For today’s challenge, I had to write a saj’. For those of you not familiar with the term, saj’ pieces are characterised by rhyme, with most, if not all, of the phrases ending with a perfect rhyme that is carried over variable lengths throughout the piece. You can find examples of saj’ in the Qur’an or in The Thousand and One Nights. According to Wikipedia, the ‘consistent, incessant rhyme is what makes the saj’ style so melodic and akin to cooing of birds and jingling bells.’
My piece tells the story of someone who meets an old man (presumably Sinbad, since the title refers to him) who is possessed by a Djinn. The storyteller kills the Djinn and the old man is restored to himself. He then tells the storyteller the tale of how he came to be possessed by the Djinn.
If I had time to do this properly, I would vary the lengths of my lines in keeping with traditional saj’; as it is, I’ve stuck to iambic pentameter since this mimics natural speech rhythms – the rhyme and rhythm are present here, but to do the saj’ form justice, I’d have to spend a lot longer.
The Seventh Saj’ of Sinbad
I met a traveller from an ancient land:
Careworn was he, and frail of limb and hand;
With stooping back, he found it hard to stand,
Yet he had travelled far across the sand.
Across the sand, he’d come for many days
‘Neath fiery sun, his skin tanned by its rays.
He had a tale, he said, that should amaze:
He’d tell me of the Djinn and all their ways.
Indeed, he told me of a Djinn so tall,
So fierce, so ravenous it made me pall.
This Djinn, he said, would answer to his call.
But then, alas! I saw my traveller fall.
I saw my traveller fall as falls a tree
When woodsmen cut it down. How could this be?
For lo! upon his face now plain to see
The features of a Djinn stared back at me.
‘O, mortal man, free me!’ the Djinn now roared.
His eyes blazed fire; his birdlike talons clawed.
I pierced his demon-visage with my sword
And then, like that, the traveller was restored.
‘How came this transformation?’ I enquired.
For now my curiosity was fired.
‘By what strange fate were you and he so mired?
How in your skin was such a one attired?’
The traveller sighed and thus began his song,
And strange it was, and plaintive too, and long.
‘In all my years – they number thirteen score –
I’d dealt with Djinns and faerie folk galore –
Until the day came when I finally swore
I’d take a wife and travel thus no more.
So, take a wife I did, a beauteous mate
With almond eyes and lips as sweet as dates.
But Heaven frowned, and by some twist of fate,
Her love for me did swiftly turn to hate.
Love turned to hate – I was not what she sought;
And though I gave her everything I ought,
She spurned my gifts and said love is not bought,
And thus her anger flared and our love came to naught.
She left me in the night and ran away
So far across the desert, far away.
Upon a camel’s back she chose to sway.
I could not stop her flight nor make her stay.
An empty shell was I without my wife.
I did not eat nor sleep; I tired of life.
And though her nagging words oft gave me strife,
Her going pierced my heart like cruellest knife.
‘Twas then the Djinn whom you have late despatched
Revealed at length the plan that he had hatched:
His soul with human body would be matched…
“But that’s absurd!” I cried, and anger flashed
Within his eyes, and then his teeth he gnashed,
And thought I to myself I would be dashed
Upon the rocks for doubting his fine plans
Or buried in a bottle in the sands.
Instead, he let me live, but stole my shell
And while he lived, I was in living hell.
One body with two spirits walked the earth
Until the demon’s death gave me new worth.’
O, he had travelled much and suffered more!
His tale of woe now shook me to my core
For everyone might one day meet a Djinn
And grief can be a door to let him in.