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Wikipedia: “Edward Henry Whinfield (1836-1922) was a translator of Persian literature. He wrote the first well-commented English translations of Hafez and Rumi, as well as a side-by-side translation of 500 quatrains of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám in 1883.”

Oh, silly me. I read E. H. Whinfield’s Rubáiyát in paper form in my copy printed by Little, Brown, and Company of Boston ©1900. When beginning this post it came as a shock, in the moment an unwelcome one, that the text was already online at Wikisource. The quatrains are sorted in a different ordering. Thus, with some jumping about on a search the text can be found, but the quatrains are scrambled. Shall I cut and paste, or type out the text by hand? I will cut and paste a few and see how that goes. … I found the cut and paste to work well, but had a bit of trouble when I got further into the text because it had been broken a bit differently than my text.

There were passages in my book that were marked for inclusion in this post, and some special lines it seemed appropriate to boldface, in this review.



‘Tis but a day we sojourn here below,
And all the gain we get is grief and woe,
Then, leaving our life’s riddles all unsolved,
And burdened with regrets, we have to go.

Since no one can assure thee of the morrow,
Rejoice thy heart to-day, and banish sorrow
With moonbright wine, fair moon, for heaven’s moon
Will look for us in vain on many a morrow.

Men say the Koran holds all heavenly lore,
But on its pages seldom care to pore;
The lucid lines engraven on the bowl,—
That is the text they dwell on evermore.

From doubt to clear assurance is a breath,
A breath from infidelity to faith;
Oh, precious breath I enjoy it while you may,
‘Tis all that life can give, and then comes death.

My life lasts but a day or two, and fast
Sweeps by, like torrent stream or desert blast,
Howbeit, of two days I take no heed,—
The day to come, and that already past.

Days changed to nights, ere you were born, or I,
And on its business ever rolled the sky;
See you tread gently on this dust-perchance
‘Twas once the apple of some beauty’s eye.

‘Twas writ at first, whatever was to be,
By pen, unheeding bliss or misery,
Yea, writ upon the tablet once for all,
To murmur or resist is vanity.

Behold these cups! Can He who deigned to make them,
In wanton freak let ruin overtake them,
So many shapely feet and hands and heads,—
What love drives Him to make, what wrath to break them?

In synagogue and cloister, mosque and school,
Hell’s terrors and heaven’s lures men’s bosoms rule,
But they who master Allah’s mysteries,
Sow not this empty chad their hearts to fool.

I dreamt a sage said, “Wherefore life consume
In sleep? Can sleep make pleasure’s roses bloom?
For gather not with death’s twin-brother sleep,
Thou wilt have sleep enough within thy tomb!”

If the heart knew life’s secrets here below,
At death ‘twould know God’s secrets too, I trow;
But, if you know naught here, while still yourself,
To-morrow, stripped of self, what can you know?

On that dread day, when wrath shall rend the sky,
And darkness dim the bright stars’ galaxy,
I’ll seize the Loved One by His skirt, and cry,
“Why hast Thou doomed these guiltless ones to die?”

To knaves Thy secret we must not confide,
To comprehend it is to fools denied,
See then to what hard case Thou doomest men,
Our hopes from one and all perforce we hide.

My law it is in pleasure’s paths to stray,
My creed to shun the theologic fray;
I wedded Luck, and offered her a dower,
She said, “I want none, so thy heart be gay.”

From mosque an outcast, and to church a foe,
Allah! of what clay didst thou form me so?
Like skeptic monk, or ugly courtesan,
No hopes have I above, no joys below.

Hearts with the light of love illumined well,
Whether in mosque or synagogue they dwell,
Have their names written in the book of love,
Unvexed by hopes of heaven or fears of hell.

Skies like a zone our weary lives enclose,
And from our tear-stained eyes a Jihun flows;
Hell is a fire enkindled of our griefs;
Heaven but a moment’s peace, stolen from our woes.

I drown in sin—show me Thy clemency!
My soul is dark—make me Thy light to see!
A heaven that must be earned by painful works,
I call a wage, not a gift fair and free.

The good and evil with man’s nature blent,
The weal and woe that heaven’s decrees have sent,—
Impute them not to motions of the skies,—
Skies than thyself ten times more impotent.

97. (This quatrain was not in my paper book.)
Against death’s arrows what are buckles worth?
What all the pomps and riches of the earth?
When I survey the world, I see no good
But goodness, all beside is nothing worth.

LV (The following were transcribed from my paper book.)
He in whose bosom wisdom’s seed is sown,
To waste a single day is never known;
Either he strives to work great Allah’s will,
Or else exalts the cup, and works his own.

They preach how sweet those Houri brides will be,
But I say wine is sweeter—taste and see!
Hold fast this cash, and let that credit go,
And shun the din of empty drums like me.

To-night pour wine, and sing a dulcet air,
And I upon thy lips will hang, O fair;
Yea, pour some wine as rosy as thy cheeks,
My mind is troubled like thy ruffled hair.

Pen, tablet, heaven and hell I looked to see
Above the skies from all eternity;
At last the master-sage instructed me,
“Pen, tablet, heaven and hell are all in thee.”

The Master did himself these vessels frame,
Why should he cast them out to scorn and shame?
If he has made them well, why should he break them?
Yea, though he marred them, they are not to blame.

The passages above are the ones I had marked in the first part (ALIF) of THE QUATRAINS OF OMAR KHAYYÁM. That is only 18 pages of 72. It will be necessary to continue this post.

The reading of these three Rubáiyáts as a continuous effort made the symbolism and metaphors make sense.