Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

Original Text: 
[Edward Fitzgerald], Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (March 1859). See Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám / translated into English quatrains by Edward FitzGerald; a complete reprint of the 1st ed. and the combined 3d, 4th, and 5th editions, with an appendix containing Fitzgerald's prefaces and notes, ed. Louis Untermeyer (New York: Random House, 1947). PK 6513 .A1 St. Michael's College Library.
3     And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
4The Sultan's Turret in a Noose of Light.
6I heard a Voice within the Tavern cry,
7     "Awake, my Little ones, and fill the Cup
8Before Life's Liquor in its Cup be dry."
9And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
10The Tavern shouted--"Open then the Door!
11     You know how little while we have to stay,
12And, once departed, may return no more."
14The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
19     But still the Vine her ancient Ruby yields,
20And still a Garden by the Water blows.
23Red Wine!"--the Nightingale cries to the Rose
24That yellow Cheek of hers to' incarnadine.
25Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
26The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
27     The Bird of Time has but a little way
28To fly--and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.
29And look--a thousand Blossoms with the Day
30Woke--and a thousand scatter'd into Clay:
31     And this first Summer Month that brings the Rose
32Shall take Jamsh{'y}d and Kaikobád away.
33But come with old Khayyám, and leave the Lot
37With me along some Strip of Herbage strown
38That just divides the desert from the sown,
39     Where name of Slave and Sultán scarce is known,
41Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
42A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse--and Thou
43     Beside me singing in the Wilderness--
44And Wilderness is Paradise enow.
45"How sweet is mortal Sovranty!"--think some:
46Others--"How blest the Paradise to come!"
47     Ah, take the Cash in hand and waive the Rest;
48Oh, the brave Music of a distant Drum!
49Look to the Rose that blows about us--"Lo,
50Laughing," she says, "into the World I blow:
51     At once the silken Tassel of my Purse
52Tear, and its Treasure on the Garden throw."
53The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
54Turns Ashes--or it prospers; and anon,
55     Like Snow upon the Desert's dusty Face
56Lighting a little Hour or two--is gone.
58And those who flung it to the Winds like Rain,
59     Alike to no such aureate Earth are turn'd
62Whose Doorways are alternate Night and Day,
63     How Sultán after Sultán with his Pomp
64Abode his Hour or two, and went his way.
65They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
68Stamps o'er his Head, and he lies fast asleep.
69I sometimes think that never blows so red
70The Rose as where some buried Cæsar bled;
71     That every Hyacinth the Garden wears
72Dropt in its Lap from some once lovely Head.
73And this delightful Herb whose tender Green
74Fledges the River's Lip on which we lean--
75     Ah, lean upon it lightly! for who knows
76From what once lovely Lip it springs unseen!
77Ah, my Beloved, fill the Cup that clears
78TO-DAY of past Regrets and future Fears--
79     To-morrow?--Why, To-morrow I may be
81Lo! some we lov'd, the loveliest and best
82That Time and Fate of all their Vintage prest,
83     Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,
84And one by one crept silently to Rest.
85And we, that now make merry in the Room
86They left, and Summer dresses in new Bloom,
87     Ourselves must we beneath the Couch of Earth
88Descend, ourselves to make a Couch--for whom?
89Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
90Before we too into the Dust descend;
91     Dust into Dust, and under Dust, to lie,
92Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and--sans End!
93Alike for those who for TO-DAY prepare,
94And those that after a TO-MORROW stare,
96"Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There!"
97Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss'd
98Of the Two Worlds so learnedly are thrust
99     Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
100Are scatter'd, and their Mouths are stopt with Dust.
102To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
103     One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
104The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.
105Myself when young did eagerly frequent
106Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
107     About it and about: but evermore
108Came out by the same Door as in I went.
109With them the Seed of Wisdom did I sow,
110And with my own hand labour'd it to grow:
111     And this was all the Harvest that I reap'd--
112"I came like Water, and like Wind I go."
113Into this Universe, and why not knowing,
114Nor whence like Water willy-nilly flowing:
115And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
116I know not whither willy-nilly blowing.
118And, without asking, whither hurried hence!
119     Another and another Cup to drown
120The Memory of this Impertinence!
122I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate,
123     And many Knots unravel'd by the Road;
124But not the Knot of Human Death and Fate.
125There was a Door to which I found no Key:
126There was a Veil past which I could not see:
128There seem'd--and then no more of THEE and ME.
130Asking, "What Lamp had Destiny to guide
131     Her little Children stumbling in the Dark?"
132And--"A blind Understanding!" Heav'n replied.
133Then to this earthen Bowl did I adjourn
134My Lip the secret Well of Life to learn:
135     And Lip to Lip it murmur'd--"While you live
136Drink!--for once dead you never shall return."
138Articulation answer'd, once did live,
139     And merry-make; and the cold Lip I kiss'd
140How many Kisses might it take--and give!
141For in the Market-place, one Dusk of Day,
142I watch'd the Potter thumping his wet Clay:
143     And with its all obliterated Tongue
144It murmur'd--"Gently, Brother, gently, pray!"
145Ah, fill the Cup:--what boots it to repeat
146How Time is slipping underneath our Feet:
147     Unborn TO-MORROW, and dead YESTERDAY,
148Why fret about them if TO-DAY be sweet!
149One Moment in Annihilation's Waste,
150One Moment, of the Well of Life to taste--
151     The Stars are setting and the Caravan
152Starts for the Dawn of Nothing--Oh, make haste!
153How long, how long, in infinite Pursuit
154Of This and That endeavour and dispute?
155     Better be merry with the fruitful Grape
156Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.
157You know, my Friends, how long since in my House
158For a new Marriage I did make Carouse:
159     Divorc'd old barren Reason from my Bed,
160And took the Daughter of the Vine to Spouse.
162And "UP-AND-DOWN" without I could define,
163     I yet in all I only cared to know,
164Was never deep in anything but--Wine.
165And lately, by the Tavern Door agape,
167     Bearing a Vessel on his Shoulder; and
168He bid me taste of it; and 'twas--the Grape!
169The Grape that can with Logic absolute
171     The subtle Alchemist that in a Trice
172Life's leaden Metal into Gold transmute:
175     Of Fears and Sorrows that infest the Soul
176Scatters and slays with his enchanted Sword.
177But leave the Wise to wrangle, and with me
178The Quarrel of the Universe let be:
179     And, in some corner of the Hubbub coucht,
180Make Game of that which makes as much of Thee.
181For in and out, above, about, below,
183     Play'd in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
184Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.
185And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
186End in the Nothing all Things end in--Yes--
187     Then fancy while Thou art, Thou art but what
188Thou shalt be--Nothing--Thou shalt not be less.
190With old Khayyám the Ruby Vintage drink:
191     And when the Angel with his darker Draught
192Draws up to Thee--take that, and do not shrink.
193'Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
194Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
196And one by one back in the Closet lays.
197The Ball no Question makes of Ayes and Noes,
198But Right or Left as strikes the Player goes;
199     And He that toss'd Thee down into the Field,
200He knows about it all--HE knows--HE knows!
201The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
202Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
203     Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
204Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
205And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
206Whereunder crawling coop't we live and die,
207     Lift not thy hands to It for help--for It
208Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.
209With Earth's first Clay They did the Last Man's knead,
210And then of the Last Harvest sow'd the Seed:
211     Yea, the first Morning of Creation wrote
212What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.
216In my predestin'd Plot of Dust and Soul
217The Vine had struck a Fibre; which about
219     Of my Base Metal may be fil'd a Key
220That shall unlock the Door he howls without.
221And this I know: whether the one True Light
222Kindle to Love, or Wrath consume me quite,
223     One Glimpse of It within the Tavern caught
224Better than in the Temple lost outright.
226Beset the Road I was to wander in,
228Enmesh me, and impute my Fall to Sin?
229Oh, Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make,
230And who with Eden didst devise the Snake;
    * * * *
233Listen again. One Evening at the Close
235     In that old Potter's Shop I stood alone
236With the clay Population round in Rows.
237And, strange to tell, among that Earthen Lot
238Some could articulate, while others not:
239     And suddenly one more impatient cried--
240"Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?"
241Then said another--"Surely not in vain
242My Substance from the common Earth was ta'en,
243     That He who subtly wrought me into Shape
244Should stamp me back to common Earth again."
245Another said--"Why, ne'er a peevish Boy
246Would break the Bowl from which he drank in Joy;
247     Shall He that made the Vessel in pure Love
248And Fancy, in an after Rage destroy!"
249None answer'd this; but after Silence spake
250A Vessel of a more ungainly Make:
251     "They sneer at me for leaning all awry;
252What! did the Hand then of the Potter shake?"
254And daub his Visage with the Smoke of Hell;
255     They talk of some strict Testing of us--Pish!
256He's a Good Fellow, and 'twill all be well."
257Then said another with a long-drawn Sigh,
258"My Clay with long oblivion is gone dry:
259     But, fill me with the old familiar Juice,
260Methinks I might recover by-and-bye!"
261So while the Vessels one by one were speaking,
263     And then they jogg'd each other, "Brother! Brother!
265Ah, with the Grape my fading Life provide,
266And wash my Body whence the Life has died,
267     And in a Windingsheet of Vine-leaf wrapt,
268So bury me by some sweet Garden-side.
269That ev'n my buried Ashes such a Snare
270Of Perfume shall fling up into the Air,
271     As not a True Believer passing by
272But shall be overtaken unaware.
273Indeed the Idols I have lov'd so long
274Have done my Credit in Men's Eye much wrong:
275     Have drown'd my Honour in a shallow Cup,
276And sold my Reputation for a Song.
277Indeed, indeed, Repentance oft before
278I swore--but was I sober when I swore?
279     And then and then came Spring, and Rose-in-hand
280My thread-bare Penitence apieces tore.
281And much as Wine has play'd the Infidel,
282And robb'd me of my Robe of Honour--well
283     I often wonder what the Vintners buy
284One half so precious as the Goods they sell.
285Alas, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
286That Youth's sweet-scented Manuscript should close!
287     The Nightingale that in the Branches sang,
288Ah, whence, and whither flown again, who knows!
290To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
291     Would not we shatter it to bits--and then
292Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!
293Ah, Moon of my Delight who know'st no wane,
294The Moon of Heav'n is rising once again:
295     How oft hereafter rising shall she look
296Through this same Garden after me in vain!
298Among the Guests Star-scatter'd on the Grass
299     And in thy joyous Errand reach the Spot
300Where I made one--turn down an empty Glass!


1] Omar Khayyám, Persian astronomer, mathematician, philosopher and poet, lived at Naishápúr in Khorassán in the second half of the eleventh and the first quarter of the twelfth century A.D. The traditional Persian stanza he employed, the rubái, consisted of two verses of varied prosody divided into hemistichs, with the first, second and fourth hemistichs rhyming--and occasionally the third as well. FitzGerald's stanza, a pentameter quatrain with aaba rhyme, is similar in form to Omar's although less varied in its rhythm. In the Persian original each rubái is an independent composition, its thought condensed and polished to the form of epigram. Collections of rubáiyát were made, not by grouping together stanzas similar in subject matter, but by arranging the independent units in an alphabetic sequence. The result is, as FitzGerald said, "a strange farrago of grave and gay," with recurring motifs but without essential unity or progression of theme or mood. Studying some six hundred rubáiyát in the two Omar manuscripts available to him, FitzGerald saw that by selection and arrangement "a very pretty eclogue might be tesselated out of his scattered fragments." The controlling design was outlined by FitzGerald in a letter to his publisher: "[The poet] begins with dawn pretty sober and contemplative; then as he thinks and drinks, grows savage, blasphemous, etc., and then again sobers down into melancholy at nightfall." FitzGerald recognized that his plan altered somewhat the balance of moods in Omar, allowing "a less than equal proportion of the 'Drink and make merry,' which (genuine or not) recurs over-frequently in the original." Since Omar's own day there have been recurrent attempts to interpret in a mystical sense the poet's glorification of wine and the joys of the moment. FitzGerald viewed the rubáiyát more literally: "... his worldly pleasures are what they profess to be without any pretence at divine allegory: his wine is the veritable juice of the grape: his tavern, where it was to be had: his Saki, the flesh and blood that poured it out for him: all which, and where the roses were in bloom, was all he profess'd to want of this world or to expect of paradise." As translator, FitzGerald was concerned not with literal accuracy but with securing a forceful and lively equivalent: "Better a live sparrow than a stuffed eagle." As Persian scholar, he was a dedicated and careful amateur. When he encountered difficulties in interpreting Omar, he consulted his friend and unofficial tutor, E. B. Cowell who later became a distinguished Sanskrit scholar but who, in the 1850's, was rather a keen and gifted student of Oriental languages than an authoritative guide. The first edition of FitzGerald's Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám appeared anonymously in March 1859. The poem underwent extensive revision for successive editions in 1868 (with 110 quatrains), 1872 (101 quatrains), and 1879. FitzGerald's publisher, Bernard Quaritch, had named him as Omar's translator in a book catalogue in the autumn of 1868, but that mention went unnoticed and FitzGerald was not formally recognized as the author of the Rubáiyát until March 1876, in an article in the Contemporary Review. The text printed here is that of the first edition. Textual notes in quotation marks are FitzGerald's notes from that edition. The best recent edition of the 1859 version is A. J. Arberry's The Romance of the Rubáiyát, London, 1959.

Comparison of a literal translation of the Persian original of lines 1-4 with FitzGerald's successive versions will exemplify his method of translation and recension:

Literal: The sun has thrown the lassoo of dawn over the roof; the emperor of day has thrown the stone into the cup.

1859: Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo ! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultán's Turret in a Noose of Light.

1868: Wake! For the Sun behind yon Eastern height
Has chased the Session of the Stars from Night;
And, to the field of Heav'n ascending, strikes
The Sultán's Turret with a Shaft of Light.

1872-79: Wake! For the Sun who scatter'd into flight
The Stars before him from the Field of Night
Drives Night along with them from Heav'n, and strikes
The Sultán's Turret with a Shaft of Light.
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2] "Flinging a stone into the cup was the signal for 'To horse!' in the desert." Back to Line
5] Dawn's left hand: "the 'false dawn;' ... a transient light on the horizon about an hour before the ... true dawn; a well-known phenomenon in the East." Back to Line
13] New Year. The Persian year began with the vernal equinox. Back to Line
15] the White Hand of Moses: an allusion to the sudden appearance of clusters of white blossoms on flowering trees in the spring. FitzGerald cites Exodus 4:6, "where Moses draws forth his hand--not, according to the Persians, 'leprous as snow',--but white as our May-blossom in spring perhaps." Back to Line
16] suspires: breathes. According to Moslem belief the breath of Christ is a continuously vivifying force, keeping the world alive. The poet alludes here to the earth's renewed vitality in spring. Back to Line
17] Iram: a legendary garden city, "now sunk somewhere in the sands of Arabia." Back to Line
18] Jamshýd: monarch of the mythical Pishdadian dynasty--oldest dynasty of Persian legend. "King Splendid" of a golden age, Jamsh{'y}d is credited, in his seven-hundred-year-long reign with the building of Persepolis, the invention of most of the arts of civilization, and the discovery of the benefits of wine. In later Islamic legend he is identified with both King Solomon and Alexander the Great.
Sev'n-ring'd Cup: a magic cup, famous in Persian legend, in which all the activities of the world could be seen. Seven, of course, is a mystic number; FitzGerald comments: "typical of the seven heavens, seven planets, seven seas, etc." Back to Line
21] David. In Persian poetry David appears as sweet singer and lutanist. FitzGerald probably intends to add the connotation of the sacred singer whose lips are now silent, whereas the nightingale, celebrating the joys of the fleeting present, sings on. Back to Line
22] Pehleví. In a strict sense, Pahlavi is Middle Persian, the language from about the third to the seventh centuries. In Persian literature, however, Pahlavi is not so much a chronological term as a richly connotative one, gathering up memories of pre-Islamic Persian greatness. Back to Line
34] Kaikobád and Kaikhosrú: legendary kings of ancient Persia, members of the Kaianid dynasty, celebrated in Firdausí's Sháh-náma. Their names are evocative of past splendour and heroic action. Back to Line
35] Rustum: the Hercules of Persian legend, champion for centuries of the Kaianid monarchs. Rustum is known to English readers through Matthew Arnold's Sohrab and Rustum. Back to Line
36] Hátim Tai: an Arab who beggared himself by his excessive bounty. He became, in Oriental literature, a type of lavish generosity. Back to Line
40] Sultán Mahmúd: Mahmúd of Ghazna, eleventh-century ruler of part of eastern Persia and a large area of Afghanistan, and conqueror of northern India. His celebrated devotion to his slave boy, Ayáz, may be alluded to in line 39. Back to Line
57] Golden Grain: money. Back to Line
60] The burial of treasure, an economic necessity to preserve it from theft, is a recurring theme in Persian poetry. Back to Line
61] Caravanserai: an inn providing shelter for caravans; here it is an image for the world. Back to Line
66] Courts: Persepolis, called the "Throne of Jamshyd" because tradition named him as its founder. Back to Line
67] Bahrám: a Persian sovereign of the Sassanid dynasty (ca. 421-38), called Bahrám Gúr--Bahrám of the Wild Ass--for his strength and skill, and his prowess in the hunt. Back to Line
80] Yesterday's Sev'n Thousand Years: FitzGerald comments cryptically: "a thousand years to each planet." The Persian may be literally translated: "We shall be level with those of seven thousand years ago." Back to Line
95] Muezzin: a public crier who proclaims the hour of prayer from the minaret of a mosque. Back to Line
101] In the second and subsequent editions these lines were altered to read: "Oh threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!/One thing at least is certain--This Life flies." Back to Line
117] The Persian original of this quatrain much milder: "Since neither my entrance into the world nor my departure from it depend upon my own design, rise up, O nimble cup-bearer, for I will wash down the grief of the world with wine" (Ougley MS., 21). Back to Line
121] Omar claims he has pursued knowledge to its farthest human limit. According to the Ptolemaic system the sphere of Saturn was the outermost of the seven concentric planetary spheres surrounding the earth. Back to Line
127] Me and Thee: "that is, some dividual existence or personality apart from the whole." Back to Line
129] The final version of this stanza reads:
Then of the THEE IN ME who works behind
The Veil, I lifted up my hands to find
A Lamp amid the Darkness; and I heard
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137] Omar frequently ponders the irony of human dust become potter's clay. Back to Line
161] FitzGerald comments: "A jest, of course, at his studies" (note from second edition). Omar was bothphilosopher and mathematician. Back to Line
166] Angel Shape. FitzGerald's misreading of pírí (old man) as pirí (fairy) has radically altered the spirit of the Persian original of the quatrain. Back to Line
170] the Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects: "The seventy-two sects into which Islamism so soon split." This note from the first edition is a more accurate rendering of Mohammedan tradition than the revised note of the second and later editions, which reads: "The seventy-two religions supposed to divide the world, including Islamism, as some think: but others not." Back to Line
173] Mahmúd: see the note at line 40, introduced as metaphor to express the power of wine to dispel sorrow. Back to Line
174] misbelieving and black Horde. "This alludes to Mahmúd's conquest of India and its swarthy idolaters." In later editions FitzGerald made an interesting change in wording from "swarthy idolaters," a term which accurately expressed the traditional Persian view of Indians, to the less invidious "dark people." Back to Line
182] Magic Shadow-Show: a magic lantern used all through the middle East, in some places even up to the present time, "the cylindrical interior being painted with various figures, and so lightly poised and ventilated as to revolve round the candle lighted within." Back to Line
189] In its third and final version this stanza reads:
So when the Angel of the darker Drink
At last shall find you by the river-brink,
And, offering his Cup, invite your Soul
Forth to your Lips to quaff--you shall not shrink.
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195] mates: checkmates. Back to Line
213] starting from the Goal: continues the concept introduced in stanza LIII: goal and starting point are one in the cycle of existence. Back to Line
214] flaming Foal Of Heav'n: a common metaphor for the sun in Persian literature. Back to Line
215] Parwín and Mushtara: the Pleiades and Jupiter. Back to Line
218] Súfi: Moslem mystic and ascetic. The name early became associated with extravagant observances and a sense of election. Back to Line
225] Gin: snare. Back to Line
227] Predestination: in the second and subsequent editions this word was altered to read "Predestin'dEvil." Back to Line
231] These two lines were based on FitzGerald's misconception of a perfectly orthodox passage in Omar (Calcutta MS., 292): "O Lord, grant me repentance and accept my excuse, You who grant repentance and accept the excuse of every man." E. B. Cowell pointed out to FitzGerald his misinterpretation of Omar's lines, but FitzGerald chose to retain what he had written, believing it consistent with Omar's general spirit. Back to Line
232] KÚZANAMA: "Book of Pots"; the sub-heading was removed in later editions. FitzGerald notes in the third edition: "This relation of Pot and Potter to Man and his Maker figures far and wide in the literature of the world, from the time of the Hebrew prophets to the present." In FitzGerald's own day Browning made notable use of the metaphor in "Rabbi Ben Ezra," possibly in reply to FitzGerald's Omar. Back to Line
234] Ramazán: in Islam a month of strict fasting.
better Moon: the new moon heralding the end of Ramazán and ushering in the month of Shawwál with a three-day long festival. Back to Line
253] In its final version this stanza reads:
`Why,' said another, `Some there are who tell
Of one who threatens he will toss to Hell
The luckless Pots he marr'd in making--Pish!
He's a Good Fellow, and 't will all be well."
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262] little Crescent: the "better Moon" of line 234. Back to Line
264] the Porter's shoulder-knot: a device for carrying his wares--jars of wine to celebrate the end of Ramazán. Back to Line
289] In the third and fourth editions this line became: "Ah, Love! could you and I with Him conspire." Back to Line
297] Thyself: the "Moon of my Delight" of line 293, the Sákí who pours his wine.
TAMÁM SHUD: The End. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Margaret Frances (Sister St. Francis) Nims
RPO Edition: 
3RP 3.11.