RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM
TRANSLATED BY: Edward Fitzgerald
PUBLISHER: St Martin's Press
ABOUT 900 years ago, in a land called Khorasan, a scientist and astronomer who sometimes doubled up as a poet looked up at a clear night sky filled with countless stars. He pondered over man's fate and the ageless galaxies beyond. Inspired, he began to pen his first rubai, or quattrain.
In total, Omar Khayyam wrote more than 75 quattrains, reflections on fate's fickle decisions, man's fleeting existence and the lack of wisdom among mankind, and these became known as the Rubaiyat.
About eight centuries later, on the other side of the world, far removed from Persia, was born another poet, a bon vivant who would have shared Omar's zest for life if he had been born at the same time as the ancient astronomer.
Edward Fitzgerald was from a family that was used to a life of wealth and luxury. With his privileged education at Cambridge, and across the lengthy timeline that linked Persia and England, it was almost as if Destiny had decreed that a transcript of Omar Khayyam's original Rubaiyat be delivered into Fitzgerald's hands.
The Rubaiyat in its original form was probably written and driven by an undeniable inner passion that possessed Omar. When he read the Rubaiyat, Fitzgerald had already established an academic familiarity with several Arabic languages, among them was Persian. In Omar, Fitzgerald discovered a kindred spirit who shared his love for wine, life and a fascination of man's mortality.
It is said that Fitzgerald took great liberties in his translation with the Rubaiyat. On this, the world's reading population will have to thank Fitzgerald for his splendid translation of Omar's inspiring poetic imagery.
Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat is not meant to be digested in a single evening. The flavour of the ancient Persian nuggets of wisdom is akin to the bouquet of a fine wine. It must be consumed in measured moments.
Enjoyment of the Rubaiyat can only be experienced when the heart and the mind of the
reader move with rhythmic coordination in conjuring images that tell stories of a time when life placed a higher value on other considerations alien to our times.
For example, in one of the quattrains, Omar says:
And If the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
End in what All begins and ends in
- Yes; Think then you are To-day what Yesterday You were
Tomorrow you shall not be less
Some of the quattrains flow with a musical refrain that echoes with our
heartbeat. For instance:
A Book of Verses underneath the Bough.
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread -
and Thou Beside me singing in the
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!
The world should be grateful that two learned and talented men, from ages long past, had inexplicably and unintentionally combined their inspired writings for the benefit of generations that followed.