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The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam -- Omar Khayyam

Continuing the 'translations' theme:
(Poem #750) The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
 Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
 A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse--and Thou
 Beside me singing in the Wilderness--
 And Wilderness is Paradise enow.

 "How sweet is mortal Sovranty!"--think some:
 Others--"How blest the Paradise to come!"
 Ah, take the Cash in hand and waive the Rest;
 Oh, the brave music of a distant Drum!
-- Omar Khayyam
 Translated by Edward FitzGerald.
 From FitzGerald's first edition, published in 1859.

 "FitzGerald's Rubaiyat" - the name says it all, really, so intertwined are
the English translation and the Persian original. This is surely the
canonical example of a poem whose popularity owes as much to its translator
as to its author, and for good reason: although not as faithful to the
letter of the original as some other versions, FitzGerald's masterpiece is
justly celebrated for its thematic unity, its command of atmosphere, and
above all, its sublime choice of phrasing.


[Other translations]

Here's FitzGerald's second edition:

 A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
 A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread, -- and Thou
 Beside me singing in the Wilderness --
 Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

 Some for the Glories of This World; and some
 Sigh for the Prophet's Paradise to come;
 Ah, take the Cash, and let the Promise go,
 Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!

        -- Omar Khayyam / Edward Fitzgerald

FitzGerald completed three more versions of the Khayyam's Rubaiyat before
his death in 1883. In the same year, Edward Whinfield published a more
comprehensive translation, of which these are the corresponding verses
(numbered 79, 84, 452, 94 and 108 respectively):

 Some wine, a Houri (Houris if there be),
 A green bank by a stream, with minstrelsy;---
 Toil not to find a better Paradise
 If other Paradise indeed there be!

 In the sweet spring a grassy bank I sought,
 And thither wine, and a fair Houri brought;
 And, though the people called me graceless dog,
 Gave not to Paradise another thought!

 Give me a skin of wine, a crust of bread,
 A pittance bare, a book of verse to read;
 With thee, O love, to share my lowly roof,
 I would not take the Sultan's realm instead!

 Did He who made me fashion me for hell,
 Or destine me for heaven? I can not tell.
 Yet will I not renounce cup, lute, and love,
 Nor earthly cash for heavenly credit sell.

 They preach how sweet those Houri brides will be,
 But I say wine is sweeter---taste and see!
 Hold fast this cash, and let that credit go,
 And shun the din of empty drums like me.

        -- Omar Khayyam / Edward Whinfield

Yet another version is Arthur Talbot's, completed in 1908; here are his
quatrains 40, 149, 34 and 42, respectively:

 Whether my destin'd fate shall be to dwell
 Midst Heaven's joys or in the fires of Hell
 I know not; here with Spring, and bread, and wine,
 And thee, my love, my heart says "All is well."

 Give me a scroll of verse, a little wine,
 With half a loaf to fill thy needs and mine,
 And with the desert sand our resting place,
 For ne'er a Sultan's kingdom would we pine.

 Men talk of Eden's Houris and their charms;
 To maids of Earth I drink and sing my psalms.
 Hold fast Life's cash; if Time be in thy debt
 How pleasant is the distant call to arms!

 If in thy heart the seed of Love is plac'd,
 No day of all thy life can run to waste;
 Whether for God's approval thou dost strive,
 Or on the joys of Earth hast set thy taste.

        -- Omar Khayyam / Arthur Talbot

Here's an extract from Richard Brodie's Anagrammatic Rubaiyat (more about
which later):

 A Poem, and Trees a-blowing in a Wind.
 A Brew I'll drink -- base Needs of other Stuff
 Ignore. Ah see here how we do behave;
 Indeed for us a Song is just enough

        -- Omar Khayyam / Edward FitzGerald / Richard Brodie

And finally, here's Wendy Cope's transcription of Strugnell's Rubaiyat:

 Here with a Bag of Crisps beneath the Bough,
 A Can of Beer, a Radio - and Thou
 Beside me half asleep in Brockwell Park
 And Brockwell Park is Paradise enow.

 Some Men to everlasting Bliss aspire,
 Their lives, Auditions for the heavenly Choir:
 Oh, use your Credit Card and waive the Rest -
 Brave Music of a distant Amplifier!

        -- Omar Khayyam / Jason Strugnell / Wendy Cope

[Links] is an excellent resource for those
interested in the translator's art; it charts the progress of FitzGerald's
translation of Rubaiyat through several editions, and has a very neat
verse-by-verse comparison of FitzGerald, Whinfield and Talbot. Most
impressive of all, it offers (as a work in progress) Richard Brodie's
anagrammatic paraphrase of the Rubaiyat, a poem whose every stanza is a
perfect anagram of the corresponding one in FitzGerald's original. Check it

Incidentally, Richard Brodie is the co-author, with Mike Keith, of "The
Anagrammed Bible", an anagrammatic paraphrase of three complete books of the
Old Testament (King James Version). And Mike Keith's name has been mentioned
before on the Minstrels, for his insanely brilliant constrained version of
Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven", [broken link]

Jeff Kelley's Kellcraft Studio, the Poet's Corner,
[broken link] and the ELF's
Rubaiyat site, have a
wealth of Rubaiyat-related information - annotations, critiques,
FitzGerald's prefaces, and so on.

And finally, Minstrels links: we've dipped into FitzGerald's Rubaiyat
several times before; see poem #162, poem #342, poem #545 and poem #654.
Also don't miss out Wendy Cope's parody (attributed to that
all-too-impressionable South London poet, the Bard of Tulse Hill, Jason
Strugnell), poem #587.


Some interesting snippets from the sites mentioned above:

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]

While Whinfield and Talbot do not exhibit the same consistent, memorable
sublimity of expression as does Fitzgerald, they can serve to illuminate the
latter's monumental achievement of sifting and sorting through the
hodge-podge that is the original Persion collection, consisting not only of
Khayyam's verse, but of subsequent poets as well, selectively extracting and
recombining from this diverse assortment, a beautifully coherent and
naturally flowing creation.

        -- Richard Brodie,

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