Edward Fitzgerald from the frontispiece
It’s time for some RUBÁIYÁT of Omar Khayyam. The copy I’ve been reading is the Little Brown and Company 1900 version with three translations: Edward Fitzgerald & E. H. Winfield & Justin McCarthy. I remember reading the Fitzgerald version in the summer of 1955 when I stayed in Pullman, Washington, between college semesters. I’ve read it many times since then, and today my reading included all of the 26-page introduction, all of Fitzgerald and ten pages each of Winfield and McCarthy. Of those three, Fitzgerald has the most impact but when reading the introduction it becomes apparent that he selected and blended passages from the original work.
Fitzgerald also states ideas in a briefer way than the other translators. Here is a sample comparing a passage from Heron-Allen on page xxiii.
“I desire a little ruby wine and a book of verses,
Just enough to keep me alive, and half a loaf is needful;
And then, that I and thou should sit in a desolate place
Is better than the kingdom of a sultan.”
The same Omar as translated by Fitzgerald:
“A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread — and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness —
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow !”
Here are some more verses I like from Fitzgerald:
Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door where in I went.
With them the seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow;
And this was all the Harvest that I reap’d —
“I came like Water, and like Wind I go.”
There was the Door to which I found no Key;
There was the Veil through which I might not see:
Some little talk awhile of Me and Thee
There was — and then no more of Thee and Me.
And that inverted Bowl they call the Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’d we live and die,
Lift not your hands to It for help — for It
As impotently moves as you or I.
That’s about where I’m at today. Except, I don’t beg of the Universe with its inflexible behavior for special favors.