Translated by Edward FitzGerald
(First Edition, 1859)
OFF TOPIC. INTENDED ONLY FOR A SMALL GROUP OF PERSONAL FRIENDS.
PLEASE SKIP IF THIS DOES NOT INTEREST YOU.
LD: These ten 4-line verses (or quatrains) from the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, amounting to 40 lines, contain the essence of the entire poem.
In the original complete version, the poem runs to 75 quatrains in 300 lines.
These 10 selected verses, the most frequently quoted, encapsulate an entire philosophical worldview which in many ways is startlingly modern. And yet the Persian poet (pictured here) who wrote this work of Sufi mysticism did so in the early part of the 12th century.
Astronomer, mathematician, philosopher, poet, Omar Khayyám taught the philosophy of Avicenna in Nishapur for many years and was himself known as “the philosopher of the world”, being one of the chief exemplars and shining lights of the Golden Age of Islam. He died in 1131 and is buried in the Khayyám Garden in Nishapur.
There is no doubt that the gifted translator Fitzgerald, a poet in his own right as talented as Keats or Shelley or Tennyson, added much to the poem that was not to be found in the original Persian. Dozens of different translations of the Rubaiyat have been done by other writers in English and various foreign languages, but none of these possess even a fraction of the genius brought to the poem by Fitzgerald’s 1859 translation.
Fitzgerald was to add 35 verses to the poem in subsequent editions, but these revisions fell far short of the sparkling brilliance achieved by the 1859 edition when the poet translator was 50 years old. Blake said, “To create a little flower is the labour of ages.” So it is with each gemmed verse of the Rubaiyat which was probably polished to perfection over several decades.
The Roman poet Horace was perhaps right to advise in his Ars Poetica that all poets should wait at least seven years before they published their poems.
I hope my own unstinted admiration of this poem will infect a kindred spirit somewhere in the mind ocean of the internet. Please don’t miss the brief video at the end. And may you be moved to tears, as I was. (LD)
Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám
Illustrated by Darkmoon
There was a Door to which I found no Key:
There was a Veil past which I could not see:
Some little Talk awhile of ME and THEE
There seem’d — and then no more of THEE and ME.
Into this Universe, and why not knowing,
Nor whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing:
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing.
But leave the Wise to wrangle, and with me
The quarrel of the Universe let be:
And, in some corner of the Hubbub coucht,
Make Game of that which makes as much of Thee.
For in and out, above, about, below,
‘Tis nothing but a Magic Shadowshow,
Play’d in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.
Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays.
And one by one back in the Closet lays.
The Ball no question makes of Ayes and Noes,
But Right or Left as strikes the Player goes;
And He that toss’d Thee down into the Field,
He knows about it all — He knows — HE knows!
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on; nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
Whereunder crawling coopt we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to It for help — for It
Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.
Oh Thou, who didst with Pitfall and with Gin *
Beset the Road I was to wander in,
Thou wilt not with Predestination round
Enmesh me, and impute my Fall to Sin ?
* Gin = snare, trap
Oh, Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make,
And who with Eden didst devise the Snake;
For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man
Is blacken’d, Man’s Forgiveness give — and take!
Watch this 3-minute video