In previous posts on September 29th, October 18th and November 8th, I posted in series the first 36 stanzas of Edward Fitzgerald’s masterful mid-19th century translation of the Persian classis “Rubai Yat of Omar Khayyam”. Today, I am posting the continuation, with the next 12 stanzas going from stanza 37 to stanza 48.
This section has another take on living life to the full, in the moment and casting unproductive cares aside. Most of these stanzas celebrate the virtues of wine to foster this state of mind, but it is a conscious philosophy of life, not a mentality of drowning one’s sorrows.
Read it with a glass or two of wine and count your blessings.
Ah, fill the Cup:—what boots 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!
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!
How long, how long, in infinite Pursuit
Of This and That endeavour and dispute?
Better be merry with the fruitful Grape
Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.
You know, my Friends, how long since in my House
For a new Marriage I did make Carouse:
Divorced old barren Reason from my Bed,
And took the Daughter of the Vine to Spouse.
For “IS” and “IS-NOT” though with Rule and Line,
And “UP-AND-DOWN” without, I could define,
I yet in all I only cared to know,
Was never deep in anything but—Wine.
And lately, by the Tavern Door agape,
Came stealing through the Dusk an Angel Shape
Bearing a Vessel on his Shoulder; and
He bid me taste of it; and ’twas—the Grape!
The Grape that can with Logic absolute
The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects confute:
The subtle Alchemist that in a Trice
Life’s leaden Metal into Gold transmute.
The mighty Mahmud, the victorious Lord,
That all the misbelieving and black Horde
Of Fears and Sorrows that infest the Soul
Scatters and slays with his enchanted Sword.
But leave the Wise to wrangle, and with me
The Quarrel of the Universe let be:
And, in some corner of the Hubbub coucht,
Make Game of that which makes as much of Thee.
For in and out, above, about, below,
‘Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
Play’d in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.
And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
End in the Nothing all Things end in —Yes—
Then fancy while Thou art, Thou art but what
Thou shalt be—Nothing—Thou shalt not be less.
While the Rose blows along the River Brink,
With old Khayyam the Ruby Vintage drink:
And when the Angel with his darker Draught
Draws up to Thee—take that, and do not shrink.
This whole section of the poem talks of the transience of life and the fact that only direct experience matters, so you might as well make the most of experience while we are here. Why fret about yesterday or tomorrow, if you can make today sweet. There is only the present, worrying about other things only brings pain and suffering. And if you can’t look o the bright side, unaided there is wine, the daughter of the vine, the fruit of the grape.
There are some wonderful lines in this section. Two of my favourites are “Better be merry with the fruitful grape, than sadden after none, or bitter, fruit.?” And the description of the essential randomness of life itself, ” Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show, Play’d in a Box whose Candle is the Sun, Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.”
So drink and be merry, and with Khayyam be ready for death having lived a satisfied life. Ancient, eastern wisdom, indeed, but apt for all times. And Fitzgerald’s mastery of these concepts in his translation never ceases to bowl me over.
The Poetry Dude