Risible Rhymes

Risible Rhymes

128 Pages

October 2016

ISBN: 9781479877928

PDF Download Free Arabic PDF




Muhammad ibn Mahfuz al-Sanhuri is an 11th/17th-century author who likely hailed from Egypt’s Fayyum region, although nothing else is known about him.

Humphrey Davies is an award-winning translator of some twenty works of modern Arabic literature,
among them Alaa Al-Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building, four novels by Elias Khoury, including Gate of the Sun, and Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq’s Leg over Leg. He has also made a critical edition, translation, and lexicon of the Ottoman-period Hazz al-quhuf bi-sharh qasid Abi Shaduf (Brains Confounded by the Ode of Abu Shaduf Expounded) by Yusuf al-Shirbini and compiled with a colleague an anthology entitled Al-‘ammiyyah al-misriyyah al-maktubah: mukhtarat min 1400 ila 2009 (Egyptian Colloquial Writing:
selections from 1400 to 2009). He read Arabic at the University of Cambridge, received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley, and previous to undertaking his first translation in 2003, worked for social development and research organizations in Egypt, Tunisia, Palestine, and Sudan. He is affiliated with the American University in Cairo, where he lives.

Written in mid-17th century
Egypt, Risible Rhymes
is in part a short, comic disquisition on “rural” verse, mocking the
pretensions and absurdities of uneducated poets from Egypt’s countryside.

The interest
in the countryside as a cultural, social, economic, and religious locus in
its own right that is hinted at in this work may be unique in pre-twentieth-century
Arabic literature. As such, the work provides a companion piece to its slightly
younger contemporary, Yusuf al-Shirbini’s Brains Confounded by the Ode of Abu
Shaduf Expounded, which also takes examples of mock-rural poems and
subjects them to grammatical analysis. The overlap between the two texts may
indicate that they both emanate from a common corpus of pseudo-rural verse that
circulated in Ottoman Egypt.
Risible Rhymes also examines various kinds of puzzle
poems—another popular genre of the day—and presents a debate between scholars
over a line of verse by the tenth-century poet al-Mutanabbi. Taken as a whole, Risible
Rhymes offers intriguing insight into the critical concerns of mid-Ottoman
Egypt, showcasing the intense preoccupation with wordplay, grammar, and
stylistics that dominated discussions of poetry in al-Sanhuri’s day and
shedding light on the literature of this understudied era.


  • "Lucid and imaginative...the translation is thankfully reliable and delightfully readable...a remarkable achievement in many ways."

    Li Guo, Journal of the American Oriental Society