Muhammad ibn Mahfuz al-Sanhuri
Humphrey Davies (translation)
Hardback, 128 pages
Bilingual Arabic-English edition
Written in mid-seventeenth-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, Yūsuf al-Shirbīnī’s Brains Confounded by the Ode of Abū Shādūf 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 fourth/tenth-century poet al-Mutanabbī.
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-Sanhūrī's day and shedding light on the literature of this understudied era.