Thursday, 27 December 2012

Illustrated Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (Edward Fitzgerald)

This is a reading of most of the verses of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, as rendered by Edward Fitzgerald in 1859, accompanied by the illustrations of René Bull and the oud-playing of Khyam Allami. This a reprise of my very first ever blog post, a version of the Rubáiyát in 29 verses. The following now doubles that number.

Omar Khayyám, born in 11th century Persia, was an inspirational figure: a mathematician, poet, philosopher and astronomer, who also wrote treatises on music and minerology, and contributed to the development of a more accurate calendar. Fitzgerald's rendering of his Rubáiyát, while far from literal, is also pure inspiration. Enjoy in HD!

Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung 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 that 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 Máhmúd 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.

"How sweet is mortal Sovereighnty" — think some:
Others — "How blessed the Paradise to come!"
   Ah, take the Cash in hand and wave the Rest;
Oh, the brave Music of a distant Drum!

Look to the Rose that blows about us — "Lo,
Laughing," she says, "into the World I blow:
   At once the silken Tassels of my Purse
Tear, and its Treasures on the Garden throw.

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.

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
Dropped 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!

Alike for those who for Today prepare,
And those that after a Tomorrow stare,
   A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries
“Fools! your reward is neither Here nor There!”

Why all the Saints and Sages who discussed
Of the Two Worlds so learnedly, are thrust
   Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
Are scattered, and their Mouths are stopped with Dust.

Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
   One thing is certain and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

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.

There was a Door to which I found no Key:
There was a Veil past which I could not see:
   Some little talk a while of Me and Thee
There seemed — and then no more of Thee and Me.

Then to the rolling Heaven itself I cried,
Asking, "What Lamp had Destiny to guide
   Her little Children stumbling in the Dark?"
And "A blind Understanding" Heaven replied.

Then to this earthen bowl did I adjourn
My Lip the secret Well of Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmured — "While you live
Drink! — for once dead you never shall return."

I think the Vessel that with fugitive
Articulation answered, once did live
   And merry-make; and the cold Lip I kissed
How many kisses might it take — and give!

For in the Market-place one Dusk of Day
I watched the Potter thumping his wet Clay:
   And with its all obliterated Tongue
It murmured — "Gently, Brother, gently pray!"

Ah, fill the Cup: — what boots it to repeat
How Time is slipping underneath our Feet:
  Unborn tomorrow and dead Yesterday,
Why fret about them if Today be sweet.

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.

How long, how long, in infinite Pursuit
Of This and That endeavour and dispute
   Better be merry with the fruitful Grape
Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.

You know my Friends, how long since in my House
For a new Marriage I did make Carouse:
   Divorced old barren Reason from my Bed,
And took the Daughter of the Vine to Spouse.

But leave the Wise to wrangle, and with me
The Quarrel of the Universe let be:
   And in some Corner of the Hubbub caught
Make Game with that which make as much with Thee.

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.

And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
End in the Nothing all Things end in — Yes —
   Then fancy while Thou art, Thou art but what
Thou shalt be — Nothing — Thou shalt not be less.

While the Rose blows along the River Bank,
With old Khayyam the Ruby Vintage drink:
   And when the Angel with his darker Draught
Draws up to thee — take that, and do not shrink.

'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.

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.

And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
Whereunder crawling cooped we live and die,
   Lift not thy hands to It for help — for It
Rolls impotently on as Thou and I.

And this I know: whether the one True Light
Kindle to Love or Wrath consume me quite,
   One Glimpse of It within the Tavern caught
Better than in the Temple lost outright.

Listen again. One Evening at the Close
Of Ramazan, ere the better Moon arose,
   In that old Potter's Shop I stood alone
Surrounded by the Shapes of Clay in Rows.

And, strange to tell, among the Earthen Lot,
Some could articulate, while others not:
   And suddenly, one more impatient cried —
"Who is the Potter and who is the Pot?"

Then said another — "Surely not in vain
My substance from the common Earth was taken,
   That he who subtly wrought me into Shape
Should stamp me back to common Earth again.

Another said — "Why ne'er a peevish Boy
Would break the Bowl from which he drank in Joy;
   Shall he that made the Vessel in pure Love
And Fancy, in an after Rage destroy!"

None answered this; but after Silence spoke
A Vessel  of a more ungainly Make:
   "They sneer at me for leaning all awry;
What! Did the Hand then of the Potter shake?"

Said one — "Folks of a surly Tapster tell,
And daub his Visage with the Smoke of Hell;
   They talk of some strict Testing of us — Pish!
He's a Good Fellow; and t'will all be well."

Then said another with a long-drawn Sigh,
"My Clay with long oblivion is gone dry:
   But fill me with the old familiar Juice,
Methinks I might recover by-and-bye!"

So while the Vessels one by one were speaking,
One spied the little crescent all were seeking:
   And then they jogged each other, "Brother, Brother!
Hark to the Porter's Shoulder-knot a creaking!"

Ah, with the Grape my fading Life provide,
And wash my body whence the Life has died,
   And in a Winding-sheet of Vine-leaf wrapt,
So bury me by some sweet Garden-side.

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!

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!


  1. nice poem okei good to see you :) ty for all the comments left on my page I wish I had more time for it but it seems i have less and less time for the things I truly enjoy these days however im glad I stopped to read this poem ty so much for having it posted best wishes in the new year

  2. Fire! So good to hear from you. Can you believe it's been four years since we met? I'm still in the same predicament as then... I do hope we'll stay in touch, however infrequently.

    I do know what you mean about time, but I still have faith in possibility — the possibility of doing all that we are capable of, and all that we enjoy and want to do. What I struggle with is to bring this faith into the present moment, instead of looking forward to a promised future. And this is one reason why I really love this poem, and the inspirational figure of Omar Khayyam who wrote it, and of course the inspiration of Fitzgerald to render it so beautifully into English.