Today we return to Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubai’Yat of Omar Khayam. We looked at the first 12 stanzas in the blog post of September 29, and will visit the remainder of the poem in sections over the next few weeks. Fitzgerald’s translation is supposed to be somewhat unfaithful to the original, but it is by leaps and bounds more poetic than any more scholarly translation I have seen. Try reading it out loud, it almost sings itself off the page, with a rhythm that sustains the lyrical impact of the words.
Today we can read stanzas 13 to 24.
Look to the Rose that blows about us—“Lo,
“Laughing,” she says, “into the World I blow:
“At once the silken Tassel of my Purse
“Tear, and its Treasure on the Garden throw.”
The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns Ashes—or it prospers; and anon,
Like Snow upon the Desert’s dusty Face
Lighting a little Hour or two—is gone.
And those who husbanded the Golden Grain,
And those who flung it to the Winds like Rain,
Alike to no such aureate Earth are turn’d
As, buried once, Men want dug up again.
Think, in this batter’d Caravanserai
Whose Doorways are alternate Night and Day,
How Sultan after Sultan with his Pomp
Abode his Hour or two, and went his way.
They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
The Courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep;
And Bahram, that great Hunter—the Wild Ass
Stamps o’er his Head, and he lies fast asleep.
I sometimes think that never so red
The Rose as where some buried Caesar bled;
That every Hyacinth the Garden wears
Dropt in its Lap from some once lovely Head.
And this delightful Herb whose tender Green
Fledges the River’s Lip on which we lean—
Ah, lean upon it lightly! for who knows
From what once lovely Lip it springs unseen!
Ah, my Beloved, fill the Cup that clears
TO-DAY of past Regrets and future Fears—
To-morrow?—Why, To-morrow I may be
Myself with Yesterday’s Sev’n Thousand Years.
Lo! some we loved, the loveliest and best
That Time and Fate of all their Vintage prest,
Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to Rest.
And we, that now make merry in the Room
They left, and Summer dresses in new Bloom,
Ourselves must we beneath the Couch of Earth
Descend, ourselves to make a Couch—for whom?
Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust, to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and—sans End!
Alike for those who for TO-DAY prepare,
And those that after a TO-MORROW stare,
A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries
“Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There!”
This section of the poem is a meditation on the impermanence of any individual’s life, the illusion of success and failure, the equality in death of rich and poor, and the sense that the world goes on independently of anything we may do, whether we are parsimonious or profligate.
There are many echoes of Shelley’s Ozymandias in the references to the great men now lying underground, while the elements of nature – the rose , the hyacinth, the grass all live on and will still be there to be admired by our descendants. The notion is that we are here for a short time, others came before us, others will come after us. There is no reward for looking back or planning for the future, our final fate is sealed whatever we do, so why not just enjoy life – “Fill the cup that clears Today of past regrets and future fears”.
Or in the words of that great song from the 1980s by Bobby McFerrin, ” Don’t worry, be happy”
The Poetry Dude