The Rubaiyat of Omar Cayenne

Original Text: 
Gelett Burgess, The Rubaiyat of Omar Cayenne (New York: Frederick A Stokes, 1904).
4Our Modern Literature with blithering Blight.
5Before Historical Romances died,
6Methought a Voice from Art's Olympus cried,
9A cock-sure Crew with Names ne'er heard before
10Greedily shouted -- "Open then the Door!
11    You know how little Stuff is going to live,
12But where it came from there is plenty More."
13Now the New Year reviving old Desires,
15    But of the Stuff the Publisher puts out
16Most in the Paper Basket soon suspires.
19    But still the Author gushes overtime,
20And many a Poet babbles on in Prose.
22High-piping Authoresses, boomed shy-high.
23    "How fine!" -- the Publisher cries to the Mob,
24That monumental Cheek to justify.
25Come, fill the Purse, to Publishers, this Spring,
26Your Manuscripts of paltry Passion bring:
27    The New York Times has oft a little Way
28Of praising -- let The Times your praises sing.
29Whether by Century or Doubleday,
30Whether Macmillan or the Harpers pay,
31    The Publisher prints new books every Year;
32The Critics will keep Busy, anyway!
33Each Morn a thousand Volumes brings, you say;
34Yes, but who reads the Books of Yesterday?
35    And this first Autumn List that brings the New
37Well, let it take them! What, are we not through
41With me despise this kind of Fiction rude
42That just divides the Rotten from the Good,
45A Book of Limericks -- Nonsense, anyhow --
46Alice in Wonderland, the Purpose Cow
48Ah, this were Modern Literature enow!
53Look to the blowing Advertiser -- "Lo,
55    I advertise until I've drained my Purse,
56And huge Editions on the Market throw."
58And those who shuddered at her Jests profane,
59    Alike consigned her to Oblivion,
60And buried once, would not dig up again.
63    Remained unopened on the dusty Shelf,
64Delighting us an Hour -- and then was gone.
65Think, in this gaudy monthly Magazine
67    How Author after Author with his Tale
72Has Coin ahead; Cash comes to him in Heaps!
73I sometimes think that never Prose is read
74So good as that by Advertising bred,
77And this audacious Author, young and green
79    Ah, look upon him lightly! for who knows
81Ah, my Belovèd, write the Book that clears
82TO-DAY of dreary Debt and sad Arrears;
83    To-morrow! -- Why, To-morrow I may see
85For some we've read, the month's Six Selling Best
87    Have sold a half a Million in a Year,
88Yet no one ever heard of them, out West!
89And we, that now within the Editor's Room
90Make merry while we have our little Boom,
91    Ourselves must we give way to next month's Set --
93Ah, make the most of what we yet may do,
94Before our Royalties have vanish'd, too,
95    Book after Book, and under Book to lie,
96Sans Page, sans Cover, Reader -- or Review!
97Alike for those who for TO-DAY have Shame,
98And those who strive for some TO-MORROW's Fame,
99    A Critic from anonymous Darkness cries,
100"Fools, your Reward will fool you, just the Same!"
102Of the Two Worlds so learnedly, is thrust
104Are scatter'd, and her Books by Critics cussed.
105Myself when young did eagerly peruse
107    My Reason, trying to make Head or Tail;
108The more I read, the more did they confuse.
109With them the Germs of Madness did I sow,
111    Yet this was all the Answer that I found --
112"What it is all about, I do not know!"
113Into the Library, and Why not knowing,
114Nor What I Want, I find myself a-going;
115    And out of it, with Nothing fit to Read --
116Such is the Catalogue's anæmic Showing.
117What, without asking, to be hypotized
120Must drown the thought of Novels Dramatized!
121Up from the Country, into gay Broadway
123    And many a Tale I read and understood,
125There was a Plot to which I found no Key;
126And Others seem to be as Dull as Me;
127    Some little talk there was of Ghosts, and Such,
128Then Mrs. Bathurst left me more at Sea!
131    In futile Wonder and in blank Dismay;
132Say, is there ANY Meaning to that Tale?
133Then of the Critic, he who works behind
134The Author's back, I tried the Clue to find;
135    But he, too, was in Darkness; and I heard
136A Literary Agent say -- "THEY ALL ARE BLIND!"
137Then, from the lips of Editor, I learn,
138"This Story is the Kind for which I Yearn;
139    Its Advertising brought us such Renown,
140We jumped Three Hundred Thousand, on that Turn!"
141I think the man exaggerated some
143    If I could get Two Thousand for one Tale,
144I'd write him Something that would simply Hum!
145For I remember, shopping by the way,
147    And there was scrawled across its Title-Page,
148"This is the Stuff that Sells -- so People say!"
149Listen -- a moment listen! -- Of the same
152They both will rot asunder -- who's to Blame?"
153And not a Book that from our Shelves we throw
154To the Salvation Army, but shall go
155    To vitiate the Taste of some poor Soul
156Who can get nothing else to read -- go Slow!
157As then the Poet for his morning Sup
158Fills with a Metaphor his mental Cup,
159    Do you devoutly read your Manuscripts
160That Someone may, before you burn them up!
161Perplex'd no more with editorial "Nay"
162To-morrow's Reputation cast away,
163    And lose your College Education in
164The flippant, foolish Fiction of To-day.
165And if the Bosh you write, the Trash you read,
166End in the Garbage Barrel -- take no Heed;
167    Think that you are no worse than other Scribes,
168Who scribble Stuff to meet the Public Need.
169So, when WHO'S-WHO records your silly Name,
170You'll think that you have found the Road to Fame;
171    And though ten thousand other Names are there,
172You'll fancy you're a Genius, just the Same!
173Why, if an Author can fling Art aside,
174And in a Book of Balderdash take Pride,
175    Wer't not a Shame -- wer't not a Shame for him
176A Conscientious Novel to have tried?
177Writing's a Trade where Newspapers pay best;
179    So join the Union, like the rest of us --
180Who strikes for Art is looked at as a Jest.
181And fear not, if the Editor refuse
182Your work, he has no more from which to choose;
183    The Literary Microbe shall bring forth
184Millions of Manuscripts too bad to use.
189A Moment's Halt -- Pray see this charming, chaste
190Ladies' Home Journal -- "On the New Skirt Waist" --
191    "Advice to Girls," and so forth -- here is reach'd
192The Nothing women yearn for, undebased!
193Would you a hurried Lunch Hour wish to spend
194About THE SECRET -- hearken to me, Friend!
195     The Editors themselves must guess their Way --
196And on their Wives' and Sisters' Hints depend!
197A Hair perhaps divides the Good from Bad;
199    Before he found Stenographers were Wise --
200Then, as they laughed or wept, his Soul was glad.
201The Woman's Touch runs through our Magazines;
202For her the Home-and-Mother Tale, and Scenes
203    Of Love-and-Action, Happy at the End --
204The same old Plots, the same old Ways and Means.
205The Theme once guess'd, the Tale's as good as told,
206Though Dialect and Local Color mould;
207    This Style will last throughout Eternity,
208While Women buy our Books -- if Books are sold.
209But if, in spite of this, you build a Plot
210Which these immortal Elements has not,
211    You gaze TO-DAY upon a Slip, which reads:
212"The Editor Regrets" -- and such-like Rot.
213Waste not your Ink, and don't attempt to use
214That Subtle Touch which Editors refuse;
215    Better be jocund at two cents a word
216Than, starving, court an ill-requited Muse!
217You know, my Friends, I've done with Purple Cows,
218And long to sober Fiction paid my Vows;
219    Spontaneous Glee is mighty hard to Sell --
221For Stuff and Nonsense being in my Line,
222As Nonsense modern Fiction I define;
223    But of the sort that one would care for, I
224Can find but Little -- and that Little's mine!
225Ah, but this wholesale Satire, you may say,
226Makes me pretend to be a Critic -- Nay!
227    Rather be roasted than to roast, say I;
228And I have been well roasted, by the way!
229And lately, in a Studio, a Miss
230Sat smiling o'er a Book -- and it was this:
232Bidding me pay attention -- it was Bliss!
233Bliss Carman, who with genius absolute,
234My poor satiric Logic can confute;
235    The only Poet who, in modern Days,
236His Poems can to clinking Gold transmute!
237The vagrant Singer, how does he, good Lord,
238Compete with such a money-making Horde
239    Of tinsel rhymesters that infest the Shops?
240They say he makes enough to pay his Board!
241Why, be our Talent truly Art, how dare
243    And if it's Rot, as our Rejections hint,
244God knows the things they print are Rot, for Fair!
245I must abjure Dramatic Force, I must
246Take the Sub-Editor's decree on Trust,
247    Or, lured by hope of selling something Good,
248Write out my Heart -- then burn it in Disgust!
249Oh, threats of Failure, hopes of Royalties!
250One thing at least I've sold -- these Parodies;
251    One thing is certain, Satire always sells;
252The Roast is read, no matter where it is.
253Strange, is it not? that of the Authors who
254Publish in England, such a mighty Few
255    Make a Success, though here they score a Hit?
256The British Public knows a Thing or Two!
257By Revelations of the Past we've learn'd
258The Yankee Author usually is burn'd;
259    All of our Story Writers say the Same;
260The London Critic all their Books have spurn'd.
261I sent my Agent where the Buyers dwell,
262Some clever Stories of my own to sell:
263    And by and by the Agent said to me,
264"One thing I sold -- that's doing Mighty Well!"
265So Heaven seems tame indeed when I behold
266Editions of Five Hundred Thousand sold;
267    When Clippings show how Critics scorch me, then
268Hell's Roasting seems comparatively Cold!
269We are no other than a passing Show
270Of clumsy Mountebanks that come and go
271    To please the General Public; now, who gave
272To IT the right to judge, I'd like to know?
273Impotent Writers bound to feed ITS taste
274For Literature and Poetry debased;
275    Hither and thither pandering we strive,
276And one by one our Talents are disgraced.
277The Scribe no question makes of Verse or Prose,
278But what the Editor demands he shows;
280He knows what People want -- you Bet He knows!
282No Rules of Rhetoric bother him a Bit,
283    Or lure him back to cancel half a Line,
284Nor Grammar's protests change a Word of it.
285And though you wring your Hands and wonder Why
286Such slipshod Work the Magazines will buy,
287     Don't grumble at the Editor, for he
288Must serve the Public, e'en as You and I.
292The Sunday Comic-Section readers read.
293YESTERDAY This Day's popular Song supplants;
294TO-MORROW'S will be even worse, perchance:
296Drink! Now the music is an Indian Dance!
297I tell you this -- When, started from the Goal,
298The first Plantation Ditty 'gan to roll
299    Through Minstrel Troupes and Negro Baritones
300In its predestined race from Pole to Pole,
301The Song had caught a Rag-Time girls could shout
302And Piano-Organs make a Din about;
303    But syncopated Melodies at last
304Will pass away, and more shall come, no doubt.
305And this I know: though Vaudeville delight,
306Musical Comedy can bore me quite;
309What! out of senseless Show-Girls to evoke
310A Drama? Surely, I resent the Joke!
311    For me, it is not Pleasure, but a Pain --
312An Everlasting Bore for decent Folk.
313What, must the Theatre Manager be paid --
314Our Gold for what his Carpenter has made --
315    Must we pay Stars we never did Contract,
316And cannot hiss at? -- Oh, the sorry trade!
317Oh Thou, who dost with cool sarcastic Grin
318Scorn the poor Magazine my Story's in,
319    Though Thou impute to ignorance my Work,
320I know how bad 't will be, ere I begin!
321Oh Thou, whose Taste demandeth silly Tales,
322Damning the Author when he Tries and Fails,
323    Let us toss up to see which one is Worse --
324Thy Fault or mine -- Which is it, Heads or Tails?
* * * * *
325As, for his Luncheon Hour, away had slipp'd
326The Editor, his Office-Boy I tipp'd,
327    And once again before the Sacred Desk
328I stood, surrounded by much Manuscript.
329Manuscripts of all Sizes, great and small,
330Upon that Desk, in Numbers to appall!
331    And Some looked very interesting; some
332I saw no Sign of Merit in, at all.
333Said one among them -- "Surely not in vain
334My Author has exhausted all his Brain
335    In writing me, to be rejected here --
336I'd hate to have to be sent back again!"
337Then said a Second -- "Ne'er a Girl or Boy
338Such Stuff as I am really could enjoy:
339    Yet He who wrote me, when I am return'd,
340Will me with Curse and bitter Wrath destroy!"
341After a literary Silence spake
342A Manuscript of Henry James's make;
343    "They sneer at me for being so occult:
344But Kipling's found such Stuff is going to Take!"
345Whereat some one of the typewritten Lot --
347    "All this of Shop and Patter -- Tell me then,
349"Why," said another, "Some there are who tell
350Of one who threatens he will toss to Hell
351    The luckless Tales he marr'd in making -- Pish!
352He's a blamed Fool, Any Old Thing will sell!"
353"Well," murmur'd one, "Let whoso write or buy,
354My words with long Oblivion are gone dry:
356Methinks I'd sell at Christmas time; I'll try!"
357So while the Manuscripts were wisely speaking,
358The Editor came in whom I was seeking:
359    And then they signall'd to me, "Brother! Brother!
360Yours is rejected! You had best be sneaking!"
* * * * *
362He tombs a Body whence the Life has died,
363    And no one seems to turn a single leaf
364Upon the unfrequented Classic side,
365Unless to see some First Edition rare,
366Or curious styles of Binding to compare;
368But of the Authur bound, are unaware!
369Indeed, Rare Books that they have yearn'd for long
370Have done their Literary Taste much wrong:
372(I mean the stupid Burton) for a Song!
373Indeed, such First Editions oft before
374I envied, but they proved to be a Bore.
375    Why, are not Tenth Editions still more rare?
376Mine are! Why are they not worth even more?
377And much as Art has play'd the Infidel
378And robb'd me of my Royalties -- Ah, well,
379    I often wonder what the Women read
380One half as clever as the Stuff I sell!
381Yet Ah, that Spring should come to bring our Woes!
382That Christmas Season's Sales should ever close!
383    The Book whose praises loud the Critic sang,
384Is not the one that sells the most, God knows!
385Would but these Book Reviewers ever yield
386One glimpse -- if dimly, yet indeed, reveal'd
387    Of what the fainting Traveller can read
388Worth reading -- but the Critic's eyes are seal'd.
389Would but some wingèd Angel bring the News
390Of Critic who reads Books that he Reviews!
391    And make the stern Reviewer do as well
392Himself, before he Meed of Praise refuse!
393Ah, Love! could you and I perchance succeed
394In boiling down the Million Books we read
395    Into One Book, and edit that a Bit --
396There'd be a WORLD'S BEST LITERATURE, indeed!
* * * * *
397Oh, rising Author, read Me once again
398Before my Memory gradually wane!
399    How oft hereafter you may look for me
400In this same Library -- and look in vain!
401And when, dear Reader, you shall chance to spend
402A night within The Hall of Fame -- attend!
403    If, in that blissful call, you find the Spot
404Where I broke in -- don't turn me down, my friend!


1] Title: after Edward Fitzgerald's "Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám" (1859).
Cayenne: pungent pepper.
Hack: paid writer, a literary drudge named after the hackney, a run-down horse for hire. Back to Line
2] Shakespere: an old spelling of Shakespeare's name. Back to Line
3] Penny-a-liner: a writer paid one cent for every line produced. Back to Line
7] Dumas: Alexandre Dumas (1803-70), well-known still for a multitude of historical fictions such as Les Trois Mousquetaires and Comte de Monte-Cristo.
Scott: Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), better known for historical novels like Rob Roy (1817), The Heart of Midlothian (1818), and Ivanhoe (1819) than for his poems. Back to Line
8] Tyros: beginners (Latin). Back to Line
14] Calendars: illustrated almanacs or yearbooks. Back to Line
17] Harum: Edward Noyes Westcott's novel, David Harum: A Story of American Life (1898), a story of a country banker and his folk wisdom in Homeville, New York.
Lady Rose: perhaps the popular English novel, Lady Rose's Daughter (1903), by Mrs. Humphrey Ward (1851-1920). Back to Line
18] Janice Meredith: A Story of the American Revolution (1899), a novel by Paul Leicester Ford (1865-1902). Back to Line
21] Aldrich: Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836-1907), former editor of Atlantic Monthly from 1881 to 1890 and freelance author of short stories and popular novels like The Story of a Bad Boy (1870). Back to Line
36] The Pit: a novel by Frank Norris (1870-1902) about a wealthy trader in futures and his neglected wife.
Mrs. Wiggs: Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1902), a children's novel by Alice Caldwell Hegan Rice (1870-1942) about a district in her native Louisville, Kentucky. All these novels were runaway successes. Back to Line
38] The History of Sir Richard Calmady: A Romance (1901) by Lucas Malet, the nom-de-plume of Mary St. Leger Kingsley Harrison (1852-1931), whose hero was physically handicapped, ugly, and sexually popular.
Emmy Lou: Emmy Lou: Her Book and Heart (1902), a children's book by George Madden Martin. Back to Line
39] Ade: George Ade (1866-1944), co-author with John T. McCutcheon of a popular daily column in the Chicago Record, "Stories of the Streets and of the Town."
Dooley: a fictional Irish saloon keeper in Chicago, made famous by Peter Dunne (1867-1936), as a journalist for the Chicago Journal, and in Mr. Dooley in Peace and War (1898) and other novels.
guy: mock, make fun of. Back to Line
40] Ella Wheeler Wilcox: popular American poet. Back to Line
44] Thackeray: William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-63), English novelist most famous for his Vanity Fair (1847-48). Back to Line
47] North-south New York City thoroughfare. Back to Line
49] The World: a London journal that began in 1753, edited by Robert Dodsley. Back to Line
50] Boston Transcript: a nineteenth-century journal, The Boston Evening Transcript, better known for its impact on American life than from T. S. Eliot's poem of the same name. See Joseph Edgar Chamberlin's The Boston Transcript: A History of its First Hundred Years (1930). Back to Line
51] Not identified, although different candidate newspapers will suggest themselves. Back to Line
52] Yellow Journalistic scum: "Applied to newspapers (or writers of newspaper articles) of a recklessly or unscrupulously sensational character. A use derived from the appearance in 1895 of a number of the New York World in which a child in a yellow dress (`The Yellow Kid') was the central figure of the cartoon, this being an experiment in colour-printing designed to attract purchasers" (OED "yellow" a. 3). Back to Line
54] Booming: puffing relentlessly (OED "boom" v. 3). Back to Line
57] The Story of Mary MacLane, by Herself (1902), a personal chronicle of the miseries of the upbringing of the author (1881-1929) in Butte, Montana. Back to Line
61] Anthony Hope (1863-1933), novelist, well known for such adventure romances as The Prisoner of Zenda (1894). Back to Line
62] Conan Doyle: Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), inventor of Sherlock Holmes, a character whose fame has lasted much longer than Burgess predicts here. Back to Line
66] Soapette and Breakfastine: evidently neologisms of Burgess's making. Back to Line
68] fool Pages: punning on "foolscap," long folio pages for writing. Back to Line
69] Miss Myra Kelly: author (1876-1910) of Little Citizens: The Humors of School Life (1904). Back to Line
70] Howells: William Dean Howells (1837-1920), erstwhile editor of Harper's and Atlantic Monthly, prolific author of criticism, novels, plays, poems, short stories, and travel literature. Back to Line
71] Seton: Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946), Canadian writer of animal stories who used a pseudonym, Black Wolf, and founder of the Boy Scouts. Back to Line
75] Sapolian: an allusion to Sappho? Back to Line
76] Spenser: Edmund Spenser, English Renaissance poet of The Faerie Queene. Back to Line
78] Smart Set: Smart Set: A Magazine of Cleverness. Burgess may be alluding to himself here. (1900-30). Back to Line
80] Lippincott's: Lippincott's Monthly Magazine (Philadelphia, 1868-1916). Back to Line
84] Edward Lear: the English Victorian poet (1812-88) who invented nonsense verse. Back to Line
86] The Bookman: a London journal (1891-1934) edited by W.R. Nicoll. Back to Line
92] Who from Whom: the nominative from the accusative cases. Back to Line
101] Marie Corelli: pseudonym for Mary "Minnie" MacKay (1855-1924), prolific novelist reputed to have been the best-selling author in the world for three decades, thanks to melodramatic subjects depicted in overblown purple prose. Back to Line
103] Elbert Hubbard: essayist and novelist (1856-1915), founder of the Roycroft Press, and one destined to die on The Lusitania in World War I. Back to Line
106] Three novelists, the American Henry James (1843-1916), who had just brought out his last great novels, The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904); and the English novelists and poets George Meredith and Thomas Hardy. Back to Line
110] James' The Turn of the Screw was originally published in a collection entitled The Two Magics (1898). Back to Line
118] Stevenson: perhaps Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94). Back to Line
119] Bernard Shaw: George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), Anglo-Irish playwright and critic. Back to Line
122] Scribner's: a publisher of fine fiction. Back to Line
124] Kipling's "They": Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) published his short stories "They" (about a father's grief for his dead child) and "Mrs. Bathurst" (about a New Zealand pub-keeper and her relations with a naval officer) in Traffics and Discoveries (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1904). Back to Line
129] Kipling's Kim (1901), his most popular novel, of a young man who serves as a British spy in India. Back to Line
130] Browningite: someone devoted to the poems of the English poet, Robert Browning (1812-89). Back to Line
142] vum: "vow," swear. Back to Line
146] Bertha Clay: nom-de-plume of Frederic (Merrill) Van Rensselaer Dey (1865-1922), creator of the American detective Nick Carter stories. Back to Line
150] Hewlett: perhaps Maurice Hewlett (1861-1923), well known for romantic and historical novels set in the Middle Ages, including The Forest Lovers (1898). Back to Line
151] "Duchess" books: unidentified. Back to Line
178] Richard Le Gallienne (1866-1947). Back to Line
185] Fitch: William Clyde Fitch (1865-1909), very popular American playwright, writing or adapting more than 55 plays in his career. Back to Line
186] Pinero: Sir Arthur Wing Pinero (1855-1934), whose best-known plays include The Second Mrs. Tanqueray (1893) and Trelawny of the Wells (1898). Back to Line
187] Belasco: David Belasco (1853-1931), one of the greatest figures of the American stage, actor, director, playwright, producer. Puccini adapted his play, Madame Butterfly (1900), into the famous opera of the same name in 1904. Back to Line
188] Frohman: New York theatre impresario. Back to Line
198] Bok: Edward W. Bok (1863-1930), editor of the Ladies' Home Journal Back to Line
220] Carolyn Wells: writer of children's books, editor and poet of nonsense verse (1869?-1942), who brought out A Nonsense Anthology in five volumes from Scribner's in New York City from 1902 to 1907. Back to Line
231] A Canadian poet from the maritimes, Bliss Carman brought out The Pipes of Pan in five volumes from 1902 to 1905. Back to Line
242] Lucubrations: over-elaborated literary work, associated with night-time labours. Back to Line
279] Drule: drivel, spittle. Back to Line
289] Puck: the merry prankster of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream . Back to Line
290] Judge's Stories: not identified. Back to Line
291] Joe Miller (1684-1750), of Joe Miller's Jests, or, The Wit's Vade-mecum. Back to Line
295] Coon-Song: conventional negro-song popularized by black-face showmen such as the Christy Minstrels (OED "coon" n. 4b). Back to Line
307] Ibsen: Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), the great Norwegian dramatist whose A Doll's House (1879) jump-started modern drama. Back to Line
308] Daly: Carroll John Daly (1889-1958), who created the Race Williams detective stories and was a well-known American theatre owner. Back to Line
346] Cy Brady: unidentified. Back to Line
348] I.e., the "potboilers" he publishes. Back to Line
355] Christy: unidentified. Back to Line
361] Carnegie: Andrew Carnegie (1835 - 1919), American industrialist and philantropist. Back to Line
367] Aldus: Aldus Manutius (1449-1515), Venetian printer who founded the Aldine Press, from which came the first editions of many classical Greek authors. Back to Line
371] Burton: perhaps Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-90), translator of the Arabian Nights. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: