Wednesday, October 1, 2014

How do you interpret Omar Khayyam's Thematic Quatrain in the Rubaiyat

"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."

Quatrain XI from the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám
Translated by Edward FitzGerald

Woodcuts depicting the Rubaiyat's thematic quatrain

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1. There's a 5th edition to FitzGerald's Ist edition of Quatrain XI as cited above, which came out long after his death. It is numbered Quatrain XII.  This fifth version retains basically the same style as in the first version. .  

"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!" 

2. The Rubaiyat was quoted in the film The English Harem (2005): 

"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!"

3. A 1967 translation of the Rubáiyat by Robert Graves and Omar Ali-Shah, became controversial.  It was questioned as to its origin, which among the possible sources, could be that of FitzGerald. Here is the 11th and 12th quatrains.  

Should our day's portion be one mancel loaf,
A haunch of mutton and a gourd of wine
Set for us two alone on the wide plain,
No Sultan's bounty could evoke such joy.

A gourd of red wine and a sheaf of poems —
A bare subsistence, half a loaf, not more —
Supplied us two alone in the free desert:
What Sultan could we envy on his throne?

4. Published in 1979 by Peter Avery and John Heath-Stubbs, their edition provides two versions of the thematic quatrain. Although it was criticized, it is claimed to be a modern version, "as literal an English version of the Persian originals as readability and intelligibility permit"

Q 98.
I need a jug of wine and a book of poetry,
Half a loaf for a bite to eat,
Then you and I, seated in a deserted spot,
Will have more wealth than a Sultan's realm. 

If chance supplied a loaf of white bread,
Two casks of wine and a leg of mutton,
In the corner of a garden with a tulip-cheeked girl,
There'd be enjoyment no Sultan could outdo.

5. In 1988, the Rubaiyat were translated by a Persian translator, 
Karim Emami and was published in Paris under the title The Wine of Nishapour, a collection of Khayyam's poetry by Shahrokh Golestan. Emami was an outstanding translator of English.  

Example from Emami's work:

It's early dawn, my love, open your eyes and arise
Gently imbibing and playing the lyre;
For those who are here will not tarry long,
And those who are gone will not return.

Example quatrain 160 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):

In spring if a houri-like sweetheart
Gives me a cup of wine on the edge of a green cornfield,
Though to the vulgar this would be blasphemy,
If I mentioned any other Paradise, I'd be worse than a dog.

6. In 1991 Ahmad Saidi (1904–1994) produced an English translation of 165 quatrains grouped into 10 themes. His quatrains include the original Persian verses for reference alongside his English translations. His focus was to faithfully convey, with less poetic license, Khayyam’s original religious, mystical, and historic Persian themes, through the verses as well as his extensive annotations. Here are selected quatrains.  

Quatrain 16 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XII in his 5th edition, as above):
Ah, would there were a loaf of bread as fare,
A joint of lamb, a jug of vintage rare,
And you and I in wilderness encamped—
No Sultan’s pleasure could with ours compare. 

Quatrain 75:
The sphere upon which mortals come and go,
Has no end nor beginning that we know;
And none there is to tell us in plain truth:
Whence do we come and whither do we go.

Quatrain XI in his 1st edition:
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.

Quatrain XII in his 5th edition:
"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!"

7. One of the title pages of Principia Discordia (1965), a co-author by the pen-name Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst, features apparently a popular version which runs like this -
A jug of wine, 
A leg of lamb 
And thou! 
Beside me, 
Whistling in 
the darkness. 

Old Omar Khayyam, epitome of a philosopher-poet, ponders on his masterpiece and signature - The Rubaiyat.    

8. In the opening chapter of his book God is Not Great (2007), Christopher Hitchens quotes from Richard Le Gallienne's translation of Khayyam's famous quatrain: 

And do you think that unto such as you 
A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew 
God gave the secret, and denied it me? 
Well, well--what matters it? Believe that, too! 

9. The title of Daphne du Maurier's memoir Myself when Young is a quote from quatrain 27 of Fitzgerald's translation: 

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.

10. · The Supreme Court of the Philippines, through a unanimous opinion penned in 2005 by Associate Justice Leonardo Quisumbing, quoted The Moving Finger when it ruled that the widow of defeated presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. could not substitute her late husband in his pending election protest against Philippine president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, thus leading to the dismissal of the protest.(Wikipedia)

NOTE: The Moving Finger is a detective fiction novel by Agatha Christie, first published in the US in 942.  The book takes its name from verse 51 of Edward FitzGerald's translation of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám:

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.

The poem, in turn, refers to Belshazzar's Feast as related in the Book of Daniel, where the expression the writing on the wall originated. The book's title shows in the story figuratively and literally. The anonymous letters point blame from one town resident to another. The Scotland Yard agent determines the envelopes were all "typed by someone using one finger" to avoid a recognizable 'touch'. (Wikipedia)~

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