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Louis C. Alexander and The Testament of Omar Khayyam

January 28, 2020

RF AlexanderTestament Fig.02bSeveral years ago, we found in a bookshop a little volume entitled The Testament of Omar Khayyam which was attributed on the title page to Louis C AlexanderOn the cover was an inscription in Persian reading Wasiyyat-e Omar Khayyam.  When we looked inside, there were quatrains in English, clearly not FitzGerald, but with some similarities.  We bought the book but did not, at the time, look at it at all closely.  It was filed under Rubaiyat, other translations, and there it stayed until recently.

Now, Bob Forrest has turned his research skills onto this volume, and he reveals to us all what a very odd book it is.  Indeed he describes it as ‘one of the most peculiar books in the Omarian canon’.  He comments further ‘This little book, published by John Long in London in 1907, is one of numerous attempts to rescue Omar from accusations of wine–bibbing and disrespect for the Almighty, and to paint him in a more respectable light.’  This attempt at the ‘rehabilitation’ of the Persian poet is not of itself odd, since there have been many such.  What is indeed peculiar is the apparent source of the published verses.

The only attribution in the book is to Louis Alexander, but Bob has established, certainly to these readers’ satisfaction, that Alexander probably believed that the poems he published were the words of Omar Khayyam himself, transmitted as a ‘last testament’ through the medium of ‘automatic writing’.  This is a form of spiritualist communication, of which Alexander clearly had experience, and Bob sets out in his full article (see link below) to show Alexander’s involvement with the spiritualist world and his ‘work’ on other authors as well as Omar Khayyam.  The article also gives much detail on Alexander’s other writings and his complicated life.

Bob’s illustrated article is available in full on his website – see  It is a story full of interest.  As always we are grateful to Bob for sharing with us the results of another of his excursions into the by-ways of Omarian spin-offs.


The article has now been published as one of Bob’s series of booklets on people connected with the Rubaiyat.  For more information on the limited circulation of these booklets, see

Greetings for the Winter Sostice

December 21, 2019

Yalda_Night_Table_Amsterdam_2011_Photo_by_Pejman_Akbarzadeh_Persian_Dutch_NetworkTonight is the occasion of the Winter Solstice, which marks the longest and darkest night of the year.  In Iran, this point in the year has long been celebrated as the Shab-e Yalda and our picture* shows a table decorated in traditional manner for the occasion.  It is a time for people to get together to eat and drink, and the poetry of Hafez is often read.  The choice of items with red colour is said to symbolise dawn and the renewal of life.  More generally the Winter Solstice is seen as marking the rebirth of the sun and the promise of the return of longer days and the revival of natural growth.

With this in mind, we send Seasonal Greetings to all our readers and contributors.  We hope that the new year will be more peaceful and positive than the one that is passing, and that it will bring all countries into a place of greater harmony.  And we look forward to many more interesting exchanges of research, views and information between members of the Rubaiyat community.

*Yalda Night table in the celebration of Persians (Iranians) in Holland, Amsterdam, December, 2011. Photo by Pejman Akbarzadeh (Persian Dutch Network). This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license


More about Bert Dodson’s Rubaiyat

December 4, 2019

Jos Coumans has sent us some further comments relating to the Rubaiyat illustrations done by Bert Dodson, which were highlighted in the previous post.

When visiting Douglas Taylor in 2013, he showed me an edition of the rubáiyát, consisting of a number of large format plates: nineteen white leaves with a quatrain from FitzGerald and accompanying brown plates showing a drawing corresponding with the text.


JC dodson39

Image for quatrain 39

JC Dodson17

Image for quatrain 17









I remember Douglas mentioning the name of the artist, and that he obtained this set of prints by contacting the artist himself. I don’t remember how Douglas became aware of this work and its artist, but not much later (June 2014) he sent me an email in which he gave more details of his purchase.  Douglas wrote as follows:

“On Monday, April 9, 2001, I received a large set of nineteen illustrations in a paper folder embossed “Rubáiyát” with an R three inches high. The 19 sheets of paper are about 12 1/2 “ high by 17 7/8” wide. A single quatrain is printed on each sheet of white paper, and a line drawing done with a turkey quill is lithographed on each tan sheet of paper. The folded cover is the same paper as the lithographed sheets. The title sheet (tan) is styled as follows [there is an image of this in the previous post].

Selections from
Omar Khayyám’s
translated by Edward FitzGerald
(chain device)
designed & illustrated
for Publishers Graphics

On the inner side of the folder is printed as follows.

Drawings: Bert Dodson
Design: Creative Partners Inc.
Typography: Norwalk Typographers inc.
Lithography: Fairfield Graphics Inc.
Production: James Coviello

There is no date.

The quatrains illustrated are as follows:

7          Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
11        Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
13        Look to the Rose that blows about us – “Lo,
16        Think, in this batter’d Caravanserai
17        They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
23        Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend
26        Oh, come with old Khayyám, and leave the Wise
27        Myself when young did eagerly frequent
28        With them the Seed of Wisdom did I sow,
31        Up from Earth’s Centre through the Seventh Gate
37        Ah, fill the Cup: – what boots it to repeat
39        How long, how long, in infinite Pursuit
46        For in and out, above, about, below
49        ‘Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
51        The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ
52        And that inverted Bowl we call the Sky,
60        And, strange to tell, among the Earthen Lot
63        None answer’d this; but after Silence spake
69        Indeed the Idols I have loved so long

On Thursday, April 12, 2001, I called Dodson in Bradford, Vermont. He is from El Paso, Texas, and had relatives in Grand Prairie … and lived in Spain for a year.  …. He returned to Westport, Connecticut and founded Creative Partners (1972-1975). The drawings were issued as Christmas presents for clients in 1972 or 1973. There were about 200 complete sets of nineteen drawings and perhaps fifty more with fewer plates due to the randomness of printing. His 1985 book “Keys to Drawing” has a reference to these illustrations”.

Jos Coumans continues:

Recently I was lucky to buy a copy of Bert Dodson’s edition myself, from which I have taken the two pictures above, as an addition to the images supplied by Joe Howard in the previous post. A number of the illustrations show a more or less erotic scenery: nude men and women, sometimes in a somewhat provocative position as in image # 39. As Joe Howard indicated, often there seems to be no immediate relation between text and image, but a closer look may reveal imagery that pertains to the text as for instance in image # 17, where one might recognize a lion’s head, a lizard, a wild ass and a hunter asleep.

A copy of Dodson’s “Selections from Omar Khayyám’s Rubáiyát” was on auction in November 2017.

His book “Keys to Drawing with Imagination” with some Rubáiyát illustrations is available online on:, pp. 164-165.

Thank you, Jos, for these further insights into an interesting special edition of the Rubaiyat.

Bert Dodson, a living Rubaiyat illustrator

November 29, 2019

Over the past few years, thanks to the efforts of various contributors to the blog, we have posted information about quite a number of previously unknown illustrated editions of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.  But few of the artists involved have still been living.  Now, Joe Howard has sent us news of a further illustrated edition of the poem which was created by an artist who is fortunately still very much alive and active.

JH dodson1Bert Dodson (Fig.1) is a prolific, Vermont-based, painter and illustrator who has illustrated over 80 children’s books. His many other achievements include, creation of the political comic strip, Nuke; design of the animation for the four-part television series, Intimate Strangers: Unseen Life on Earth (1999) and collaboration with biologist Mahlon Hoagland on the book The Way Life Works (Times Books 1995). Dodson is also well known and respected as a teacher. Additional biographical information can be found in refs.1&2 and a glimpse of his current activities is provided in ref. 3.

In 1990 Dodson’s Selections from Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat (not in Coumans) was printed by Publishers’ Graphics. It consists of 39 unnumbered printed plates housed in an envelope-like portfolio (18” by 13”) with “Rubaiyat” embossed on the front (Fig.2). The plates are a combination of 19 black ink drawings (Figs.3-4) and their associated quatrains; the quatrains being printed separately. At the bottom right of each drawing, the quatrain to which it refers is identified.

JH dodson2

JH dodson34 (3)

While these portfolios are rare, seven illustrations from them can be found in two of Dodson’s enduringly popular books4,5 on drawing techniques.  Two examples are:

JH dodson56

In these books Dodson also provides background on both his interest in the Rubaiyat and his process for producing his Rubaiyat illustrations:

“During a year in Spain, I read and reread Omar Khayya’m’s Rubaiyat, the epic poem about life, death, and fate. I made a series of drawings, putting together the verses of the poem with the decorative tile, wrought iron, and fabric motifs of the region… The realism and acceptance of this poem comforted me, and it was a rich source of artistic inspiration as well4.”

“Years ago, I made a series of drawings illustrating the verses of The Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam, translated by Edward Fitzgerald. While they do not directly use the carpet format, they are clearly inspired by oriental rugs and other Middle Eastern decorative elements, such as tiles, railings and fabrics. I wanted to retain the patient, ornate quality of carpets or tapestry but with a freer, more spontaneous line. To get the right quality, I found some turkey feathers, which I turned into drawing quills. The ink line seems to draw itself. In a little more than a week, I made several-dozens of these drawings. I still like to draw this way occasionally – first creating big, loose shapes, then patiently filling them with decoration.

I can’t say that I fully understand The Rubaiyat, but I have always been attracted to its positive affirmation of life and its stoic acceptance of death. It seems a paradox that as we embrace either of these, the other becomes more available to us5.

The illustrations (Figs.3-6) clearly show that Dodson made extensive use of “Middle Eastern decorative elements”. Fig.6 is just one example where the whole illustration has the appearance of a rug. The links between the content of an illustration and its associated quatrain are sometimes literal. For example, Fig.3 contains a bird on the wing and Fig.6 represents the effect of wind on plants and seeds/leaves. Another illustration (quatrain 49: “T’is a Chequer-board of Nights and Days”) consists of a chequer board with people as the pieces. Other illustrations are very difficult to relate to their quatrains; see Fig.5 above for an example.

I contacted Bert Dodson some time ago with the intention of obtaining his insights into the relationships between the designs of his Rubaiyat illustrations and his interpretation of the relevant quatrains. Sadly, I have not received a response.


  4. Keys to Drawing, Bert Dodson, North Light Books 1985, p212-213
  5. Keys to Drawing with Imagination, Bert Dodson, North Light Books 2007, p162-16

Many thanks to Joe Howard for sharing this information with us all.  We wonder whether other readers have copies of this rare edition of the Rubaiyat, and what their views may be on the style and meaning of Bert Dodson’s illustrations.  We should also be interested to know if anyone has had direct contact with the artist and so might be able to help Joe with his further enquiries?  Please comment below. 

“I have lived not in vain if I have lived to be pirated.”

November 23, 2019

As an addendum to the previous post, Bob Forrest has sent us the following comment on an experience of his relating to his work on Isabel Hawxhurst Hall.

One of FitzGerald’s many memorable quotes was, “I have lived not in vain if I have lived to be pirated.” I know what he means, though on a lesser scale. My original Isabel Hawxhurst Hall (IHH) essay of 2014 had 13 illustrations from her Rubaiyat, with my captions. Some time back, I was trying to get a print-on-demand copy of the IHH Rubaiyat which was advertised by an outfit in India. Firstly they sent me the wrong book, which prompted me, naturally enough, to ask them for the right one. They seemed confused at this point and emailed me two sets of images from two different editions asking if either of them was the one I wanted. One was the Sangorski & Sutcliffe edition and the other consisted of the 13 images from my online essay, actually with my captions in place! When I pointed out the piracy they were further confused and seemed to be drifting towards the novel idea of sending me a bound copy of my own captioned images! To cut a long story short, I alerted AbeBooks and words were exchanged, I gather, as the Isabel Hawxhurst Hall Rubaiyat was promptly taken off their list of publications. Whether anybody else ordered this from them, expecting to get a reprint copy of the whole of the actual book, I do not know, but this episode serves as a warning about some dealers (though certainly not all) in print-on-demand copies.

Thank you, Bob, for this timely warning for all involved in Rubaiyat related purchases or publishing, whether off- or on-line.

More on Isabel Hawxhurst Hall – a previously little known Rubaiyat artist

November 23, 2019

RF!HH Fig.01Back in 2014, Bob Forrest drew our attention to the copy of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat that was published in 1911, with illustrations by a young American artist called Isabel Hawxhurst Hall (IHH).  He highlighted the fact that very little seemed to be known about the artist or her other work, and he asked whether anyone else knew more.  Bob subsequently published an analysis of IHH’s work on the Rubaiyat in an article on his own website – see and earlier references.

Since then Bob, with the co-operation of another blog contributor Joe Howard, has done further research on this interesting artist and he has published a more extensive biography and analysis of the work of IHH as .  In this new article, Bob has brought together his detailed analysis of IHH’s illustrations for the Rubaiyat, with newly discovered information on her biography and her other work.  It appears that the Rubaiyat was the only book that she illustrated, but that she went on to become a well-known designer of craft-works.  Stained glass was one of her specialities, but she also did designs for a variety of textiles, wallpapers, wrapping papers, and much more.

As part of his article, Bob presents a detailed analysis of IHH’s diary for 1934-35, which was identified as being in the Library of the Brooklyn Historical Society.  This analysis, using a copy of the diary provided by Joe Howard, gives a fascinating insight into the life of a working artist and designer in the period.

Altogether we must all be grateful to Bob and Joe for helping us to learn more about another previously little known Rubaiyat artist.


Bob’s article has now been published as number 11 in his series of booklets on artists who have illustrated the Rubaiyat.  For more information on the limited circulation of these booklets, see

Is Omar Khayyam going out of favour in Iran?

November 13, 2019

OK kenVincent 0218Jos Coumans has sent us the following link to an article recently posted by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL):

The post is headed Textbook Changes: Iranian Fighter Slain In Syria May Replace Literary Giant Omar Khayyam, and it suggests that the educational authorities have been removing works by famous literary and poetic figures, including Omar Khayyam, from educational textbooks in favour the study of other modern Iranian figures more in line with current educational policies.

The article includes many criticisms of this reported change, as well as counter comments from the Iranian educational authorities.  Domestic media are quoted as the source of the report.  The piece makes an interesting read, but readers should be aware the RFE/RL is a US government-funded organisation and so may not be an entirely unbiased source of information.  It would be interesting to know more of any specific articles on the subject from Iranian sources.