Risible Rhymes

128 pages

October, 2016

ISBN: 9781479877928



Also available in


Arabic Literature

Part of the Library of Arabic Literature series


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.

All books by Muhammad ibn Mahfuz al-Sanhuri

Humphrey Davies is an award-winning translator of Arabic literature from the Ottoman period to the present.  Writers he has translated include Elias Khoury, Naguib Mahfouz, Alaa Al Aswany, Bahaa Taher, Mourid Barghouti, Muhammad Mustagab, Gamal al-Ghitani, Hamdy el-Gazzar, Khaled Al-Berry, and Ahmed Alaidy, as well as Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq and Yusuf al-Shirbini for the Library of Arabic Literature. He has also authored, with Madiha Doss, an anthology of writings in Egyptian colloquial Arabic. He lives in Cairo.

All books by Humphrey Davies

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.