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Payne: The Shipwrecked Woman and Her Child

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(Quoth one of the Seyyids ) I was going round about the Kaabeh one dark night, when I heard a plaintive voice, speaking from a contrite heart and saying, 'O Bountiful One, Thy past favours! Indeed, my heart is constant to the covenant.' When I heard this, my heart fluttered, so that I was nigh upon death, but I followed the voice and found that it came from a woman, to whom I said, 'Peace be on thee, O handmaid of God!' 'And on thee be peace,' answered she, 'and the mercy of God and His blessings!' Quoth I, 'I conjure thee, by the Most Great God, tell me what is the covenant to which thy heart is constant.' 'But that thou adjurest me by the Almighty,' replied she, 'I would not tell thee my secret. See what is before me.' So I looked and saw a child lying asleep before her and breathing heavily in his slumber. 'Know,' said she, 'that I set forth, being big with this child, to make the pilgrimage to this [Holy] House and took passage in a ship; but the waves rose against us and the winds were contrary and the ship broke up under us. I saved myself on a plank, and in this situation, I gave birth to the child.

'As I sat on the plank, with the boy on my lap and the waves beating upon me, there swam up to me one of the sailors, who climbed on to the plank and said to me, 'By Allah, I desired thee, whilst thou was yet in the ship, and now I have come at thee. So yield thyself to me, or I will throw thee into the sea.' 'Out on thee!' cried I. 'Hast thou no thought of that which thou hast seen, and is it no warning to thee?' Quoth he, 'I have seen the like of this many a time and come off safe and reck not.' 'O fellow,' rejoined I, 'we are now in a strait whence we hope to be delivered by obedience and not by disobedience [of God's commandments].' But he was instant with me, and I feared him and thought to put him off; so I said to him, 'Wait till the child sleeps.' And he took the child off my lap and threw him into the sea. When I saw this, my heart throbbed and anguish was sore upon me; but I raised my eyes to heaven and said, 'O Thou that intervenest between a man and his heart, intervene between me and this wild beast!' And by Allah, hardly had I spoken when a beast rose out of the sea and snatched him off the plank. When I found myself alone, my affliction redoubled and my grief and longing for my child, and I recited the following verses:

      The solace of my eyes, my child, my dear, Is lost, and I am racked with pain and fear;
      I see my body wrecked, and all my heart On coals of love and dole is wasting sheer.
      No help is there for me in this my need, Save at Thy hands on whom my hope I rear.
      Thou, O my Lord, hast seen my sore distress, For loss of him, my child, my suckling dear.
      Take ruth on us and give him back to me! Thou art my stay: incline to me Thine ear.

In this condition I abode a day and a night, and on the morrow I caught sight of the sails of a ship shining afar off, nor did the winds cease to drive me and the waves to bear me on, till I reached the vessel whose sails I had seen. The sailors took me up into the ship, and I looked and behold, my child amongst them. So I threw myself upon him and said, 'O folk, this is my child: how came ye by him?' 'As we were sailing along [yesterday],' quoth they, 'the ship suddenly stood still in the sea and behold, [that which stayed us was] a [sea] beast, as it were a great city, and this child on its back, sucking his thumbs; so we took him up into the ship.' When I heard this, I told them all that had befallen me and returned thanks to my Lord and vowed to Him that I would never stir from His House nor swerve from His service [whilst I lived]; and since then, I have never required of Him aught but He hath given it me.'

When she had made an end of her story (adds the Seyyid), I put my hand to my alms-pouch and would have given to her, but she exclaimed, 'Away, idle man! Have I not told thee of His bounties and the graciousness of His dealings [with me] and shall I take an alms from other than His hand?' And I could not prevail with her to take aught of me; so I left her and went away, reciting the following verses:

      How many secret favours are there not in God! His mysteries elude the most enlightened sight.
      How often by His grace doth ease come after stress, How oft the broken heart is solaced by His might!
      How often in the morn is one oppressed by care, Yet gladness follows on the coming of the night!
      If things go hard with thee, trust in the Most High God, The ever-living One that is in Heaven's height.
      Claim thou the Prophet's voice to intercede for thee: Through him each faithful soul shall have his heart's delight.

And she ceased not from the service of her Lord, cleaving unto His [Holy] House, till death came to her.

[Go to The Pious Black Slave]

Payne, John (1842-1916). The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night. London. 1901. Gutenberg Vol. I. Gutenberg Vol. II. Gutenberg Vol. III. Gutenberg Vol. IV. Please consult the Gutenberg edition for footnotes; the footnotes have not been included in this web version. Wollamshram Vol. V. Wollamshram Vol. VI. Wollamshram Vol. VII. Wollamshram Vol. VIII. Wollamshram Vol. IX. Please consult the Wollamshram 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

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