On September 29th and October 18th I posted the first 24 stanzas of Edward Fitzgerald’s great poetic translation of the Persian classic Rubai’Yat of Omar Khayyam. This is one of the few translations of poetry which has substantial poetic merit in its own right, even if it took liberties with the literal meaning of the original work. Today we will look at stanzas 25 to 36,and so almost to the half-way point of the entire work.
Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss’d
Of the Two Worlds so learnedly, are thrust
Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
Are scatter’d, and their Mouths are stopt with Dust.
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.
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.
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.”
Into this Universe, and why not knowing,
Nor whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing:
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing.
What, without asking, hither hurried whence?
And, without asking, whither hurried hence!
Another and another Cup to drown
The Memory of this Impertinence!
Up from Earth’s Centre through the Seventh Gate
I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate,
And many Knots unravel’d by the Road;
But not the Knot of Human Death and Fate.
There was a Door to which I found no Key:
There was a Veil past which I could not see:
Some little Talk awhile of ME and THEE
There seemed—and then no more of THEE and ME.
Then to the rolling Heav’n itself I cried,
Asking, “What Lamp had Destiny to guide
“Her little Children stumbling in the Dark?”
And—“A blind Understanding!” Heav’n replied.
Then to this earthen Bowl did I adjourn
My Lip the secret Well of Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmur’d—“While you live
“Drink!—for once dead you never shall return.”
I think the Vessel, that with fugitive
Articulation answer’d, once did live,
And merry-make; and the cold Lip I kiss’d
How many Kisses might it take—and give!
For in the Market-place, one Dusk of Day,
I watch’d the Potter thumping his wet Clay:
And with its all obliterated Tongue
It murmur’d—“Gently, Brother, gently, pray!”
One Moment in Annihilation’s Waste,
One Moment, of the Well of Life to taste—
The Stars are setting and the Caravan
Starts for the Dawn of Nothing—Oh, make haste!
Just as in previous sections, the poet reflected on the vanity and illusion of worldly ambition and success, in these sections he reflects on the illusion of “saints and sages”, virtue and acquired knowledge. Again they do not help stop the passage of time and the need to make the best of your life with the time you have. “Human death and fate” are inexorable, so enjoy your life and be gentle with others – apart from this all is illusory.
I love the stoic, yet generous philosophy of this poem, and can come back to it again and again – in its entirety or in sections. Enjoy and reflect…
The Poetry Dude