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More reflections on Siamak Akhavan’s Omar Khayyam Poems

January 6, 2022

Martin Kimeldorf, author, poet and commentator on the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, initially responded positively to some of Siamak Akhavan’s new translations of Omar Khayyam’s verses (see end comment on https://omarkhayyamrubaiyat.wordpress.com/2021/12/07/siamak-akhavans-modern-translation-of-khayyams-poems/). But, having had a chance to study the complete book, he has sent us these more critical reflections.

I grew up in the 60s and 70s listening to my father recite Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat before the

fireplace in our soft-carpeted living room. While it took some time to grasp the cadence and

rhyme of FitzGerald’s translation eventually it found its way past my brain, in to my heart. Now

fast forward to the year 2013 and I am facing an uncertain brain surgery. In that moment I chose

to armor myself by returning to read the poems Edward FitzGerald translated into his book The

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám. The words gave me the courage to face what fate had tossed up

before me.

FitzGerald’s translation has stood the long steady test of time. His version of the poems have

appealed to generations of artists, writers, and everyday people looking for meaning and comfort.

I found reassurance and solace in the poetry’s wit, skepticism, and the celebration of simple joys.

Some of the lines I clung to from three different poems are listed next:

‘Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days

Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:

Ah Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire

To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,

Ah make the most of what we may yet spend,

before we too into the dust descend.

I believe I was able to make the most of what was left to spend, having published two books of

quatrains. The first was entitled Sipping From The Rubaiyat’s Chalice, My Journey with The

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám and this was followed by Kibbles for the Soul—Poems and Pet

Photos About the Joy, Irony, Fatalism and Transience of Life.

Over the years I’ve read about many old and new translations. Many had merit but for me far too

many did not measure up to the FitzGerald-Omar masterpiece. Sadly the latest title by Siamak

Akhavan Omar Khayyam Poems, A Modern Translation failed on so many levels I could not

even finish his book.

I originally thought I’d like Akhavan’s poetry based on reading only a few lines in the early blog

mention. But Siamak Akhavan’s translated verse wanders and relies on esoteric words or outdated

vocabulary. I literally had to sit with a dictionary to get through the first half, and then I realized I

was in a losing game with my clock.

Here are a few sample lines:

Flowers shed, birds wail in amity.

Devotion to love is to not absolve.

What the hell are those lines about?

Too often Akhavan’s showy lines rely on a forced rhyme that destroyed any possible joy he

almost delivers, as in these lines:

Why worry if tomorrow’s aghast

Hold love’s cup, today won’t last.

————————————–

Our thanks to Martin for sharing these further thoughts with us. We should add our own regret that, while most Rubaiyat enthusiasts welcome any attempt at a new interpretation of Khayyam’s verse for the modern era, it has been hard for any of our commentators, including ourselves, to find positive things to say about this particular new version. This highlights the very special achievement of Edward FitzGerald in creating his seminal work over 160 years ago.

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