Page:Sacred Books of the East - Volume 6.djvu/83

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

expresses the thoughts and ideas of a Bedawî Arab in Bedawî language and metaphor. The language is noble and forcible, but it is not elegant in the sense of literary refinement. To Mohammed’s hearers it must have been startling, from the manner in which it brought great truths home to them in the language of their every-day life.

There was nothing antiquated in the style or the words, no tricks of speech, pretty conceits, or mere poetical embellishments; the prophet spoke with rude, fierce eloquence in ordinary language. The only rhetorical ornament he allowed himself was that of making his periods more or less rhythmical, and most of his clauses rhyme,—a thing that was and still is natural to an Arab orator, and the necessary outcome of the structure of the Arabic tongue[1].

It is often difficult to enter thoroughly into the spirit of the old Arab poets, Mohammed’s contemporaries or immediate predecessors, because we cannot completely realise the feelings, that actuated them or identify ourselves with the society in which they moved. For this reason they have always something remote and obsolete about them, however clear their language and meaning may be. With the Qurʼân it is not so. Mohammed speaks with a living voice, his vivid word-painting brings at once before the mind the scene he describes or conjures up, we can picture his very attitude when, having finished some marvellously told story of the days of yore, uttered some awful denunciation, or given some glorious promise, he pauses suddenly and says, with bitter disappointment, ‘ These are the true stories, and there is no god but God; and yet ye turn aside !’

To translate this worthily is a most difficult task. To imitate the rhyme and rhythm would be to give the English an artificial ring from which the Arabic is quite free; and the same objection lies against using the phraseology of our authorised version of the Bible: to render it by fine or stilted language would be quite as foreign to the spirit of

  1. How natural this was to an Arab may be inferred from the anecdote related in Part Ⅰ, p. 126, note 2; see also p. ⅼⅴ.