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THE RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM

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Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (Persian: رباعیات عمر خیام) is the title that Edward FitzGerald gave to his translation of a selection of poems, originally written in the Persian language and of which there are about a thousand, attributed to Omar Khayyám (1048–1123), a Persian poet, mathematician and astronomer. A Persian ruba'i is a two line stanza with two parts (or hemistechs) per line, hence the word "Rubaiyat", (derived from the Arabic root word for 4), meaning "quatrains".

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[edit] Translations

The nature of a translation very much depends on what interpretation one places on Khayyam's philosophy. The fact that the rubaiyat are a collection of quatrains - and may be selected and rearranged subjectively to support one interpretation or another - has led to widely differing versions. Nicolas took the view that Khayyam himself clearly was a Sufi. Others have seen signs of mysticism, even atheism, or conversely devout and orthodox Islam. FitzGerald gave the Rubaiyat a distinct fatalistic spin, although it has been claimed that he softened the impact of Khayyam's nihilism and his preoccupation with the mortality and transience of all things. Even such a question as to whether Khayyam was pro- or anti-alcohol gives rise to more discussion than might at first glance have seemed plausible.

[edit] Edward FitzGerald versions

illustration for The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: "Earth could not answer; nor the Seas that mourn"
Page of illuminated manuscript by William Morris, illustrated by Edward Burne-Jones, 1870s.
Illustration by Arthur Szyk for 1940 edition

The translations that are best known in English are those of about a hundred of the verses by Edward FitzGerald (1809–1883).

  • 1st edition – 1859
  • 2nd edition – 1868
  • 3rd edition – 1872
  • 4th edition – 1879
  • 5th edition – 1889

Of the five editions published, four were published under the authorial control of FitzGerald. The fifth edition, which contained only minor changes from the fourth, was edited after his death on the basis of manuscript revisions FitzGerald had left.

FitzGerald also produced Latin translations of certain rubaiyat.

As a work of English literature FitzGerald's version is a high point of the 19th century and has been greatly influential. Indeed, The term "Rubaiyat" by itself has come to be used to describe the quatrain rhyme scheme that FitzGerald used in his translations: AABA.[citation needed]

However, as a translation of Omar Khayyam's quatrains, it is not noted for its fidelity. Many of the verses are paraphrased, and some of them cannot be confidently traced to any one of Khayyam's quatrains at all. Some critics informally refer to the FitzGerald's English versions as "The Rubaiyat of FitzOmar", a nickname that both recognizes the liberties FitzGerald inflicted on his purported source and also credits FitzGerald for the considerable portion of the "translation" that is his own creation.

In fact, FitzGerald himself referred to his work as "transmogrification". "My translation will interest you from its form, and also in many respects in its detail: very unliteral as it is. Many quatrains are mashed together: and something lost, I doubt, of Omar's simplicity, which is so much a virtue in him" (letter to E. B. Cowell, 9/3/58). And, "I suppose very few People have ever taken such Pains in Translation as I have: though certainly not to be literal. But at all Cost, a Thing must live: with a transfusion of one’s own worse Life if one can’t retain the Original’s better. Better a live Sparrow than a stuffed Eagle" (letter to E. B. Cowell, 4/27/59).

Perhaps the most famous of FitzGerald's verses is this one, which can be traced back to at least two original quatrains that FitzGerald conflated into one:

Quatrain XI in his 1st edition:

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.

Quatrain XII in his 5th edition [1]:

"A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness--
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!"

The following are several samples of Fitzgerald's translation, concluding with another well-known verse (FitzGerald's quatrain LI in his 1st edition):


Some for the pleasures here below
Others yearn for The Prophet's Paradise to come;
Ah, take the cash and let the credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant drum

And much as Wine has played the Infidel
And robbed me of my robe of Honour, well ...
I often wonder what the vintners buy
One half so precious as the stuff they sell

For some we loved, the loveliest and best
That from His rolling vintage Time has pressed,
Have drunk their glass a round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to rest

But helpless pieces in the game He plays
Upon this chequer-board of Nights and Days
He hither and thither moves, and checks ... and slays
Then one by one, back in the Closet lays

"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."

[edit] Graf von Schack

Adolf Friedrich von Schack (1815-1894) published a German translation in 1878.

Quatrain 151 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):

Gönnt mir, mit dem Liebchen im Gartenrund
Zu weilen bei süßem Rebengetränke,
Und nennt mich schlimmer als einen Hund,
Wenn ferner an’s Paradies ich denke!

[edit] Friedrich von Bodenstedt

Friedrich Martinus von Bodenstedt (1819-1892) published a German translation in 1881. The translation eventually consisted of 395 quatrains.

Quatrain IX, 59 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):

Im Frühling mag ich gern im Grüne weilen
Und Einsamkeit mit einer Freundin teilen
Und einem Kruge Wein. Mag man mich schelten:
Ich lasse keinen andern Himmel gelten.

[edit] Edward Henry Whinfield

Two English editions by Whinfield (1836-?) consisted of 253 quatrains in 1882 and 500 in 1883.

Quatrain 84 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):

In the sweet spring a grassy bank I sought
And thither wine and a fair Houri brought;
And, though the people called me graceless dog,
Gave not to Paradise another thought!

[edit] J.B. Nicolas

The first French translation, of 464 quatrains in prose, was made by J.B. Nicolas, chief interpreter at the French Embassy in Persia in 1867.

Prose stanza (equivalent of Fitzgerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):

Au printemps j’aime à m’asseoir au bord d’une prairie, avec une idole semblable à une houri et une cruche de vin, s’il y en a, et bien que tout cela soit généralement blâmé, je veux être pire qu’un chien si jamais je songe au paradis.

[edit] John Leslie Garner

An English translation of 152 quatrains, published in 1888.

Quatrain I. 20 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):

Yes, Loved One, when the Laughing Spring is blowing,
With Thee beside me and the Cup o’erflowing,
I pass the day upon this Waving Meadow,
And dream the while, no thought on Heaven bestowing.

[edit] Justin Huntly McCarthy

Justin Huntly McCarthy (1859-1936) (MP for Athlone) published prose translations of 466 quatrains in 1888.

Quatrain 177 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):

In Spring time I love to sit in the meadow with a paramour
perfect as a Houri and a goodly jar of wine, and though
I may be blamed for this, yet hold me lower
than a dog if ever I dream of Paradise.

[edit] Richard Le Gallienne

Richard Le Gallienne (1866-1947) produced a verse translation, subtitled "a paraphrase from several literal translations", in 1897. In his introductory note to the reader, Le Gallienne cites McCarthy's "charming prose" as the chief influence on his version. Some example quatrains follow:

Look not above, there is no answer there;
Pray not, for no one listens to your prayer;
Near is as near to God as any Far,
And Here is just the same deceit as There.

And do you think that unto such as you;
A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew:
God gave the secret, and denied it me?--
Well, well, what matters it! Believe that, too.

"Did God set grapes a-growing, do you think,
And at the same time make it sin to drink?
Give thanks to Him who foreordained it thus--
Surely He loves to hear the glasses clink!"

[edit] Edward Heron-Allen

Edward Heron-Allen (1861-1943) published a prose translation in 1898. He also wrote an introduction to an edition of Frederick Rolfe (Baron Corvo)’s translation into English of Nicolas’s French translation.

Example quatrain (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):

I desire a little ruby wine and a book of verses,
Just enough to keep me alive, and half a loaf is needful;
And then, that I and thou should sit in a desolate place
Is better than the kingdom of a sultan.

[edit] Franz Toussaint

The best-known version in French is the free verse edition by Franz Toussaint (1879-1955) published in 1924. This translation consisting of 170 quatrains was done from the original Persian text, while most of the other French translations were themselves translations of FitzGerald's work. The Éditions d'art Henri Piazza published the book almost unchanged between 1924 and 1979. Toussaint's translation has served as the basis of subsequent translations into other languages, but Toussaint did not live to witness the influence his translation has had.

[edit] A. J. Arberry

In 1959, Professor A. J. Arberry, a distinguished scholar of Persian and Arabic, attempted to produce a scholarly edition of Khayyam, based on thirteenth-century manuscripts. However, his manuscripts were subsequently exposed as twentieth-century forgeries.[1]

[edit] Robert Graves and Omar Ali-Shah

While Arberry’s work had been misguided, it was published in good faith. The 1967 translation of the Rubáiyat by Robert Graves and Omar Ali-Shah, however, created a scandal. The authors claimed it was based on a twelfth-century manuscript located in Afghanistan, where it was allegedly utilised as a Sufi teaching document. But the manuscript was never produced, and British experts in Persian literature were easily able to prove that the translation was in fact based on Edward Heron Allen's analysis of possible sources for FitzGerald’s work.[1][2]

Quatrain 12 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):

A gourd of red wine and a sheaf of poems —
A bare subsistence, half a loaf, not more —
Supplied us two alone in the free desert:
What Sultan could we envy on his throne?

[edit] Peter Avery and John Heath-Stubbs

A modern version of 235 quatrains, claiming to be "As literal an English version of the Persian originals as readability and intelligibility permit", published in 1979.

[edit] Karim Emami

In 1988, for the very first time the Rubaiyat were translated by a Persian translator.[citation needed] Karim Emami translated the Rubaiyat in his title "The Wine of Nishapour" which was published in Paris. The Wine of Nishapour is the collection of Khayyam's poetry by Shahrokh Golestan, it includes Golestan's pictures in front of each poem. Emami was an outstanding translator of English in Iran, who had also translated many of the contemporary Persian poetry along with his translation of Ommar Khayyam's Rubaiyat. Emami died in 2005 at his home in Tehran, due to cancer, his death has been a huge loss to the society of translators and writers in Iran.[3]

Example from Emami's work:

It's early dawn, my love, open your eyes and arise
Gently imbibing and playing the lyre;
For those who are here will not tarry long,
And those who are gone will not return.

Example quatrain 160 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):

In spring if a houri-like sweetheart
Gives me a cup of wine on the edge of a green cornfield,
Though to the vulgar this would be blasphemy,
If I mentioned any other Paradise, I'd be worse than a dog.

[edit] Ahmed Rami

Ahmed Rami, a famous late Egyptian poet, translated the work into Arabic. His translation is considered to be a most fascinating work of modern Arabic literature, and was sung by Umm Khultum.

[edit] Other languages

[edit] Authenticity and analysis

The number of quatrains attributed to Khayyam varies from about 1,200 (according to Saeed Nafisi) to over 2,000. Many scholars believe that not all the attributed quatrains are authentic and some have been added to Khayyam's Diwan in later years for various reasons. A few literary researchers, for example, Mohammad-Ali Foroughi and Farzaneh Aghaeipour[4] have selected and published a subset of the quatrains believed to be original using various research methods.

[edit] Mystical interpretation

"Wine of the Mystic" by Paramahansa Yogananda, is an illustrated interpretation of the FitzGerald translation. Each quatrain is accompanied with Persian text, a glossary of terms, Yoganada's spiritual interpretation, and practical interpretation. It won the 1994 Benjamin Franklin Award in the field of Religion. Yogananda makes an argument for the mystical basis of Khayyam's Rubaiyat.

[edit] Influence

Like Shakespeare's works, Omar Khayyám's verses have provided later authors with quotations to use as titles:

The British composer Granville Bantock produced a choral setting of FitzGerald's translation 1906-1909.

Using FitzGerald's translation, the Armenian-American composer Alan Hovhaness set a dozen of the quatrains to music. This work, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Op. 308, calls for narrator, orchestra, and solo accordion.

The artist/illustrator Edmund Dulac produced some much-beloved illustrations [2] for the Rubaiyat, 1909.

Filmmaker D.W. Griffith planned a film based on the poems as a follow up to Intolerance in 1916. It was to star Miriam Cooper, but when she left the Griffith company the plans were dropped;[5] he would ultimately film Broken Blossoms instead.

The Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges discusses The Rubaiyat and its history in an essay, "The Enigma of Edward FitzGerald" ("El Enigma de Edward FitzGerald") in his book "Other Inquisitions" ("Otras Inquisiciones", 1952). He also references it in some of his poems, including "Rubaiyat" in "The Praise of the Shadow" ("Elogio de la Sombra", 1969), and "Chess" ("Ajedrez") in "The Maker" ("El Hacedor", 1960). Borges' father Jorge Guillermo Borges was the author of a translation to Spanish of the FitzGerald version of The Rubaiyat.

The Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf based his story "Samarkand" on the life of Omar Khayyam, and the creation of the Rubaiyat. It details the Assassin sect as well, and includes a fictional telling of how the (non-existent) original manuscript came to be on the RMS Titanic.

Science fiction author Paul Marlowe's story "Resurrection and Life" featured a character who could only communicate using lines from the Rubaiyat.

The Supreme Court of the Philippines, through a unanimous opinion penned in 2005 by Associate Justice Leonardo Quisumbing, quoted The Moving Finger when it ruled that the widow of defeated presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. could not substitute her late husband in his pending election protest against Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, thus leading to the dismissal of the protest.

In Cyberflix's PC game, Titanic: Adventure Out of Time, the object is to save three important items, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, one of Adolf Hitler's paintings, and a notebook that proves German officials were attempting to gain geo-political advantage by instigating communist revolution.

The Rubaiyat was quoted in the 1946 King Vidor Western film "Duel in the Sun," which starred Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones: "Oh threats of hell and hopes of paradise! One thing at least is certain: This life flies. One thing is certain and the rest is Lies; The Flower that once is blown for ever dies."

A canto was quoted and used as an underlying theme of the 1945 screen adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray. "I sent my soul through the invisible, some letters of that after-life to spell, and by and by my soul did return, and answered, 'I myself am Heaven and Hell.'"

Coldcut produced an album with a song called Rubyaiyat on their album, Let us Play! This song contains what appears to be some words from the English translation. See album This was probably influenced by the 1970 album by jazz-soul harpist Dorothy Ashby [3], "The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby", which has become something of a cult classic. Its highly-stylised and heavily-reverberated production values and kitsch pop mysticism, quoting from several of the poem's verses, have made it a favourite for samplers and beat-diggers.

In one 6-episode story of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, Bullwinkle finds the Ruby Yacht of Omar Khayyam in the town of Frostbite Falls (on the shores of Veronica Lake, no less).

Woody Guthrie recorded an excerpt of the Rubaiyat set to music that was released on Hard Travelin' (The Asch Recordings Vol. 3).

In the play and film The Music Man, town librarian Marian Paroo draws down the wrath of the mayor's wife for encouraging the woman's daughter to read a book of "dirty Persian poetry." Summarizing what she calls the "Ruby Hat," the mayor's wife paraphrases FitzGerald's Quatrain XII from his 5th edition: "People lying out in the woods eating sandwiches, and drinking directly out of jugs with innocent young girls."

The satirist and short story writer Hector Hugh Monro took his pen name of 'Saki' from Edward FitzGerald's translation of the Rubaiyat.

The Rubaiyat have also influenced Arabic music. Indeed, Oum Koulthoum, a legend of Arabic music, has sung one of those poems and made her song "robaaiyet el khayam" become one of her most beautiful songs.

A copy of the Rubaiyat plays a role in an episode of the TV series New Amsterdam and is shown to be the inspiration for the name of one of the lead character's children, Omar York.

The famed "skull and roses" poster for a Grateful Dead show at the Avalon Ballroom done by Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse was adapted from "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam".[6]

The play "The Shadow of a Gunman" by Sean O'Casey contains a reference to the Rubaiyat as the character Donal Davoren quotes "grasp this sorry scheme of things entire, and mould life nearer to the heart's desire."

Wendy Cope's poem "Strugnell's Rubiyat" is a close parody of the FitzGerald translation, relocated to modern day Tulse Hill.

Oliver Herford released a parody of the Rubaiyat called "The Rubaiyat of A Persian Kitten " in 1904, which is notable for its charming illustrations of the kitten in question on his philosophical adventures.[7]

One of the title pages of Principia Discordia features its own spin on the quatrain most quoted above:

A jug of wine,
A leg of lamb
And thou!
Beside me,
Whistling in
the darkness.[8]
One of the co-authors of the Principia went by the pen-name of Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst.

In the opening chapter of his book God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens quotes Khayyam's famous quatrain "And do you think that unto such as you; A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew: God gave the secret, and denied it me?"

[edit] Anniversary events

2009 marks the 150th anniversary of Edward Fitzgerald's landmark translation, and the 200th anniversary of Fitzgerald's birth. Events coinciding with these anniversaries include:

  • The Smithsonian's traveling exhibition Elihu Vedder's Drawings for the Rubaiyat at the Phoenix Art Museum, November 15, 2008-February 8, 2009
  • The exhibition Edward Fitzgerald & The Rubaiyat from the collection of Nicholas B. Scheetz at the Grolier Club, January 22 – March 13, 2009.
  • The exhibition "Omar Khayyám. Een boek in de woestijn. 150 jaar in Engelse vertaling." at the Museum Meermanno, The Hague, January 31-April 5, 2009
  • The exhibition The Persian Sensation: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in the West at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin, February 3-August 2, 2009
  • An exhibition at the Cleveland Public Library Special Collections, opening February 15, 2009
  • The joint conference, Omar Khayyam, Edward FitzGerald and The Rubaiyat, held at Cambridge University and Leiden University, July 6-10, 2009

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b Irwin, Robert. "Omar Khayyam's Bible for drunkards". The Times Literary Supplement. http://tls.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,25336-1947980,00.html. Retrieved 2008-10-05. 
  2. ^ Aminrazavi, Mehdi: The Wine of Wisdom. Oneworld 2005, ISBN 1851683550, p. 155
  3. ^ Ups and Downs of Translation, Tehran, 1988, Emami, Karim. Pg 134-169
  4. ^ "Omar Khayam (in Persian)" (PDF). http://www.afarzaneh.com/khayam.pdf. Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  5. ^ Cooper, Miriam (1973). Dark Lady of the Silents. Bobbs Merrill. pp. 104. ISBN 0-672-51725-6. 
  6. ^ Selvin, Joel. "Alton Kelley, psychedelic poster creator, dies". San Francisco Chronicle. 2008-06-03. Retrieved 2008-06-25.
  7. ^ Old Fashioned American Humor
  8. ^ Principia Discordia, the book of Chaos, Discord and Confusion

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