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The Rubaiyat as a basis for contemplation

May 5, 2023

Many people who read and study the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam find in it a stimulus to thought about aspects of their own lives, as well as a source of insights into the big issues of life and death, and questions like where have we come from, why are we here, and where are we going? Tony Wolf has formalised such thinking by creating a set of 75 cards based on Edward FitzGerald’s first edition of the Rubaiyat, matching the verses with newly colourised versions of Edmund Sullivan’s 1913 illustrations. The cards can be used in various ways for meditation and contemplation. In the introductory booklet to the set of cards, Tony writes as follows.

Using the Omar’s Rubaiyat Contemplation Cards

The Rubaiyat is a mystical, poetic meditation on the nature of existence, emphasizing the vital importance of living life to the fullest while acknowledging its impermanence.

These contemplation cards offer a tactile way to creatively explore these themes in relation to one’s own circumstances and experience, also – crucially – introducing an element of chance. 

Each card in this deck pairs one of “FitzOmar’s” quatrains with Sullivan’s accompanying image, combining poetic and visual symbolism.  For example,  card 26 features  Sullivan’s image of a rose-crowned skeleton … illustrating quatrain 26, which reads:

Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise

to talk; One thing is certain, that Life flies;

One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;

The Flower that once has blown forever dies.

The interpretation of this quatrain and its flower/skull symbolism in relation to one’s own experience is determined by the card’s placement in a spread; a pattern in which each position is assigned a particular meaning and represents a different aspect of the question or situation being explored.

Elsewhere, Tony Wolf has written: the purpose here is not to use the cards for “fortune telling”, but rather to employ the methods of tarot card reading, such as the random juxtaposition of symbolism and meaning, towards appreciating FitzOmar’s poetic philosophy in relation to one’s own circumstances – “after all, the book must live”.  

Some examples of possible layouts for randomly chosen cards are shown below. For more information about the cards, and how to obtain them, see

3 Comments leave one →
  1. javadfarzam permalink
    May 5, 2023 5:25 pm

    Last week I visited Cambridge University Library manuscripts section and came across some notes written by Edward Byles Cowell who taught Edward Fitzgerald Persian.

  2. May 5, 2023 7:15 pm

    It’s interesting to know that, Javad. Can you tell us anything about the contents of Cowell’s notes? Thanks in advance.

  3. May 6, 2023 12:12 pm

    Hi Sandra. I had attached photos of the Edward Cowell script with my email that I guess couldn’t be opened. The front cover of the first note book says:
    “ my transcript from the Ouseley m s. Of Omar Khayyam in the Bodleian made for FitzGerald in June 1856”. The second notebook starts off with “ this is the copy which I made from my own transcript of the Bodleian ms of Omar Khayyam in sir W Ouseley’s collection and gave to Fitzgerald in June 1856. We were both staying at my mother’s home at Rushmere near Ipswich before I went to India. I read the Persian with him. ( I had only recently discovered the ms at Oxford). This transcript first introduced Omar to his future translation. It came back to me after my friend’s death. E.B.C
    Kind Regards

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