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Durable Link to this BlogMonday, January 10, 2005

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

While rearranging my father's collection of old books, I bounced on a moth-eaten copy of the world classic "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam". This edition of 1980s(The novel library number of the London Book Company Limited) took me back to the 11th century.

Omar Khayyam the Persian poet, a tent-maker’s son lived in the latter part of the eleventh century. He had the good fortune of studying holy Koran under Imam Mowaffak, considered the wisest man in Khorasan’ with two other classmates. One of them became a Vizier (prime minister) of Sultan AlpArslan.Later he remembered and patronized his boy-hood friend, the gifted poet Omar who was also author of Arabic treatises on Algebra and Astronomy. But it is for the unique Rubaiyat: that Omar Khayyam is famous today. Rubaiyyat is a stanza of four lines, rhyming alternately known as Quatrain. There is no continuity of plan in them, and each stanza is a distinct thought expressed in musical verse.

The first edition of Edward Fitzgerald's (1809-1883) English translation appeared in 1859. A scholar of Persian language and friend of Tennyson, Thackeray and Carlyle all great names in English literature, Fitzgerald shunned publicity. He selected 110 Quatrains from thousand and odd ones ascribed to Omar and tried to bring in thematic order. Until now, not only millions of copies of this English translation are sold, it is translated in almost all languages of the world.

Umarana Osage, Kannada rendering of Rubaiyats by the veteran writer late D.V.Gundappa (D.V.G) has again achieved the status of a classic. The universal appeal of the Rubaiyat is due to the Epicurean philosophy, which Omar Khayyam tried to depict. But underlying are his queries about immortality, origin and destiny of man and fatalism which ideas were all ahead of his time.

I went though Fitzgeralds' translation once again and ruminated over verses I liked most, four decades ago.

Awake! For morning in the Bowl of Night 
Has flung the stone that puts the stars of flight
And Lo! The hunter of the east has caught
The Sultan's Turret in a noose of Light.
       
Here with a loaf of bread beneath the Bough,
A flask of wine, a book of verse-and thou
Besides me singing in the Wilderness-
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.
  
Think, in this batter’d Caravanserai
Whose Doorways are alternate Night and Day
How Sultan after Sultan with his Pomp
Abode his hour or two, and went his way.

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 then no more of Thee & me.

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!"

And Strange to tell, among the Earthen Lot Some could articulate, while others not; And suddenly one more impatient cried. Who is the Potter, pray, and who is the pot? (Some see elements of Adwaitha in this query) Ah, till the Cup:- what boots it to repeat How time is slipping underneath our feet Unborn tomorrow and dead yesterday Why fret about them if To-day be sweet!

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.

Amma's Column by Jyotsna Kamat

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Jyotsna Kamat

Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. lives in Bangalore.


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