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Omar Khayyam Poems – A Modern Translation

April 26, 2021

We have received advance notification of the forthcoming publication of a new translation of the rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam., taken from the original Persian sources. The translation is the work of an Iranian born author, Siamak Akhavan, who has lived in North America for many years and is currently based in California. In his Preface to the book, he writes :

<< As a bilingual author and avid reader of Persian poetry and literature, I had long found Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat to be an interpretation of Khayyam’s poems –v. a more direct translation of the literal and mystical essence of his poems–, written in an outdated English prose and hard to read (more on this in the Introduction). I believe that in this book, I have presented a more readable and accurate version. ….. One that’s been more understood by his Persian-speaking readers throughout the last millennia. >>

The author has selected 122 quatrains which he considers to be the most genuine of the many verses that have been attributed to Omar Khayyam. The selection is taken from the quatrains published by key Iranian sources, including Hedayat and Forughi and Ghani among others. In the pre-publication excerpts so far circulated, the translated verses are presented with the Farsi text below. The rhyming pattern of the English quatrains seems to vary and there is no apparent ordering of them by subject or theme. Our limited knowledge of Farsi suggests that the translations are a fairly direct interpretation of Khayyam’s originals. Two examples of verses in the new translation are shown below. Readers will reach their own views on whether these interpretations will be more accessible to a modern generation than other modern and earlier versions.

Siamak Akhavan is very keen that Khayyam’s wisdom should be shared with and enjoyed by everyone. Most of us would undoubtedly share that wish and we hope that his new book will achieve this aim. It is being published by Resource Publications (an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers, https://wipfandstock.com/search-results/?imprint=resource-publications). This is a non-profit publication venture and the author’s proceeds will go to support school building projects in Iran. July 2021 is the planned publication date with a print price of some $10. We look forward to seeing the final production.

Examples of new translation 1

This old court once ruled the world.
At its door many subjects curled.
Now at its ruins sits only a crow,
bemusedly calling, “who, who, who.”

آن قصر کھ با چرخ ھمیزد پھلو
بر درگھ آن شھان نھادندی رو
دیدیم کھ بر کنگرهاش فاختھای
بنشستھ ھمی گفت کھ کوکوکوکو

Examples of new translation 2

In youth we elated a brief prowess.
Gleed in the delusion of greatness.
Yet it proved only that in the end,
it was just going from soil to wind.


یک چند بھ کودکی باستاد شدیم
یک چند بھ استادی خود شاد شدیم
پایان سخن شنو کھ ما را چھ رسید
از خاک در آمدیم و بر باد شدیم

9 Comments leave one →
  1. April 26, 2021 5:19 pm

    Hello Sandra and Bill, First, I hope you are both well and coping reasonably in these tumultuous times. I'm very pleased to report that Marsha and I are managing well.  Now then, while I admire the spirit of 'nclusiveness that led you to convey this information regarding a new rubaiyat translation,  I must confess, and I grin somewhat sheepishly to say it, that based on the samples provided,  I find Mr. Akhavan's presentation to be both  pretentious and ungainly. For him to suppose that his rendering improves on Fitz's "outdated" and "hard to read" language indicates pretty clearly, does it not,  that he is possessed of a remarkably tin ear.  And as for authenticity isn't it odd that he has settled on a rhyme scheme which ignores the classic ruba'i formula? But still, I repeat, I admire your decision to bring it to the attention of your readers for them to come to their own evaluation as to its place in Omaryana. Most cordial regards and good wishes. DavidC (aka David FiitzOmar)

    • April 27, 2021 9:07 am

      Thanks for your comment David. We are glad that you have stayed well. We certainly believe strongly, as you suggest, that there is room for many different interpretations of the verses and thinking that originate with Omar Khayyam, even if they are not all to one’s personal taste – as we should certainly say, for example, of some of the many and varied illustrations that have been produced over the years. We are looking forward to seeing the new translation as a whole and to trying it out with younger friends and family who we know have some difficulty with the FitzGerald verses. They are the people that we should like to make more aware of what Khayyam has to offer. All the best, S&B

    • Jos Coumans permalink
      April 27, 2021 8:57 pm

      Can one judge a work just by 2 examples? Does the Omarian wisdom and beauty, or whatever their interpreters / translators have made of it, depend on a rhyming scheme, metre, rhythm? Is Fitzgerald in his version the only Master of the Universe?

      “This old court once ruled the world.
      At its door many subjects curled.
      Now at its ruins sits only a crow,
      bemusedly calling, “who, who, who.”

      Why does this crow call at all? To bemuse us? Does it know better?

  2. martinrkim permalink
    April 26, 2021 6:59 pm

    I quite a bit liked the new quatrains you posted. I think you said it was coming out in a book but I can’t seem to figure out what the title is or when. Is that known to you?

    From Martin K’s cell

    >

    • April 27, 2021 9:12 am

      Hi Martin. Sorry we didn’t make clear about the current state of the book. The title is in the heading of the post, viz ‘Omar Khayyam Poems – A Modern Translation’. Publication date is expected to be in July but the book is not yet listed by the publisher, whose link we gave. Nor is there yet an ISBN. We’ll post a further comment when these details are available. Stay well. S&B

  3. Barney Rickenbacker permalink
    April 27, 2021 11:16 pm

    Thank y’all for sending this along. Very nice to see that the publisher will donate some of the proceeds to school buildings in Iran. And I am happy to have the Persian source for the quatrains selected from prominent collections as noted by the author.
    I leave off comments until I see the final product. But for now, I am surprised by the choice of some English word-choices. And it does amaze me that ‘crow’ is used for Persian fakhte’i, a ‘cooing’ dove, ku ku ku ku.

  4. April 28, 2021 4:51 am

    In #1, the owl might be used instead of the crow. I think in the FitzOmar version the ‘coo, coo, coo’ sound meant ‘where, where, where’ in Persian, which was great, although not simple to pick up on. This quatrain was removed from later editions.

    #2 is fine in its ‘soil to wind’ ending that also implies dust on the wind.

    I prefer, though, the overall exquisite wordage of FitzOmar that made so much more of what was very simply stated to begin with in the Arabic.

  5. April 28, 2021 8:26 pm

    FitzOmar could have made the last line thus, ‘Ku-ku her refrain, gone where, gone where?’, which I’ve modified a bit from Barney’s site. It also implies a ‘who’ and leaves the central ‘where have they gone’ idea intact, as well as letting the reader easily derive the ‘coo-coo’.

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