Wake! For the Sun, who scatter’d into flight
The Stars before him from the Field of Night,
Drives Night along with them from Heav’n, and strikes
The Sultán’s Turret with a Shaft of Light.
Omar Khayyám was born at Naishápúr in Khorassán in the latter half of our Eleventh, and died within the first quarter of our Twelfth Century. The slender story of his life is curiously twined about that of two other very considerable figures in their time and country: one of whom tells the story of all three. This was Nizám ul Mulk, Vizyr to Alp Arslan the son, and Malik Shah the grandson, of Toghrul Beg the Tartar, who had wrested Persia from the feeble successor of Mahmúd the Great, and founded that Seljukian Dynasty which finally roused Europe into the Crusades. This Nizám ul Mulk, in his Wasiyat—or Testament—which he wrote and left as a memorial for future statesmen—relates the following, as quoted in the Calcutta Review, No. 59, from Mirkhond’s History of the Assassins.
“One of the greatest of the wise men of Khorassán was the Imám Mowaffak of Naishápúr, a man highly honored and reverenced—may God rejoice his soul: his illustrious years exceeded eighty-five, and it was the universal belief that every boy who read the Koran or studied the traditions in his presence, would assuredly attain to honor and happiness. For this cause did my father send me from Tús to Naishápúr with Abd-us-samad, the doctor of law, that I might employ myself in study and learning under the guidance of that illustrious teacher. Towards me he ever turned an eye of favor and kindness, and as his pupil I felt for him extreme affection and devotion, so that I passed four years in his service. When I first came there, I found two other pupils of mine own age newly arrived, Hakim Omar Khayyám, and the ill-fated Ben Sabbáh. Both were endowed with sharpness of wit and the highest natural powers; and we three formed a close friendship together. When the Imám rose from his lectures, they used to join me, and we repeated to each other the lessons we had heard. Now Omar was a native of Naishápúr, while Hasan Ben Sabbáh’s father was one Ali, a man of austere life and practice, but heretical in his creed and doctrine. One day Hasan said to me and to Khayyám, ‘It is a universal belief that the pupils of the Imám Mowaffak will attain to fortune. Now, even if we all do not attain thereto, without doubt one of us will; what then shall be our mutual pledge and bond?’ We answered, ‘Be it what you please.’ ‘Well,’ he said, let us make a vow, that to whomsoever this fortune falls, he shall share it equally with the rest, and reserve no preeminence for himself.’ ‘Be it so,’ we both replied, and on those terms we mutually pledged our words. Years rolled on, and I went from Khorassán to Transoxiana and wandered to Ghazni and Kabul; and when I returned, I was invested with office, and rose to be administrator of affairs during the Sultanate of Sultan Alp Arslan.
“He goes on to state, that years passed by, and both his old school-friends found him out, and came and claimed a share in his good fortune, according to the school-day vow. The Vizier was generous and kept his word. Hasan demanded a place in the government, which the Sultan granted at the Vizier’s request; but discontented with a gradual rise, he plunged into the maze of intrigue of an oriental court, and, failing in a base attempt to supplant his benefactor, he was disgraced and fell. After many mishaps and wanderings, Hasan became the head of the Persian sect of the Ismailians—a party of fanatics who had long murmured in obscurity, but rose to an evil eminence under the guidance of his strong and evil will. In AD 1090, he seized the castle of Alamút, in the province of Rúdbar, which lies in the mountainous tract south of the Caspian Sea; and it was from this mountain home he obtained that evil celebrity among the Crusaders as the ‘Old Man of the Mountains,’ and spread terror through the Mohammedan world; and it is yet disputed whether the word ‘Assassin,’ which they have left in the language of modern Europe as their dark memorial, is derived from the hashish, or opiate of hemp-leaves (the Indian bhang), with which they maddened themselves to the sullen pitch of oriental desperation, or from the name of the founder of the dynasty, whom we have seen in his quiet collegiate days, at Naishápúr. One of the countless victims of the Assassin’s dagger was Nizám-ul-Mulk himself, the old schoolboy friend.
“Omar Khayyám also came to the Vizier to claim his share; but not to ask for title or office. ‘The greatest boon you can confer on me,’ he said, ‘is to let me live in a corner under the shadow of your fortune, to spread wide the advantages of Science, and pray for your long life and prosperity.’ The Vizier tells us, that when he found Omar was really sincere in his refusal, he pressed him no further, but granted him a yearly pension of 1200 mithkáls of gold from the treasury of Naishápúr.
“At Naishápúr thus lived and died Omar Khayyám, ‘busied,’ adds the Vizier, ‘in winning knowledge of every kind, and especially in Astronomy, wherein he attained to a very high preeminence. Under the Sultanate of Malik Shah, he came to Merv, and obtained great praise for his proficiency in science, and the Sultan showered favors upon him.’
“When the Malik Shah determined to reform the calendar, Omar was one of the eight learned men employed to do it; the result was the Jaláli era (so called from Jalál-ud-din, one of the King’s names)—‘a computation of time,’ says Gibbon, ‘which surpasses the Julian, and approaches the accuracy of the Gregorian style.’ He is also the author of some astronomical tables, entitled Zíji-Maliksháhí,” and the French have lately republished and translated an Arabic Treatise of his on Algebra.
“His Takhallus or poetical name (Khayyám) signifies a Tentmaker, and he is said to have at one time exercised that trade, perhaps before Nizám-ul-Mulk’s generosity raised him to independence. Many Persian poets similarly derive their names from their occupations; thus we have Attár, ‘a druggist,’ Assár, ‘an oil presser,’ etc. Omar himself alludes to his name in the following whimsical lines:—
“ ‘Khayyám, who stitched the tents of science,
Has fallen in grief’s furnace and been suddenly burned;
The shears of Fate have cut the tent ropes of his life,
And the broker of Hope has sold him for nothing!’
“We have only one more anecdote to give of his Life, and that relates to the close; it is told in the anonymous preface which is sometimes prefixed to his poems; it has been printed in the Persian in the Appendix to Hyde’s Veterum Persarum Religio, p. 499; and D’Herbelot alludes to it in his Bibliothèque, under Khiam—
“It is written in the chronicles of the ancients that this King of the Wise, Omar Khayyám, died at Naishápúr in the year of the Hegira, 517 (AD 1123); in science he was unrivaled—the very paragon of his age. Khwájah Nizámi of Samarcand, who was one of his pupils, relates the following story: ‘I often used to hold conversations with my teacher, Omar Khayyám, in a garden; and one day he said to me, “My tomb shall be in a spot where the north wind may scatter roses over it.” I wondered at the words he spake, but I knew that his were no idle words. Years after, when I chanced to revisit Naishápúr, I went to his final resting-place, and lo! it was just outside a garden, and trees laden with fruit stretched their boughs over the garden wall, and dropped their flowers upon his tomb, so that the stone was hidden under them.’ ”
Thus far—without fear of trespass—from the Calcutta Review. The writer of it, on reading in India this story of Omar’s grave, was reminded, he says, of Cicero’s account of finding Archimedes’ tomb at Syracuse, buried in grass and weeds. I think Thorwaldsen desired to have roses grow over him; a wish religiously fulfilled for him to the present day, I believe. However, to return to Omar.
Though the Sultan “shower’d favors upon him,” Omar’s Epicurean audacity of thought and speech caused him to be regarded askance in his own time and country. He is said to have been especially hated and dreaded by the Súfis, whose practise he ridiculed, and whose faith amounts to little more than his own, when stript of the mysticism and formal recognition of Islamism under which Omar would not hide. Their poets, including Háfiz, who are (with the exception of Firdausi) the most considerable in Persia, borrowed largely, indeed, of Omar’s material, but turning it to a mystical use more convenient to themselves and the people they addressed; a people quite as quick of doubt as of belief; as keen of bodily sense as of intellectual; and delighting in a cloudy composition of both, in which they could float luxuriously between Heaven and Earth, and this world and the next, on the wings of a poetical expression, that might serve indifferently for either. Omar was too honest of heart as well of head for this. Having failed (however mistakenly) of finding any providence but bestiny, and any world but this, he set about making the most of it; preferring rather to soothe the soul through the senses into acquiescence with things as he saw them, than to perplex it with vain disquietude after what they might be. It has been seen, however, that his worldly ambition was not exorbitant; and he very likely takes a humorous or perverse pleasure in exalting the gratification of sense above that of the intellect, in which he must have taken great delight, although it failed to answer the questions in which he, in common with all men, was most vitally interested.
For whatever reason, however, Omar, as before said, has never been popular in his own country, and therefore has been but scantily transmitted abroad. The manuscripts of his poems, mutilated beyond the average casualties of Oriental transcription, are so rare in the East as scarce to have reached Westward at all, in spite of all the acquisitions of arms and science. There is no copy at the India House, none at the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris. We know but one in England: No. 140 of the Ouseley manuscripts at the Bodleian, written at Shiráz, AD 1460. This contains but 158 rubáiyát. One in the Asiatic Society’s Library at Calcutta (of which we have a copy) contains (and yet incomplete) 516, though swelled to that by all kinds of repetition and corruption. So Von Hammer speaks of his copy as containing about 200, while Dr. Sprenger catalogues the Lucknow manuscripts at double that number. The scribes, too, of the Oxford and Calcutta manuscripts seem to do their work under a sort of protest; each beginning with a tetrastich (whether genuine or not) taken out of its alphabetical order; the Oxford with one of apology; the Calcutta with one of expostulation, supposed (says a notice prefixed to the manuscript) to have arisen from a dream, in which Omar’s mother asked about his future fate. It may be rendered thus:—
“Oh Thou who burn’st in Heart for those who burn
In Hell, whose fires thyself shall feed in turn;
How long be crying, ‘Mercy on them, God!’
Why, who art Thou to teach, and He to learn?”
The Bodleian Quatrain pleads pantheism by way of justification.
“If I myself upon a looser Creed
Have loosely strung the Jewel of Good deed,
Let this one thing for my Atonement plead:
That One for Two I never did misread.”
The reviewer to whom I owe the particulars of Omar’s life concludes his review by comparing him with Lucretius, both as to natural remper and genius, and as acted upon by the circumstances in which he lived. Both indeed were men of subtle, strong, and cultivated intellect, fine imagination, and hearts passionate for truth and justice; who justly revolted from their country’s false religion, and false, or foolish, devotion to it; but who fell short of replacing what they subverted by such better hope as others, with no better revelation to guide them, had yet made a law to themselves. Lucretius indeed, with such material as Epicurus furnished, satisfied himself with the theory of a vast machine fortuitously constructed and acting by a law that implied no legislator; and so composing himself into a Stoical rather than Epicurean severity of attitude, sat down to contemplate the mechanical drama of the universe which he was part actor in; himself and all about him (as in his own sublime description of the Roman theatre) discolored with the lurid reflex of the curtain suspended between the spectator and the sun. Omar, more desperate, or more careless of any so complicated system as resulted in nothing but hopeless necessity, flung his own genius and learning with a bitter or humorous jest into the general ruin which their insufficient glimpses only served to reveal; and, pretending sensual pleasure, as the serious purpose of life, only diverted himself with speculative problems of deity, destiny, matter and spirit, good and evil, and other such questions, easier to start than to run down, and the pursuit of which becomes a very weary sport at last!
With regard to the present translation. The original rubáiyát (as, missing an Arabic guttural, these tetrastichs are more musically called) are independent stanzas, consisting each of four lines of equal though varied prosody; sometimes all rhyming, but oftener (as here imitated) the third line a blank. Somewhat as in the Greek Alcaic, where the penultimate line seems to lift and suspend the wave that falls over in the last. As usual with such kind of Oriental verse, the rubáiyát follow one another according to alphabetic rhyme—a strange succession of grave and gay. Those here selected are strung into something of an eclogue, with perhaps a less than equal proportion of the “drink and make-merry,” which (genuine or not) recurs over-frequently in the original. Either way, the result is sad enough: saddest perhaps when most ostentatiously merry: more apt to move sorrow than anger toward the old Tentmaker, who, after vainly endeavoring to unshackle his steps from destiny, and to catch some authentic glimpse of tomorrow, fell back upon today (which has outlasted so many tomorrows!) as the only ground he had got to stand upon, however momentarily slipping from under his feet.
While the second edition of this version of Omar was preparing, Monsieur Nicolas, French Consul at Resht, published a very careful and very good edition of the text from a lithograph copy at Tehran, comprising 464 rubáiyát, with translation and notes of his own.
Monsieur Nicolas, whose edition has reminded me of several things, and instructed me in others, does not consider Omar to be the material Epicurean that I have literally taken him for, but a mystic, shadowing the Deity under the figure of Wine, Wine-bearer, etc., as Háfiz is supposed to do; in short, a Súfi poet like Háfiz and the rest.
I cannot see reason to alter my opinion, formed as it was more than a dozen years ago when Omar was first shown me by one to whom I am indebted for all I know of Oriental, and very much of other, literature. He admired Omar’s genius so much that he would gladly have adopted any such interpretation of his meaning as M. Nicolas’ if he could. That he could not, appears by his paper in the Calcutta Review already so largely quoted; in which he argues from the poems themselves, as well as from what records remain of the poet’s life.
And if more were needed to disprove Monsieur Nicolas’ theory, there is the biographical notice which he himself has drawn up in direct contradiction to the interpretation of the poems given in his notes. (See pp. xiii–xiv of his preface.) Indeed I hardly knew poor Omar was so far gone till his apologist informed me. For here we see that, whatever were the wine that Háfiz drank and sang, the veritable juice of the grape it was which Omar used, not only when carousing with his friends, but (says Monsieur Nicolas) in order to excite himself to that pitch of devotion which others reached by cries and “Hurlemens.” And yet, whenever Wine, Wine-bearer, etc., occur in the text—which is often enough—Monsieur Nicolas carefully annotates “Dieu,” “La Divinité,” etc.: so carefully indeed that one is tempted to think that he was indoctrinated by the Súfi with whom he read the poems. A Persian would naturally wish to vindicate a distinguished countryman; and a Súfi to enrol him in his own sect, which already comprises all the chief poets of Persia.
What historical authority has Monsieur Nicolas to show that Omar gave himself up “avec passion à l’étude de la philosophie des Soufis?” (Preface, p. xiii.) The doctrines of pantheism, materialism, necessity, etc., were not peculiar to the Súfi; nor to Lucretius before them; nor to Epicurus before him; probably the very original irreligion of thinking men from the first; and very likely to be the spontaneous growth of a philosopher living in an age of social and political barbarism, under shadow of one of the two and seventy religions supposed to divide the world. Von Hammer (according to Sprenger’s Oriental Catalogue) speaks of Omar as “a freethinker, and a great opponent of Sufism;” perhaps because, while holding much of their doctrine, he would not pretend to any inconsistent severity of morals. Sir W. Ouseley has written a note to something of the same effect on the flyleaf of the Bodleian manuscript. And in two rubáiyát of Monsieur Nicolas’ own edition Súf and Súfi are both disparagingly named.
No doubt many of these quatrains seem unaccountable unless mystically interpreted; but many more as unaccountable unless literally. Were the wine spiritual, for instance, how wash the body with it when dead? Why make cups of the dead clay to be filled with—“La Divinité”—by some succeeding mystic? Monsieur Nicolas himself is puzzled by some “bizarres” and “trop Orientals” allusions and images—“d’une sensualité quelquefois révoltante” indeed—which “les convenances” do not permit him to translate, but still which the reader cannot but refer to “La Divinité.” No doubt also many of the quatrains in the Tehran, as in the Calcutta copies, are spurious; such rubáiyát being the common form of epigram in Persia. But this, at best, tells as much one way as another; nay, the Súfi, who may be considered the scholar and man of Letters in Persia, would be far more likely than the careless Epicure to interpolate what favors his own view of the poet. I observe that very few of the more mystical quatrains are in the Bodleian manuscript which must be one of the oldest, as dated at Shiraz, AH 865, AD 1460. And this, I think, especially distinguishes Omar (I cannot help calling him by his—no, not Christian—familiar name) from all other Persian poets: That, whereas with them the poet is lost in his song, the man in allegory and abstraction; we seem to have the man—the Bonhomme—Omar himself, with all his humors and passions, as frankly before us as if we were really at table with him, after the wine had gone round.
I must say that I, for one, never wholly believed in the mysticism of Háfiz. It does not appear there was any danger in holding and singing Súfi pantheism, so long as the poet made his salaam to Mohammed at the beginning and end of his song. Under such conditions Jeláluddín, Jámí, Attár, and others sang; using wine and beauty indeed as images to illustrate, not as a mask to hide, the divinity they were celebrating. Perhaps some allegory less liable to mistake or abuse had been better among so inflammable a people: much more so when, as some think with Háfiz and Omar, the abstract is not only likened to, but identified with, the sensual image; hazardous, if not to the devotee himself, yet to his weaker brethren; and worse for the profane in proportion as the devotion of the initiated grew warmer. And all for what? To be tantalized with images of sensual enjoyment which must be renounced if one would approximate a God, who, according to the doctrine, is sensual matter as well as spirit, and into whose universe one expects unconsciously to merge after death, without hope of any posthumous beatitude in another world to compensate for all one’s self-denial in this. Lucretius’ blind divinity certainly merited, and probably got, as much self-sacrifice as this of the Súfi; and the burden of Omar’s song—if not “let us eat”—is assuredly—“let us drink, for tomorrow we die!” And if Háfiz meant quite otherwise by a similar language, he surely miscalculated when he devoted his life and genius to so equivocal a psalmody as, from his day to this, has been said and sung by any rather than spiritual worshipers.
However, as there is some traditional presumption, and certainly the opinion of some learned men, in favor of Omar’s being a Súfi—and even something of a saint—those who please may so interpret his Wine and Cup-bearer. On the other hand, as there is far more historical certainty of his being a philosopher, of scientific insight and ability far beyond that of the age and country he lived in; of such moderate worldly ambition as becomes a philosopher, and such moderate wants as rarely satisfy a debauchee; other readers may be content to believe with me that, while the wine Omar celebrates is simply the juice of the grape, he bragged more than he drank of it, in very defiance perhaps of that spiritual wine which left its votaries sunk in hypocrisy or disgust.
Wake! For the Sun, who scatter’d into flight
The Stars before him from the Field of Night,
Drives Night along with them from Heav’n, and strikes
The Sultán’s Turret with a Shaft of Light.
Before the phantom of False morning died,
Methought a Voice within the Tavern cried,
“When all the Temple is prepared within,
Why nods the drowsy Worshipper outside?”
And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The Tavern shouted—“Open then the Door!
You know how little while we have to stay,
And, once departed, may return no more.”
Now the New Year reviving old Desires,
The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
Where the White Hand of Moses on the Bough
Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires.
Iram indeed is gone with all his Rose,
And Jamshýd’s Sev’n-ring’d Cup where no one knows;
But still a Ruby kindles in the Vine,
And many a Garden by the Water blows.
And David’s lips are lockt; but in divine
High-piping Pehleví, with “Wine! Wine! Wine!
Red Wine!”—the Nightingale cries to the Rose
That sallow cheek of hers t’ incarnadine.
Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter—and the Bird is on the Wing.
Whether at Naishápúr or Babylon,
Whether the Cup with sweet or bitter run,
The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.
Each Morn a thousand Roses brings, you say;
Yes, but where leaves the Rose of Yesterday?
And this first Summer month that brings the Rose
Shall take Jamshýd and Kaikobád away.
Well, let it take them! What have we to do
With Kaikobád the Great, or Kaikhosrú?
Let Zál and Rustum bluster as they will,
Or Hátim call to Supper—heed not you.
With me along the strip of Herbage strown
That just divides the desert from the sown,
Where name of Slave and Sultán is forgot—
And Peace to Mahmúd on his golden Throne!
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!
Some for the Glories of This World; and some
Sigh for the Prophet’s Paradise to come;
Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!
Look to the blowing Rose about us—“Lo,
Laughing,” she says, “into the world I blow,
At once the silken tassel of my Purse
Tear, and its Treasure on the Garden throw.”
And those who husbanded the Golden grain,
And those who flung it to the winds like Rain,
Alike to no such aureate Earth are turn’d
As, buried once, Men want dug up again.
The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns Ashes—or it prospers; and anon,
Like Snow upon the Desert’s dusty Face,
Lighting a little hour or two—is gone.
Think, in this batter’d Caravanserai
Whose Portals are alternate Night and Day,
How Sultán after Sultán with his Pomp
Abode his destined Hour, and went his way.
They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
The Courts where Jamshýd gloried and drank deep:
And Bahrám, that great Hunter—the Wild Ass
Stamps o’er his Head, but cannot break his Sleep.
I sometimes think that never blows so red
The Rose as where some buried Caesar bled;
That every Hyacinth the Garden wears
Dropt in her Lap from some once lovely Head.
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!
Ah, my Belovéd, fill the Cup that clears
Today of Past Regrets and Future Fears:
Tomorrow!—Why, Tomorrow I may be
Myself with Yesterday’s Sev’n Thousand Years.
For some we loved, the loveliest and the best
That from his Vintage rolling Time hath prest,
Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to rest.
And we, that now make merry in the Room
They left, and Summer dresses in new bloom
Ourselves must we beneath the Couch of Earth
Descend—ourselves to make a Couch—for whom?
Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and—sans End!
Alike for those who for Today prepare,
And those that after some Tomorrow stare,
A Muezzín from the Tower of Darkness cries
“Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There.”
Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss’d
Of the Two Worlds so wisely—they are thrust
Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
Are scatter’d, and their Mouths are stopt with Dust.
Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door where in I went.
With them the seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow;
And this was all the Harvest that I reap’d—
“I came like Water, and like Wind I go.”
Into this Universe, and Why not knowing
Nor Whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing;
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not Whither, willy-nilly blowing.
What, without asking, hither hurried Whence?
And, without asking, Whither hurried hence!
Oh, many a Cup of this forbidden Wine
Must drown the memory of that insolence!
Up from Earth’s Centre through the Seventh Gate
I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate;
And many a Knot unravel’d by the Road;
But not the Master-knot of Human Fate.
There was the Door to which I found no Key;
There was the Veil through which I might not see:
Some little talk awhile of Me and Thee
There was—and then no more of Thee and Me.
Earth could not answer; nor the Seas that mourn
In flowing Purple, of their Lord forlorn;
Nor rolling Heaven, with all his Signs reveal’d
And hidden by the sleeve of Night and Morn.
Then of the Thee in Me who works behind
The Veil, I lifted up my hands to find
A Lamp amid the Darkness; and I heard,
As from Without—“The Me within Thee blind!”
Then to the lip of this poor earthen Urn
I lean’d, the Secret of my Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmur’d—“While you live
Drink!—for, once dead, you never shall return.”
I think the Vessel, that with fugitive
Articulation answer’d, once did live,
And drink; and Ah! the passive Lip I kiss’d,
How many Kisses might it take—and give!
For I remember stopping by the way
To watch a Potter thumping his wet Clay:
And with its all-obliterated Tongue
It murmur’d—“Gently, Brother, gently, pray!”
And has not such a Story from of Old
Down Man’s successive generations roll’d
Of such a clod of saturated Earth
Cast by the Maker into Human mould?
And not a drop that from our Cups we throw
For Earth to drink of, but may steal below
To quench the fire of Anguish in some Eye
There hidden—far beneath, and long ago.
As then the Tulip for her morning sup
Of Heav’nly Vintage from the soil looks up,
Do you devoutly do the like, till Heav’n
To Earth invert you—like an empty Cup.
Perplext no more with Human or Divine,
Tomorrow’s tangle to the winds resign,
And lose your fingers in the tresses of
The Cypress-slender Minister of Wine.
And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press
End in what All begins and ends in—Yes;
Think then you are Today what Yesterday
You were—Tomorrow you shall not be less.
So when that Angel of the darker Drink
At last shall find you by the river-brink,
And, offering his Cup, invite your Soul
Forth to your Lips to quaff—you shall not shrink.
Why, if the Soul can fling the Dust aside,
And naked on the Air of Heaven ride,
Were’t not a Shame—were’t not a Shame for him
In this clay carcase crippled to abide?
’Tis but a Tent where takes his one day’s rest
A Sultán to the realm of Death addrest;
The Sultán rises, and the dark Ferrásh
Strikes, and prepares it for another Guest.
And fear not lest Existence closing your
Account, and mine, should know the like no more;
The Eternal Sákí from that Bowl has pour’d
Millions of Bubbles like us, and will pour.
When You and I behind the Veil are past,
Oh, but the long, long while the World shall last,
Which of our Coming and Departure heeds
As the Sea’s self should heed a pebble-cast.
A Moment’s Halt—a momentary taste
Of Being from the Well amid the Waste—
And Lo!—the phantom Caravan has reach’d
The Nothing it set out from—Oh, make haste!
Would you that spangle of Existence spend
About the Secret—quick about it, Friend!
A Hair perhaps divides the False and True—
And upon what, prithee, may life depend?
A Hair perhaps divides the False and True;
Yes; and a single Alif were the clue—
Could you but find it—to the Treasure-house,
And peradventure to The Master too;
Whose secret Presence, through Creation’s veins
Running Quicksilver-like eludes your pains;
Taking all shapes from Máh to Máhi; and
They change and perish all—but He remains;
A moment guess’d—then back behind the Fold
Immerst of Darkness round the Drama roll’d
Which, for the Pastime of Eternity,
He doth Himself contrive, enact, behold.
But if in vain, down on the stubborn floor
Of Earth, and up to Heav’n’s unopening Door,
You gaze Today, while You are You—how then
Tomorrow, You when shall be You no more?
Waste not your Hour, nor in the vain pursuit
Of This and That endeavour and dispute;
Better be jocund with the fruitful Grape
Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.
You know, my Friends, with what a brave Carouse
I made a Second Marriage in my house;
Divorced old barren Reason from my Bed,
And took the Daughter of the Vine to Spouse.
For “Is” and “Is-not” though with Rule and Line
And “Up-and-down” by Logic I define,
Of all that one should care to fathom, I
Was never deep in anything but—Wine.
Ah, but my Computations, People say,
Reduced the Year to better reckoning?—Nay
’twas only striking from the Calendar
Unborn Tomorrow, and dead Yesterday.
And lately, by the Tavern Door agape,
Came shining through the Dusk an Angel Shape
Bearing a Vessel on his Shoulder; and
He bid me taste of it; and ’twas—the Grape!
The Grape that can with Logic absolute
The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects confute:
The sovereign Alchemist that in a trice
Life’s leaden metal into Gold transmute:
The mighty Mahmúd, Allah-breathing Lord,
That all the misbelieving and black Horde
Of Fears and Sorrows that infest the Soul
Scatters before him with his whirlwind Sword.
Why, be this Juice the growth of God, who dare
Blaspheme the twisted tendril as a Snare?
A Blessing, we should use it, should we not?
And if a Curse—why, then, Who set it there?
I must abjure the Balm of Life, I must,
Scared by some After-reckoning ta’en on trust,
Or lured with Hope of some Diviner Drink,
To fill the Cup—when crumbled into Dust!
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.
Strange, is it not? that of the myriads who
Before us pass’d the door of Darkness through,
Not one returns to tell us of the Road,
Which to discover we must travel too.
The Revelations of Devout and Learn’d
Who rose before us, and as Prophets burn’d,
Are all but Stories, which, awoke from Sleep,
They told their comrades, and to Sleep return’d.
I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that After-life to spell:
And by and by my Soul return’d to me,
And answer’d “I Myself am Heav’n and Hell:”
Heav’n but the Vision of fulfill’d Desire,
And Hell the Shadow from a Soul on fire,
Cast on the Darkness into which Ourselves,
So late emerged from, shall so soon expire.
We are no other than a moving row
Of Magic Shadow-shapes that come and go
Round with the Sun-illumined Lantern held
In Midnight by the Master of the Show;
But helpless Pieces of the Game He plays
Upon this Chequer-board of Nights and Days;
Hither and thither moves, and checks, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.
The Ball no question makes of Ayes and Noes,
But Here or There as strikes the Player goes;
And He that toss’d you down into the Field,
He knows about it all—He knows—He knows!
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
And that inverted Bowl they call the Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’d we live and die,
Lift not your hands to It for help—for It
As impotently moves as you or I.
With Earth’s first Clay They did the Last Man knead,
And there of the Last Harvest sow’d the Seed:
And the first Morning of Creation wrote
What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.
YesterdayThis Day’s Madness did prepare;
Tomorrow’s Silence, Triumph, or Despair:
Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why:
Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where.
I tell you this—When, started from the Goal,
Over the flaming shoulders of the Foal
Of Heav’n Parwín and Mushtarí they flung
In my predestined Plot of Dust and Soul.
The Vine had struck a fibre: which about
If clings my being—let the Dervish flout;
Of my Base metal may be filed a Key,
That shall unlock the Door he howls without.
And this I know: whether the one True Light
Kindle to Love, or Wrath-consume me quite,
One Flash of It within the Tavern caught
Better than in the Temple lost outright.
What! out of senseless Nothing to provoke
A conscious Something to resent the yoke
Of unpermitted Pleasure, under pain
Of Everlasting Penalties, if broke!
What! from his helpless Creature be repaid
Pure Gold for what he lent him dross-allay’d—
Sue for a Debt he never did contract,
And cannot answer—Oh, the sorry trade!
Oh, Thou, who didst with pitfall and with gin
Beset the Road I was to wander in,
Thou wilt not with Predestined Evil round
Enmesh, and then impute my Fall to Sin!
Oh, Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make,
And ev’n with Paradise devise the Snake:
For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man
Is blacken’d—Man’s forgiveness give—and take!
As under cover of departing Day
Slunk hunger-stricken Ramazán away,
Once more within the Potter’s house alone
I stood, surrounded by the Shapes of Clay.
Shapes of all Sorts and Sizes, great and small,
That stood along the floor and by the wall;
And some loquacious Vessels were; and some
Listen’d perhaps, but never talk’d at all.
Said one among them—“Surely not in vain
My substance of the common Earth was ta’en
And to this Figure moulded, to be broke,
Or trampled back to shapeless Earth again.”
Then said a Second—“Ne’er a peevish Boy
Would break the Bowl from which he drank in joy;
And He that with his hand the Vessel made
Will surely not in after Wrath destroy.”
After a momentary silence spake
Some Vessel of a more ungainly Make;
“They sneer at me for leaning all awry:
What! did the Hand then of the Potter shake?”
Whereat some one of the loquacious Lot—
I think a Súfi pipkin—waxing hot—
“All this of Pot and Potter—Tell me then,
Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?”
“Why,” said another, “Some there are who tell
Of one who threatens he will toss to Hell
The luckless Pots he marr’d in making—Pish!
He’s a Good Fellow, and ’twill all be well.”
“Well,” murmur’d one, “Let whoso make or buy,
My Clay with long Oblivion is gone dry:
But fill me with the old familiar Juice,
Methinks I might recover by and by.”
So while the Vessels one by one were speaking,
The little Moon look’d in that all were seeking:
And then they jogg’d each other, “Brother! Brother!
Now for the Porter’s shoulder-knot a-creaking!”
Ah, with the Grape my fading Life provide,
And wash the Body whence the Life has died,
And lay me, shrouded in the living Leaf,
By some not unfrequented Garden-side.
That ev’n my buried Ashes such a snare
Of Vintage shall fling up into the Air
As not a True-believer passing by
But shall be overtaken unaware.
Indeed the Idols I have loved so long
Have done my credit in this World much wrong:
Have drown’d my Glory in a shallow Cup
And sold my Reputation for a Song.
Indeed, indeed, Repentance oft before
I swore—but was I sober when I swore?
And then and then came Spring, and Rose-in-hand
My thread-bare Penitence apieces tore.
And much as Wine has play’d the Infidel,
And robb’d me of my Robe of Honour—Well,
I wonder often what the Vintners buy
One half so precious as the stuff they sell.
Yet Ah, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth’s sweet-scented manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the branches sang,
Ah, whence, and whither flown again, who knows!
Would but the Desert of the Fountain yield
One glimpse—if dimly, yet indeed, reveal’d,
To which the fainting Traveller might spring,
As springs the trampled herbage of the field!
Would but some wingéd Angel ere too late
Arrest the yet unfolded Roll of Fate,
And make the stern Recorder otherwise
Enregister, or quite obliterate!
Ah, Love! could you and I with Him conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits—and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!
Yon rising Moon that looks for us again—
How oft hereafter will she wax and wane;
How oft hereafter rising look for us
Through this same Garden—and for one in vain!
And when like her, oh, Sákí, you shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scatter’d on the Grass,
And in your Joyous errand reach the spot
Where I made One—turn down an empty Glass!
The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám
is based on the poetry of
and was compiled and translated from Persian in 1859 by