September 15, 2007
Books of the Golden Age – Ruba’yyat Al Khayyam
The Ruba’iyyat of Omar Khayyam was originally written in the Persian language during the 11th century. Omar Khayyam (1048 – 1123) was a consummate philosopher, mathematician and astronomer whose work extended far beyond the Ruba’iyyat. However, it is this work that survives today as a testament to the power and grace of Islamic and Persian culture at that time.
The title “Ruba’iyyat” itself is derived from the Arabic root word of 4; means “quatrains”: verses of four lines; and the poems are written in a series of quatrains.
The Ruba’iyyat is one of the most lyrical poetic works ever composed, and English-speaking readers know Khayyam’s work through the translation of Edward Fitzgerald* into five editions the first at 1859 and the last in 1889.
The subjects that Khayyam included in his Ruba’iyyat are diverse and intellectually provocative. In addition, Khayyam had often combined philosophy with social, ethical, and aesthetical concerns, providing his quatrains with depth as well as a spectrum of areas of interest. The logical structure of the ruba’i: thesis and anti-thesis synthesis makes it the most suitable vehicle for the expression of a philosophical dialog. In quatrain after quatrain Khayyam examines the futility of existence, the tyranny of time, the shortness of life, and the helplessness of man.
The major themes of Khayyam’s Ruba’iyyat are:
1. The secret of creation
2. The agony of existence
3. Predestination (life planned by the maker)
4. Time and tide (life created by Time)
5. Rotating particles (life consisting of particles)
6. Acquiescence to the fortuitous (life happening as an accident)
7. Seizing the moment
Khayyam’s masterpiece was translated to almost all living languages, and his verses have influenced later on many authors with quotations to use as titles in their works.
Of all the verses, the best known are the following:-
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!
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.
And from Ahmed Ramy’s translation into Arabic language:
تناثرت أيام هذا العمر تناثر الأوراق حول الشجر
فانعم من الدنيا بلذاتها من قبل أن تسقيك كف القدر
أطفئ لظى القلب ببرد الشراب فإنما الأيام مثل السحاب
إن لم أكن أخلصت في طاعتك فإنني أطمع في رحمتك
وإنما يشفع لي أنني قد عشت لا أشرك في وحدتك
All the best,
On September 15, 2007
كتاب رباعيات الخيام لأحمد رامي
* Some critics informally refer to the Fitzgerald’s English versions that a considerable portion of the “translation” was his own creation and not what Khayyam exactly wrote.