14 Omar Khayyam
Selections from the Rubaiyat
(Translation by Edward Fiztgerald)
Omar Khayyam, 1048 – 1131 CE, was a Persian mathematician, astronomer, and poet. He was born in Nishapur, in northeastern Iran. Omar Khayyam’s poetry was written in the form of quatrains (rubāʿiyāt رباعیات). This poetry became widely known to the English-reading world due to the translation by Edward FitzGerald (Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, 1859).
Spend some time getting to know Khayyam through this BBC documentary:
Omar Khayyam, the Poet of Uncertainty
And then enjoy his poetry about life and love and living well.
Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter—and the Bird is on the Wing
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!
The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns Ashes–or it prospers; and anon,
Like Snow upon the Desert’s dusty Face,
Lighting a little hour or two–is gone. \
Alike for those who for To-day prepare,
And those that after some To-morrow stare,
A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries
“Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There.”
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it!
Ah, Love! could you and I with Him conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits–and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!
About the Rubaiyat From the Introduction to this translation:
“The “Rubбiyбt” is a string of quatrains, each of which has all the complete and independent significance of an epigram. Yet there is so little of that lightness which should characterize an epigram that we can scarcely put Omar in the same category with Martial, and it is easy to understand why the author should have been contented to name his book the “Rubбiyбt,” or Quatrains, leaving it to each individual to make, if he chooses, a more definite description of the work.
To English readers, Mr. Edward Fitzgerald’s version of the poem has provided one of the most masterly translations that was ever made from an Oriental classic. For Omar, like Hбfiz, is one of the most Persian of Persian writers. There is in this volume all the gorgeousness of the East: all the luxury of the most refined civilization. Omar’s bowers are always full of roses; the notes of the nightingale tremble through his stanzas. The intoxication of wine and the bright eyes of lovely women are ever present to his mind. The feast, the revel, the joys of love, and the calm satisfaction of appetite make up the grosser elements in his song. But the prevailing note of his music is that of deep and settled melancholy, breaking out occasionally into words of misanthropy and despair. The keenness and intensity of this poet’s style seem to be inspired by an ever-present fear of death. This sense of approaching Fate is never absent from him, even in his most genial moments; and the strange fascination which he exercises over his readers is largely due to the thrilling sweetness of some passage which ends in a note of dejection and anguish.
Strange to say, Omar was the greatest mathematician of his day. The exactness of his fine and analytic mind is reflected in the exquisite finish, the subtle wit, the delicate descriptive touches, that abound in his Quatrains. His verses hang together like gems of the purest water exquisitely cut and clasped by “jacinth work of subtlest jewelry.” But apart from their masterly technique, these Quatrains exhibit in their general tone the revolt of a clear intellect from the prevailing bigotry and fanaticism of an established religion. There is in the poet’s mind the lofty indignation of one who sees, in its true light, the narrowness of an ignorant and hypocritical clergy, yet can find no solid ground on which to build up for himself a theory of supernaturalism, illumined by hope. Yet there are traces of Mysticism in his writings, which only serve to emphasize his profound longing for some knowledge of the invisible, and his foreboding that the grave is the “be-all” and “end-all” of life. The poet speaks in tones of bitterest lamentation when he sees succumb to Fate all that is bright and fresh and beautiful. At his brightest moments he gives expression to a vague pantheism, but all his views of the power that lies behind life are obscured and perturbed by skeptical despondency.
He is the great man of science, who, like other men of genius too deeply immersed in the study of natural law or abstract reasoning, has lost all touch with that great world of spiritual things which we speak of as religion, and which we can only come in contact with through those instinctive emotions which scientific analysis very often does so much to stifle. There are many men of science who, like Darwin, have come, through the study of material phenomena in nature, to a condition of mind which is indifferent in matters of religion. But the remarkable feature in the case of Omar is that he, who could see so clearly and feel so acutely, has been enabled also to embody in a poem of imperishable beauty the opinions which he shared with many of his contemporaries. The range of his mind can only be measured by supposing that Sir Isaac Newton had written Manfred or Childe Harold. But even more remarkable is what we may call the modernity of this twelfth century Persian poet. We sometimes hear it said that great periods of civilization end in a manifestation of infidelity and despair. There can be no doubt that a great deal of restlessness and misgiving characterizes the minds of to-day in regard to all questions of religion. Europe, in the nineteenth century, as reflected in the works of Byron, Spencer, Darwin, and Schopenhauer, is very much in the same condition as intellectual Persia in the twelfth century, so far as the pessimism of Omar is representative of his day. This accounts for the wide popularity of Fitzgerald’s “Rubбiyбt.” The book has been read eagerly and fondly studied, as if it were a new book of fin du siиcle production: the last efflorescence of intellectual satiety, cynicism, and despair. Yet the book is eight centuries old, and it has been the task of this seer of the East to reveal to the West the heart-sickness under which the nations were suffering.
Omar Khayyбm—that is, Omar the tent-maker—was born in the year 1050 AD at Nнshapъr, the little Damascus (as it is called) of Persia: famous as a seat of learning, as a place of religion, and a centre of commerce. In the days of Omar it was by far the most important city of Khorasan. The poet, like his father before him, held a court office under the Vizir of his day. It was from the stipend which he thus enjoyed that he secured leisure for mathematical and literary work. His father had been a khayyбm, or tent-maker, and his gifted son doubtless inherited the handicraft as well as the name; but his position at Court released him from the drudgery of manual labor. He was thus also brought in contact with the luxurious side of life, and became acquainted with those scenes of pleasure which he recalls only to add poignancy to the sorrow with which he contemplates the yesterday of life. Omar’s astronomical researches were continued for many years, and his algebra has been translated into French: but his greatest claim to renown is based upon his immortal Quatrains, which will always live as the best expression of a phase of mind constantly recurring in the history of civilization, from the days of Anaxagoras to those of Darwin and Spencer.”
The Project Gutenberg eBook, Persian Literature, Volume 1,Comprising The Shah Nameh, The Rubaiyat, The Divan, and The Gulistan ,by Anonymous, et al
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Title: Persian Literature, Volume 1,Comprising The Shah Nameh, The Rubaiyat, The Divan, and The Gulistan
Release Date: November 26, 2003 [eBook #10315]