Ah, with the Grape my fading Life provide,

Today we come to the final section of Edward Fitzgerald’s 19th century translation of the Persian classic, the Rubai’Yat of Omar Khayyam. I have really enjoyed re-reading and posting this in the last few months, as both the content, the style and the great translation are uplifting and full of life. Here we go…

Today’s section goes from stanza 67 to the end at stanza 75. For the previous sections see the sequence of posts on this site on September 29th 2014, October 18th 2014, November 8th 2014, December 12th 2014, January 20th 2015 and February 20th 2015. So the whole work has appeared here in 7 posts.

After looking at this last section, I intend to set aside some time to go back and read the whole poem again in one sitting. I hope some of the readers of this blog are inspired to do the same. You can either revisit the blog posts referenced above, or just click on the link below the poem to find the whole work in one place. Enjoy…


Ah, with the Grape my fading Life provide,
And wash my Body whence the Life has died,
And in the Windingsheet of Vine-leaf wrapt,
So bury me by some sweet Garden-side.


That ev’n my buried Ashes such a Snare
Of Perfume shall fling up into the Air,
As not a True Believer passing by
But shall be overtaken unaware.


Indeed the Idols I have loved so long
Have done my Credit in Men’s Eye much wrong:
Have drown’d my Honour in a shallow Cup,
And sold my Reputation for a Song.


Indeed, indeed, Repentance oft before
I swore—but was I sober when I swore?
And then and then came Spring, and Rose-in-hand
My thread-bare Penitence apieces tore.


And much as Wine has play’d the Infidel
And robb’d me of my Robe of Honour—well,
I often wonder what the Vintners buy
One half so precious as the Goods they sell.


Alas, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth’s sweet-scented Manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the Branches sang,
Ah, whence, and whither flown again, who knows!


Ah Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits—and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!


Ah, Moon of my Delight who Know’st no wane
The Moon of Heav’n is rising once again:
How oft hereafter rising shall she look
Through this same Garden after me—in vain!


And when Thyself with shining Foot shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scatter’d on the Grass,
And in thy joyous Errand reach the Spot
Where I made one—turn down an empty Glass!

TAMAM SHUD (It is completed.)

From <https://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/okhym.htm&gt;

After the parable of the pots in the previous section, which put another spin on the themes of living life to the full while you can, avoiding useless ambition, avarice or power, making the most of the moment, ignoring false prophets or mystics, and taking joy from wine, women and song, this final section reaffirms the poet’s philosophy as he approaches death. This is a time when many people try to put the world behind them and find religion, as if it was going to change their fate. Fitzgerald’s Omar Khayyam will have none of this.

Stanza 67 has the poet still yearning after the grape as his life fades away, and all he asks for is a beautiful burial place in a scenic spot where passers-by can remember him. There are no illusions of after-life or immortality here.

In stanzas 69 and 70, he recognizes that his philosophy of life may have damaged his reputation among more orthodox, more conformist people. But ultimately, this is less important than the fact that has enjoyed his life.

The final several stanzas express regret, not that the poet’s life has been frittered away on wine and pleasure, but regret that death brings those pleasures to an end. It is a final affirmation that life is made to be lived to the full. The poem ends with the poet imagining one of his lovers or one of his readers coming across his burial place and finding an empty glass – meaning that he has succeeded in drinking all the wine that life has had to offer. What a way to go…

So whether we are in 11th century Persia, 19th century England or 21st century America, let’s follow the poet’s example and drink and be merry.

The Poetry Dude

Listen again. One Evening at the Close

Today we return to the next section of Edward Fitzgerald’s 19th century translation of the Persian classic, the Rubai’Yat of Omar Khayyam, in my opinion a wonderful work in its own right despite, or perhaps because of not being an entirely faithful translation, according to those who know about such things. Poetry is notoriously difficult to translate and I generally avoid poetry in translation, but this successfully achieves the status of being a poem I can visit and re-visit without getting tired of it.

Today’s section goes from stanza 59 to stanza 66. For the previous sections see the sequence of posts on this site on September 29th 2014, October 18th 2014, November 8th 2014, December 12th 2014 and January 20th 2015. Following this post, one more should take us to the end of the piece.

This section is somewhat unusual in that it is the only part of the poem which has its own sub-title, “The Book of Pots”, and indeed the stanzas that follow all build on the metaphor of the potter and the pots in his shop. But the overall philosophies and thoughts expressed are very consistent with the themes of the rest of the poem.

KUZA-NAMA (“Book of Pots.”)

Listen again. One Evening at the Close
Of Ramazan, ere the better Moon arose,
In that old Potter’s Shop I stood alone
With the clay Population round in Rows.

And, strange to tell, among that Earthen Lot
Some could articulate, while others not:
And suddenly one more impatient cried—
“Who *is* the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?”


Then said another—“Surely not in vain
“My Substance from the common Earth was ta’en,
“That He who subtly wrought me into Shape
“Should stamp me back to common Earth again.”

Another said—“Why, ne’er a peevish Boy,
“Would break the Bowl from which he drank in Joy;
“Shall He that *made* the Vessel in pure Love
“And Fancy, in an after Rage destroy!”

None answer’d this; but after Silence spake
A Vessel of a more ungainly Make:
“They sneer at me for learning all awry;
“What! did the Hand then of the Potter shake?”

Said one—“Folk of a surly Tapster tell
“And daub his Visage with the Smoke of Hell;
“They talk of some strict Testing of us—Pish!
“He’s a Good Fellow, and ‘t will all be well.”


Then said another with a long-drawn Sigh,
“My Clay with long oblivion is gone dry:
“But, fill me with the old familiar Juice,
“Methinks I might recover by-and-bye!”

So while the Vessels one by one were speaking,
One spied the little Crescent all were seeking:
And then they jogg’d each other, “Brother! Brother!
“Hark to the Porter’s Shoulder-knot a-creaking!”

From <https://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/okhym.htm&gt;

Stanza 59 sets the scene, with the poet standing in a potter’s shop one early evening near the end of Ramadan, with the light of the moon just beginning to shine. He is surrounded by shelves full of clay pots, made by the potter who owns the shop. This must have been a familiar setting in a Persian town or city, close to the bazaar.

Then, in the next stanza, the poet notices that some of the pots can speak, so he listens. All that follows in this section is a series of philosophical, existential, mystical, religious conundrums which a human might pose in relation to the meaning of life, the role of man and God, self-determination, free will, aging, why do imperfections exist and so on and so on. But here they are expressed by the pots, and the potter would be God or destiny.

It is perhaps a way of getting readers to think about these questions in a safe way, without challenging orthodox religious views or the general consensus with regard to humanity – these are only pots after all. It is perhaps significant that none of the questions are really answered, but posed as topics which are worthy of consideration by any thinking human (or pot with consciousness).

The final lines of stanza 66, bring us back to the fact that the potter is still busy making more pots – life and the human condition go on, irrespective of our puny efforts to make sense of it, and perhaps this is the real teaching here.

The Poetry Dude

‘Tis all a chequer-board of nights and days

Today’s poem is the continuation of previous posts containing Edward Fitzgerald’s 19th century classic translation of the Persian poem sequence ” The Rubaiy’yat of Omar Khayyam”. The previous posts, to be found in the entries for September 28th, November 7th, November 25th and December 28th, all in 2014, covered the first 48 stanzas of the poem. Today we have stanzas 49 to 58, so I guess another two postings will take us to the end.

As said previously, Fitzgerald’s is purportedly a very loose translation, but has far greater poetic merit than the more rigorous attempts at translation which I have seen.

This poem is a classic expression of joyous acceptance of the vagaries and circumstances of life, exhortation to live life to the full in the moment and rejection of the illusory vanities of wealth, power and ambition. I can drink to that…


‘Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.
The Ball no Question makes of Ayes and Noes,
But Right or Left, as strikes the Player goes;
And He that toss’d Thee down into the Field,
*He* knows about it all—He knows—HE knows!
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’t we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to *It* for help—for It
Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.
With Earth’s first Clay They did the Last Man’s knead,
And then of the Last Harvest sow’d the Seed:
Yea, the first Morning of Creation wrote
What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.
I tell Thee this—When, starting from the Goal,
Over the shoulders of the flaming Foal
Of Heav’n Parvin and Mushtara they flung,
In my predestin’d Plot of Dust and Soul
The Vine had struck a Fibre; which about
It clings my Being—let the Sufi flout;
Of my Base Metal may be filed a Key,
That shall unlock the Door he howls without
And this I know: whether the one True Light,
Kindle to Love, or Wrath consume me quite,
One Glimpse of It within the Tavern caught
Better than in the Temple lost outright.
Oh, Thou, who didst with Pitfall and with Gin
Beset the Road I was to wander in,
Thou wilt not with Predestination round
Enmesh me, and impute my Fall to Sin?
Oh, Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make,
And who with Eden didst devise the Snake;
For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man
Is blacken’d, Man’s Forgiveness give—and take!

From <https://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/okhym.htm&gt;

This section of the poem mainly consists of a series of metaphors and images illustrating that man cannot alter his fate, so he should just accept his lot in life and make the best of it. First there is the image of the chequer-board, then the ball game, in both of which man is just the object of arbitrary moves by the forces of destiny.

Then we have in stanza 51 a very famous phrase – ” The moving finger writes; and, having writ, moves on: nor all the piety and wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all the tears wash out a word of it”. What’s past is done with and cannot be altered, therefore there is no place or usefulness for regret or “what if” fantasies (or indeed putting weight on sunk costs in forward investment decisions).

And in Stanza 52, it is futile to lift up your eyes and implore heaven to change your fate, for it is just as powerless as humanity to change predetermined destiny. The next three stanzas reinforce the notions of destiny and man being caught up in a game with no chance of influencing its outcome. The references in stanzas 54 and 55 are somewhat obscure to this modern reader, but coming to Stanza 56, there is a return to one of the strongest themes of the whole poem – the tavern is a better place than the temple for man to come to terms with his place in the world and make the best he can of it. Once again, I’ll drink to that.

We will carry on with the next section of this great poem in a future post quite soon.

The Poetry Dude

Ah, fill the cup:…what boots it to repeat

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.

From <https://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/okhym.htm&gt;

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

Why, all the saints and sages who discuss’d

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!
From <https://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/okhym.htm&gt;
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

Look to the Rose that blows about us – “Lo,

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!”

From <https://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/okhym.htm&gt;

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

Awake! For morning in the bowl of night…

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!

From <https://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/okhym.htm&gt;

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