[Go back to The Loves of Jubayr Bin Umayr and the Lady Budur]
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, * 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-light 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 path 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:
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 prostration 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.
When it was the Three Hundred and Thirty-fifth Night,
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:
Her stature Alif-like; her smile like Mím * And o'er her eyes two brows that bend like Nún.
'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; 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.' And again He saith, But they whose faces shall become white, shall be in the mercy of Allah; therein shall they remain forever.' 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. 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!' 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 heart 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,
'Black girls, not white, are they * All worthy love I see:
Black girls wear dark-brown lips; * 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 bile 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!'
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:
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; and it is of report that hoar-frost and icy cold 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.
When it was the Three Hundred and Thirty-sixth Night,
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.' 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's 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.' 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 footrasp 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.' 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-cane 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 stupidity 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.
When it was the Three Hundred and Thirty-seventh Night,
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.' 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, 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:
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;
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 must 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!'
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; 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; 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 kissing * 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.
When it was the Three Hundred and Thirty-eighth Night,
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 eyebrows 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 joy (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...
[Go to Harun Al-Rashid and the Damsel and Abu Nowas]
Burton, Richard (1821-1890). The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night. London. 1885-1888. Gutenberg Vol. I. Gutenberg Vol. II. Gutenberg Vol. III. Gutenberg Vol. IV. Gutenberg Vol. V. Gutenberg Vol. V. Gutenberg Vol. VII. Gutenberg Vol. VIII. Gutenberg Vol. IX. Gutenberg Vol. X. Please consult the Gutenberg edition for footnotes; the footnotes have not been included in this web version.
1001 Nights Hypertext. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. The texts presented here are in the public domain. Thanks to Gene Perry for his excellent help in preparing the texts for the web. Page last updated: January 1, 2005 10:46 PM