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A Reduced Rubaiyat full of Wisdom – but is it Omarian Wisdom?

July 21, 2016

Below is a summary of Tony Briggs’ presentation at the Rubaiyat Research Day on 9th July 2016 (see earlier post

Our thanks to Tony for providing this and for providing other provocative ideas about how to improve awareness and appreciation of the Rubaiyat in the 21st century.  We plan to cover this topic in more detail in a future post.

In bite-size days of dwindling attention span it could be a good idea to present the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in reduced format. Here are eight stanzas that convey both the style and the essential ideas of this well-loved work. They might be best presented as follows.  (The image alongside them is Edmund Sullivan’s 1913 illustration for the third quatrain shown.)

The Reduced Rubaiyat of Edward FitzGerald (1809-83) 
Freely Translated from Writings by Omar Khayyam (1048-1131?)

AWAKE! for Morning in the Bowl of Nightsullivan27
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultán’s Turret in a Noose of Light.

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about:  but evermore
Came out by the same Door as in I went.

But leave the Wise to wrangle, and with me
The Quarrel of the Universe let be:
And, in some corner of the Hubbub coucht,
Make Game of that which makes as much of Thee.

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.

YESTERDAY This Day’s Madness did prepare;
TO-MORROW’S Silence, Triumph, or Despair:
Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why:
Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where.

Ah, Moon of my Delight who know’st no wane,
The Moon of Heav’n is rising once again:
How oft hereafter rising shall she look
Through this same Garden after me—in vain!

And when Thyself with shining Foot shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scatter’d on the Grass,
And in thy joyous Errand reach the Spot
Where I made one—turn down an empty Glass!

The message is that some degree of happiness is attainable in a life based on:

living close to nature and enjoying adequate food, drink and modest amounts of alcohol, along with human companionship (including love and sex), culture (books, poems, songs, music), patience and contentment with things as they are and moderate prosperity, and a good sense of humour

rather than their opposites:

urban life, over-indulgence and obesity, disgusting drunkenness, narcissistic solitariness, philistinism, pessimism, discontent, over-seriousness, greed, excessive wealth, celebrity, impatience and intensity.

Do not rely on experts to explain the mystery of our existence beyond these simple ideas. The famous thinkers know no more than you do. This is the only true wisdom. The snag is that it is not oriental, not mysterious, not Omarian. It is the age-old wisdom of grandmothers and old chaps down the pub.

Good luck, make game of everything, and raise a glass with me.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 22, 2016 12:58 pm

    All of my life I have enjoyed and profited from intergenerational connections. Now as I swing towards the gray end of the age-range I find myself seeking quality conversations with Millennials. I try to avoid the elderhood’s common view of Millennials as worthless. They can be at times frustrating (as was my baby-boomer cohort) but most of the time I find them to be one of the most gifted and remarkable generations.

    If I recite a quatrain or two, their eyes widen, their head cocks slightly, and they ask, “Who wrote that?” As I say the name their phone comes out and they ask, “How do you spell it?” I close my eyes and pray to the neuron God that I can spell Khayyám correctly in that moment.

    I then offer to share with them my unfinished book, which, like Tony, contains a few of my favorite quatrains and a very personal story about the ROK. I have great hope that the east-west collaboration between FitzGerald and Khayyám points to a more peaceful future for the Millennials and their children. God knows we need that in this hateful-Brexit-Trump moment.

  2. July 22, 2016 1:54 pm

    Thanks very much, Tony. Elegant and precise, as usual.


  1. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam for the 21st century. How can we bring it more into current thinking and discussion? | Omar Khayyam Rubaiyat

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