Edward Fitzgerald’s 19th century loose translation of the Persian classic poem, the Rubai’yat of Omar Khayam is a true work of art in itself. It has been derided by some as not being a faithful translation. However, I have read translations which set out to be faithful to the original and they are flat and uninspiring compared to Fitzgerald’s version.
For this blog post, I set out the first 12 stanzas of the poem – future posts will surely cover later sections in several instalments until the 75 stanzas of the whole work are completed. So here is the subject of this post. Read and enjoy…
Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light.
Dreaming when Dawn’s Left Hand was in the Sky
I heard a Voice within the Tavern cry,
“Awake, my Little ones, and fill the Cup
“Before Life’s Liquor in its Cup be dry.”
And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The Tavern shouted–“Open then the Door!
“You know how little while we have to stay,
“And, once departed, may return no more.”
Now the New Year reviving old Desires,
The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
Where the WHITE HAND OF MOSES on the Bough
Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires.
Iram indeed is gone with all its Rose,
And Jamshyd’s Sev’n-ring’d Cup where no one knows;
But still the Vine her ancient Ruby yields,
And still a Garden by the Water blows.
And David’s Lips are lock’t; but in divine
High piping Pehlevi, with “Wine! Wine! Wine!
“Red Wine!”—the Nightingale cries to the Rose
That yellow Cheek of hers to incarnadine.
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.
And look—a thousand Blossoms with the Day
Woke—and a thousand scatter’d into Clay:
And this first Summer Month that brings the Rose
Shall take Jamshyd and Kaikobad away.
But come with old Khayyam, and leave the Lot
Of Kaikobad and Kaikhosru forgot!
Let Rustum lay about him as he will,
Or Hatim Tai cry Supper—heed them not.
With me along some Strip of Herbage strown
That just divides the desert from the sown,
Where name of Slave and Sultan scarce is known,
And pity Sultan Mahmud on his Throne.
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.
“How sweet is mortal Sovranty!”—think some:
Others—“How blest the Paradise to come!”
Ah, take the Cash in hand and waive the Rest;
Oh, the brave Music of a distant Drum!
Thus has one of the most striking opens to a poem that I know, beautifully reinforced by the following lines of the stanza to evoke the dawning of a new day in the world of the Near East.
The poem’s theme is carpe diem, enjoy life while you can. Put aside life’s cares and enjoy the moment, life is transient so we shouldn’t waste it on vain ambition or thoughts of power. Stanza 10 says “Pity Sultan Mahmud on his throne”, and we could put the name of any political or business leader worn down by the cares of high office. For the poet, the rewards would not be worth it. In Stanza 11, all that the poet needs to be happy are a loaf of bread, a flask of wine, a book of verse and a lover by his side. This would create a paradise even in the midst of wilderness. An appealing prospect indeed…
I can come back to this poem again and again, its a real pleasure, as the poet would have wished.
The Poetry Dude