The Rubaiyat, Omar Khayyam's signature
Dr Abe V Rotor
I have a friend, Dr Anselmo S Cabigan, who is an ardent disciple of the great Persian naturalist-philosopher-astrologer-poet – Omar Khayyam. On lighter occasions in school where we taught, he would run from memory several quatrains from Rubaiyat, keeping faithful to their rhyme-rhythm-meter, and emoting the imagined feeling of the master. It is a rare experience today to hear one reciting from memory an ancient masterpiece, which, had it not been for providence, history may have missed conserving such great work.
How distinct Khayyam’s style is, compared with modern poets, who like in painting, hide behind the curtain of abstractionism – vague and hollow, and often wanting of refinement and naturalness. Rubaiyat, of course has some abstract forms, but intellectual and cultural.
Omar Khayyam enjoyed popularity, but his works showed more of the inner man - his life must have been truly well-spent, not only in the sciences and the arts, but in the fulfillment of life itself in his country though tumultuous in his time, was nonetheless obstacle to leading a romantic and scholarly life, as gleamed from the writings of one of his pupils. (The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, rendered into English Verse by Edward Fitzgerald.) To wit:
“I often used to hold conversations with my teacher, Omar Khayyam, in a garden; and one day he said to me, “My tomb shall be in a spot where the north wind may scatter roses over it.’ I wondered at the words he spake, but I knew that his were not idle words. Years after, when I chanced to revisit Naishapur, I went to his final resting-place, and lo! It was just outside a garden, and trees laden with fruits stretched their boughs over the garden wall, and dropped their flowers upon his tomb, so that the stone was hidden under them.”
Here are the first 15 stanzas or quatrains of Omar Khayyam’s masterpiece, Rubaiyat, a priceless contribution to the richness of world literature, and to think that Rubaiyat was written prior to the golden era of the Renaissance. The quatrain used has four equal lines, though varied, sometimes all rhyming, but more often as shown here, the third line does not. It is somewhat like the Greek Alcaic, where the penultimate line seems to lift and suspend the Wave that falls over the last. The Rubaiyat has an Oriental flair, and distinctly musical so that it is important to read it aloud, preferably with an audience.
I. Awake for Morning is 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.
II. 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."
III 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."
IV. 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 auspires.
V. 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.
VI. And David's Lips are lock't, but in divine
High piping Pelevi, with"Wine! Wine! Wine!
Red Wine!" - the Nightingale cries to the Rose
That yellow Cheek of hers to'incarnadine.
VII. 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.
VIII. And look - a thousand Blossoms with the Day
Woke - and a thousand scatter'd intop Cl;ay:
And this first Summer Month that brings the Rose
Shall take Jamshtd and Kaikobad away.
IX. But come with old Khayya, 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.
X. With me along some strip of Herbage strown
That just divides the desert from the sown,
Where name of Slave and Sultan scare is known,
And pity Sultan Mahmud on his Throne.
XI. 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.
XII. "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.
XIII. Look to the Rose about us - "Lo,
Laughing," she says, unto the World I blow:
At once the silken Tassel of my Purse
Tear, and its Treasure on the Garden throw."
XIV. 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.
XV. 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.
NOTE: Quatrain XI has a universal theme. This is the key to knowing Omar Khayyam's personality and life's philosophy - doubtless, Dr Cabigan and I agree.
About Omar Khayyam: The Persian astronomer, mathematician, and poet Omar Khayyam (1048-ca. 1132) made important contributions to mathematics, but his chief claim to fame, at least in the last 100 years, has been as the author of a collection of quatrains, the "Rubaiyat."
Omar Khayyam was born in Nishapur in May 1048. His father, Ibrahim, may have been a tentmaker (Khayyam means tentmaker). Omar obtained a thorough education in philosophy and mathematics, and at an early age he attained great fame in the latter field. The Seljuk sultan Jalal-al-Din Malik Shah invited him to collaborate in devising a new calendar, the Jalali or Maliki. Omar spent much of his life teaching philosophy and mathematics, and legends ascribe to him some proficiency in medicine. He died in Nishapur. (Acknowledgment: Thanks to Encyclopedia of World Biography; and to Internet for the photos)