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A query about quatrain 6 – where does David fit in?

June 20, 2012

David Calderisi asks the following question.

Even though I’ve been working on the poem for the better part of three years I still haven’t been able to figure out what the first line in quatrain 6 means.  To refresh the memory, here’s the quatrain:

And David’s Lips are lock’t; but in divine
High piping Pehlevi, with “Wine! Wine! Wine!
Red Wine!” — the Nightingale cries to the Rose
That yellow Cheek of her’s to incarnadine.

The previous quatrain laments that old Persia (Iram) is gone. I fail to see the connection between ancient Persia and David, King of the Jews. The general sense is clear, i.e., that although David (Hebrew) can’t be heard, the ancient language of Persia, Pehlevi, still can be heard, the words call for wine. But what on earth does David have to do with it?

I wonder if any of you know. Or have a theory?  If so, please add a comment to this posting.

41 Comments leave one →
  1. Garry Garrard permalink
    June 20, 2012 4:10 pm

    If you start off with Heron-Allen’s analysis, for quatrain 6 he says “This quatrain (eliminating the reference to david) is translated from (here follows a verse in Persian). EHA’s version reads:
    It is a pleasant day, and the weather is neither hot nor cold
    The rain has washed the dust from the faces of the roses
    The nightingale in the Pehlevi tongue to the yellow rose
    Cries ever “Thou must drink wine”.
    EHA gives no fewer than eight separate manuscripts as the source of this verse.
    However – no mention of David! However in a footnote he adds “The sweet voice of David recurs continually in Persian poetry. It is in verse 89 of the Calcutta manuscript. et passim .
    I don’t know anything about the subject but a quick browse on the net suggests that lInks between Persians and the Jews may be closer than seems apparent at first sight.
    The mention of David is evidently one of EFG’s many flights of fancy but, knowing the way his mind worked, that flight was probably based on his extensive reading in Persian

    • June 22, 2012 3:04 pm

      Is EHA’s ‘analysis’ readily available? I’ve not got that far (yet). Or rather, I’ve been ‘mining’ in a different direction.

      I like the thought that the David reference is a (judicious)flight of fancy. But why are his lips “lock’t”?

      • June 22, 2012 3:47 pm

        Heron-Allen’s analysis was published in his 1899 book entitled ‘Edward FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam …’. We don’t know of any modern reprint (? does anyone else know), but a copy of the original might be available in the main Canadian reference library.

  2. Garry Garrard permalink
    June 20, 2012 4:26 pm

    I forgot to add that it was, of course, the Persians under Cyrus the Great who relieved the Jews from their exile in Babylon. This happened in 530 BC, about 500 years after the time of David, David is regarded by the Jews as not just a great King, but a great poet and, given the Persian love of poetry, the connection seems to make some sense even if we haven’t found a tangible source.

    • June 22, 2012 3:09 pm

      Yes, but Omar isn’t referring to poetry at this point, is he? The nightingale, in the ancient language of Pehlevi, doesn’t seem to be speaking a poem, but simply celebrating the magic of wine.

      I’ve sometimes wondered, but haven’t been able to find a reference, if part of David’s ‘story’ contains a fondness for wine. Any thoughts on that?

  3. June 21, 2012 1:13 pm

    I can hazard one connection. David or as Muslims would speak of Davood is a revered figure in their cultural tradition. So is Suleiman( Solomon). In the Arabian Nights one of the stories the fisherman tells the Jinn deals with three fishes caught from a tarn which belongs to an enchanted kingdom. It also has three fishes with three colors. yellow, blue and white. It can be explained historically. The yahudi or the Jews were enjoined to wear yellow and the Nazarenes, blue turban throughout the suzerainty of Haroun-al-Rashid. The white the symbol of purity was reserved naturally for the followers of Nabi-Mursul. The nightingale with its yellow cheeks(the song-bird has drab brown coat with yellow cheeks) has but one theme; Pehlvi in another place is Coo(turtle dove). It is also in connection with the glory of man.
    It is not prudent to be too finicky to explain literally a poet’s fancies. Rise and fall of sounds, rhythm, specific gravity of the quatrain are more important. In my opinion the glory of man is gone and rest is the single act of living. Red of the blood and of the wine must work at tandem to pass the time.

    • June 22, 2012 3:16 pm

      Could you point me to references regarding David being a revered figure among Muslims? I find that very interesting.

      I greatly share your sense that the majesty of Fitz’s work is in its magnificent verbal music. But, if I many, my interest in clarifying images can’t be thought of as “finicky”, but rather comes from my lifetime’s experience as an actor, who was taught, early in his career that unless yu cann see in your minds’s eye the image the poet has provived, then the audience won’t.

      Why are David’s lips “lock’t”?

      • June 22, 2012 4:25 pm

        David, with the word ‘finicky’ I did in no way impute a connection to your comment. My meaning was that a poet trots his words and may suddenly hit an elevated note unconsciously,-and that is what inspiration means. It needs not always agree in terms of hard facts than it sounds better and also balances with another image already given. I will come to that later.
        About poem as a performing art you are right, you cannot ‘out’ the inner experience of a poet by words isolated from general and specific context.( King Lear’s speech for example when he veers from the sublime to speak the most common place with the fool the bard succeeds for the reason it is played before the audience and they can see it is to the fool spoken. )

        With regards to David I cannot offer a reference offhand than mentioning the names of Moses, Aaron, Jesus in the quatrains are all familiar to the children of Islam. Jews, Christians and Muslims are children of the Word. Perhaps you may be able to find it from Sir Richard Burtons annotated The Arabian Nights(16 vols). I have quoted from memory so please take it for what it is worth.
        The idea of David’s lips ‘lock’t’ poetically balances with the other image of the nightingale or Bulbul still endowed with its songs. The psalmist vs the songbird Beyond that it may not have another significance.

      • June 22, 2012 4:49 pm

        Thanks Benny. I think we’re on the same page.

  4. June 21, 2012 3:23 pm

    You raise a very interesting query, David, and other comments are enlightening. We don’t have anything very helpful to add. Here is what we said on the subject in 2007 in our Art of Omar Khayyam book (page 45).
    ‘This is a rather obscure verse of FitzGerald’s, where he has used, in his last two lines, the last two lines of a quatrain from Khayyam in the Ouseley manuscript, but he has created an entirely different beginning from that in the manuscript, which talks about the weather and how the rain washes the dust from the faces of the roses. It is not known where FitzGerald got his inspiration for this variation. There is no reference to David in Khayyam manuscripts, though he occurs quite often in other Persian literature.’
    Like Garry, we looked at Heron-Allen’s useful information, but it doesn’t take one very far. Our study of EFG’s letters has not thrown up anything useful. But we’ll keep looking.

    • June 22, 2012 3:25 pm

      What a pleasure to be part of this ‘community’! I’m glad to learn that those whose study greatly exceeds my own find this references so elusive.

      I guess we’ve established that the David reference is pure Fitz, yes.

      Locked lips! Such a dramatic statement! Such a specific statement. One can lock one’s own lips, to refuse to say something for reasons of one’s own, or to keep a secret. Or one can have one’s lips locked by another party, such a censoring authority.

      But those ‘locked lips’ are then juxtaposed against the freedom with which the nightingale still spreads its message. What a fascinating puzzle.

  5. June 21, 2012 3:57 pm

    A correction with regards to my comment. ‘Pehlvi in another place..’ in the penultimate para is misplaced. Please disregard the entire line. At the risk of blowing my own trumpet I am giving my version of the quatrain. It goes thus:
    ‘David when dead is but dust in Old Time’s hand:

    Ev’n a thrush in clear tones its joy descant;

    Wine, red of the grapes revives the weary

    Though his hour runs to the last mote of sand’.

  6. June 21, 2012 4:52 pm

    On checking wikipedia I find these lines:’…Bulbul which …. bears a yellow patch, being otherwise of a snuffy brown and this is possibly the bird which has got mixed up with the nightingale in Sufi, particularly Persian Sufi, poetry.(on bulbul).

    • June 22, 2012 3:43 pm

      We had never realised that in ornothology there was a bird actually known as a bulbul, coming in quite a number of distinct varieties. It also seems to be known for its song which presumably explains the ‘confusion’ with the nightingale. Before this we had only known ‘bulbul’ as a Persian or Arabic word which the language experts always seem to translate as nightingale – perhaps because of the symboilism of the later in the Western mind? It would be interesting to know when this translation first appeared?

  7. June 22, 2012 4:39 pm

    Hmmm … common names are notoriously misleading. Even the taxonomy is tricky … and probably a bit tedious. But in ornithology the bulbul and the nightingale are quite distinct. I personally think it an error to confuse the two in Fitz, or in Omar. The linking of nightingale and rose is a frequent theme in the Persian writing I’ve accessed. But not once have I come across a linking of bulbul and rose.

  8. June 22, 2012 5:21 pm

    In India bulbul is very common bird and I have mostly seen the bird with a peak or tuft and bright red cheeks. Also noticeable is a scarlet dot at the very butt. The bird also have a peculiarity of thrusting its tail rapidly as one would twirl a pencil between fingers while deep in thought. The bird and the rose could mean from the vulgar to the sublime. I am not implying anything than what I know of the species I have seen.

    • Garry Garrard permalink
      June 22, 2012 9:02 pm

      A bit off the point but here is another bulbul, in the self-penned epitaph of Empress Nur

      Jahan (1577-1646 ad):
      Upon my grave when I shall die
      No lamp shall burn, no jasmin lie
      No candle with unsteady flame,
      Serve as reminder of my fame;
      No bulbul, chanting overhead
      Shall tell the world that I am dead

      Translation by JCE Bowen in 1947

      • June 22, 2012 10:46 pm

        Off point, perhaps. But how moving. Where and how do you find things like that?

      • Garry Garrard permalink
        June 23, 2012 9:05 am

        I just happened to get very keen on Bowen because of his work on the Rubaiyat (especially the Robert Graves fiasco). A year ago I bought a copy of his book The Golden Pomegranate which consists of translations of poems from the Mogul empire. Its an enormous book -about 12″ x 18″ – and beautifully bound and illustrated.
        There are one or two other Bowen books of poetry, of more reasonable size. Some of his own poems appeared in the pragmatically title Poems, published by John Baker in 1968, and more translations in Poems from the Persian, published 1948. There is also Oriental Proverbs, published by Luzac in 1980, which are a bit like the FitzGerald desciption of collections of rubaiyat – grave and gay mixed together.
        Try one for size!.

  9. June 23, 2012 9:35 am

    This Nur Jahan was the much lamented queen of the Mughal King Shah Jahan, meaning King of the world. The grieving king built Taj Mahal. He would have built a mirror image in Black. But it was not to be.

  10. June 23, 2012 9:45 am

    A correction:
    She is an aunt of Empress Mumtaz Mahal, Emperor Shah Jahan’s wife for whom the Taj Mahal was made.
    Begum Nur Jahan was the twentieth and favourite wife of Mughal Emperor Jahangir, who was her second husband. The story of the couple’s infatuation for each other and the relationship that abided between them is the stuff of many (often apocryphal) legends.(wikipedia). No excuse for this egregious blunder, friends, too much or too less learning can go the head, I suppose.

    • Garry Garrard permalink
      June 23, 2012 3:02 pm

      Bowen gives quite a bit of biographical info which, in summary, suggests Nur Jahan was a Mogul equivalent of modern superwoman. Her first husband was a Turkoman general know as Sher Afgan (The Tiger Thrower) who was assassinated. Originally named Mehr-ul-Nisa, Jahangir renamed her Nur Jahan when they married four years later. She was beautiful, (that goes without saying), active in government (Imperial edicts were issued in her name), an accomplished magician, a crack shot, a designer of fabrics and fashions, and an accomplished poet under the pen-name Makhfi (The Concealed). At the same time she was benevolent and generous, paying the dowries of 500 orphan girls,
      She is evidently referred to as “The beloved queen” in a despatch by British Ambassador Sir Thomas Roe.
      As she wished, when she died, 18 years after the death of Jahanghir, she was buried in an unpretentious tomb not far from her late husbands impressive mausoleum.
      There is another epitaph in somewhat similar vein by Princess Jahanara (1614-1681), who comforted her father Shah Jahan during his long years of imprisonment in the fort at Agra by a usurper to his throne:
      When death at ;last arrives to set
      My prisoned body free,
      No vault shall claim my dust – but let
      The green grass cover me.
      Once again, translation by Bowen in 1947

  11. Bob Forrest permalink
    October 3, 2012 8:51 am

    I think David and his “lock’t” lips are in this verse because David is here not literally the Psalmist (Singer of Holy Songs), but an image of the Nightingale, whose Song is not a Psalm but a bird-call: “Wine! Wine! Wine! Red Wine!”, repeated over and over again, would have the characteristic repetitiveness of birdsong. That, I think, is why David’s lips are “lock’t” – they are locked in the repetitive call; why they are “high piping” – which relates more to birdsong than a sung Psalm; and why he sings in “Pehlevi” which relates more easily to the Persian Nightingale than the Jewish David, for, as FitzGerald says in his Notes on this verse, “Hafiz also speaks of the Nightingale’s Pehlevi etc.”

    Why introduce David at all ? This involves another strand of meaning, I think. David features in the Qur’an (Surahs 4.163 and 17.55) as the one to whom God gave the gift of the Psalms. There are two ways to go from here. The first is to realise that having the Qur’anic David calling for Wine is a blasphemy in contradiction of the Orthodox Moslem ban on alcohol. This could therefore be seen as an Omarian (or FitzOmarian?) rebellion against orthodox Islam – a claim that singing about Wine is, ultimately, just as significant as singing about God. Curiously, this links up with the second view, even though the two are, in a sense, opposites: it is to adopt a Sufic interpretation, in which calling for Wine is seen as inviting Divine Intoxication. It all rather depends on where FitzGerald got the inspiration for the David element of his verse 6 from, of course, and that, unfortunately, I do not know, though it will be interesting to try and find out!

    • October 4, 2012 2:38 pm

      First, I’d like to say again what a pleasure it is to be part of these discussions. It’s sort of like belonging to the best kind of “club”. Thanks again to Sandra & Bill for providing the venue.

      Having said that, I’m afraid I can’t agree with your analysis, Bob. The verse in question poses an opposition between David and the nightingale so it would seem obvious that they can’t be the same entity. David’s lips are locked but the nightingale’s aren’t. The nightingale sings in “high piping Pehlevi” the ancient revered language of pre-Islamic Persia. In pre-Islamic Persia not only is there no stigma associated with the celebration of wine, but modern archaeologists make a good case that red wine from fermented grapes was invented in Persia.

      So I fear that leaves us no closer to the question: What the heck is David doing here? Is there a genuine basis for the reference in the Persian originals? Or is it a Fitz-Omarian invention? If the latter, why? What was Fitz trying to say with it.

      As an actor, that’s what I struggle to know. What did Fitz think he was trying to say with image of David’s “lock’t” lips?

      • October 4, 2012 7:43 pm

        Having just reviewed this entire topic I realise that when I posted today’s reply to R. Forrest I had forgotten that way back … on June 21, Sandra and Bill stated unequivocally that there are no references to David in the original Persian manuscripts. So the David reference is 100% FitzOmar. Still tantalised! Grrrrrr…. Why? (could I be so apparently obsessed by this enigmatic image because David is my own name?)

  12. Bob Forrest permalink
    October 5, 2012 9:50 am

    In response to David Calderisi, as I see it, verse 6 doesn’t pose “an opposition” between David and the Nightingale at all, it identifies them! There is a line in an ode by Hafiz, “The birds have taken up David’s tone” (Khalid Hameed Shaida, Hafiz: Drunk with God (2010), p.136), and here in FitzGerald’s verse 6, the Nightingale has done precisely that! This is FitzOmar at work – FitzGerald “mashing together” as he chose to call his method – he has mashed together something like this line from Hafiz with the Nightingale from Khayyam.

    Also, whether or not wine was permissible in pre-Islamic Persia is not the issue. My point was that if a poet in medieval Islamic Persia had portrayed the Qur’anic David as singing about wine, then he (the poet) could have laid himself open to accusations of blasphemy.

    • October 5, 2012 6:19 pm

      Dear Robert — thanks for the beautiful line from Hafiz. I’m not as familiar with his work as I’d like to be but all my Iranian friends hold him the highest regard.

      So you think it’s possible that Fitz not only “mashed together” several of the Khayyam poems but may have gone further and borrowed images from other poets? That’s very interesting.

      The reason I’ve operated on the premise that in verse 6 David is in opposition to the nightingale is the word, “but.” I thought it well-accepted that the word usually separates differences, as in — entity A is/was/has property X; BUT entity B is/was/has property Y. Can you suggest an example of when that’s not the case?

      As for the dangers associated with blasphemy, I marveled, from my earliest studies of the piece, that many of the sentiments expressed, over and beyond the celebration of wine, constitute out-and-out blasphemy from the perspective of orthodox Islam. The conclusion I’ve come to is that perhaps that’s the reason why none of the poems were published in Khayyam’s life time. That, along with the fact that it was customary for the “ruba’i” to be transmitted orally rather than written down.

      Again, thanks for your interesting remarks.

  13. Bob Forrest permalink
    October 6, 2012 3:40 pm

    FitzGerald certainly wasn’t averse to mashing in lines from other poets: the famous ‘Stone’ in verse 1 of his first edition was based, by his own admission, on a line from Jami’s “Salaman and Absal”. As for that word “but”, I might have agreed with you had FitzGerald said “And David’s lips are lock’t in divine high piping Pehlevi with ‘Wine! Wine! Wine! Red Wine!’ BUT the Nightingale cries to Rose etc” He didn’t, though. The “but” comes after “And David’s lips are lock’t”, which (using your concept of opposition) puts the high piping Pehlevi and Wine in opposition to David – in effect saying that David’s lips are locked because this isn’t literally David. Who is he then ? FitzGerald’s hyphen in front of the Nightingale (a hyphen, not a BUT) tells us – he is here the Nightingale. Incidentally, David is also associated with the story of the Nightingale and the Rose in Attar’s “Bird Parliament”, which of course FitzGerald also translated – see lines 192ff, and in particular when the Nightingale says: “Yea, whosoever once has quaint this wine / He leaves unlisten’d David’s Song for mine.”

    • October 8, 2012 3:59 pm

      Thanks to Bob Forrest referring us to “Bird Parliament” I think we have a breakthrough. I’ve got the Briggs edition open and I’m looking at lines 192-219.

      What a treasure trove of “Nightingale”, “Rose” and “David”! And what a wonderfully disturbing speech the Nightingale makes! For those who don’t have it handy here are the first dozen lines of the section (separated by a double line from what precedes.

      Then came the Nightingale, from such a draught
      Of Ecstasy that from the Rose he quaff’d
      Reeling as drunk, and ever did distil
      Its exquisite division from his Bill
      To inflame the Hearts of Men — and thus sang He —
      “To me, alone, alone, is sgiv’n the Key
      Of Love: of whose whole Mystery possess,
      When I reveal a little to the Rest,
      Forthwith Creation listening forsakes
      The Reins of Reason, an my Frenzy takes:
      Yea, whosoever once has quaff’t this wine
      He leaves unlisten’d David’s Song for mine

      I’m not exactly sure how, as yet, this takes me closer to answering the question I posed back in June, but I think it does. So, many thanks Bob!

      At the same time I see that I have to re-visit an earlier point of disagreement. Bob disagrees with my conclusion that in Verse 6 the Nightingale is in “opposition” to David. But if we consider this line in “Bird Parliament” — “He leaves unlisten’d David’s Song for mine”, is it possible to conclude that David and the Nightingale are NOT in opposition, i.e., two distinct entities?

      • October 8, 2012 4:00 pm

        Apologies for a few typos in the text. I trust they’re not critical

  14. Bob Forrest permalink
    October 10, 2012 8:38 am

    The Nightingale and David are connected by Song. One poet may have the Nightingale aspiring to be David; another may have it trying to out-do David – I would see the Hafiz line (“The birds have taken up David’s tone” ) as relating to the former; the Attar line (“he leaves unlisten’d David’s Song for mine”) to the latter. FitzGerald – at least as I see it – has simply given us another variation on the theme – he has David, in effect, ‘morphing’ (to use a modern, but apt, term) into the Nightingale. He has also, incidentally, given his own (at least, I don’t recall seeing it anywhere else) variation on the traditional story of the Nightingale and the Rose. In the traditional version, the Rose is turned red by the blood of the Nightingale who, in his love for the Rose, impales himself on her thorns. (A modern incarnation of the tale features in Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Nightingale and the Rose”.) FitzGerald, of course, in his verse 6, relates the reddening of the Rose to a symbolic RED Wine. FitzOmar has been particularly busy in this verse, I think!

    • October 10, 2012 3:16 pm

      Yes, Bob. I guess that’s where we have to leave it. “Fitz has been particularly busy in this verse.” Again, thanks for the many references.

      • Garry Garrard permalink
        October 10, 2012 5:15 pm

        I agree, we’ve done this one to death. Lets find something else to talk about.

  15. October 10, 2012 7:47 pm

    You bet!

    • Bob Forrest permalink
      October 11, 2012 10:43 am

      If David Calderisi wants to revisit an earlier point, and I choose to respond to him, then surely this is what a forum like this is – or should be – about. To have it characterised by Garry Garrard as doing the topic to death is a bit offensive and – having been a bit dubious about joining in any blog in the first place – rather disappointing. As for finding something else to talk about that’s fine – we can talk about Omarian shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and sultans if you like – but I’m a bit disturbed at shutting down a topic when other literary sources used by FitzGerald may turn up to throw more light on this verse.

      • October 11, 2012 11:32 am

        We are happy for any conversation to continue as long as there are contributors with something to say. This has been an interesting journey re Quatrain 6 and we are sure that there will be further thoughts and evidence as everyone’s researches continue. Thanks to all contributors to this and other conversations on the blog. We are enjoying the contacts that the OKR blog gives.

      • Garry Garrard permalink
        October 11, 2012 2:06 pm

        Sorry Bob, I didn’t mean to be offensive. All I can say in mitigation is that I completely endorse the last input from Bill and Sandra.

  16. Bob Forrest permalink
    October 11, 2012 10:05 pm

    OK, Garry – thanks – no harm done and water under the bridge etc. I hope to have some news about Mera K. Sett and the Rupert Brooke review early next week – fingers crossed!

  17. David A permalink
    March 26, 2017 7:10 pm

    I think he means that David can make no further comment while the nightingale lives on.


  1. Further comment on ‘A query about quatrain 6 – where does David fit in?’ « Omar Khayyam Rubaiyat

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