Saturday, April 21, 2007

Unravelling the Rubaiyat

I never buy books in hardcover, but I made an exception when I purchased a copy of 'The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam' at a bookstore. I fell in love with the binding, the typesetting and the illustrations. All this for a mere INR 295, considering that the Rubaiyat is the most celebrated work of Omar Khayyam. What thrilled me even more was the fact that this particular copy had two successive editions of Edward Fitzgerald's translation of the Rubaiyat.

We all know that even the most learned and objective translation is a scarce representation of the original work. Khayyam wrote in Persian in the 12th century. It is said that some of the quatrains were not actually written by Khayyam but were attributed to him. To my knowledge, there exist upto five editions of the translation. There are subtle differences between the first and second editions. It is quite possible that Fitzgerald added his ideas and possibly wrote a few of the quatrains himself. This is true especially in the later editions. The challenge thus lies in guessing which of the verses were actually penned by Khayyam himself.

Khayyam was a man of reason and scientific temperament.He was a mathematician, alchemist, doctor and poet all rolled into one. People often think of Khayyam as 'a sufi mystic', something ironic as Khayyam appears to have nothing but scorn for mysticism. I am inclined to believe that Khayyam was a skeptic (I will go far enough to suggest that he was probably agnostic). I sometimes use this verse as a mechanism to defend my agnosticism.

Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss'd
Of the Two Worlds so learnedly, are thrust
Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
Are scatter'd, and their mouths are stopt with Dust.


Religion and controversey aside, the Rubaiyat is the most sensual treat a poet can deliver. It is rich in melancholic romanticism and has a charming yet witty pessimism,with roses and wine strewn all over its lines to claim that mortality is merely a consequence and not a choice.

1 comment:

Drama Queen said...

I'm back to blogging!!!! =) Full swing...