Having glanced through the Nights, let us now compare the two famous translations. As we have already mentioned, Burton in his Translator’s Foreword did not do Mr. Payne complete justice, but he pays so many compliments to Mr. Payne’s translation elsewhere that no one can suppose that he desired to underrate the work of his friend. In the Foreword he says that Mr. Payne “succeeds admirably in the most difficult passages and often hits upon choice and special terms and the exact vernacular equivalent of the foreign word so happily and so picturesquely that all future translators must perforce use the same expression under pain of falling far short.” Still this does not go far enough, seeing that, as we said before, he made his translation very largely a paraphrase of Payne’s. Consequently he was able to get done in two broken years (April 1884 to April 1886) and with several other books in hand, work that had occupied Mr. Payne six years (1876-1882). Let us now take Mr. Payne’s rendering and Burton’s rendering of two short tales and put them in juxtaposition. The Blacksmith who could handle Fire without Hurt and Abu Al Hasan and Abu Ja’afar the Leper will suit our purpose admirably.
The portion taken by Burton from Payne are in italics.
Payne Burton Vol. V. p. 25 Vol. V. p. 271 (Lib. Ed., vol. iv., p. 220) THE BLACKSMITH WHO THE BLACKSMITH WHO COULD HANDLE FIRE COULD HANDLE FIRE WITHOUT HURT WITHOUT HURT A certain pious man It reached the ears of once heard that there a certain pious man that abode in such a town a there abode in such a town blacksmith who could a blacksmith who could put his hand into the fire put his hand into the fire and pull out the red-hot and pull out the iron red-hot, iron, without its doing without the flames him any hurt. So he set doing him aught of hurt. out for the town in question So he set out for the town in and enquiring for the question and asked for blacksmith, watched him the blacksmith; and when at work and saw him do the man was shown to as had been reported to him; he watched him at him. He waited till he work and saw him do as had made an end of his had been reported to him. day's work, then going He waited till he had made up to him, saluted him an end of his day's work; and said to him, "I then, going up to him, would fain be thy guest saluted him with the salam this night." "With all and said, "I would be thy my heart," replied the guest this night." Replied smith, and carried him to the smith, "With gladness his house, where they and goodly gree!" and supped together and lay carried him to his place, down to sleep. The guest where they supped together watched his host, but and lay down to sleep. found no sign of [special] The guest watched but saw devoutness in him and no sign in his host of praying said to himself. "Belike through the night or he concealeth himself from of special devoutness, and me." So he lodged with said in his mind, "Haply him a second and a third he hideth himself from night, but found that he me." So he lodged with did no more than observe him a second and a third the ordinary letter of the night, but found that he law and rose but little did not exceed the devotions in the night [to pray]. At prescribed by the last he said to him, "O law and custom of the my brother, I have heard Prophet and rose but little of the gift with which in the dark hours to pray. God hath favoured thee At last he said to him, "O and have seen the truth of my brother, I have heard it with mine eyes. Moreover, of the gift with which I have taken note of Allah hath favoured thee, thine assiduity [in and have seen the truth of religious exercises], but it with mine eyes. Moreover, find in thee no special I have taken note fervour of piety, such as of thine assiduity in distinguisheth those in religious exercises, but find whom such miraculous in thee no such piety as gifts are manifest. distinguished those who work "Whence, then, cometh saintly miracles; whence, this to thee?" "I will then cometh this to thee?" tell thee," answered the "I will tell thee," smith. answered the smith. "Know that I was once "Know that I was once passionately enamoured of passionately enamoured a certain damsel and of a slave girl and oft-times required her many a time sued her for loveliesse, of love, but could not but could not prevail prevail upon her, for upon her, because she that she still clave fast still held fast by her unto chastity. Presently chastity. Presently there there came a year of came a year of drought and drought and hunger and hunger and hardship, food hardship; food failed and failed, and there befell a there befell a sore famine sore famine. As I was in the land. I was sitting sitting one day at home, one day in my house, somebody knocked at the when one knocked at the door; so I went out, and, door; so I went out and behold, she was standing found her standing there; there; and she said to and she said to me, 'O me, 'O my brother, I am my brother, I am stricken sorely an hungered and I with excessive hunger, and lift mine eyes to thee, I lift mine eyes to thee, beseeching thee to feed me, beseeching thee to feed for Allah's sake!' Quoth me for God's sake!' I, 'Wottest thou not how Quoth I, 'Dost thou not I love thee and what I have know how I love thee suffered for thy sake? Now and what I have suffered I will not give thee one for thy sake! I will give bittock of bread except thee no whit of food, thou yield thy person except thou yield thyself to me.' Quoth she, to me.' But she said, 'Death, but not 'Better death than disobedience to the Lord!' disobedience to God.' Then Then she went away and she went away and returned after two days with returned after two days the same prayer for food with the same petition as before. I made her a for food. I made her a like like answer, and she answer, and she entered entered and sat down in my and sat down, being nigh house, being nigh upon upon death. I set food death. I set food before before her, whereupon her her, whereupon her eyes eyes ran over with tears, brimmed with tears, and and she said, 'Give me she cried, 'Give me meat to eat for the love of God, for the love of Allah, to to whom belong might whom belong Honour and and majesty!' 'Not so, Glory!' But I answered by Allah,' answered I, 'Not so, by Allah, except 'except thou yield thyself thou yield thyself to me.' to me.' Quoth she, Quoth she, 'Better is 'Better is death to me death to me than the wrath than the wrath of God and wreak of Allah the the Most High.' And Most Highest; and she she left the food rose and left the food untouched and went away untouched461 and went away repeating the following repeating these couplets: verses: O, Thou, the only God, whose O, Thou, the One, whose grace grace embraceth all that be, doth all the world embrace; Thine ears have heard my Thine ears have heard, Thine moan, Thine eyes have seen eyes have seen my case! my misery; Indeed, privation and distress Privation and distress have dealt are heavy on my head; I me heavy blows; the woes cannot tell of all the woes that weary me no utterance that do beleaguer me. can trace. I'm like a man athirst, that I am like one athirst who eyes looks upon a running stream, the landscape's eye, yet may yet may not drink a single not drink a draught of draught of all that he doth streams that rail and race. see. My flesh would have me buy its My flesh would tempt me by the will, alack, its pleasures sight of savoury food whose flee! The sin that pays their joys shall pass away and price abides to all eternity. pangs maintain their place.[The girl, "worn out with want," came a third time, and met with the same answer. But then remorse seized upon the blacksmith and he bade her, "eat, and fear not."]
"When she heard this "Then she raised her eyes she raised her eyes to to heaven and said, heaven and said, "'O my God, if this "'O my God, if this man man be sincere, I pray say sooth, I pray thee Thee forbid fire to do forbid fire to harm him him hurt in this world in this world and the and the next, for Thou art next, for Thou over all He that answereth prayer things art Omnipotent and and art powerful to do Prevalent in answering the whatsoever Thou wilt!' prayer of the penitent!' "Then I left her and Then I left her and went went to put out the fire to put out the fire in in the brasier. Now the the brazier. Now the time was the winter-cold, season was winter and the and a hot coal fell on weather cold, and a live my body; but by the coal fell on my body, but ordinance of God (to by the decree of Allah (to whom belong might and whom be Honour and majesty), I felt no pain Glory!) I felt no pain, and and it was born in upon it became my conviction me that her prayer had that her prayer had been been answered." answered."
[The girl then praised God, who “straightway took her soul to Him.” The story finishes with some verses which are rendered by Payne and Burton each according to his wont.]
We will next take “Abu al-Hasan and Abu Ja’afar the Leper.”
Payne Burton V. 49 V. 294 (Lib. Ed., iv., 242) ABOULHUSN ED DURRAJ ABU AL-HASAN AND ABOU JAAFER THE AND LEPER ABU JA'AFAR THE LEPER Quoth Aboulhusn ed I had been many times Durraj, I had been many to Mecca (Allah increase times to Mecca (which its honour!) and the folk God increase in honour) used to follow me for my and the folk used to follow knowledge of the road and me by reason of my knowledge remembrance of the water of the road and stations. It happened one the watering-places. It year that I was minded to chanced one year that I make the pilgrimage to was minded to make the the Holy House and visitation pilgrimage to the Holy of the tomb of His House of God and visit the Prophet (on whom be tomb of His prophet (on blessing and the Peace!) whom be peace and blessing), and I said in myself. "I and I said to myself, well know the way and "I know the road and will will fare alone." So I go alone." So I set out set out and journeyed till I and journeyed till I came came to Al-Kadisiyah, and to El Cadesiyeh, and entering entering the Mosque there, the Mosque there, saw saw a man suffering from a leper seated in the black leprosy seated in prayer-niche. When he the prayer-niche. Quoth he saw me, he said to me, on seeing me, "O Abu "O Aboulhusn, I crave al-Hasan, I crave thy company thy company to Mecca." to Meccah." Quoth I Quoth I to myself, "I to myself, "I fled from all wished to avoid companions, my companions and how and how shall I shall I company with lepers." company with lepers?" So I said to him, "I will So I said to him, "I will bear no man company," bear no one company," and he was silent at my and he was silent. words. Next day I continued Next day I walked on my journey alone, till I alone, till I came to came to Acabeh, where Al-Akabah, where I entered I entered the Mosque and the mosque and found the was amazed to find the leper seated in the prayer leper seated in the prayer- niche. So I said to myself, niche. "Glory be to God," "Glory be to Allah! said I in myself. "How how hath this fellow preceded hath this fellow foregone me hither." But me hither?" But he he raised his head to me raised his eyes to me and said with a smile, "O and said, smiling, "O, Abu al-Hasan, He doth Aboulhusn, He doth for for the weak that which the weak that which the surpriseth the strong!" strong wonder at." I I passed that night confounded passed that night in at what I had perplexity, confounded at seen; and, as soon as what I had seen, and in morning dawned, set out the morning set out again again by myself; but by myself; but when I when I came to Arafat came to Arafat and entered and entered the mosque, the mosque, behold, behold! there was the leper there was the leper seated seated in the niche. So I in the niche! So I threw threw myself upon him myself upon him and kissing and kissing his feet said, his feet, said, "O my "O my lord, I crave thy lord, I crave thy company." company." But he answered, But he said, "This may in no "This may nowise be." way be." Then I began Whereupon I fell a-weeping weeping and wailing at and lamenting, and the loss of his company he said: "Peace: weeping when he said, "Spare thy will avail thee nothing," tears, which will avail thee And he recited the naught!" and he recited following verses: these couplets: For my estrangement dost thou Why dost thou weep when I weep,--whereas it came depart and thou didst parting from thee,--And restoration claim; and cravest union dost implore, when none, when we ne'er shall re-unite alas! may be? the same? Thou sawst my weakness and Thou lookedest on nothing save disease, as it appeared, and my weakness and disease; saidst, "He goes, nor comes, and saidst, "Nor goes, nor or night, or day, for this his comes, or night, or day, this malady." sickly frame." Seest not that God (exalted be Seest not how Allah (glorified His glory) to His slave His glory ever be!) deigneth vouchsafeth all he can conceive to grant His slave's petition of favour fair and free! wherewithal he came. If I, to outward vision, be as If I, to eyes of men be that and it appears and eke in body, for only that they see, and this despite of fate, e'en that my body show itself so full which thou dost see. of grief and grame. And eke no victual though I And I have nought of food that have, unto the holy place shall supply me to the place where crowds unto my Lord where crowds unto my Lord resort, indeed, to carry me. resort impelled by single aim. I have a Maker, hidden are His I have a high Creating Lord bounties unto me; yea, whose mercies aye are hid; there's no parting me from a Lord who hath none equal Him, and without peer is He. and no fear is known to Him. Depart from me in peace and So fare thee safe and leave me leave me and my strangerhood; lone in strangerhood to wone. For with the lonely For He the only One, consoles exile still the One shall my loneliness so lone. company. So I left him and continued Accordingly I left him, my journey; and but every station I came every stage I came to, I to, I found he had foregone found him before me, till me, till I reached Al-Madinah, I came to Medina, where where I lost sight I lost sight of him and of him, and could hear could hear no news of no tidings of him. Here him. Here I met Abou I met Abu Yazid Yezid el Bustani and Abou al-Bustami and Abu Bakr Beker es Shibli and a al-Shibli and a number of number of other doctors, other Shaykhs and learned to whom I told my case, men to whom with many and they said, "God complaints I told my case, forbid that thou shouldst and they said, "Heaven gain his company after forbid that thou shouldst this! This was Abou gain his company after Jaafer the leper, in whose this! He was Abu Ja'afar name, at all tides, the folk the leper, in whose name pray for rain, and by whose folk at all times pray for blessings prayers are answered." rain and by whose blessing When I heard prayers their end attain." this, my longing for his When I heard their words, company redoubled and my desire for his company I implored God to reunite redoubled and I implored me with him. Whilst I the Almighty to reunite me was standing on Arafat, with him. Whilst I was one plucked me from behind, standing on Arafat one so I turned and pulled me from behind, so behold, it was Abou Jaafer. I turned and behold, it At this sight I gave a loud was my man. At this cry and fell down in a sight I cried out with a swoon; but when I came loud cry and fell down in to myself, he was gone. a fainting fit; but when I came to myself he had disappeared from my sight. This increased my yearning This increased my yearning for him and the ways for him and the were straitened upon ceremonies were tedious to me and I prayed God to me, and I prayed Almighty give me sight of him; Allah to give me sight of nor was it but a few days him; nor was it but a few after when one pulled me days after, when lo! one from behind, and I turned, pulled me from behind, and behold, it was he and I turned and it was again. Quoth he, "I conjure he again. Thereupon he thee, ask thy desire said, "Come, I conjure of me." So I begged him thee, and ask thy want of to pray three prayers to me." So I begged him to God for me; first, that pray for me three prayers: He would make me love first, that Allah would make poverty; secondly, that I me love poverty; secondly, might never lie down to that I might never lie down sleep upon known provision, at night upon provision and thirdly, that assured to me; and He, the Bountiful One, thirdly, that he would would vouchsafe me to vouchsafe me to look upon look upon His face. So he His bountiful face. So prayed for me, as I wished, he prayed for me as I and departed from me. wished, and departed from And, indeed, God hath me. And indeed Allah granted me the first two hath granted me what the prayers; for He hath devotee asked in prayer; made me in love with to begin with he hath made poverty, so that, by Allah, me so love poverty that, by there is nought in the the Almighty! there is world dearer to me than nought in the world dearer it, and since such a year, to me than it, and secondly I have never lain down since such a year I have upon assured provision; never lain down to sleep yet hath He never let me upon assured provision, lack of aught. As for the withal hath He never let third prayer, I trust that me lack aught. As for the He will vouchsafe me that third prayer, I trust that also, even as He hath he will vouchsafe me that granted the two others, also, even as He hath for He is bountiful and granted the two precedent, excellently beneficient. And for right Bountiful and may God have mercy on Beneficient is His Godhead, him who saith: and Allah have mercy on him who said; Renouncement, lowliness, the Garb of Fakir, renouncement, fakir's garments be; In lowliness; patched and tattered clothes His robe of tatters and of rags still fares the devotee. his dress; Pallor adorneth him, as on their And pallor ornamenting brow latest nights, The moons as though with pallor still embellished 'Twere wanness such as waning thou mayst see. crescents show. Long rising up by night to pray Wasted him prayer a-through hath wasted him; And from the long-lived night, his lids the tears stream down. And flooding tears ne'er cease as 'twere a sea. to dim his sight. The thought of God to him his Memory of Him shall cheer his very housemate is; For lonely room; bosom friend by night, th' Th' Almighty nearest is in Omnipotent hath he. nightly gloom. God the Protector helps the fakir The Refuge helpeth such Fakir in his need; And birds and in need; beasts no less to succour him Help e'en the cattle and the agree. winged breed; On his account, the wrath of Allah for sake of him of wrath God on men descends, And is fain, by his grace, the rains fall And for the grace of him shall down on wood and lea. fall the rain; And if he pray one day to do And if he pray one day for plague away a plague, The oppressor's to stay, slain and men from 'Twill stay, and 'bate man's tyrants are made free; wrong and tyrants slay. For all the folk are sick, While folk are sad, afflicted one afflicted and diseased, And he's and each, the pitying leach withouten He in his mercy's rich, the stint or fee. generous leach; His forehead shines; an thou Bright shines his brow; an thou but look upon his face, Thy regard his face heart is calmed, the lights of Thy heart illumined shines by heaven appear to thee. light of grace. O thou that shunnest these, their O thou that shunnest souls of virtues knowing not, Woe's worth innate, thee! Thou'rt shut from Departs thee (woe to thee!) of them by thine iniquity. sins the weight. Thou think'st them to o'ertake, Thou thinkest to overtake them, for all thou'rt fettered fast; while thou bearest Thy sins from thy desire Follies, which slay thee whatso do hinder thee, perdie. way thou farest. Thou wouldst to them consent Didst not their worth thou hadst and rivers from thine eyes all honour showed Would run from them, if thou And tears in streamlets from their excellence could'st see. thine eyes had flowed. Uneath to him to smell, who's To catarrh-troubled men flowers troubled with a rheum, Are lack their smell; flowers; the broker knows And brokers ken for how much what worth the garments be. clothes can sell; So supplicate thy Lord right So haste and with thy Lord humbly for His grace And re-union sue, Providence, belike, shall And haply fate shall lend thee help thy constancy; aidance due. And thou shalt win thy will and Rest from rejection and from estrangement's stress estrangement stress, And eke rejection's pains And joy thy wish and will shall shall be at rest and free. choicely bless. The asylum of His grace is wide His court wide open for the enough for all That seek; The suer is dight:-- one true God, the One, very God, the Lord, th' Conqueror, is He! Almighty might.
We may also compare the two renderings of that exquisite and tender little poem “Azizeh’s Tomb”462 which will be found in the “Tale of Aziz and Azizeh.”
Payne Burton I passed by a ruined tomb in the I past by a broken tomb amid midst of a garden way, Upon a garth right sheen, Whereon whose letterless stone seven on seven blooms of Nu'aman blood-red anemones lay. glowed with cramoisie. "Who sleeps in this unmarked Quoth I, "Who sleepeth in this grave?" I said, and the tomb?" Quoth answering earth, "Bend low; For a earth, "Before a lover lover lies here and waits for Hades-tombed bend reverently." the Resurrection Day." "God keep thee, O victim of Quoth I, "May Allah help thee, love!" I cried, "and bring O thou slain of love, And thee to dwell In the highest grant thee home in heaven of all the heavens of Paradise, and Paradise-height to see! I pray! "How wretched are lovers all, "Hapless are lovers all e'en even in the sepulchre, tombed in their tombs, For their very tombs are Where amid living folk the covered with ruin and decay! dust weighs heavily! "Lo! if I might, I would plant "Fain would I plant a garden thee a garden round about, blooming round thy grave and with my streaming tears And water every flower with the thirst of its flowers tear-drops flowing allay!" free!"463
The reader will notice from these citations:
(1) That, as we have already said, and as Burton himself partly admitted, Burton’s translation is largely a paraphrase of Payne’s. This is particularly noticeable in the latter half of the Nights. He takes hundreds—nay thousands—of sentences and phrases from Payne, often without altering a single word.464 If it be urged that Burton was quite capable of translating the Nights without drawing upon the work of another, we must say that we deeply regret that he allowed the opportunity to pass, for he had a certain rugged strength of style, as the best passages in his Mecca and other books show. In order to ensure originality he ought to have translated every sentence before looking to see how Payne put it, but the temptation was too great for a very busy man—a man with a hundred irons in the fire—and he fell.465
(2) That, where there are differences, Payne’s translation is invariably the clearer, finer and more stately of the two. Payne is concise, Burton diffuse.466
(3) That although Burton is occasionally happy and makes a pat couplet, like the one beginning “Kisras and Caesars,” nevertheless Payne alone writes poetry, Burton’s verse being quite unworthy of so honourable a name. Not being, like Payne, a poet and a lord of language; and, as he admits, in his notes, not being an initiate in the methods of Arabic Prosody, Burton shirked the isometrical rendering of the verse. Consequently we find him constantly annexing Payne’s poetry bodily, sometimes with acknowledgement, oftener without. Thus in Night 867 he takes half a page. Not only does he fail to reproduce agreeably the poetry of the Nights, but he shows himself incapable of properly appreciating it. Notice, for example, his remark on the lovely poem of the Fakir at the end of the story of “Abu Al-Hasan and Abu Ja’afer the Leper,” the two versions of which we gave on a preceding page. Burton calls it “sad doggerel,” and, as he translates it, so it is. But Payne’s version, with its musical subtleties and choice phrases, such as “The thought of God to him his very housemate is,” is a delight to the ear and an enchantment of the sense. Mr. Payne in his Terminal Essay singles out the original as one of the finest pieces of devotional verse in the Nights; and worthy of Vaughan or Christina Rossetti. The gigantic nature of Payne’s achievement will be realised when we mention that The Arabian Nights contains the equivalent of some twenty thousand decasyllabic lines of poetry, that is to say more than there are in Milton’s Paradise Lost, and that he has rendered faithfully the whole of this enormous mass in accordance with the intricate metrical scheme of the original, and in felicitous and beautiful language.
(4) That Burton, who was well read in the old English poets, also introduces beautiful words. This habit, however, is more noticeable in other passages where we come upon cilice,467 egromancy,468 verdurous,469 vergier,470 rondure,471 purfled,472 &c. Often he uses these words with excellent effect, as, for example, “egromancy,”473 in the sentence: “Nor will the egromancy be dispelled till he fall from the horse;” but unfortunately he is picturesque at all costs. Thus he constantly puts “purfled” where he means “embroidered” or “sown,” and in the “Tale of the Fisherman and the Jinni,” he uses incorrectly the pretty word “cucurbit”474 to express a brass pot; and many other instances might be quoted. His lapses, indeed, indicate that he had no real sense of the value of words. He uses them because they are pretty, forgetting that no word is attractive except in its proper place, just as colours in painting owe their value to their place in the general colour scheme. He took most of his beautiful words from our old writers, and a few like ensorcelled475 from previous translators. Unfortunately, too, he spoils his version by the introduction of antique words that are ugly, uncouth, indigestible and yet useless. What, for example, does the modern Englishman make of this, taken from the “Tale of the Wolf and the Fox,” “Follow not frowardness, for the wise forbid it; and it were most manifest frowardness to leave me in this pit draining the agony of death and dight to look upon mine own doom, whereas it lieth in thy power to deliver me from my stowre?”476 Or this: “O rare! an but swevens477 prove true,” from “Kamar-al-Zalam II.” Or this “Sore pains to gar me dree,” from “The Tale of King Omar,” or scores of others that could easily be quoted.478
Burton, alas! was also unscrupulous enough to include one tale which, he admitted to Mr. Kirby, does not appear in any redaction of the Nights, namely that about the misfortune that happened to Abu Hassan on his Wedding day.479 “But,” he added, “it is too good to be omitted.” Of course the tale does not appear in Payne. To the treatment meted by each translator to the coarsenesses of the Nights we have already referred. Payne, while omitting nothing, renders such passages in literary language, whereas Burton speaks out with the bluntness and coarseness of an Urquhart.
In his letter to Mr. Payne, 22nd October 1884, he says of Mr. Payne’s translation, “The Nights are by no means literal but very readable which is the thing.” He then refers to Mr. Payne’s rendering of a certain passage in the “Story of Sindbad and the Old Man of the Sea,” by which it appears that the complaint of want of literality refers, as usual, solely to the presentable rendering of the offensive passages. “I translate,” he says **********. “People will look fierce, but ce n’est pas mon affaire.” The great value of Burton’s translation is that it is the work of a man who had travelled in all the countries in which the scenes are laid; who had spent years in India, Egypt, Syria, Turkey and the Barbary States, and had visited Mecca; who was intimately acquainted with the manners and customs of the people of those countries, and who brought to bear upon his work the experience of a lifetime. He is so thoroughly at home all the while. Still, it is in his annotations and not in his text that he really excells. The enormous value of these no one would now attempt to minimize.
All over the world, as Sir Walter Besant says, “we have English merchants, garrisons, consuls, clergymen, lawyers, physicians, engineers, living among strange people, yet practically ignorant of their manners and thoughts. .... it wants more than a knowledge of the tongue to become really acquainted with a people.” These English merchants, garrisons, consults and others are strangers in a strange land. It is so very rare that a really unprejudiced man comes from a foreign country to tell us what its people are like, that when such a man does appear we give him our rapt attention. He may tell us much that will shock us, but that cannot be helped.