Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám is the title that Edward FitzGerald gave to his translation of a selection of about a thousand Persian poems, attributed to poet, mathematician and astronomer Omar Khayyám (1048–1131). An aruba'i is a two-line stanza with two parts (or hemistichs) per line, hence the word rubáiyát (derived from the Arabic language root for "four"), meaning "quatrains".

The Rubaiyat has seen many versions and interpretations since the first FitzGerald 1859 edition, reflecting its wonderful beauty and fluidity. Similarly there have been many attempts at illustration in various styles, several of which I have shown below. Amongst the many versions, Wallace Irwin’s parodical Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Jr. purports to be his translation from a language he calls “Mango-Bornese”. I have mashed up a number of illustrations, plus quatrains from the Shahriar Shahriari version with a few cheeky ones from Irwin. See which ones you can identify or scratch your head at.

Heaven is incomplete without a heavenly romance
Let a glass of wine be my present circumstance
Take what is here now, let go of a promised chance
A drumbeat is best heard from a distance.

O foozied Poetasters, fogged with Wine,
Who to your Orgies bid the Muses Nine,
Go bid them then, but leave to me, the Tenth
Whose name is Nicotine, for she is mine!'

This clay pot like a lover once in heat 
A lock of hair his senses did defeat 
The handle that has made the bottleneck its own seat 
Was once the embrace of a lover that entreat.

Then let the balmed Tobacco be my Sheath,
The ardent Weed above me and beneath,
And let me like a living Incense rise,
A Fifty-Cent Cigar between my Teeth

Mark how Havana's sensuous-philtred Mead
Dispels the cackling Hag of Night at Need,
And, foggy-aureoled, the Smoke reveals
The Poppy Flowers that blossom from the Weed.

Alas the youthful fire is a dying ember
The spring of life has reached December
What is termed youth, I vaguely remember
But know not whence and how from life's chamber.

Tonight I shall embrace a gallon cup
With at least two cups of wine I'll sup
I'll divorce my mind and religion stop
With daughter of vine, all night I'll stay up.

This clay pot like a lover once in heat
A lock of hair his senses did defeat
The handle that has made the bottleneck its own seat
Was once the embrace of a lover that entreat.

Khayyam, if you are intoxicated with wine, enjoy!
If you are seated with a lover of thine, enjoy!
In the end, the Void the whole world employ
Imagine thou art not, while waiting in line, enjoy!

Avaunt, acerbid Brat of Death, that sours
The Milk of Life and blasts the nascent Flowers!
Back to your morbid, mouldering Cairns, and let
Me do my worrying in Office Hours!

North Utsire

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