The Rubaiyat of Omar Kyayyam

I haven’t read The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (1048-1131) for some years and had forgotten how accessible it is, and how similar many of the sentiments are to more familiar poets like Shakespeare.
XI
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.

A Persian philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, and physician, he was something of a fatalist, more interested in the here and now than either the machinations of political maneuverings (thanks to the fate of a boyhood friend) or the arguments of “the wise” which he frequently dismisses as unimportant.

XLV
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.

Though his scientific acumen was well regarded, and the Sultan “showered favors upon him,” his Epicurean philosophy caused some of his more religious contemporaries to regard him askance.  (As they probably would today, as well).

VII
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.

I wonder if he’d be surprised to know that folks are still reading and enjoying his stanzas some 900 years after he wrote them, or if he’d find it hugely amusing?  Or would he be saddened that almost a millenium later, “the wise” are still wrangling?

2 Comments

Filed under poetry

2 responses to “The Rubaiyat of Omar Kyayyam

  1. There’s a reason so many of the sentiments are similar to Shakespeare & Co. — while Fitzgerald did take the scaffolding from Khayyám, he constantly modified the intent of the poems to match the ideas of his Victorian audience. And that “poems” is on indication of how much he adapted things: Khayyám really wrote disconnected poems, with no sequencing whatsoever. Reading a literal translation of Khayyám’s little stanzas is eye-opening.

    Which is not to knock Fitzgerald’s work as poetry. But it’s really a Victorian work, not a medieval Persian one.

    —L.

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