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Think, in this Batter'd Caravanserai -- Omar Khayyam

       
(Poem #654) Think, in this Batter'd Caravanserai
 Think, in this batter'd Caravanserai
 Whose Portals are alternate Night and Day,
 How Sultan after Sultan with his Pomp
 Abode his destined Hour, and went his way
-- Omar Khayyam
Nothing particular to say about today's poem - I just liked the image of the
world as a caravanserai, with Night and Day (or Life and Death if you
prefer) as its doors.

The theme is a common one - it has played itself out in several variations
across most of the world's great works, including the Bible, Shakespeare,
and indeed in the Rubaiyat itself; however it has not suffered for that, and
has indeed produced a number of haunting analogies and images.

[Speaking of which, if anyone can provide me a fuller reference to the one
about life being like a bird passing brielfy through a lighted room before
returning to the outer darkness whence it came, I'd be grateful.]

Notes:

 Freely translated by Edward Fitzgerald; stanza 17 from the 5th edition

 Caravanserai: A kind of inn in Eastern countries where caravans put up,
 being a large quadrangular building with a spacious court in the middle.
        -- OED

Links:

poem #545 has a biography of
Fitzgerald and a number of other Rubaiyat links.

'Caravanserai' is another of those wonderfully evocative words that conjures
up entire realms and stories. For something in the same vein, check out the
Silk Road theme we ran a while back: Poem #504, Poem #506, Poem #509,
Poem #513, Poem #515, Poem #518 and Poem #526 - yes, it was a long theme
but a beautiful one.

And if anyone can find or scan in pictures of a caravanserai, do send in a
link.

Afterthought:

Having spent a happy half-hour or so rereading all four editions of the
Rubaiyat, I can recommend it - the second and fourth editions have a few
hidden gems that are lost if you concentrate on the outer two.

-martin

17 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Suresh Ramasubramanian said...

This is also the same concept as an urdu poem ...

"sab thaat pada rah jayega, jab laad chalega banjara ..."

(basically, when you leave this world, all your worldly possessions are left
behind). Fantastic poem :)

Or what was that raj kapoor movie (directed by basu bhattacharya)? "sajan re
jhoot math bolo, khuda ke paas jaana hai, na haathi hai, na ghoda hai, wahaan
paidal hi jaana hai ..."

[followup:]
teesri kasam. brilliant song - and if you can get an english trans of that,
it's going to be great

> [Speaking of which, if anyone can provide me a fuller reference to the one
> about life being like a bird passing brielfy through a lighted room before
> returning to the outer darkness whence it came, I'd be grateful.]

sounds _very_ familiar - but in hindi or urdu

Rita Cherian said...

I remember a reference to the Venerable Bede as the author of the passage in
which life is described as a lighted room into which a swallow flies. Hope
this is helpful!

Colm Maccrossan said...

The bird through the hall image is Anglo-Saxon. I have a feeling that King
Alfred wrote it down, but might be wrong - it could be Boethius. A
variation of it also appears in H. Rider Haggard's 'King Solomon's Mines'
where Umbopa the Zulu uses it to describe his world-view ('Our March Into
the Desert' chapter - p. 50 of the 1986 Hamlyn edition). Also, it might
interest you to read this section alongside lines 19-30 of Eliot's 'The
Waste Land'.

Take care,
Colm

Carolyn Bunch said...

A "fuller reference" no, but what I remember from my
school house history regarding that image is this.
A Saxon or Danish king in pre-Christian Britain told
his assembled lords that life was like a bird flying for a
brief moment into the great hall and then flying out again.
The king felt that Christianity might help explain some
of the mysteries of the void, and should thus be explored
as a path to knowledge.
I wish I could remember the name of the king - and I am
hoping that this might help. It is a very compelling image,
and might have been applied to a number of circumstances.
Carolyn Bunch

Dress Shirt said...

I remember a reference to the Venerable Bede as the author of the passage in
which life is described as a lighted room into which a swallow flies. Hope
this is helpful!

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