Thursday, June 22, 2023

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam



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!

And lately, by the Tavern Door agape,
Came shining through the Dusk an Angel Shape
  Bearing a Vessel on his Shoulder, and 
He bid me taste of it; and 'twas--the Grape!

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!

The Moving Finger writes, and, having writ,
Moves on; nor all your Piety nor Wit
  Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
-Omar Khayyam (tr. Edward FitzGerald)

The volume of Shirazi poets I finished recently included several rubaiyat by that group of poets. So that took me back to the most famous of rubaiyat in English, those of Omar Khayyam translated by Edward FitzGerald.

Omar Khayyam (1048-1131) was a noted astronomer in Nishapur, Iran, who also wrote poetry. He's two centuries earlier than the Shirazi poets, and from the other end of the country.
Fitzgerald's translations are supposed to be pretty free. He was serial rewriter of his own work, and there are five editions of the Rubaiyat. I selected the version I liked the best and paid no attention to edition...

Two of these are among the most famous of them and the other two were ones that just struck me on this reading. The illustration is by Edmund Dulac (illustrating the first quatrain quoted) and comes from an edition that was my father's.


  1. The last stanza of that poem is such a favorite of mine; I memorized it years ago (which is a feat for me because I'm not very good at memorizing poems or anything else). ;D

    1. That last one is so great isn't it?

      'A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou' gets quoted a lot, but the rest of it almost never (and is usually about all I remember of it, too.) ;-)

  2. I read this a long time ago and have always wanted to revisit it but I feel one needs a peaceful setting to really enjoy it. Life has been busy and blogging is on hold for me but I'm glad to see you're still introducing us to great literature!

    1. Here's hoping things settle down for you soon!

      Poetry does like calm to be read, but sometimes it can also help calm? At least I like to think so...