Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night-Volume 10

Author: Unknown

The Saj’a.

According to promise in my Foreword (p. xiii.), I here proceed to
offer a few observations concerning the Saj’a or rhymed prose and
the Shi’r, or measured sentence, that is, the verse of The
Nights. The former has in composition, metrical or unmetrical
three distinct forms. Saj’a mutáwazi (parallel), the most common
is when the ending words of sentences agree in measure, assonance
and final letter, in fact our full rhyme; next is Saj’a mutarraf
(the affluent), when the periods, hemistichs or couplets end in
words whose terminal letters correspond, although differing in
measure and number; and thirdly, Saj’a muwázanah (equilibrium) is
applied to the balance which affects words corresponding in
measure but differing in final letters. [FN#431]

Al-Saj’a, the fine style or style fleuri, also termed Al-Badí’a,
or euphuism, is the basis of all Arabic euphony. The whole of the
Koran is written in it; and the same is the case with the Makámát
of Al-Hariri and the prime masterpieces of rhetorical
composition: without it no translation of the Holy Book can be
satisfactory or final, and where it is not the Assemblies become
the prose of prose. Thus universally used the assonance has
necessarily been abused, and its excess has given rise to the
saying "Al-Saj’s faj’a"—prose rhyme’s a pest. English
translators have, unwisely I think, agreed in rejecting it, while
Germans have not. Mr Preston assures us that "rhyming prose is
extremely ungraceful in English and introduces an air of
flippancy": this was certainly not the case with Friedrich
Rückert’s version of the great original and I see no reason why
it should be so or become so in our tongue. Torrens (Pref. p.
vii.) declares that "the effect of the irregular sentence with
the iteration of a jingling rhyme is not pleasant in our
language:" he therefore systematically neglects it and gives his
style the semblance of being "scamped" with the object of saving
study and trouble. Mr. Payne (ix. 379) deems it an "excrescence
born of the excessive facilities for rhyme afforded by the
language," and of Eastern delight in antithesis of all kinds
whether of sound or of thought; and, aiming elaborately at grace
of style, he omits it wholly, even in the proverbs.

The weight of authority was against me but my plan compelled me
to disregard it. The dilemma was simply either to use the Saj’a
or to follow Mr. Payne’s method and "arrange the disjecta membra
of the original in their natural order"; that is, to remodel the
text. Intending to produce a faithful copy of the Arabic, I was
compelled to adopt the former, and still hold it to be the better
alternative. Moreover I question Mr. Payne’s dictum (ix. 383)
that "the Seja-form is utterly foreign to the genius of English
prose and that its preservation would be fatal to all vigour and
harmony of style." The English translator of Palmerin of England,
Anthony Munday, attempted it in places with great success as I
have before noted (vol. viii. 60); and my late friend Edward
Eastwick made artistic use of it in his Gulistan. Had I rejected
the "Cadence of the cooing dove" because un-English, I should
have adopted the balanced periods of the Anglican marriage
service [FN#432] or the essentially English system of
alliteration, requiring some such artful aid to distinguish from
the vulgar recitative style the elevated and classical tirades in
The Nights. My attempt has found with reviewers more favour than
I expected; and a kindly critic writes of it, "These melodious
fray meets, these little eddies of song set like gems in the
prose, have a charming effect on the ear. They come as dulcet
surprises and mostly recur in highly-wrought situations, or they
are used to convey a vivid sense of something exquisite in nature
or art. Their introduction seems due to whim or caprice, but
really it arises from a profound study of the situation, as if
the Tale-teller felt suddenly compelled to break into the
rhythmic strain."


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Chicago: Unknown, "A.— The Saj’a.," Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night-Volume 10, trans. Burton, Richard Francis, Sir, 1821-1890 in Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night-Volume 10 (Benares: Kamashastra Society, 1885), Original Sources, accessed September 25, 2022,

MLA: Unknown. "A.— The Saj’a." Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night-Volume 10, translted by Burton, Richard Francis, Sir, 1821-1890, in Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night-Volume 10, Benares, Kamashastra Society, 1885, Original Sources. 25 Sep. 2022.

Harvard: Unknown, 'A.— The Saj’a.' in Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night-Volume 10, trans. . cited in 1885, Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night-Volume 10, Kamashastra Society, Benares. Original Sources, retrieved 25 September 2022, from