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Interpreting the quatrains of the Rubaiyat

August 18, 2016

Warren Jones has sent us a couple of interesting queries about interpreting the meaning of various quatrains of the Rubaiyat, particularly as presented in FitzGerald’s version.  His query has two parts, the first relating to general studies of the meaning of individual quatrains, and the second concerning the specific interpretation to be given to elements in the final quatrain – number 101 in FitzGerald’s third and subsequent editions. 

On general interpretation, Warren writes:

One thing that has always bothered me about the Rubaiyat is that I have never seen a book or website that tries to explain each and every quatrain. How can that be? I remember once reading that at a certain time in American history you could be sure to find two books on the parlor table: the Bible and the Rubaiyat. Really? Well, how can it be, then, that no one ever took the time to explain them all? I contend that it’s not a difficult poem, but there are parts that I don’t get. Fortunately, most of the beautiful passages are clear enough, but there are still some, like the stanza below, whose meaning eludes me.

On the final quatrain, the question is as follows:

x110dul1101scf“To me, most of the Rubiyat is clear enough, and I always get extremely irritated at the unnecessary and absurd “explanations” offered by various swamis. However, there is one stanza that has always bothered me, and that is the last one in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th versions. There are other lines whose meaning escape me, but it’s the beautiful lines, the ones with music, that I really care about.

“And when like her, oh Saki, you shall pass

Among the Guests Star-scatter’d on the Grass,

And in your joyous errand reach the spot

Where I made One—turn down an empty Glass!

“I know about the Persian custom of emptying a glass of wine on the ground, but what does this stanza mean? More specifically, the second and last lines. I know this will get me called a  moron, but what does “grass” refer to? The universe? What does “Where I made One” refer to? What does “One” refer to?”

Does any reader have some useful response to these questions?  Please post a comment below.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 18, 2016 5:27 pm

    This last line is the same in all 4 editions (the 1st is stanza LXXV). The Persian possible sources, O 83 & 84, suggest that the speaker has passed on and the glass upturned is in memory of him.
    He is now encouraging those sitting and drinking to turn down a glass in memory of him for he was One of them – the very spot where he sat: where I made One ( we might say ‘for I made up one of you’). This is my guesswork.

  2. Martin Kimeldorf permalink
    August 18, 2016 5:39 pm

    I suppose you’re have to think about your purpose in reading the poetry or any poetry. In the case of the Rubiayatt I read it for comfort, insight, and joy… It has been read to me or have read it myself my entire life. In my Omarian universe I enjoy about 30 of the quatrains. I don’t need to understand all the verse to grasp the “scheme entire”

  3. Bob Forrest permalink
    August 20, 2016 7:58 pm

    Hopefully you will find this link of some use:

    http://www.bobforrestweb.co.uk/The_Rubaiyat/verse_by_verse_notes.htm

  4. August 21, 2016 9:40 am

    Thanks, Bob. That is a helpful reminders of a good resource on this topic.

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