Sunday, 30 November 2008


The only Thing
That we must Fear
Is Fear Itself
That gnaws the Heart

The Good lie fallen
Men beat their Breasts
Lost in Anguish
A Cry goes up

They rise as one
The Wave breaks
And leaves its Ashes
Upon the Desert Shore

But some recall
What came before
And slowly climb
An ancient Stream.

Upon its Banks
They lay their Load
And there in Time
Love grows a Rose.


Photo: 'First Rose of Summer' by Bernard Blanc

Thursday, 27 November 2008

The Rubaiyat (Omar Khayyam & Edward Fitzgerald)

The Rubaiyat, slightly edited and abridged so that it only has 29 verses, the same as the number of days in a lunar month. It was not written as a whole poem, but literally a set of verses, most of which can stand alone, so I’m not barbarizing the original, or if you think I am, then at least not to the extent that Fitzgerald himself did in trying to re-write his translation, which he did several times making it progressively worse, and this is why everyone uses his 1st edition. 

Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has cast the Stone that sets 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.

Irám indeed is gone with all its Rose,
And Jamshyd’s Sev’n-ringed 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 locked; but in divine
High piping Pehleví, with “Wine! Wine! Wine!
   Red Wine!” — the Nightingale cries to the Rose
So to her yellow Cheeks 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 scattered into Clay
   And this first Summer Month that brings the Rose
Shall take Jamshyd and Kaikobád away.

But come with old Khayyám, and leave the Lot
Of Kaikobád and Kaikhosrú forgot!
   Let Rustum lay about him as he will,
Or Hátim 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 Sultán scarce is known,
We’ll pity Sultán Mahmúd 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.

Think, in this battered Caravanserai
Whose Doorways are alternate Night and Day,
   How Sultán after Sultán 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 Bahrám, that great Hunter — the Wild Ass
Stamps o’er his Head, but cannot break his Sleep.

I sometimes think that never blows so red
The Rose as where some buried Cæsar 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 Belovéd, fill the Cup that clears
Today of past Regrets and future Fears —
   Tomorrow? — Why, Tomorrow 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 pressed.
   They drank 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,
   Must we beneath the Couch of Earth descend
Ourselves to also 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!

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!

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 laboured it to grow:
   And this was all the Harvest that I reaped —
“I came like Water, and like Wind I go.”

Up from Earth’s Centre through the Seventh Gate
I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate,
   And many Knots unravelled by the Road;
But not the Knot of Human Death and Fate.

‘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.

For in and out, above, about, below,
‘Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
    Played in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.

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.

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-scattered on the Grass,
   And in your joyous Errand reach the spot
Where I made One — turn down an empty Glass!

(Omar Khayyam trans. —Edward Fitzgerald)