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Is this Omar Khayyam ….. or not?

June 17, 2013

Garry Garrard poses an intriguing question.

Is this Omar Khayyam ..…. or not?  What do you think of this verse?

Within this Tavern where we taste
Delicious wine, there is no waste;
For while the Guests prepare to sup
Our Host will put aside the Cup,
And from a handful of the clay
That you or I might throw away,
Upon his potter’s wheel will spin
A cooling Wine-jar for the inn.

 The fact that it’s not a Rub’ai immediately gives the clue that it isn’t by the old tentmaker. But how Khayyam-ish in its imagery!

I came across it in The Golden Pomegranate, a book of Mogul poetry translated by JCE Bowen.

The original poem was by Sa’id, (1605-1677) born in Isfahan and active in Mogul India. He also wrote in Turkish and his reputation is evidently high in both India and Turkey – but not Persia/Iran. Had he read Khayyam? It seems as if most of his work and images are quite innovative.

bowentravestyBowen’s translation of the verse was published in 1957, and he, of course, not only went on to produce his own translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam but finally demolished the fraud perpetrated by Omar Ali-Shah. He is a fascinating character, much of his translation was done when he was a District Commissioner in Afghanistan. His dedication reads “Most of these translations were made while serving the people of the North-West frontier. It is to them that I dedicate this book.”

As an introduction he gives a few quotes about translation that, I assume, reflect his views and are very relevant to FitzGerald:

1)      A poet’s aim as a translator should not be absolute accuracy, but to return to the source of the Poet’s inspiration and to create a parallel poem in the English language. STEPHEN SPENDER

2)      For what is a true translation? It is a new creation, inspired by a specific work of art, able to stand by itself alone, strong and harmonious in all its parts. SERGE HUGES

The first edition of The Golden Pomegranate was published in Bombay in 1957 but is very large, quite
ornate and fairly expensive (the first one I saw at a bookfair was £300, but it was owned and signed by Lawrence Olivier.)  The text is available in a cheaper version published by John Baker in 1966.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Green Len permalink
    June 18, 2013 5:35 am

    that is not Omar Khayyam, neither is this:

    Flock to the tavern, there’s no time to waste,
    The day is short, there’s little time, make haste
    The vintner has a most impressive list
    Set out for you enthusiasts to taste.

    Be it a glass, decanter or a jug,
    A cup, a bottle, flagon or a mug,
    Acquire it from the maker while you may
    Before your final resting place is dug.

  2. June 28, 2013 11:16 am

    Bob Forrest has provided an interesting further comment, which we have included as a separate post – see


  1. Response to Garry – Is this Omar – or not? | Omar Khayyam Rubaiyat

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