She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that the young lady rejoined, ‘We accept thine excuse,’ and calling one of her slave maids, said to her, ‘O Lutf,1 give him to drink in the golden tankard.’ So she brought me a tankard of red gold, set with pearls and gems of price, full of water mingled with virgin musk and covered with a napkin of green silk, and I addressed myself to drink and was long about my drinking, for I stole glances at her the while, till I could prolong my stay no longer. Then I returned the tankard to the girl, but did not offer to go; and she said to me, ‘O Shaykh, wend thy way.’ But I said, ‘O my lady, I am troubled in mind.’ She asked me ‘for what?’ and I answered, ‘For the turns of Time and the change of things.’ Replied she, ‘Well mayst thou be troubled thereat for Time breedeth wonders. But what hast thou seen of such surprises that thou shouldst muse upon them?’ Quoth I, ‘I was thinking of the whilom owner of this house, for he was my intimate in his lifetime.’ Asked she, ‘What was his name?’; and I answered, ‘Mohammed bin Ali the Jeweller and he was a man of great wealth. Tell me did he leave any children?’ Said she, ‘Yes, he left a daughter, Budur by name, who inherited all his wealth?’ Quoth I, ‘Meseemeth thou art his daughter?’ ‘Yes,’ answered she, laughing; then added, ‘O Shaykh, thou best talked long enough; now wend thy ways.’ Replied I, ‘Needst must I go, but I see thy charms are changed by being out of health; so tell me thy case; it may be Allah will give thee comfort at my hands.’ Rejoined she, ‘O Shayth, if thou be a man of discretion, I will discover to thee my secret; but first tell me who thou art, that I may know whether thou art worthy of confidence or not; for the poet saith,2
‘None keepeth a secret but a faithful person: with the best of mankind remaineth concealed.
I have kept my secret in a house with a lock, whose key is lost and whose door is sealed.’
Thereto I replied, ‘O my lady, an thou wouldest know who I am, I am Ali bin Mansúr of Damascus, the Wag, cup-companion to the Commander of the Faithful, Harun al-Rashid.’ Now when she heard my name, she came down from her seat and saluting me, said, ‘Welcome, O Ibn Mansur! Now will I tell thee my case and entrust thee with my secret. I am a lover separated from her beloved.’ I answered, ‘O my lady, thou art fair and shouldest be on love terms with none but the fair. Whom then dost thou love?’ Quoth she, ‘I love Jubayr bin Umayr al-Shaybáni, Emir of the Banú Shaybán;3’ and she described to me a young man than whom there was no prettier fellow in Bassorah. I asked, ‘O my lady, have interviews or letters passed between you?’ and she answered ‘Yes, but our love was tongue-love souls, not heart and souls-love; for he kept not his trust nor was he faithful to his troth.’ Said I, ‘O my lady, and what was the cause of your separation?’, and she replied, ‘I was sitting one day whilst my handmaid here combed my hair. When she had made an end of combing it, she plaited my tresses, and my beauty and loveliness charmed her; so she bent over me and kissed my cheek.4 At that moment he came in unawares, and, seeing the girl kiss my cheek, straightways turned away in anger, vowing eternal-separation and repeating these two couplets,
‘If another share in the thing I love,
I abandon my love and live lorn of love.
My beloved is worthless if aught she will,
Save that which her lover doth most approve.
And from the time he left me to this present hour, O Ibn Mansur, he hath neither written to me nor answered my letters.’ Quoth I, ‘And what purposes” thou to do?’ Quoth she, ‘I have a mind to send him a letter by thee. If thou bring me back an answer, thou shalt have of me five hundred gold pieces; and if not, then an hundred for thy trouble in going and coming.’ I answered, ‘Do what seemeth good to thee; I hear and I obey thee.’ Whereupon she called to one of her slave-girls, ‘Bring me ink case and paper,’ and she wrote thereon these couplets,
‘Beloved, why this strangeness, why this hate?
When shall thy pardon reunite us two?
Why dost thou turn from me in severance?
Thy face is not the face I am wont to know.
Yes, slanderers falsed my words, and thou to them
Inclining, madest spite and envy grow.
An hast believed their tale, the Heavens forbid
Now thou believe it when dost better bow!
By thy life tell what hath reached thine ear,
Thou know’st what said they and so justice show.
An it be true I spoke the words, my words
Admit interpreting and change allow:
Given that the words of Allah were revealed,
Folk changed the Torah5 and still changing go:
What slanders told they of mankind before!
Jacob heard Joseph blamed by tongue of foe.
Yea, for myself and slanderer and thee
An awful day of reckoning there shall be.’
Then she sealed the letter and gave it to me; and I took it and carried it to the house of Jubayr bin Umayr, whom I found absent a hunting. So I sat down to wait for him; and behold, he returned from the chase; and when I saw him, O Prince of True Believers, come riding up, my wit was confounded by his beauty and grace. As soon as he sighted me sitting at the house-door, he dismounted and coming up to me embraced me and saluted me; and meseemed I embraced the world and all therein. Then he carried me into his house and, seating me on his own couch, called for food. They brought a table of Khalanj-wood of Khorasan with feet of gold, whereon were all manners of meats, fried and roasted and the like. So I seated myself at the table and examining it with care found these couplets engraved upon it:”6 — And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say,
1 A servile name. Delicacy, Elegance.
2 These verses have occurred twice (Night ix. etc.): so I give Lane’s version (ii. 482).
3 A Badawi tribe to which belonged the generous Ma’an bin Za’idab, often mentioned The Nights.
4 Wealthy harems, I have said, are hot-beds of Sapphism and Tribadism. Every woman past her first youth has a girl whom she calls her “Myrtle” (in Damascus). At Agbome, capital-of Dahome, I found that a troop of women was kept for the use of the “Amazons” (Mission to Gelele, ii. 73). Amongst the wild Arabs, who ignore Socratic and Sapphic perversions, the lover is always more jealous of his beloved’s girl-friends than of men rivals. In England we content ourselves with saying that women corrupt women more than men do.
5 The Hebrew Pentateuch; Roll of the Law.
6 I need hardly notice the brass trays, platters and table-covers with inscriptions which are familiar to every reader: those made in the East for foreign markets mostly carry imitation inscriptions lest infidel eyes fall upon Holy Writ.
She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that Ali son of Mansur continued: “So I seated myself at the table of Jubayr bin Umayr al-Shaybani and, examining it with care, found these couplets engraved upon it,
‘On these which once were-chicks,
Your mourning glances fix,
Late dwellers in the mansion of the cup,
Now nearly eaten up!
Let tears bedew
The memory of that stew,
Those partridges, once roast,
The daughters of the grouse in plaintive strain
Bemourn, and still bemourn, and mourn again!
The children of the fry,
We lately saw
Half smothered in pilau
With buttery mutton fritters smoking by!
Alas! my heart, the fish!
Who filled his dish,
With flaky form in varying colours spread
On the round pastry cake of household bread!
Heaven sent us that kabob!
For no one could
(Save heaven he should rob)
Produce a thing so excellently good,
Or give us roasted meat
With basting oil so savourily replete!
But, oh! mine appetite, alas! for thee!
Who on that furmeaty
So sharpset west a little while ago —
That furmeaty, which mashed by hands of snow,
A light reflection bore,
Of the bright bracelets that those fair hands wore;
Again remembrance glads my sense
With visions of its excellence!
Again I see the cloth unrolled
Rich worked in many a varied fold!
Be patient, oh! my soul, they say
Fortune rules all that’s new and strange,
And though she pinches us to day,
To-morrow brings full rations, and a change!’1
Then said Jubayr, ‘Put forth thy hand to our food and ease our heart by eating of our victual.’ Answered I, ‘By Allah, I will not eat a mouthful, till thou grant me my desire.’ He asked, ‘What is thy desire?’; so I brought out the letter and gave it to him; but, when he had read it and mastered its contents, he tore it in pieces and throwing it on the floor, said to me, ‘O Ibn Mansur, I will grant thee whatever thou askest save thy desire which concerneth the writer of this letter, for I have no answer to her.’ At this I rose in anger; but he caught hold of my skirts, saying, ‘O Ibn Mansur, I will tell thee what she said to thee, albeit I was not present with you.’ I asked, ‘And what did she say to me?’; and he answered, ‘Did not the writer of this letter say to thee, If thou bring me back an answer, thou shalt have of me five hundred ducats; and if not, an hundred for thy pains?’ ‘Yes,’ replied I; and he rejoined, ‘Abide with me this day and eat and drink and enjoy thyself and make merry, and thou shalt have thy five hundred ducats.’ So I sat with him and ate and drank and made merry and enjoyed myself and entertained him with talk deep in to the night;2 after which I said to him, ‘O my master, is there no music in thy house.’ He answered, ‘Verily for many a day we have drunk without music.’ Then he called out, saying, ‘Ho, Shajarat al-Durr?’ Whereupon a slave-girl answered him from her chamber and came in to us, with a lute of Hindu make, wrapped in a silken bag. And she sat down and, laying the lute in her lap, preluded in one and twenty modes; then, returning to the first, she sang to a lively measure these couplets,
‘We have ne’er tasted of Love’s sweets and bitter draught,
No difference kens ‘twixt presence-bliss and absence-stress;
And so, who hath declined from Love’s true road,
No diference kens ‘twixt smooth and ruggedness:
I ceased not to oppose the votaries of love,
Till I had tried its sweets and bitters not the less:
How many a night my pretty friend conversed with me
And sipped I from his lips honey of love liesse:
Now have I drunk its cup of bitterness, until
To bondman and to freedman I have proved me base.
How short-aged was the night together we enjoyed,
When seemed it daybreak came on nightfall’s heel to press!
But Fate had vowed to disunite us lovers twain,
And she too well hath kept her vow, that votaress.
Fate so decreed it! None her sentence can withstand:
Where is the wight who dares oppose his Lord’s command?’
Hardly had she finished her verses, when her lord cried out with a great cry and fell down in a fit; whereupon exclaimed the damsel, ‘May Allah not punish thee, O old man! This long time have we drunk without music, for fear the like of this falling sickness befal our lord. But now go thou to yonder chamber and there sleep.’ So I went to the chamber which she showed me and slept till the morning, when behold, a page brought me a purse of five hundred dinars and said to me, ‘This is what my master promised thee; but return thou not to the damsel who sent thee, god let it be as though neither thou nor we had ever heard of this matter.’ ‘Hearkening and obedience,’ answered I and taking the purse, went my way. Still I said to myself, ‘The lady must have expected me since yesterday; and by Allah there is no help but I return to her and tell her what passed between me and him: otherwise she will revile me and revile all who come from my country.’ So I went to her and found her standing behind the door; and when she saw me she said, ‘O Ibn Mansur, thou hast done nothing for me?’ I asked, ‘Who told thee of this?’; and she answered, ‘O Ibn Mansur, yet another thing hath been revealed to me;3 and it is that, when thou handedst him the letter, he tore it in pieces. and throwing it on the floor, said to thee: ‘O Ibn Mansur, I will grant thee whatever thou askest save thy desire which concerneth the writer of this letter; for I have no answer to her missive.’ Then didst thou rise from beside him in anger; but he laid hold of thy skirts, saying: ‘O son of Mansur, abide with me to day, for thou art my guest, and eat and drink and make merry; and thou shalt have thy five hundred ducats.’ So thou didst sit with him, eating and drinking and making merry, and entertainedst him with talk deep into the night and a slave-girl sang such an air and such verses, whereupon he fell down in a fit.’ So, O Commander of the Faithful, I asked her ‘West thou then with us?’; and she answered, ‘O Ibn Mansur, hast thou not heard the saying of the poet,
‘The hearts of lovers have eyes I ken,
Which see the unseen by vulgar men.’
However, O Ibn Mansur, the night and day shift not upon anything but they bring to it change.’— And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.
1 These six distichs are in Night xiii. I borrow Torrens (p. 125) to show his peculiar treatment of spinning out 12 lines to 38.
2 Arab. “Musámirah”=chatting at night. Easterns are inordinately fond of the practice and the wild Arabs often sit up till dawn, talking over the affairs of the tribe, indeed a Shaykh is expected to do so. “Early to bed and early to rise” is a civilised, not a savage or a barbarous saying. Samír is a companion in night talk; Rafík of the road; Rahíb in riding horse or camel, Ká‘id in sitting, Sharíb and Rafís at drink, and Nadím at table: Ahíd is an ally. and Sharík a partner all on the model of “Fa’íl.”
3 In both lover and beloved the excess of love gave them this clairvoyance.
She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that the lady exclaimed, ‘O Ibn Mansur, the night and the day shift not upon anything but they bring to it change!’ Then she raised her glance to heaven and said, ‘O my God and my Leader and my Lord, like as Thou hast afflicted me with love of Jubayr bin Umayr, even so do Thou afflict him with love of me, and transfer the passion from my heart to his heart!’1 Then she gave me an hundred sequins for my trouble in going and coming and I took it and returned to the palace, where I found the Sultan come home from the chase; so I got my pension of him and fared back to Baghdad. And when next year came, I repaired to Bassorah, as usual, to seek my pension, and the Sultan paid it to me; but, as I was about to return to Baghdad, I bethought me of the Lady Budur and said to myself, ‘By Allah, I must needs go to her and see what hath befallen between her and her lover!’ So I went to her house and finding the street before her door swept and sprinkled and eunuchs and servants and pages standing before the entrance, said to myself, ‘Most like grief hath broken the lady’s heart and she is dead, and some Emir or other hath taken up his abode in her house.’ So I left it and went on to the house of Jubayr, son of Umayr the Shaybani, where I found the benches of the porch broken down and ne’er a page at the door, as of wont and said to myself, ‘Haply he too is dead.’ Then I stood still before the door of his house and with my eyes running over with tears, bemoaned it in these couplets,
‘O Lords of me, who fared but whom my heart e’er followeth,
Return and so my festal-days with you shall be renewed!
I stand before the home of you, bewailing your abode;
Quiver mine eyelids and my eyes with tears are ever dewed:
I ask the house and its remains that seem to weep and wail,
‘Where is the man who whilom wont to lavish goods and good?’’
It saith, ‘Go, wend thy way; those friends like travellers have fared
From Springtide-camp, and buried lie of earth and worms the food!’
Allah ne’er desolate us so we lose their virtues’ light
In length and breadth, but ever be the light in spirit viewed!’
As I, O Prince of True Believers, was thus keening over the folk of the house,2 behold, out came a black slave therefrom and said to me, ‘Hold thy peace, O Shaykh! May thy mother be reft of thee! Why do I see thee bemoaning the house in this wise?’ Quoth I, ‘I frequented it of yore, when it belonged to a good friend of mine.’ Asked the slave, ‘What was his name?’; and I answered, ‘Jubayr bin Umayr the Shaybani.’ Rejoined he, And what hath befallen him? Praised be Allah, he is yet here with us in the enjoyment of property and rank and prosperity, except that Allah hath stricken him with love of a damsel called the Lady Budur;, and he is so whelmed by his love of her and his longing for her, that he is like a great rock cumbering the ground. If he hunger, he saith not, ‘Give me meat;’ nor, if he thirst, doth he say, ‘Give me drink.’ Quoth I, ‘Ask leave for me to go in to him.’ Said the slave, ‘O my lord, wilt thou go in to one who understandeth or to one who understandeth not?’; and I said ‘There is no help for it but I see him whatever be the case.’ Accordingly he went in to ask and presently returned with permission for me to enter, whereupon I went in to Jubayr and found him like a rock that cumbereth the ground, understanding neither sign nor speech; and when I spoke to him he answered me not. Then said one of his servants, ‘O my lord, if thou remember aught of verse, repeat it and raise thy voice; and he will be aroused by this and speak with thee.’ So I versified in these two couplets,
‘Hast quit the love of Moons3 or dost persist?
Dost wake o’ nights or close in sleep thine eyes?
If aye thy tears in torrents flow, then learn
Eternal-thou shalt dwell in Paradise.’4
When he heard these verses he opened his eyes and said; ‘Welcome, O son of Mansur! Verily, the jest is become earnest.’ Quoth I, ‘O my lord, is there aught thou wouldst have me do for thee?’ Answered he, ‘Yes, I would fain write her a letter and send it to her by thee. If thou bring me back her answer, thou shalt have of me a thousand dinars; and if not, two hundred for thy pains.’ So I said, ‘Do what seemeth good to thee;’— And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.
1 The prayer will be granted for the excess (not the purity) of her love.
2 This wailing over the Past is one of the common-places of Badawi poetry. The traveller cannot fail, I repeat, to notice the chronic melancholy of peoples dwelling under the brightest skies.
4 in Paradise as a martyr.
She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that Ibn Mansur continued: “So I said, ‘Do what seemeth good to thee;’ whereupon he called to one of his slave-girls, ‘Bring me ink case and paper;’ and wrote these couplets,
‘I pray in Allah’s name, O Princess mine, be light
On me, for Love hath robbed me of my reason’s sight’
‘Slaved me this longing and enthralled me love of you;
And clad in sickness garb, a poor and abject wight.
I wont ere this to think small things of Love and hold,
O Princess mine, ’twas silly thing and over-slight.
But when it showed me swelling surges of its sea,
To Allah’s hest I bowed and pitied lover’s plight.
An will you, pity show and deign a meeting grant,
An will you kill me still forget not good requite.’1
Then he sealed the letter and gave it to me. So I took it and, repairing to Budur’s house, raised the door-curtain little by little, as before, and looking in behold, I saw ten damsels, high-bosomed virgins, like moons, and the Lady Budur as she were the full moon among the stars, sitting in their midst, or the sun, when it is clear of clouds and mist; nor was there on her any trace of pain or care. And as I looked and marvelled at her case, she turned her glance upon me and, seeing me standing at the door, said to me, ‘Well come, and welcome and all hail to thee, O Ibn Mansur! Come in.’ So I entered and saluting her gave her the letter; and she read it and when she understood it, she said laughingly to me, ‘O Ibn Mansur, the poet lied not when he sang,
‘Indeed I’ll bear my love for thee with firmest soul,
Until from thee to me shall come a messenger.
‘Look’ye, O Ibn Mansur, I will write thee an answer, that he may give thee what he promised thee.’ And I answered, ‘Allah requite thee with good!’ So she called out to a handmaid, ‘Bring inkcase and paper,’ and wrote these couplets,
‘How comes it I fulfilled my vow the while that vow broke you?
And, seen me lean to equity, iniquity wrought you?
’Twas you initiated wrongous dealing and despite:
You were the treachetour and treason came from only you!
I never ceased to cherish mid the sons of men my troth,
And keep your honour brightest bright and swear by name of you
Until I saw with eyes of me what evil you had done;
Until I heard with ears of me what foul report spread you.
Shall I bring low my proper worth while raising yours so high?
By Allah had you me eke I had honoured you!
But now uprooting severance I will fain console my heart,
And wring my fingers clean of you for evermore to part!’
Quoth I, ‘By Allah, O my lady, between him and death there is but the reading of this letter!’ So I tore it in pieces and said to her, ‘Write him other than these lines.’ ‘I hear and obey answered she and wrote the following couplets,
‘Indeed I am consolèd now and sleep without a tear,
And all that happened slandering tongues have whispered in mine ear:
My heart obeyed my hest and soon forgot thy memory,
And learnt mine eyelids ’twas the best to live in severance sheer:
He lied who said that severance is a bitterer thing than gall:
It never disappointed me, like wine I find it cheer:
I learnt to hate all news of thee, e’en mention of thy name,
And turn away and look thereon with loathing pure and mere:
Lookye! I cast thee out of heart and far from vitals mine;
Then let the slanderer wot this truth and see I am sincere.’
Quoth I, ‘By Allah, O my lady, when he shall read these verses, his soul will depart his body!’ Quoth she, ‘O Ibn Mansur, is passion indeed come to such a pass with him that thou sayest this saying?’ Quoth I, ‘Had I said more than this verily it were but the truth: but mercy is of the nature of the noble.’ Now when she heard this her eyes brimmed over with tears and she wrote him a note, I swear by Allah, O Commander of the Faithful, there is none in thy Chancery could write the like of it; and therein were these couplets,
‘How long shall I thy coyness and thy great aversion see?
Thou hast satisfied my censurers and pleased their enmity:
I did amiss and wot it not; so deign to tell me now
Whatso they told thee, haply ’twas the merest calumny.
I wish to welcome thee, dear love, even as welcome I
Sleep to these eyes and eyelids in the place of sleep to be.
And since ’tis thou hast made me drain th’ unmixèd cup of love,
If me thou see with wine bemused heap not thy blame on me!’
And when she had written the missive — And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.
1 i.e. to intercede for me in Heaven; as if the young woman were the prophet.
She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that when Budur had written the missive, she sealed it and gave it to me; and I said, ‘O my lady, in good sooth this thy letter will make the sick man whole and ease the thirsting soul.’ Then I took it and went from her, when she called me back and said to me, ‘O son of Mansur, say to him: ‘She will be thy guest this night.’ At this I joyed with exceeding great joy and carried the letter to Jubayr, whom I found with his eyes fixed intently on the door, expecting the reply and as soon as I gave him the letter and he opened and read it and understood it, he uttered a great cry and fell down in a fainting fit. When he came to himself, he said to me, ‘O Ibn Mansur, did she indeed write this note with her hand and feel it with her fingers?’ Answered I, ‘O my lord, do folk write with their feet?’ And by Allah, O Commander of the Faithful, I had not done speaking these words, when we heard the tinkle-tinkle of her anklets in the vestibule and she entered. And seeing her he sprang to his feet as though nothing pained or ailed him and embraced her like the letter L embraceth the letter A;1 and the infirmity, that erst would not depart at once left him.2 Then he sat down, but she abode standing and I said to her, ‘O my lady, why dost thou not sit?’ Said she, ‘O Ibn Mansur, save on a condition that is between us, I will not sit.’ I asked, ‘And what is that?’; and she answered, ‘None may know lovers’ secrets,’ and putting her mouth to Jubayr’s ear whispered to him; where upon he replied, ‘I hear and I obey.’ Then he rose and said somewhat in a whisper to one of his slaves, who went out and returned in a little while with a Kazi and two witnesses. Thereupon Jubayr stood up and taking a bag containing an hundred thousand dinars, said, O Kazi, marry me to this young lady and write this sum to her marriage-settlement.’ Quoth the Kazi to her, ‘Say thou, I consent to this.’ ‘I consent to this,’ quoth she, whereupon he drew up the contract of marriage and she opened the bag; and, taking out a handful of gold, gave it to the Kazi and the witnesses and handed the rest to Jubayr. Thereupon the Kazi and the witnesses withdrew, and I sat with them, in mirth and merriment, till the most part of the night was past, when I said in my mind, ‘These are lovers and they have been this long while separated. I will now arise and go sleep in some place afar from them and leave them to their privacy, one with other.’ So I rose, but she caught hold of my skirts, saying, ‘What thinkest thou to do?’ ‘Nothing but so and so,’ answered I; upon which she rejoined, ‘Sit thee down; and when we would be rid of thee, we will send thee away.’ So I sat down with them till near daybreak, when she said to me, ‘O Ibn Mansur, go to yonder chamber; for we have furnished it for thee and it is thy sleeping-place.’ Thereupon I arose and went thither and slept till morning, when a page brought me basin and ewer, and I made the ablution and prayed the dawn-prayer. Then I sat down and presently, behold, Jubayr and his beloved came out of the bath in the house, and I saw them both wringing their locks.3 So I wished them good morning and gave them joy of their safety and reunion, saying to Jubayr, ‘That which began with constraint and conditions hath ended in cordial-contentment.’ He answered, ‘Thou sayest well, and indeed thou deservest thy honorarium;’ and he called his treasurer, and said, ‘Bring hither three thousand dinars.’ So he brought a purse containing the gold pieces and Jubayr gave it to me, saying, ‘Favour us by accepting this.’ But I replied, ‘I will not accept it till thou tell me the manner of the transfer of love from her to thee, after so huge an aversion.’ Quoth he, ‘Hearkening and obedience! Know that we have a festival-called New Year’s day,4 when all the people fare forth and take boat and go a-pleasuring on the river. So I went out with my comrades, and saw a skiff, wherein were ten damsels like moons and amongst them, the Lady Budur lute in hand. She preluded in eleven modes, then, returning to the first, sang these two couplets,
‘Fire is cooler than fires in my breast,
Rock is softer than heart of my lord
Marvel I that he’s formèd to hold
In water soft frame heart rock-hard!’
Said I to her, ‘Repeat the couplets and the air!’ But she would not:’”— And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.
1 The comparison is admirable as the two letters are written. It occurs in Al–Hariri (Ass. of Ramlah).
“So I embraced him close as Lám cleaves to Alif:”
“She laid aside reluctance and I embraced her close
As if I were Lam and my love Alif.”
The Lomad Olaph in Syriac is similarly colligated.
2 Here is a double entendre “and the infirm letters (viz. a, w and y) not subject to accidence, left him.” The three make up the root “Awi”=pitying, condoling.
3 Showing that consummation had taken place. It was a sign of good breeding to avoid all “indecent hurry” when going to bed. In some Moslem countries the bridegroom does not consummate the marriage for seven nights; out of respect for (1) father (2) mother (3) brother and so forth. If he hurry matters he will be hooted as an “impatient man” and the wise will quote, “Man is created of precipitation” (Koran chaps. xxi. 38), meaning hasty and inconsiderate. I remark with pleasure that the whole of this tale is told with commendable delicacy. O si sic omnia!
4 Pers. “Nauroz”(=nau roz, new day):here used in the Arab. plur.‘Nawáriz, as it lasted six days. There are only four: universal-festivals; the solstices and the equinoxes; and every successive religion takes them from the sun and perverts them to its own private purposes. Lane (ii. 496) derives the venerable Nauroz whose birth is hid in the outer glooms of antiquity from the “Jewish Passover”(!)
She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that “Jubayr continued, ‘So cried I to her, Repeat the couplets and the air!’ But she would not; whereupon I bade the boatmen pelt her with oranges, and they pelted her till we feared her boat would founder Then she went her way, and this is how the love was transferred from her heart to mine.’ So I wished them joy of their union and, taking the purse with its contents, I returned to Baghdad.” Now when the Caliph heard Ibn Mansur’s story his heart was lightened and the restlessness and oppression from which he suffered forsook him. And they also tell the tale of
The Caliph Al–Maamun was sitting one day in his palace, surrounded by his Lords of the realm and Officers of state, and there were present also before him all his poets and cup- companions amongst the rest one named Mohammed of Bassorah. Presently the Caliph turned and said to him, “O Mohammed, I wish thee forthwith to tell me something that I have never before heard.” He replied, “O Commander of the Faithful, dost thou wish me to tell thee a thing I have heard with my ears or a thing I have seen with my eyes?” Quoth Al–Maamun, “Tell me whichever is the rarer; so Mohammed al-Basri began: “Know, then, O Commander of the Faithful that there lived once upon a time wealthy man, who was a native of Al–Yaman;but he emigrated from his native land and came to this city of Baghdad, whose sojourn so pleased him that he transported hither his family and possessions. Now he had six slave-girls, like moons one and all; the first white, the second brown, the third fat, the fourth lean, the fifth yellow and the sixth lamp-black; and all six were comely of countenance and perfect in accomplishments and skilled in the arts of singing and playing upon musical-instruments. Now it so chanced that, one day, he sent for the girls and called for meat and wine; and they ate and drank and were mirthful and made merry Then he filled the cup and, taking it in his hand, said to the blonde girl, ‘O new moon face, let us hear somewhat of thy pleasant songs.’ So she took the lute and tuning it, made music thereon with such sweet melody that the place danced with glee; after which she played a lively measure and sang these couplets,
‘I have a friend, whose form is fixed within mine eyes,1
Whose name deep buried in my very vitals lies:
Whenas remembers him my mind all heart am I,
And when on him my gaze is turned I am all eyes.
My censor saith, ‘Forswear, forget, the love of him,’
‘Whatso is not to be, how shall’s be?’ My reply is.
Quoth I, ‘O Censor mine, go forth from me, avaunt!
And make not light of that on humans heavy lies.’
Hereat their master rejoiced and, drinking off his cup, gave the damsels to drink, after which he said to the berry-brown girl, ‘O brasier-light2 and joy of the sprite, let us hear thy lovely voice, whereby all that hearken are ravished with delight.’ So she took the lute and thereon made harmony till the place was moved to glee; then, captivating all hearts with her graceful swaying, she sang these couplets,
‘I swear by that fair face’s life, I’ll love but thee
Till death us part, nor other love but thine I’ll see:
O full moon, with thy loveliness mantilla’d o’er,
The loveliest of our earth beneath thy banner be:
Thou, who surpassest all the fair in pleasantness
May Allah, Lord of worlds, be everywhere with thee!’
The master rejoiced and drank off his cup and gave the girls to drink; after which he filled again; and, taking the goblet in his hand, signed to the fat girl and bade her sing and play a different motive. So she took the lute and striking a grief-dispelling measure, sang these couplets,
‘An thou but deign consent, O wish to heart affied!
I care not wrath and rage to all mankind betide.
And if thou show that fairest face which gives me life,
I reck not an dimimshed heads the Kings go hide.
I seek thy favours only from this ‘versal-world:
O thou in whom all beauty cloth firm-fixt abide!’
The man rejoiced and, emptying his cup, gave the girls to drink. Then he signed to the thin girl and said to her, ‘O Houri of Paradise, feed thou our ears with sweet words and sounds.’ So she took the lute; and, tuning it, preluded and sang these two couplets,
‘Say me, on Allah’s path3 hast death not dealt to me,
Turning from me while I to thee turn patiently:
Say me, is there no judge of Love to judge us twain,
And do me justice wronged, mine enemy, by thee?’
Their lord rejoiced and, emptying the cup, gave the girls to drink. Then filling another he signed to the yellow girl and said to her, O sun of the day, let us hear some nice verses.’ So she took the lute and, preluding after the goodliest fashion, sang these couplets,
‘I have a lover and when drawing him,
He draws on me a sword-blade glancing grim:
Allah avenge some little of his wrongs,
Who holds my heart yet wreaks o erbearing whim
Oft though I say, ‘Renounce him, heart!’ yet heart
Will to none other turn excepting him.
He is my wish and will of all men, but
Fate’s envious hand to me’s aye grudging him.’
The master rejoiced and drank and gave the girls to drink; then he filled the cup and taking it in hand, signed to the black girl, saying, ‘O pupil of the eye, let us have a taste of thy quality, though it be but two words.’ So she took the lute and tuning it and tightening the strings, preluded in various modes, then returned to the first and sang to a lively air these couplets,
‘Ho ye, mine eyes, let prodigal-tears go free;
This ecstasy would see my being unbe:4
All ecstasies I dreefor sake of friend
I fondle, maugre enviers’ jealousy:
Censors forbid me from his rosy cheek,
Yet e’er inclines my heart to rosery:
Cups of pure wine, time was, went circuiting
In joy, what time the lute sang melody,
While kept his troth the friend who madded me,
Yet made me rising star of bliss to see:
But — with Time, turned he not by sin of mine;
Than such a turn can aught more bitter be?
Upon his cheek there grows and glows a rose,
Nay two, whereof grant Allah one to me!
An were prostration5 by our law allowed
To aught but Allah, at his feet I had bowed.’
Thereupon rose the six girls and, kissing the ground before their lord, said to him, ‘Do thou justice between us, O our lord!’ So he looked at their beauty and loveliness and the contrast of their colours and praised Almighty Allah and glorified Him. Then said he, ‘There is none of you but hath learnt the Koran by heart, and mastered the musical-art and is versed in the chronicles’ of yore and the doings of peoples which have gone before; so it is my desire that each one of you rise and, pointing finger at her opposite, praise herself and dispraise her co-concubine; that is to: say, let the blonde point to the brunette, the plump to the slenderer and the yellow to the black girl; after which the rivals, each in her turn, shall do the like with the former; and be this illustrated with citations from Holy Writ and somewhat of anecdotes and,; verse, so as to show forth your fine breeding and elegance of your pleading.’ And they answered him, ‘We hear and we obey!;”— And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.
1 Again the “babes” of the eyes.
2 i.e. whose glance is as the light of the glowing braise or (embers). The Arab. “Mikbás”=pan or pot full of small charcoal, is an article well known in Italy and Southern Europe. The word is apparently used here because it rhymes with “Anfás” (souls, spirits).
3 i.e. martyrdom; a Koranic term “fi sabíli ’llahi” = on the way of Allah
4 These rhymes in — y, — ee and — ie are purposely affected, to imitate the cadence of the Arabic.
5 Arab. “Sujúd,” the ceremonial-prostration, touching the ground with the forehead So in the Old Testament “he bowed (or fell down) and worshipped” (Gen. xxiv., 26 Mat. ii., 11), of which our translation gives a wrong idea.
She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that the handmaids answered the man of Al–Yaman, “‘We hear and we obey!’ Accordingly the blonde rose first and, pointing at the black girl, said to her: ‘Out on thee, blackamoor! It is told by tradition that whiteness saith, ‘I am the shining light, I am the rising moon of the fourteenth night. My hue is patent and my brow is resplendent and of my beauty quoth the poet,’
‘White girl with softly rounded polished cheeks
As if a pearl concealed by Beauty’s boon:
And o’er her eyes two brows that bend like Nún.3
’Tis as her glance were arrow, and her brows
Bows ever bent to shoot Death-dart eftsoon:
If cheek and shape thou view, there shalt thou find
Rose, myrtle, basil and Narcissus wone.
Men wont in gardens plant and set the branch,
How many garths thy stature-branch cloth own!’
‘So my colour is like the hale and healthy day and the newly culled orange spray and the star of sparkling ray;4 and indeed quoth Almighty Allah, in His precious Book, to his prophet Moses (on whom be peace!), Put thy hand into thy bosom; it shall come forth white, without hurt.’5 And again He saith, But they whose faces shall become white, shall be in the mercy of Allah; therein shall they remain forever.’6 My colour is a sign, a miracle, and my loveliness supreme and my beauty a term extreme. It is on the like of me that raiment showeth fair and fine and to the like of me that hearts incline. Moreover, in whiteness are many excellences; for instance, the snow falleth white from heaven, and it is traditional-that the beautifullest of a colours white. The Moslems also glory in white turbands, but I should be tedious, were I to tell all that may be told in praise of white; little and enough is better than too much of unfilling stuff. So now I will begin with thy dispraise, O black, O colour of ink and blacksmith’s dust, thou whose face is like the raven which bringeth about the parting of lovers. Verily, the poet saith in praise of white and blame of black,
‘Seest not that pearls are prized for milky hue,
But with a dirham buy we coals in load?
And while white faces enter Paradise,
Black faces crowd Gehenna’s black abode.’
And indeed it is told in certain histories, related on the authority of devout men, that Noah (on whom be peace!) was sleeping one day, with his sons Cham and Shem seated at his head, when a wind sprang up and, lifting his clothes, uncovered his nakedness; whereat Cham looked and laughed and did not cover him: but Shem arose and covered him. Presently, their sire awoke and learning, what had been done by his sons, blessed Shem and cursed Cham. So Shem’s face was whitened and from him sprang the prophets and the orthodox Caliphs and Kings; whilst Cham’s face was blackened and he fled forth to the land of Abyssinia, and of his lineage came the blacks.7 All people are of one mind in affirming the lack of understanding of the blacks, even as saith the adage, ‘How shall one find a black with a mind?’ Quoth her master, ‘Sit thee down, thou hast given us sufficient and even excess.’ Thereupon he signed to the negress, who rose and, pointing her finger at the blonde, said: Dost thou not know that in the Koran sent down to His prophet and apostle, is transmitted the saying of God the Most High, ‘By the night when it covereth all things with darkness; by the day when it shineth forth!’8 If the night were not the more illustrious, verily Allah had not sworn by it nor had given it precedence of the day. And indeed all men of wit and wisdom accept this. Knowest thou not that black is the ornament of youth and that, when hoariness descendeth upon the head, delights pass away and the hour of death draweth in sight? Were not black the most illustrious of things, Allah had not set it in the core of the heart9 and the pupil of the eye; and how excellent is the saying of the poet,
‘I love not black girls but because they show
Youth’s colour, tinct of eye and heartcore’s hue;
Nor are in error who unlove the white,
And hoary hairs and winding-sheet eschew.’
And that said of another,
‘Black10 girls, not white, are they
All worthy love I see:
Black girls wear dark-brown lips;11
Whites, blotch of leprosy.’
And of a third,
‘Black girls in acts are white, and ’tis as though
Like eyes, with purest shine and sheen they show;
If I go daft for her, be not amazed;
Black bile12 drives melancholic-mad we know
’Tis as my colour were the noon of night;
For all no moon it be, its splendours glow.
Moreover, is the foregathering of lovers good but in the night? Let this quality and profit suffice thee. What protecteth lovers from spies and censors like the blackness of night’s darkness; and what causeth them to fear discovery like the whiteness of the dawn’s brightness? So, how many claims to honour are there not in blackness and how excellent is the saying of the poet,
‘I visit them, and night-black lendeth aid to me
Seconding love, but dawn-white is mine enemy.’
And that of another,
‘How many a night I’ve passed with the beloved of me,
While gloom with dusky tresses veilèd our desires:
But when the morn-light showed it caused me sad affright;
And I to Morning said, ‘Who worship light are liars!’13
And saith a third,
‘He came to see me, hiding neath the skirt of night,
Hasting his steps as wended he in cautious plight.
I rose and spread my cheek upon his path like rug,
Abject, and trailed my skirt to hide it from his sight;
But rose the crescent moon and strave its best to show
The world our loves like nail-slice raying radiant light:14
Then what befel befel: I need not aught describe;
But think thy best, and ask me naught of wrong or right.
Meet not thy lover save at night for fear of slander
The Sun’s a tittle-tattler and the Moon’s a pander.’
And a fifth,
‘I love not white girls blown with fat who puff and pant;
The maid for me is young brunette embonpoint-scant.
I’d rather ride a colt that’s darn upon the day
Of race, and set my friends upon the elephant.’
And a sixth,
My lover came to me one night,
And clips we both with fond embrace;
And lay together till we saw
The morning come with swiftest pace.
Now I pray Allah and my Lord
To reunite us of His grace
And make night last me long as he
Lies in the arms that tightly lace.’
Were I to set forth all the praises of blackness, my tale would be tedious; but little and enough is better than too much of unfilling stuff. As for thee, O blonde, thy colour is that of leprosy and thine embrace is suffocation;15 and it is of report that hoar-frost and icy cold16 are in Gehenna for the torment of the wicked. Again, of things black and excellent is ink, wherewith is written Allah’s word; and were it not for black ambergris and black musk, there would be no perfumes to carry to Kings. How many glories I may not mention dwell in blackness, and how well saith the poet,
‘Seest not that musk, the nut brown musk, e’er claims the highest price
Whilst for a load of whitest lime none more than dirham bids?
And while white speck upon the eye deforms the loveliest youth,
Black eyes discharge the sharpest shafts in lashes from their lids.’
Quoth her master, ‘Sit thee down: this much sufficeth.’ So she sat down and he signed to the fat girl, who rose”— And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.
1 A girl is called “Alfiyyah “ = A-shaped.
2 i.e. the medial-form of m.
3 i.e. the inverted n.
4 It may also mean a “Sevigné of pearls.”
5 Koran xxvii. 12. This was one of the nine “signs” to wicked “Pharaoh.” The “hand of Moses” is a symbol of power and ability (Koran vii. 105). The whiteness was supernatural-beauty, not leprosy of the Jews (Exod. iv. 6); but brilliancy, after being born red or black: according to some commentators, Moses was a negro.
6 Koran iii. 103; the other faces become black. This explains I have noticed the use of the phrases in blessing and cursing.
7 Here we have the naked legend of the negro’s origin, one of those nursery tales in which the ignorant of Christendom still believe But the deduction from the fable and the testimony to the negro’s lack of intelligence, though unpleasant to our ignorant negrophils, are factual-and satisfactory.
8 Koran, xcii. 1, 2: an oath of Allah to reward and punish with Heaven and Hell.
9 Alluding to the “black drop” in the heart: it was taken from Mohammed’s by the Archangel Gabriel. The fable seems to have arisen from the verse ‘ Have we not opened thy breast?” (Koran, chaps. xciv. 1). The popular tale is that Halímah, the Badawi nurse of Mohammed, of the Banu Sa’ad tribe, once saw her son, also a child, running towards her and asked him what was the matter. He answered, ‘My little brother was seized by two men in white who stretched him on the ground and opened his bellyl” For a full account and deductions see the Rev. Mr. Badger’s article, “Muhammed” (p. 959) in vol. in. “Dictionary of Christian Biography.”
10 Arab. “Sumr,” lit. brown (as it is afterwards used), but politely applied to a negro: “Yá Abu Sumrah!” O father of brownness.
11 Arab. ‘Lumá”=dark hue of the inner lips admired by the Arabs and to us suggesting most umpleasant ideas. Mr. Chenery renders it “dark red,’ and “ruddy” altogether missing the idea.
12 Arab. “Saudá,” feminine of aswad (black), and meaning black bile (melancholia) as opposed to leucocholia,
13 i.e. the Magians, Sabians, Zoroastrians.
14 The “Unguinum fulgor” of the Latins who did not forget to celebrate the shining of the nails although they did not Henna them like Easterns. Some, however, have suggested that alludes to colouring matter.
15 Women with white skins are supposed to be heating and unwholesome: hence the Hindu Rajahs slept with dark girls in the hot season.
16 Moslems sensibly have a cold as well as a hot Hell, the former called Zamharir (lit. “intense cold”)or Al-Barahút, after a well in Hazramaut; as Gehenna (Arab. “Jahannam”) from the furnace-like ravine East of Jerusalem (Night cccxxv.). The icy Hell is necessary in terrorem for peoples who inhabit cold regions and who in a hot Hell only look forward to an eternity of “coals and candles” gratis. The sensible missionaries preached it in Iceland till foolishly forbidden by Papal–Bull.
She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that “the man of Al–Yaman, the master of the handmaids, signed to the fat girl who rose and, pointing her finger at the slim girl, bared her calves and wrists and uncovered her stomach, showing its dimples and the plump rondure of her navel. Then she donned a shift of fine stuff, that exposed her whole body, and said: ‘Praised be Allah who created me, for that He beautified my face and made me fat and fair of the fattest and fairest; and likened me to branches laden with fruit, and bestowed upon me abounding beauty and brightness: and praised be He no less, for that He hath given me the precedence and honoured me, when He mentioneth me in His holy Book! Quoth the Most High, ‘And he brought a fatted calf.’1 And He hath made me like unto a vergier full of peaches and pomegranates. In very sooth even as the townsfolk long for fat birds and eat of them and love not lean birds, so do the sons of Adam desire fat meat and eat of it. How many vauntful attributes are there not in fatness, and how well saith the poet,
‘Farewell thy love, for see, the Cafilah’s2 on the move:
O man, canst bear to say adieu and leave thy love?
’Tis as her going were to seek her neighbour’s tent,
The gait of fat fair maid, whom hearts shall all approve.’
Sawest thou ever one stand before a flesher’s stall but sought of him fat flesh? The wise say, ‘Joyance is in three things, eating meat and riding meat and putting meat into meat.’3 As for thee, O thin one, thy calves are like the shanks of sparrows or the pokers of furnaces; and thou art a cruciform plank of a piece of flesh poor and rank; there is naught in thee to gladden the heart; even as saith the poet,
‘With Allah take I refuge from whatever driveth me
To bed with one like footrasp4 or the roughest ropery:
In every limb she hath a horn that butteth me whene’er
I fain would rest, so morn and eve I wend me wearily.’
Quoth her master, ‘Sit thee down: this much sufficeth.’ So she sat down and he signed to the slender girl, who rose, as she were a willow-wand, or a rattan-frond or a stalk of sweet basil, and said: ‘Praised be Allah who created me and beautified me and made my embraces the end of all desire and likened me to the branch, whereto all hearts incline. If I rise, I rise lightly; if I sit, I sit prettily; I am nimble-witted at a jest and merrier-souled than mirth itself. Never heard I one describe his mistress, saying, ‘My beloved is the bigness of an elephant or like a mountain long and broad;’ but rather, ‘My lady hath a slender waist and a slim shape.’5 Furthermore a little food filleth me and a little water quencheth my thirst; my sport is agile and my habit active; for I am sprightlier than the sparrow and lighter-skipping than the starling. My favours are the longing of the lover and the delight of the desirer; for I am goodly of shape, sweet of smile and graceful as the bending willow-wand or the rattan-cane6 or the stalk of the basil-plant; nor is there any can compare with me in loveliness, even as saith one of me,
‘Thy shape with willow branch I dare compare,
And hold thy figure as my fortunes fair:
I wake each morn distraught, and follow thee,
And from the rival’s eye in fear I fare.’
It is for the like of me that amourists run mad and that those who desire me wax distracted. If my lover would draw me to him, I am drawn to him; and if he would have me incline to him, I incline to him and not against him. But now, as for thee, O fat of body, thine eating is the feeding of an elephant, and neither much nor little filleth thee. When thou liest with a man who is lean, he hath no ease of thee; nor can he anyways take his pleasure of thee; for the bigness of thy belly holdeth him off from going in unto thee and the fatness of thy thighs hindereth him from coming at thy slit. What goodness is there in thy grossness, and what courtesy or pleasantness in thy coarseness? Fat flesh is fit for naught but the flasher, nor is there one point therein that pleadeth for praise. If one joke with thee, thou art angry; if one sport with thee, thou art sulky; if thou sleep, thou snorest if thou walk, thou lollest out thy tongue! if thou eat, thou art never filled. Thou art heavier than mountains and fouler than corruption and crime. Thou hast in thee nor agility nor benedicite nor thinkest thou of aught save meat and sleep. When thou pissest thou swishes”; if thou turd thou gruntest like a bursten wine skin or an elephant transmogrified. If thou go to the water closet, thou needest one to wash thy gap and pluck out the hairs which overgrow it; and this is the extreme of sluggish ness and the sign, outward and visible, of stupidity7 In short, there is no good thing about thee, and indeed the poet Title of thee,
‘Heavy and swollen like an urine-bladder blown,
With hips and thighs like mountain propping piles of stone;
Whene’er she walks in Western hemisphere, her tread
Makes the far Eastern world with weight to moan and groan.’
Quoth her master, ‘Sit thee down, this sufficeth;’ so she sat down and he signed to the yellow girl, who rose to her feet and praised Allah Almighty and magnified His name, calling down peace and blessing on Mohammed the best of His creatures; after which she pointed her finger at the brunette and said to her,” And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.
1 Koran ii. 26; speaking of Abraham when he entertained the angels unawares.
2 Arab. “Rakb,” usually applied to a fast-going caravan of dromedary riders (Pilgrimage ii. 329). The “Cafilah” is Arab.: “Caravan” is a corruption of the Pers. “Karwán.”
3 A popular saying. It is interesting to contrast this dispute between fat and thin with the Shakespearean humour of Falstaff and Prince Henry.
4 Arab. “Dalak” vulg. Hajar al-Hammam (Hammam-stone). The comparison is very apt: the rasps are of baked clay artificially roughened (see illustrations in Lane M. E. chaps. xvi.). The rope is called “Masad,” a bristling line of palm-fibre like the coir now familiarly known in England.
5 Although the Arab’s ideal-of beauty, as has been seen and said, corresponds with ours the Egyptians (Modern) the Maroccans and other negrofied races like “walking tun-butts” as Clapperton called his amorous widow.
6 Arab. “Khayzar” or “Khayzarán” the rattan-palm. Those who have seen this most graceful “palmijuncus” in its native forest will recognize the neatness of the simile.
7 This is the popular idea of a bushy “veil of nature” in women: it is always removed by depilatories and vellication. When Bilkis Queen of Sheba discovered her legs by lifting her robe (Koran xxvii.), Solomon was minded to marry her, but would not do so till the devils had by a depilatory removed the hair. The popular preparation (called Núrah) consists of quicklime 7 parts, and Zirník or orpiment, 3 parts: it is applied in the Hammam to a perspiring skin, and it must be washed off immediately the hair is loosened or it burns and discolours. The rest of the body-pile (Sha’arat opp. to Sha’ar=hair) is eradicated by applying a mixture of boiled honey with turpentine or other gum, and rolling it with the hand till the hair comes off. Men I have said remove the pubes by shaving, and pluck the hair of the arm-pits, one of the vestiges of pre-Adamite man. A good depilatory is still a desideratum, the best perfumers of London and Paris have none which they can recommend. The reason is plain: the hair bulb can be eradicated only by destroying the skin.
She continued, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that “the yellow girl stood up and praised Almighty Allah and magnified His name; after which she pointed her finger at the brown girl and said to her: ‘I am the one praised in the Koran, and the Compassionate hath described my complexion and its excellence over all other hues in His manifest Book, where Allah saith, ‘A yellow, pure yellow, whose colour gladdeneth the beholders.’1 Wherefore my colour is a sign and portent and my grace is supreme and my beauty a term extreme; for that my tint is the tint of a ducat and the colour of the planets and moons and the hue of ripe apples. My fashion is the fashion of the fair, and the dye of saffron outvieth all other dyes; so my semblance is wondrous and my colour marvellous. I am soft of body and of high price, comprising all qualities of beauty. My colour is essentially precious as virgin gold, and how many boasts and glories cloth it not unfold! Of the like of me quoth the poet,
‘Her golden yellow is the sheeny sun’s;
And like gold sequins she delights the sight:
Saffron small portion of her glance can show;
Nay,2 she outvies the moon when brightest bright.’
And I shall at once begin in thy dispraise, O berry-brown girl! Thy tincture is that of the buffalo, and all souls shudder at thy sight. If thy colour be in any created thing, it is blamed; if it be in food, it is poisoned; for thy hue is the hue of the dung- fly; it is a mark of ugliness even in dogs; and among the colours it is one which strikes with amazement and is of the signs of mourning. Never heard I of brown gold or brown pearls or brown gems. If thou enter the privy, thy colour changeth, and when thou comest out, thou addest ugliness to ugliness. Thou art a non- descript; neither black, that thou mayst be recognised, nor white, that thou mayst be described; and in thee there is no good quality, even as saith the poet,
‘The hue of dusty motes is hers; that dull brown hue of hers
Is mouldy like the dust and mud by Cossid’s foot upthrown:3
I never look upon her brow, e’en for eye-twinkling’s space,
But in brown study fall I and my thoughts take browner tone.’
Quoth her master, ‘Sit thee down; this much sufficeth;’ so she sat down and he signed to the brunette. Now she was a model of beauty and loveliness and symmetry and perfect grace; soft of skin, slim of shape, of stature rare, and coal-black hair; with cheeks rosy-pink, eyes black rimmed by nature’s hand, face fair, and eloquent tongue; moreover slender-waisted and heavy-hipped. So she rose and said: ‘Praise be to Allah who hath created me neither leper-white nor bile-yellow nor charcoal-black, but hath made my colour to be beloved of men of wit and wisdom, for all the poets extol berry-brown maids in every tongue and exalt their colour over all other colours. To ‘brown of hue (they say) praise is due;’ and Allah bless him who singeth,
‘And in brunettes is mystery, could’st” thou but read it right,
Thy sight would never dwell on others, be they red or white:
Free-flowing conversation, amorous coquettishness
Would teach Hárut himself a mightier spell of magic might.’
And saith another,
‘Give me brunettes, so limber, lissom, lithe of sway,
Brunettes tall, slender straight like Samhar’s nut-brown lance;4
Languid of eyelids and with silky down on either cheek,
Who fixed in lover’s heart work to his life mischance.’
And yet another,
‘Now, by my life, brown hue hath point of comeliness
Leaves whiteness nowhere and high o’er the Moon takes place;
But an of whiteness aught it borrowed self to deck,
‘Twould change its graces and would pale for its disgrace:
Not with his must5 I’m drunken, but his locks of musk
Are wine inebriating all of human race.
His charms are jealous each of each, and all desire
To be the down that creepeth up his lovely face.’
And again another,
‘Why not incline me to that show of silky down,
On cheeks of dark brunette, like bamboo spiring brown?
Whenas high rank in beauty poets sing, they say
Brown ant-like specklet worn by nenuphar in crown.
And see I sundry lovers tear out others’ eyne
For the brown mole beneath that jetty pupil shown,
Then why do censors blame me for one all a mole?
Allah I pray demolish each molesting clown!’6
My form is all grace and my shape is built on heavy base; Kings desire my colour which all adore, rich and poor. I am pleasant, active, handsome, elegant, soft of skin and prized for price: eke I am perfect in seemlibead and breeding and eloquence; my aspect is comely and my tongue witty; my temper is bright and my play a pretty sight. As for thee, thou art like unto a mallow growing about the Lúk Gate;7 in hue sallow and streaked-yellow and made all of sulphur. Aroynt thee, O copper-worth of jaundiced sorrel, O rust of brass-pot, O face of owl in gloom, and fruit of the Hell-tree Zakkúm;8 whose bedfellow, for heart-break, is buried in the tomb. And there is no good thing in thee, even as saith the poet of the like of thee,
‘Yellowness, tincturing her tho’ nowise sick or sorry,
Straitens my hapless heart and makes my head sore ache;
An thou repent not, Soul! I’ll punish thee with kissing9
Her lower face that shall mine every grinder break!’
And when she ended her lines, quoth her master, ‘Sit thee down, this much sufficeth!’”— And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.
1 Koran, ii. 64: referring to the heifer which the Jews were ordered to sacrifice,
2 Arab. “kallá,” a Koranic term possibly from Kull (all) and lá (not) =prorsus non-altogether not!
3 “Habáb” or “Habá,” the fine particles of dust, which we call motes. The Cossid (Arab. “Kásid”) is the Anglo–Indian term for a running courier (mostly under Government), the Persian “Shátir” and the Guebre Rávand.
4 Arab. “Sambari” a very long thin lance so called after Samhar, the maker, or the place of making. See vol. ii. p. 1. It is supposed to cast, when planted in the ground, a longer shadow in proportion to its height, than any other thing of the kind.
5 Arab. “Suláfah;” properly prisane which flows from the grapes before pressure. The plur. “Sawálif” also means tresses of hair and past events: thus there is a “triple entendre.” And again “he” is used for “she.”
6 There is a pun in the last line, “Khálun (a mole) khallauni” (rid me), etc.
7 Of old Fustát, afterwards part of Southern Cairo, a proverbially miserable quarter hence the saying, “They quoted Misr to Káhirah (Cairo), whereon Bab al-Luk rose with its grass,” in derision of nobodies who push themselves forward. Burckhardt, Prov. 276.
8 Its fruits are the heads of devils; a true Dantesque fancy. Koran, chaps. xvii. 62, “the tree cursed in the Koran” and in chaps. xxxvii., 60, “is this better entertainment, or the tree of Al–Zakkúm?” Commentators say that it is a thorn bearing a bitter almond which grows in the Tehamah and was therefore promoted to Hell.
9 Arab. “Lasm” (lathm) as opposed to Bausah or boseh (a buss) and Kublah (a kiss,
She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that “when the yellow girl ended her recitation, quoth her master, ‘Sit thee down; this much sufficeth!’ Then he made peace between them and clad them all in sumptuous robes of honour and hanselled them with precious jewels of land and sea. And never have I seen, O Commander of the Faithful, any when or any where, aught fairer than these six damsels fair.” Now when Al–Maamun heard this story from Mohammed of Bassorah, he turned to him and said, “O Mohammed, knowest thou the abiding-place of these damsels and their master, and canst thou contrive to buy them of him for us?” He answered, “O Commander of the Faithful, indeed I have heard that their lord is wrapped up in them and cannot bear to be parted from them.” Rejoined the Caliph, “Take thee ten thousand gold pieces for each girl, that is sixty thousand for the whole purchase; and carry the coin to his house and buy them of him.” So Mohammed of Bassorah took the money and, betaking himself to the Man of Al–Yaman, acquainted him with the wish of the Prince of True Believers. He consented to part with them at that price to pleasure the Caliph; and despatched them to Al–Maamun, who assigned them an elegant abode and therein used to sit with them as cup-companions; marvelling at their beauty and loveliness, at their varied colours and at the excellence of their conversation. Thus matters stood for many a day; but, after awhile, when their former owner could no longer bear to be parted from them, he sent a letter to the Commander of the Faithful complaining to him of his own ardent love-longing for them and containing, amongst other contents, these couplets,
“Captured me six, all bright with youthful blee;
Then on all six be best salams from me!
They are my hearing, seeing, very life;
My meat, my drink, my joy, my jollity:
I’ll ne’er forget the favours erst so charmed
Whose loss hath turned my sleep to insomny:
Alack, O longsome pining and O tears!
Would I had farewelled all humanity:
Those eyes, with bowed and well arched eyebrows1 dight,
Like bows have struck me with their archery.”
Now when the letter came to the hands of Al–Maamun, he robed the six damsels in rich raiment; and, giving them threescore thousand dinars, sent them back to their lord who joyed in them with exceeding joy2 (more especially for the monies they brought him), and abode with them in all the comfort and pleasance of life, till there came to them the Destroyer of delights and the Severer of societies. And men also recount the tale of
1 Arab. “Jufún” (plur. of Jafn) which may mean eyebrows or eyelashes and only the context can determine which.
2 Very characteristic of Egyptian manners is the man who loves six girls equally well, who lends them, as it were, to the Caliph; and who takes back the goods as if in no wise damaged by the loan.
The Caliph, Commander of the Faithful, Harun al-Rashid, being one night exceedingly restless and thoughtful with sad thought, rose from his couch and walked about the by-ways of his palace, till he came to a chamber, over whose doorway hung a curtain. He raised that curtain and saw, at the upper end of the room, a bedstead whereon lay something black, as it were a man asleep, with a wax taper on his right hand and another on his left; and as the Caliph stood wondering at the sight, behold, he remarked a flagon full of old wine whose mouth was covered by the cup. The Caliph wondered even more at this, saying, “How came this black by such wine-service?” Then, drawing near the bedstead, he found that it was a girl lying asleep there, curtained by her hair; so he uncovered her face and saw that it was like the moon, on the night of his fulness.1 So the Caliph filled himself a cup of wine and drank it to the roses of her cheeks; and, feeling inclined to enjoy her, kissed a mole on her face, whereupon she started up from sleep, and cried out, “O Trusted of Allah,2 what may this be?” Replied he, “A guest who knocketh at thy door, hoping that thou wilt give him hospitality till the dawn;” and she answered; “Even so! I will serve him with my hearing and my sight.” So she brought forward the wine and they drank together, after which she took the lute and tuning the strings, preluded in one-and-twenty modes, then returning to the first, played a lively measure and sang these couplets,
“The tongue of love from heart bespeaks my sprite,
Telling I love thee with love infinite:
I have an eye bears witness to my pain,
And fluttering heart sore hurt by parting-plight.
I cannot hide the love that harms my life;
Tears ever roll and growth of pine I sight:
I knew not what love was ere loving thee;
But Allah’s destiny to all is dight.”
And when her verses were ended she said, “O Commander of the Faithful, I have been wronged!”— And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.
1 The moon is masculine possibly by connection with the Assyrian Lune-god “Sin”; but I can find no cause for the Sun (Shams) being feminine.
2 Arab. “Al–Amin,” a title of the Prophet. It is usually held that this proud name “The honest man,” was applied by his fellow-citizens to Mohammed in early life; and that in his twenty-fifth year, when the Eighth Ka’abah was being built, it induced the tribes to make him their umpire concerning the distinction of placing in position the “Black Stone” which Gabriel had brought from Heaven to be set up as the starting-post for the seven circuitings. He distributed the honour amongst the clans and thus gave universal satisfaction. His Christian biographers mostly omit to record an anecdote which speaks so highly in Mohammed’s favour. (Pilgrimage iii. 192.)
Last updated Monday, September 7, 2015 at 12:07