Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, September 25, 2017

"The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam" by Edward FitzGerald (1859)

I loved The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam when I first read it about fifty years ago, it very much struck accord with my late adolescent view of life.  I am very glad I decided to once again experience this wonderful poem.  Basing my background knowledge from the lecture linked to above, I learned Edward FitzGerald, whose command of Persian is considered by academics weak, said he did not claim to translate Khayyam but rendered the spirit of his poetry into some of the most beautiful verse in any language.  

Omar Khayyam was a man of great talent, a brilliant mathematician, a scholar of Persian philosophy and literature.  He is thought to have been of Zoroastrian heritage.  As a youth he was considered so intelligent that he was sent at age six to the court for his education to be supervised.  In time he was offered very high government positions but instead he accepted  an  orchard which would provide him with a large income and free him to study and write.  He was writing as Persia, now Iran, was going into a period of cultural and political decline.  His work seems to suggest one seize the day, enjoying the pleasures of the Flesh, especially  wine. He does not deny the afterlife, he just suggests there is scant evidence for many of the established religious dictums.  His tone is almost as if he is mocking the alleged learned of Persia.  Those convinced of any dogma would probably find his words offensive even today.  I venture no citizen of Iran would dare publish such thoughts now.  

FitzGerald created one of the great texts  of English Romanticism.  He was also a strong influence on American transcendentalism.  Edward Said has something to say about all this.  As to the original poem, there is no surviving copy, the oldest version found in Persian dates from years after Khayyam's death.  

Long ago I loved this poem, and now I love it once more.  Death, as it does in much Romantic era poetry, permeates this poem.  Probably when I read this the first time I was most struck by the attitude taken toward received wisdom, now I see the role of death much more.   Khayyam and FitzGerald are the enemies of the smug, those worshipping ignorance.  

Have you read the Rubaiyat?  Do you have a favorite quatrain?  

Mel u


Fred said...

Mel u--Oh yes. It's been a long time favorite of mine. In fact I've made individual posts on my blog for each quatrain, a project that started back in 2008 and finished several months ago. One favorite quatrain is

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.
-- Quatrain VII, first edition --

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Mel, I have read Omar Khayyam off and on. The Rubaiyat of Khayyam is still popular in India and people still talk about it. I'd love to read Edward FitzGerald's translated work, especially now that I have rediscovered the joys of reading poetry.

Mel u said...

Fred, I have added a link to your blog at the start of this post. I greatly admire your determination to finish a wonderful long term project

Mel u said...

Prashant. Literature can unite people from all over the world. Thanks so much for your comments

Fred said...

Mel u--I certainly didn't plan this when I first started. In fact, I'm surprised not only that I finished the project, but that I also am still blogging.

Thank you for your kind words.

Mel u said...

Fred I can relate to being surprised you are still blogging, eight years ago I would have never dreamed I would still be blogging today.

Fred said...

Mel u--there seems to be some sort of rule here. If I plan on doing a long-term project, then there's always interruptions and delays, and I seldom, if ever, finish. But, if I just start something with no long term plans or ideas, then I just go along and surprise myself when I finish or when I find myself still going at it long after I would have expected to stop.