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The Omar Khayyam Rose is in bloom

May 27, 2020

The Omar Khayyam rose in our garden has finally come into flower  There are more buds than usual this year and they are opening in succession which is a delight.  Below are a couple of pictures.

The rose now being sold in the UK as rosa Omar Khayyam is an old fashioned damask rose, of the same type as that which was found growing at the tomb of Khayyam in Nishapur in the late 19th century.  As the story goes, seeds from the Nishapur rose were brought back from Iran and grown on at Kew Gardens in London.  A plant raised from these seeds was subsequently planted near Edward FitzGerald’s tomb in Boulge, Suffolk, by members of the Omar Khayyam Club of London in 1893.  A similar rose still grows by the tomb, though it appears to have been replanted several times over the years.  It is unlikely that the rose in our garden, and others being sold in various rose nurseries, have any physical link to the original Persian rose, but the historical associations are to be cherished, and the rose itself remains a beautiful reminder of the verses of the Rubaiyat.

For anyone who would like to know more about the story of the Omar Khayyam rose, there is an excellent short article on the following link https://indiairantrust.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/downsized-indiran.pdf.  The article also quotes several of the verses in FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat that mention roses in different manifestations.

Let us mark the 972nd birthday of Omar Khayyam

May 18, 2020

indiran7 ROKroseToday, 18th May 2020, is the 972nd anniversary of the birth of the man known as Omar Khayyam.  As most readers will know, the historical Omar Khayyam, born in 1048 in Nishapur,  was a famous astronomer, mathematician, and philosopher.  He may also have written at least some of the many verses of poetry that have been attributed to him.  This last point is still very much a matter of dispute, as the new translation and commentary on the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by Juan Cole, reviewed in the previous post, makes clear.  But, regardless of one’s view on the question of authorship, 18th May is a good time to celebrate both the established achievements of Omar Khayyam himself, and the contribution that the verses attributed to him have made to all our lives.

So please join us in marking the occasion in an appropriate way.  We had hoped this year to be able to add a current photo of the rosa Omar Khayyam which grows in our garden, which has been getting ready to bloom (very early) for over a week now.  But the buds remain stubbornly closed, so that image will have to wait for a later post.  Instead we show an earlier picture of the same variety of rose, planted in the garden of the Ancient India and Iran Trust in Cambridge to mark the Rubaiyat and FitzGerald anniversaries in 2009.

Thomas Wright of Olney – biographer and school master

May 14, 2020

Bob Forrest has recently been researching the life and works of  Thomas Wright, biographer and schoolmaster who lived most of his life in Olney near Bedford.  Born in 1859, he became the principal of a school he set up in the town, as well as an energetic author, whose books include several extensive biographies of earlier poets as well as collections of his own poems and other writings.

RF Thos WrightFor Rubaiyat enthusiasts, Wright is of particular interest for two things.  These are his The Life of Edward FitzGerald (2 volumes, Grant Richards, London 1904) and his later book of Omar–related verse, Heart’s Desire (Long’s Publications Ltd, London 1925.)  The biography of FitzGerald is one of the earliest such works, and contains reports on many interviews with people who had known the poet, as well as early photographs of people and places from his life.  There are also valuable appendices, including a facsimile of the Museum Book 1833, one of FitzGerald’s early commonplace books.

Wright’s second Rubaiyat related work, Heart’s Desire, is described as being “principally a presentment from various translations of the quatrains of Omar Khayyam that relate to SAKI, the beautiful CUPBEARER.” The book reflects, inter alia, Wright’s friendship with the writer and linguist John Payne, who had made his own translation of Khayyam’s Rubaiyat from the Persian.  Heart’s Desire is illustrated by Cecil W. Paul Jones, and Bob Forrest’s report on his research shows several of these illustrations as well as giving many examples of the verses collected in the book.

Bob’s full report can be found on his web site at http://www.bobforrestweb.co.uk/The_Rubaiyat/N_and_Q/Thomas_Wright/Thomas_Wright.htm.  It contains more details about Wright’s life and friendships as well as information on his many other publications.  Altogether it provides a fascinating picture of the busy life of a hard working writer and local activist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Our congratulations to Bob Forrest for pulling all this research together and our thanks to him for sharing it with us.

A new translation of ‘Khayyam’s’ Rubaiyat

May 11, 2020

Cole ROKIt is not often that we are treated to a completely new translation from the Persian of the Rubaiyat attributed to Omar Khayyam.  So we have been delighted to learn from publisher I B Tauris of their recent publication of a new version in English of the Persian verses, produced by Professor Juan Cole.  Details of the book and where to find more information are given at the end of this post. *

Juan Cole is described as ‘a public intellectual, prominent blogger, and essayist’;  he is also Professor of History at the University of Michigan.  Previous translations by him include some Arabic works by Kahlil Gibran.  He says that he has been thinking about doing the Khayyam translation since his student days in 1976 when it struck him that the original Persian verses had things to say to a contemporary audience.  His translation is based on the quatrains contained in the Bodleian manuscript of the Rubaiyat (Ouseley 140) which dates from 1460 CE.  Professor Cole has included all but one of the 158 verses in the MS and they are presented in the original order of the MS.  His translation is in a mixture of blank and free verse, avoiding archaic terms and objects.  He says that ‘like FitzGerald I feel that it is more important [that} the poetry be accessible to contemporaries than for this translation to be pedantic.’

On first reading, we find the translation pleasant to read and illuminating, and we look forward to studying it more closely.  The book also contains a 17 page Introduction and a considerably longer Epilogue, both by Professor Cole.  The Introduction provides general background to the verses and how they came, through FitzGerald’s translation, to prominence and influence in the Western literary world of the late 19th and 20th century.  The Epilogue is subtitled Persian Literature and the Rubaiyat and it deals with the nature of the Khayyamic verses and how they and their content fit into the history of mediaeval Arabic, Mongol and Persian culture and literature.  Professor Cole is a supporter of the view that the verses were by many different authors;  they were collected together, for various reasons, under the name of Omar Khayyam, though he did not write them.  The Epilogue presents an interesting analysis of the disputed question of the meaning of wine and other themes in the quatrains, and how this fits with what Professor Cole describes as secular Muslim civilization.

Overall this book provides a valuable addition to the interpretation and study of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.  It is well worth taking a look at.  There are both hardback and paperback editions.  For details, see https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-rubaiyat-of-omar-khayyam-9780755600519/.  This gives information on the paperback version with links to the other formats available.

* Cole J., The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.  A New Translation from the Persian.  (London: I B Tauris, 2020)

The story of a Rubaiyat artist – John Yunge–Bateman (1897–1971)

April 15, 2020

Bob Forrest has been researching a Rubaiyat artist, John Yunge-Bateman, whose edition of FitzGerald’s poem was first published by Golden Cockerel Press in 1958.  Some of us were rather ‘surprised’ by the subject matter of this set of illustrations when we first encountered it.  As Bob puts it in his introduction to the article detailing his investigations:

Naval officer and artist John Yunge–Bateman will be known to most readers of this essay mainly for his somewhat erotic illustrations of The Rubaiyat. But though he certainly had a penchant for depicting naked women, there is more to him than that, and he deserves also to be remembered for his other wide–ranging book illustrations, notably for works of natural history and educational books for children. But let us begin with his Rubaiyat.

The full article on Yunge-Bateman’s life and works is published on Bob Forrest’s web site.  It can be accesed via the following link http://www.bobforrestweb.co.uk/The_Rubaiyat/N_and_Q/John_Yunge-Bateman/John_Yunge-Bateman.htm.  Bob gives us a detailed commentary on Yunge-Bateman’s  Rubaiyat, with excellent copies of the images.  He sets out the artist’s parallel career in the Navy in two world wars, and lists many other books and magazines that Yunge-Bateman worked on, including Ovid’s Metamorphoses, some of Shakespeare’s works as well as a short-lived Space Age comic.  There are also many images from these different works, which illustrate well the great variety of Yunge-Bateman’s style.

Altogether Bob has provided us with a very interesting Rubaiyat related story and it is well worth a read.  Our thanks to Bob yet again for sharing his work with us all.

In praise of the number four

April 4, 2020

Charles Mugleston has sent us the following reflection on the manifestations of the number four, including, of course, the quatrain.  Many thanks, Charles, for this delightful  contribution with a spring-like feel.

As a young boy growing up in the country, I loved watching the  rather shy wrens hopping about in the hedges and quickly flying off in all directions… this led me to collecting farthings resplendent as they were in their latter years with the very simple but beautiful design of a wren – I mean, forget sovereigns !  This led me on to eventually collecting older and older farthings and discovering that the name derived from the word fourthing – a fourth part of a silver penny being cut in four.

Roll on the clock, many quarter, half and full moons… and serendipity  – Edward FitzGerald and Quatrains.

In 1850 Alfred Tennyson published anonymously his Masterpiece  In Memoriam “Ring out wild bells…”  can’t you just hear them, and in 1859 his life long friend E.F.G published anonymously his Masterpiece The Ruba’iya’t of Omar Khayya’m – what do they have in common ? what  helped them become known and loved the world over ? part of the heart of the matter is…the Quatrain.

Reading quatrains – again and again, they get under your skin, penetrate your pores, resonate with the fourfold chambers of the heart – the four quarters of the world for a quatrain is indeed a universal phenomemon. Just look at the poetic forms from all quarters… quatrains are common to all, there is if of interest a helpful entry on Wikipedia to view – much better than the basic info in Websters Dictionary.

As the old Persian saying completes the circle… “The eloquence of Quatrain is the completion of Sublimity” …  this is pregnant with Mystical as well as practical meaning,  ie the fourfold Platonic Insights of Unity, Truth, Goodness and Beauty.

So, In Memoriam to E.F.G and in Homage to Hakuin – the Japanese Zen Master may  I  offer the following Easter Gift – quatrain to everyone with all good wishes and thanks.

Hakuin1

Edward FitzGerald and the Rubaiyat -Let’s mark the anniversaries today

March 31, 2020

f01-1iefgd28scfIt is 211 years since the birth of Edward FitzGerald on 31st March 1809, and 161 years since the first publication of his Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam on the same day in 1859.  We hope that all our readers will be able to join us in marking these anniversaries in some way.  FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat continues to give us much pleasure and support in today’s difficult times, and celebrating its birth provides a positive distraction from the present worries and the restrictions on our day to day living.  It is interesting to reflect that Edward FitzGerald led much of his life, especially the later years, in a form of self isolation.  In his case, there was no alternative of digital communications, but the vast corpus of letters that he left us is evidence of how important outside contacts remained to him, as they do to us today.

On this special day, we also send our own greetings to all our readers and their families .  Keep safe and well.  The OKR blog continues to be published, so if you have some interesting thoughts or findings about the Rubaiyat that you can share, please send them to us on the address you have, or on sandrabill@omarkhayyamrubaiyat.com, and we shall post them for all to enjoy.  All positive contributions to our thinking are a blessing at this time.