-Ward Fi-L-Akmam writes to her lover on the eve of their separation.
One of the symptoms of the disease of desire is described as heart pangs, which both the lovers feel throughout their ordeal. From the moment they met, both lovers felt like "fires are kindled within our bosoms," (p. 198). Once they are separated and embark on their individual journeys of suffering, both El-Ward Fi-L-Akmam and Uns-El-Wujood experience longing as the physical sensation of heat in the chest area. "Her heart felt the pangs of separation," (p. 200). Both lovers experience this sensation as heat and fire in the bosom, but Uns-El-Wujood also feels a fire "kindled in his vitals," (p. 202). Desire is characterized especially by physical heat. Heat represents emotional saturation; heat is feverish, like the lovers' desire. The cure for this is the soothing water of fulfillment: "the moisture of his mouth is like pleasant wine that would cool me when a fire flameth within me," says El-Ward Fi-L-Akmam about her lover (p. 209). Ironically, the object of her desire has the power to put out the fire that he is responsible for creating. Her desire for Uns-El-Wujood is at once poison and cure. Because Arabian Nights is set in the desert, heat also acts directly on the physical body. Uns-El-Wujood seeks for El-Ward Fi-L-Akmam by trekking through the desert, which puts his body in direct danger. The heat and lack of water compound the symptoms of his desire. Just as El-Ward Fi-L-Akmam describes the cure for her longing as the cooling waters of her lover's mouth, Uns-El-Wujood endures actual physical thirst on his quest. Amid the oppressive heat of the desert, Uns-El-Wujood drinks from a stream to quench his physical thirst, but he finds that the "water has no taste in his mouth," (p. 202). The only waters that will truly quench his thirst are those of his lover.
Both lovers remain poisoned by their desire until they are reunited. They each experience mental as well as physical pain. Loss of appetite and the inability to feel pleasure is one of the main symptoms of their depression. "He findeth no abode nor food that pleaseth him," (p. 202). Uns-El-Wujood is aware that he is becoming a shadow of his former self because of his self-denial: "The loss of my beloved hath wasted me away," (p. 204). El-Ward Fi-L-Akmam cannot eat, drink, or sleep either. Another mental side-effect of the poison of desire is self-abnegation. Uns-El-Wujood frequently notes that he feels "unconscious of his existence," (p. 202). He is uncertain of his identity without his beloved. Losing her is like losing himself. Finding…