The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
By Omar Khayyam (1048-1131)
Translated By Edward Fitzgerald (1859)
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam was translated by Edward Fitzgerald in 1859. The first translation did not receive any recognition or profit. However, Fitzgerald’s manuscript was rediscovered and acknowledged by scholars and readers, resulting in Fitzgerald writing two more editions.
Omar Khayyam was mostly known for his work in the sciences as a famous Persian mathematician and astronomer. After his death, he was recognized as a poet. It was said that Edward Fitzgerald first came across his work through a manuscript that his friend, Edward Cowell, brought him.
The rubaiyat consist of independent epigrammatic quatrains. The rhyming scheme includes end word rhymes. There are several repetitive symbols that Khayyam uses. For example, Khayyam uses the “Cup” to refer to the cup of Life and Knowledge. Some other repetitive words include “today,” “tomorrow” and any other time references. Usually, time is associated with the cycle of life and death.
Ah, fill the Cup: – what books it to repeat
How Time is slipping underneath our Feet:
Unborn To-morrow, and dead yesterday,
Why fret about them if To-day be sweet!
He also uses “wind” and “water” to describe the flow of knowledge, coming in and out of one’s mind.
With them the Seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with my own hand labour’d it to grow:
And this was all the Harvest that I reap’d –
“I came like Water, and like Wind I go.”
One of the main themes that is constanly displayed in Omar Khayyam’s poetry is
Lastly, Khayyam writes his name in his poem as well.
Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.
It is also recorded by Fitzgerald that Omar was a heretic and had skeptical views on religion. Some of his poetry displays his skepticism.
Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same Door as in I went.
Fitzgerald’s translation of Omar Khayyam’s poetry wasn’t my cup of tea. There were a few poems that I mentioned above that I thought were interesting, but overall I didn’t have the same passion Fitzgerald did when reading Khayyam.
Khayyam, Omar. Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Trans. Edward Fitzgerald. Oxford University Press, 2009.
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