Friday, August 13, 2010

Reader's Diary #637- Omar Khayyam and translated by Edward FitzGerald: Omar Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

After reading the Wikipedia article about The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam I'm not sure whose work I read, Omar Khayyam's or Edward FitzGerald. The translation factor, it seems, is not a new concern.

As the story goes, Omar Khayyam of Persia wrote over a thousand poems back in the early 1000s. In the 1800s British writer Edward FitzGerald got his hands on them, translated a selection, and referred to this work as Rubayait of Omar Khayyam, which remains to be the most well known translation. However, critics suggest that FitzGerald took more than his share of liberties, even accusing him of adding entirely new quatrains with no coinciding original ideas amongst Khayyam's work. Since then many others have offered their own interpretations and, proving collectively that Khayyam's themes and philosophy were hard to pin down, translators' final results ranged from atheist spins to Islamic faithful.

I can only judge what FitzGerald has laid before me and what I read was filled with beautiful imagery and, rather than any definite answers, contemplations on life. I don't think modern poets would ever get away with such direct and obvious philosophical questions as those raised by Khayyam. That's not preferring one style over the other, it's merely an observation that today's poets seem to use more of an arch or indirect route.

You can easily find the whole thing online, but here are some of my favourite quatrains:

Oh, threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain--This Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

With me along the strip of Herbage strown
That just divides the desert from the sown,
Where name of Slave and Sultan is forgot --
And pity Sultan Mahmud on his Throne!

And this reviving Herb whose tender Green
Fledges the River-Lip on which we lean--
Ah, lean upon it lightly! for who knows
From what once lovely Lip it springs unseen!

1 comment:

Tabatha said...

Thanks for sharing these! I like your selections. Translating poems seems like a stupendously challenging task.