Front cover of the first American edition (1878)
Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám is the title that Edward FitzGerald gave to his 1859 translation from Persian to English of a selection of quatrains (rubiy?t) attributed to Omar Khayyam (1048-1131), dubbed "the Astronomer-Poet of Persia".
FitzGerald's work at first was unsuccessful commercially. But it was popularised from 1861 onward by Whitley Stokes, and the work came to be greatly admired by the Pre-Raphaelites in England. In 1872 FitzGerald had a third edition printed, which increased interest in the work in the United States of America. By the 1880s, the book was extremely well known throughout the English-speaking world, to the extent that numerous "Omar Khayyam Clubs" were formed and there was a "fin de siècle cult of the Rubaiyat". FitzGerald's work has been published in several hundred editions, and it has inspired similar translation efforts in English and in many other languages.
The authenticity of the poetry attributed to Omar Khayyam is highly uncertain. Omar was famous during his lifetime not as a poet but as an astronomer and mathematician. The earliest reference to his having written poetry is found in his biography by al-Isfahani, written 43 years after his death. This view is reinforced by other medieval historians such as Shahrazuri (1201) and Al-Qifti (1255). Parts of the Rubaiyat appear as incidental quotations from Omar in early works of biography and in anthologies. These include works of Razi (ca. 1160-1210), Daya (1230), Juvayni (ca. 1226-1283), and Jajarmi (1340).:92:434 Also, five quatrains assigned to Khayyam in somewhat later sources appear in Zahiri Samarqandi's Sindbad-Nameh (before 1160) without attribution.:34
The number of quatrains attributed to him in more recent collections varies from about 1,200 (according to Saeed Nafisi) to more than 2,000. Skeptical scholars point out that the entire tradition may be pseudepigraphic.:11 The extant manuscripts containing collections attributed to Omar are dated much too late to enable a reconstruction of a body of authentic verses.
In the 1930s, Iranian scholars, notably Mohammad-Ali Foroughi, attempted to reconstruct a core of authentic verses from scattered quotes by authors of the 13th and 14th centuries, ignoring the younger manuscript tradition. After World War II, reconstruction efforts were significantly delayed by two clever forgeries. De Blois (2004) is pessimistic, suggesting that contemporary scholarship has not advanced beyond the situation of the 1930s, when Hans Heinrich Schaeder commented that the name of Omar Khayyam "is to be struck out from the history of Persian literature".
A feature of the more recent collections is the lack of linguistic homogeneity and continuity of ideas. Sadegh Hedayat commented that "if a man had lived for a hundred years and had changed his religion, philosophy, and beliefs twice a day, he could scarcely have given expression to such a range of ideas".:34 Hedayat's final verdict was that 14 quatrains could be attributed to Khayyam with certainty. Various tests have been employed to reduce the quatrains attributable to Omar to about 100.:434 Arthur Christensen states that "of more than 1,200 ruba'is known to be ascribed to Omar, only 121 could be regarded as reasonably authentic".:663 Foroughi accepts 178 quatrains as authentic, while Ali Dashti accepts 36 of them.:96
FitzGerald completed his first draft in 1857 and sent it to Fraser's Magazine in January 1858. He made a revised draft in January 1859, of which he privately printed 250 copies. This first edition became extremely sought after by the 1890s, when "more than two million copies ha[d] been sold in two hundred editions".
The extreme popularity of FitzGerald's work led to a prolonged debate on the correct interpretation of the philosophy behind the poems. FitzGerald emphasized the religious skepticism he found in Omar Khayyam. In his preface to the Rubáiyát, he describes Omar's philosophy as Epicurean and claims that Omar was "hated and dreaded by the Sufis, whose practice he ridiculed and whose faith amounts to little more than his own, when stripped of the Mysticism and formal recognition of Islamism under which Omar would not hide".Richard Nelson Frye also emphasizes that Khayyam was despised by a number of prominent contemporary Sufis. These include figures such as Shams Tabrizi, Najm al-Din Daya, Al-Ghazali, and Attar, who "viewed Khayyam not as a fellow-mystic, but a free-thinking scientist".:663-664 The skeptic interpretation is supported by the medieval historian Al-Qifti (ca. 1172-1248), who in his The History of Learned Men reports that Omar's poems were only outwardly in the Sufi style, but were written with an anti-religious agenda. He also mentions that Khayyam was indicted for impiety and went on a pilgrimage to avoid punishment. Critics of FitzGerald, on the other hand, have accused the translator of misrepresenting the mysticism of Sufi poetry by an overly literal interpretation. Thus, the view of Omar Khayyam as a Sufi was defended by Bjerregaard (1915).Dougan (1991) likewise says that attributing hedonism to Omar is due to the failings of FitzGerald's translation, arguing that the poetry is to be understood as "deeply esoteric".
The Sufi interpretation is the view of a minority of scholars.Henry Beveridge states that "the Sufis have unaccountably pressed this writer [Khayyam] into their service; they explain away some of his blasphemies by forced interpretations, and others they represent as innocent freedoms and reproaches". Aminrazavi (2007) states that "Sufi interpretation of Khayyam is possible only by reading into his Rubaiyat extensively and by stretching the content to fit the classical Sufi doctrine".:128
FitzGerald's "skepticist" reading of the poetry is still defended by modern scholars. Sadegh Hedayat (The Blind Owl 1936) was the most notable modern proponent of Khayyam's philosophy as agnostic skepticism. In his introductory essay to his second edition of the Quatrains of the Philosopher Omar Khayyam (1922), Hedayat states that "while Khayyam believes in the transmutation and transformation of the human body, he does not believe in a separate soul; if we are lucky, our bodily particles would be used in the making of a jug of wine". He concludes that "religion has proved incapable of surmounting his inherent fears; thus Khayyam finds himself alone and insecure in a universe about which his knowledge is nil". In his later work (Khayyam's Quatrains, 1935), Hedayat further maintains that Khayyam's usage of Sufic terminology such as "wine" is literal, and that "Khayyam took refuge in wine to ward off bitterness and to blunt the cutting edge of his thoughts."
FitzGerald's text was published in five editions, with substantial revisions:
Of the five editions published, four were published under the authorial control of FitzGerald. The fifth edition, which contained only minor changes from the fourth, was edited posthumously after his death on the basis of manuscript revisions FitzGerald had left.
Numerous later editions were published after 1889, notably an edition with illustrations by Willy Pogany, first published in 1909 (George G. Harrap, London). It was issued in numerous revised editions.This edition combined FitzGerald's texts of the 1st and 4th editions and was subtitled "The First and Fourth Renderings in English Verse".
Notable editions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries include: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. (1887, 1888, 1894); Doxey, At the Sign of the Lark (1898, 1900), illustrations by Florence Lundborg; The Macmillan Company (1899); Methuen (1900) with a commentary by H.M. Batson, and a biographical introduction by E.D. Ross; Little, Brown, and Company (1900), with the versions of E.H. Whinfield and Justin Huntly McCart; Bell (1901); Routledge (1904); Foulis (1905, 1909); Essex House Press (1905); Dodge Publishing Company (1905); Duckworth & Co. (1908); Hodder and Stoughton (1909), illustrations by Edmund Dulac; Tauchnitz (1910); East Anglian Daily Times (1909), Centenary celebrations souvenir; Warner (1913); The Roycrofters (1913); Hodder & Stoughton (1913), illustrations by René Bull; Dodge Publishing Company (1914), illustrations by Adelaide Hanscom. Sully and Kleinteich (1920).
FitzGerald's translation is rhyming and metrical, and rather free. Many of the verses are paraphrased, and some of them cannot be confidently traced to his source material at all. Michael Kearney claimed that FitzGerald described his work as "transmogrification". To a large extent, the Rubaiyat can be considered original poetry by FitzGerald loosely based on Omar's quatrains rather than a "translation" in the narrow sense.
FitzGerald was open about the liberties he had taken with his source material:
My translation will interest you from its form, and also in many respects in its detail: very un-literal as it is. Many quatrains are mashed together: and something lost, I doubt, of Omar's simplicity, which is so much a virtue in him. (letter to E. B. Cowell, 9/3/58)
I suppose very few People have ever taken such Pains in Translation as I have: though certainly not to be literal. But at all Cost, a Thing must live: with a transfusion of one's own worse Life if one can't retain the Original's better. Better a live Sparrow than a stuffed Eagle. (letter to E. B. Cowell, 4/27/59)
For comparison, here are two versions of the same quatrain by FitzGerald, from the 1859 and 1889 editions:
Quatrain XI (1859)
Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse--and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness--
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.
Quatrain XII (1889)
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!
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.
If a loaf of wheaten-bread be forthcoming,
a gourd of wine, and a thigh-bone of mutton, and then,
if thou and I be sitting in the wilderness, --
that would be a joy to which no sultan can set bounds.
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Two English editions by Edward Henry Whinfield (1836-1922) consisted of 253 quatrains in 1882 and 500 in 1883. This translation was fully revised and some cases fully translated anew by Ali Salami and published by Mehrandish Books.
Whinfield's translation is, if possible, even more free than FitzGerald's; Quatrain 84 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above) reads:
John Leslie Garner published an English translation of 152 quatrains in 1888. His was also a free, rhyming translation. Quatrain I. 20 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):
Yes, Loved One, when the Laughing Spring is blowing,
With Thee beside me and the Cup o'erflowing,
I pass the day upon this Waving Meadow,
And dream the while, no thought on Heaven bestowing.
Justin Huntly McCarthy (1859-1936) (Member of Parliament for Newry) published prose translations of 466 quatrains in 1889. Quatrain 177 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):
In Spring time I love to sit in the meadow with a paramour
perfect as a Houri and goodly jar of wine, and though
I may be blamed for this, yet hold me lower
than a dog if ever I dream of Paradise.
Richard Le Gallienne (1866-1947) produced a verse translation, subtitled "a paraphrase from several literal translations", in 1897. In his introductory note to the reader, Le Gallienne cites McCarthy's "charming prose" as the chief influence on his version. Some example quatrains follow:
Look not above, there is no answer there;
Pray not, for no one listens to your prayer;
Near is as near to God as any Far,
And Here is just the same deceit as There.
(#78, on p. 44)
And do you think that unto such as you;
A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew:
God gave the secret, and denied it me?--
Well, well, what matters it! Believe that, too.
(#85, p. 47)
"Did God set grapes a-growing, do you think,
And at the same time make it sin to drink?
Give thanks to Him who foreordained it thus--
Surely He loves to hear the glasses clink!"
(#91, p. 48)
Edward Heron-Allen (1861-1943) published a prose translation in 1898. He also wrote an introduction to an edition of Frederick Rolfe (Baron Corvo) 's translation into English of Nicolas's French translation. Below is Quatrain 17 translated by E. H into English:
This worn caravanserai which is called the world
Is the resting-place of the piebald horse of night and day;
It is a pavilion which has been abandoned by a hundred Jamshyds;
It is a palace that is the resting-place of a hundred Bahrams.
This quatrain of Khayyam connotes the transitory essence of life and worthless materialistic lifestyle. It tends to illuminate the minds that have developed a false consciousness that interpellation can justify the world's economic system. Also, he disapproves reflectionism, which suggests that feelings like happiness, love, and freedom cannot create the superstructure of the real world. Indeed, these feelings are corrupt by capitalism, consisting of the bourgeoisie, who control the means of production, and the proletariat, whose labor produces their wealth. Then, the damage caused by such a system would be commodification. Moreover, this quatrain carries the connotation that in a world where everything is temporary and every condition is transitory, practicing conspicuous consumption will go to waste when death comes. Hence, one should not make a fuss about life failures nor should take life achievements for granted.
The English novelist and orientalist Jessie Cadell (1844-1884) consulted various manuscripts of the Rubaiyat with the intention of producing an authoritative edition. Her translation of 150 quatrains was published posthumously in 1899.
A. J. Arberry in 1959 attempted a scholarly edition of Khayyam, based on thirteenth-century manuscripts. However, his manuscripts were subsequently exposed as twentieth-century forgeries. While Arberry's work had been misguided, it was published in good faith.
The 1967 translation of the Rubáiyat by Robert Graves and Omar Ali-Shah, however, created a scandal. The authors claimed it was based on a twelfth-century manuscript located in Afghanistan, where it was allegedly utilized as a Sufi teaching document. But the manuscript was never produced, and British experts in Persian literature were easily able to prove that the translation was in fact based on Edward Heron Allen's analysis of possible sources for FitzGerald's work.
Quatrains 11 and 12 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):
Should our day's portion be one mancel loaf,
A haunch of mutton and a gourd of wine
Set for us two alone on the wide plain,
No Sultan's bounty could evoke such joy.
A gourd of red wine and a sheaf of poems --
A bare subsistence, half a loaf, not more --
Supplied us two alone in the free desert:
What Sultan could we envy on his throne?
John Charles Edward Bowen (1909-1989) was a British poet and translator of Persian poetry. He is best known for his translation of the Rubaiyat, titled A New Selection from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Bowen is also credited as being one of the first scholars to question Robert Graves' and Omar Ali-Shah's translation of the Rubaiyat.
A modern version of 235 quatrains, claiming to be "as literal an English version of the Persian originals as readability and intelligibility permit", was published in 1979 by Peter Avery and John Heath-Stubbs. Their edition provides two versions of the thematic quatrain, the first (98) considered by the Persian writer Sadeq Hedayat to be a spurious attribution.
I need a jug of wine and a book of poetry,
Half a loaf for a bite to eat,
Then you and I, seated in a deserted spot,
Will have more wealth than a Sultan's realm.
If chance supplied a loaf of white bread,
Two casks of wine and a leg of mutton,
In the corner of a garden with a tulip-cheeked girl,
There'd be enjoyment no Sultan could outdo.
In 1988, the Rubaiyat was translated by a Persian for the first time.Karim Emami's translation of the Rubaiyat was published under the title The Wine of Nishapour in Paris. The Wine of Nishapour is the collection of Khayyam's poetry by Shahrokh Golestan, including Golestan's pictures in front of each poem. Example quatrain 160 (equivalent[dubious ] of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his first edition, as above):
In spring if a houri-like sweetheart
Gives me a cup of wine on the edge of a green cornfield,
Though to the vulgar this would be blasphemy,
If I mentioned any other Paradise, I'd be worse than a dog.
In 1991 Ahmad Saidi (1904-1994) produced an English translation of 165 quatrains grouped into 10 themes. Born and raised in Iran, Saidi went to the United States in 1931 and attended college there. He served as the head of the Persian Publication Desk at the U.S. Office of War Information during World War II, inaugurated the Voice of America to Iran, and prepared an English-Persian military dictionary for the Department of Defense. His quatrains include the original Persian verses for reference alongside his English translations. His focus was to faithfully convey, with less poetic license, Khayyam's original religious, mystical, and historic Persian themes, through the verses as well as his extensive annotations. Two example quatrains follow:
Quatrain 16 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XII in his 5th edition, as above):
Ah, would there were a loaf of bread as fare,
A joint of lamb, a jug of vintage rare,
And you and I in wilderness encamped--
No Sultan's pleasure could with ours compare.
The sphere upon which mortals come and go,
Has no end nor beginning that we know;
And none there is to tell us in plain truth:
Whence do we come and whither do we go.
Adolf Friedrich von Schack (1815-1894) published a German translation in 1878.
Quatrain 151 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):
Gönnt mir, mit dem Liebchen im Gartenrund
Zu weilen bei süßem Rebengetränke,
Und nennt mich schlimmer als einen Hund,
Wenn ferner an's Paradies ich denke!
Friedrich Martinus von Bodenstedt (1819-1892) published a German translation in 1881. The translation eventually consisted of 395 quatrains.
Quatrain IX, 59 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):
Im Frühling mag ich gern im Grüne weilen
Und Einsamkeit mit einer Freundin teilen
Und einem Kruge Wein. Mag man mich schelten:
Ich lasse keinen andern Himmel gelten.
The first French translation, of 464 quatrains in prose, was made by J. B. Nicolas, chief interpreter at the French embassy in Persia in 1867.
Prose stanza (equivalent of Fitzgerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):
Au printemps j'aime à m'asseoir au bord d'une prairie, avec une idole semblable à une houri et une cruche de vin, s'il y en a, et bien que tout cela soit généralement blâmé, je veux être pire qu'un chien si jamais je songe au paradis.
The best-known version in French is the free verse edition by Franz Toussaint (1879-1955) published in 1924. This translation consisting of 170 quatrains was done from the original Persian text, while most of the other French translations were themselves translations of FitzGerald's work. The Éditions d'art Henri Piazza published the book almost unchanged between 1924 and 1979. Toussaint's translation has served as the basis of subsequent translations into other languages, but Toussaint did not live to witness the influence his translation has had.
Quatrain XXV (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):
Au printemps, je vais quelquefois m'asseoir à la lisière d'un champ fleuri. Lorsqu'une belle jeune fille m'apporte une coupe de vin, je ne pense guère à mon salut. Si j'avais cette préoccupation, je vaudrais moins qu'un chien.
Many Russian-language translations have been undertaken, reflecting the popularity of the Rubaiyat in Russia since the late 19th century and the increasingly popular tradition of using it for the purposes of bibliomancy. The earliest verse translation (by Vasily Velichko) was published in 1891. The version by Osip Rumer published in 1914 is a translation of FitzGerald's version. Rumer later published a version of 304 rubaiyat translated directly from Persian. A lot of poetic translations (some based on verbatim translations into prose by others) were also written by German Plisetsky, Konstantin Bal'mont, Cecilia Banu, I. I. Tkhorzhevsky (ru), L. Pen'kovsky, and others.
FitzGerald rendered Omar's name as "Omar the Tentmaker",[dubious ] and this name resonated in English-speaking popular culture for a while. Thus, Nathan Haskell Dole published a novel called Omar, the Tentmaker: A Romance of Old Persia in 1898. Omar the Tentmaker of Naishapur is a historical novel by John Smith Clarke, published in 1910. "Omar the Tentmaker" is a 1914 play in an oriental setting by Richard Walton Tully, adapted as a silent film in 1922. US General Omar Bradley was given the nickname "Omar the Tent-Maker" in World War II, and the name has been recorded as a slang expression for "penis". FitzGerald's translations also reintroduced Khayyam to Iranians, "who had long ignored the Neishapouri poet".
This article contains a list of miscellaneous information. (September 2017)
Equally noteworthy are these works likewise influenced:
2009 marked the 150th anniversary of Fitzgerald's translation, and the 200th anniversary of Fitzgerald's birth. Events marking these anniversaries included:
"Sufis understood his poems outwardly and considered them to be part of their mystical tradition. In their sessions and gatherings, Khayyam's poems became the subject of conversation and discussion. His poems, however, are inwardly like snakes who bite the sharia [Islamic law] and are chains and handcuffs placed on religion. Once the people of his time had a taste of his faith, his secrets were revealed. Khayyam was frightened for his life, withdrew from writing, speaking and such like and traveled to Mecca. Once he arrived in Baghdad, members of a Sufi tradition and believers in primary sciences came to him and courted him. He did not accept them and after performing the pilgrimage returned to his native land, kept his secrets to himself and propagated worshiping and following the people of faith." cited after Aminrazavi (2007)[page needed]
"The writings of Omar Khayyam are good specimens of Sufism, but are not valued in the West as they ought to be, and the mass of English-speaking people know him only through the poems of Edward Fitzgerald. It is unfortunate because Fitzgerald is not faithful to his master and model, and at times he lays words upon the tongue of the Sufi which are blasphemous. Such outrageous language is that of the eighty-first quatrain for instance. Fitzgerald is doubly guilty because he was more of a Sufi than he was willing to admit." C. H. A. Bjerregaard, Sufism: Omar Khayyam and E. Fitzgerald, The Sufi Publishing Society (1915), p. 3