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A Curious Edition

April 22, 2013

David Calderisi draws attention to an unusual literary spin-off from FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.*

okrevisitedOf the many, many extant editions of Khayyam verses, some are magnificent, some exquisite, some provide a deeper insight into the material, some are parodies, and some are simply curious. Omar Khayyam Revisited falls, I think, into the last category.

The book was published in 1974 by Lyle Stuart Inc. of New Jersey. It contains twenty-one pen-and-ink sketches by David Stone Martin. The author is given as Hakim Yama Khayyam. The first line of the two-page introduction reads: “In the days of my progenitor, Omar the Tentmaker, people smoked hashish to relax and be sociable.”

Google gives us the following: 1) Hakim Yama Khayyam is a pseudonym for Joachim Yama Hurst, born in 1920 and died in 2008; 2) An article in The Evening Independent of St. Petersburg, Florida on November 23, 1973, includes him in a list of honorable mentions regarding a poetry contest. His residence is given as Tampa. So far I haven’t managed to learn any more about him, but it seems reasonable to conclude that any genealogical connection with our 12th-century Persian mathematician is entirely fanciful.

The term revisited usually suggests that the reader is likely to discover something new, or at least something that went unnoticed in an earlier reading. Reinforcing that idea, the final paragraph of the introduction reads:

“With apologies to Mr. Edward Fitzgerald (sic) who did the original translation of the Rubaiyat in 1859, I am rewriting some of Mr. Khayyam’s verses the way he would write them, were he alive and living in our society today.”

Sixty-one quatrains are presented. All are modeled on FitzGerald. Most of the rewriting consists of altering the order of the verses, of changing most references to wine to make them refer instead to hashish e.g. “Smoke, for you know not whence you came, nor why; Smoke for you know not why you go, nor where”; and frequently (inexplicably) altering Fitz’s word order to utterly mangle the rhythm. At times the sense of the original is completely misunderstood. The result is decidedly odd, mildly amusing, and often silly. And yet the work can’t be called a parody because it seems to take itself quite seriously.

Here are the first two quatrains:

I sent my soul through the invisible,
Some letter of that afterlife to spell
   And by and by my soul returned to me,
And answered, “I met Omar Khayyam in hell.”
 
Greetings he sends to those who would despair  
The problem is not style or length of hair
   Nor hassle with the question of eternity
For your reward is neither here nor there.
 

So in the end, what do we have? As I suggested earlier — a curiosity. The illustrations by David Stone Martin are evocative and skillful. Yet it’s hard to imagine what prompted the publisher to issue the book. At the same time, the work isn’t altogether offensive and, in its own way, it is somehow charming. So I’m not displeased to have it in my modest collection of Omariana.

For more information about David Calderisi, and his performance of The Rubaiyat, have a look at his website, http://www.okdac.net/.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 22, 2013 7:15 pm

    Looks good. Great that you were able to insert the cover. Also, thanks for the link to my site. Best as always.

  2. Bob Forrest permalink
    April 23, 2013 7:43 am

    Thanks to David Calderisi for alerting me to this – as a keen collector of Omarian oddities, I hadn’t come across Hakim Yama Khayyam before, so, needless to say, I’ve already got a copy on order! There must be hundreds of such oddities around – a number of them will feature on my up-coming website and I’ve just done a three-part article on a selection of them for “Omariana” (the first part to appear in the next issue, I believe.) My favourite has to be “Life’s Echoes” by ‘Tis True, published in 1923, though I’ve just come across another delicious curiosity in the form of “A Duet with Omar” by Albert J. Edmunds, published in 1913.

    Edmunds had no need of “priest or wizard”, and instead expressed his belief – in verse following the format of FitzGerald – that religion was entering into a Scientific phase, thanks largely to F.W.H. Myers and the Society for Psychical Research, and to R.M.Bucke’s concept of the evolution of the human mind towards “Cosmic Consciousness.” A sort of side-salad to his main course is provided by his theory that the Christian Gospels, particularly that of Luke, were directly influenced by Buddhist literature. It is an interesting, if at times puzzling, read!

    Hopefully readers of this blog will bring other similar oddities to our attention in due course.

  3. April 23, 2013 9:04 am

    We don’t know the Edmunds version, Bob. We must look out for it. ‘Tis True is a real oddity – hard to know even what it is about. When is your website due for completion? We all look forward to seeing it.

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