(Poem #162) The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight: And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught The Sultan's Turret in a Noose of Light. Dreaming when Dawn's Left Hand was in the Sky I heard a Voice within the Tavern cry, "Awake, my Little ones, and fill the Cup "Before Life's Liquor in its Cup be dry." And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before The Tavern shouted --- "Open then the Door! "You know how little while we have to stay, "And, once departed, may return no more." Now the New Year reviving old Desires, The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires, Where the White Hand of Moses on the Bough Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires. Iram indeed is gone with all its Rose, And Jamshyd's Sev'n-ring'd Cup where no one knows; But still the Vine her ancient Ruby yields, And still a Garden by the Water blows. And David's Lips are lock't; but in divine High piping Pehlevi, with "Wine! Wine! Wine! "Red Wine!" --- the Nightingale cries to the Rose That yellow Cheek of hers t'incarnadine. Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring The Winter Garment of Repentance fling: The Bird of Time has but a little way To fly --- and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.
Translated by Edward FitzGerald. First Version (1859). Martin and I have been planning to run excerpts from the Rubaiyat for a long time now, only we never got around to selecting the choicest verses... so we decided to take the easy way out and run just the first few (but have no fear, we'll definitely come back to this marvellous poem in the future). There are some poems which seem to resonate in the mind; poems which have a magic about them that seems to transcend their bare words. The Eagle, Chapman's Homer, Kubla Khan... the list isn't very long (alas!), but the few poems that make it are truly glorious. FitzGerald's Rubaiyat is one of them. It's not a complex poem in terms of structure or language, nor are there any of the usual devices beloved of 19th century poets. And yet... FitzGerald captures the atmosphere of the original  brilliantly - the whole poem seems suffused with an air of - (heck, I don't know what to call it: 'Rubaiyatness' is the word that seems to fit best, but that would be rather circular, wouldn't it? Just goes to show how much this poem has insinuated itself into the collective unconscious) - well, a magical air of some sort. The verse is beautiful; somehow it always seems to feel 'just right'. Indeed, there are whole passages of the Rubaiyat which I cannot conceive of being improved upon... flawless, gemlike perfection, is what it is. thomas.  or at any rate, he captures what I think the atmosphere of the original would have been like... My Persian is about as good as my Japanese, which is to say, it's non-existent :-) I asked Martin to add his own comments... [Martin] Thanks to Thomas for giving me the chance to add my 2c... Fitzgerald's brilliant translations of Khayyam's rubaiyat rank among my favourite pieces of poetry, both as wonderful examples of verse, and for the way they seem to capture the feel of the original. (And while it's hard for a small selection to fully demonstrate the brilliance of the whole, the first and seventh verses, IMO, are among the best of the lot). Actually, to call it a 'translation' would be to do Fitzgerald an injustice - he has, rather, freely adapted the originals, preserving their spirit, but letting himself be guided more by the aesthetics of English verse than by a compulsive desire for accuracy. m.  There has been a recent attempt at an accurate translation of the rubaiyat; the excerpts I read were good, but they had the feel of 'translated' poetry, and lacked the appeal of Fitzgerald's work.  yes, I know it's generic, but assume the 'of Omar Khayyam' [Background] Omar Khayyam lived in the area of Naishapur, Persia (modern Iran) in the 12th century. He was primarily a mathematician and astronomer, and some of his works in those areas are still extant. He also wrote rhymed epigrammatic quatrains called in Persian ruba'i. Later Persian scholars collected these verses in manuscripts called Rubaiyat. In 1857, Edward FitzGerald, an English "literary man" who was a friend of Tennyson and Carlyle, discovered a manuscript of Omar's Rubaiyat in the British Museum and translated some of the verses. The translation did not attract much attention when it was first published, but when it was praised by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1861 it became an immediate popular success. FitzGerald's Rubaiyat was not a translation as such. The Rubaiyat manuscripts contained over 400 quatrains. FitzGerald translated some literally, some loosely, combined others, and added some of his own composition though in the spirit of the Persian original. In addition, FitzGerald arranged the verses so that they seem to have a certain cohesion, though the original quatrains were independent and related only in tone. A more literal translation was undertaken by Robert Graves in the 1970s. -- Bob Blair, [broken link] http://www.geocities.com/~spanoudi/poems/rubaiya1.html [More Background and Links] FitzGerald's translation went through five major revisions over 30 years. The excerpts I've chosen to run are from the first (and most famous) edition. To get an idea of how _different_ the other versions are, check out http://www.arabiannights.org/rubaiyat/index2.html . In my opinion, though, none of the later editions come close to capturing the magic of the first. You can read FitzGerald's own (slightly longish, but extremely interesting) introduction to the second edition of the Rubaiyat at [broken link] http://www.geocities.com/~spanoudi/poems/rubintro.html For an interesting parallel, do read Harivansh Rai Bachchan's 'Madhushala (The Tavern)', (as brilliantly translated by Sameer Siruguri), Minstrels Poem #72, with the accompanying commentary. [Notes] These are from FitzGerald's own notes to the second edition. - False morning (Dawn's Left Hand): The 'False Dawn' (Subhi Kázib), a transient light on the Horizon about an hour before the Subhi Sadik, or True Dawn; a well-known Phenomenon in theEast. - White Hand of Moses: Exodus iv. 6; where Moses draws forth his Hand --- not, according to the Persians, 'leprous as Snow', but white, as our May-blossom in Spring perhaps. - Moses...Jesus from the Ground: This passage refers to plants named after the two prophets. - Iram: [A garden] planted by King Shaddad, and now sunk somewhere in the Sands of Arabia. - Jamshyd: Jamshyd's Seven-ring'd Cup was typical of the 7 Heavens, 7 Planets, 7 Seas, &c. and was a Divining Cup. - Pehlevi: The old Heroic Sanskrit of Persia. Hafiz also speaks of the Nightingale's Pehlevi, which did not change with the People's. - The yellow Cheek...incarnadine: I am not sure if the fourth line refers to the Red Rose looking sickly, or to the Yellow Rose that ought to be Red; Red, White, and Yellow Roses all common in Persia. I think that Southey, in his Common-Place Book, quotes from some Spanish author about the Rose being White till 10 o'clock; 'Rosa Perfecta' at 2; and 'perfecta incarnada' at 5. [Philosophy] Some thoughts on the philosophy of the Rubaiyat, filched from the Web. "There are two major schools of thought in trying to classify Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat. One claims that he was highly influenced by Islamic mysticism, and particularly sufism, and his references to wine and lovers are allegorical representations of the mystical wine and divine love. A second school of thought refutes the first completely, claiming that Khayyam understood his mortality and inability to look beyond, and his references to wine and lovers are very literal and sensual. [Khayyam was] clearly not a mystical fatalist claiming "what will be, will be!" To the contrary, he saw the folly of being mesmerized by such techniques, which may bring amazing visions of reality, but so long as they remain visions, they are not and cannot be the truth, the reality itself. [At the same time, he] saw that just as mystical infatuations were merely visions of reality and not the truth, sensual pleasures were also representations of a deeper joy and not the truth either. Khayyam understood that it was our fate, our destiny, something beyond our control to be born into this world. He also understood that death was an inevitable fate for anyone who was ever born ... He understood the fantasy of concerning ourselves with the future, as well as the neurosis of staying in our past. He saw that all we have is this ever slipping moment, this now, which itself has a timeless quality. And he understood that in life what is important is that deeper joy and love for which we have infinite yearning, as well as capacity to both receive and emanate. His Rubaiyat force us to ask those ultimate existential questions, and lead us down a path that, unless we are lost along the way or are destabilized by the abyss which we must traverse, must inevitably reach the same answer. Those ultimate truths that in life all that matters is love and joy. All else is fantasy and fallacy. " -- Shahriar Shahriari, [broken link] http://www.promotionalguide.com/ok/life/philosophy.htm thomas. PS. [Glossary] suspire (v): To sigh; rare in lit. sense; chiefly fig. to sigh or long for, yearn after. (OED) incarnadine (v): to make incarnadine (M-W) incarnadine (adj): 1: having the pinkish color of flesh 2: red, esp. blood red (M-W)