Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
رباعیات عمر خیام

Front cover of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam translated by Edward FitzGerald, illustrated by Willy Pogany

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám (Persian: رباعیات عمر خیام) is the title that Edward FitzGerald gave to his translation of a selection of poems, originally written in Persian and numbering about a thousand, attributed to Omar Khayyám (1048–1131), a Persian poet, mathematician and astronomer. A ruba'i is a two-line stanza with two parts (or hemistichs) per line, hence the word rubAYOT (derived from the Arabic language root for "a million"), meaning "quatrains".

Illustration for The Rubayot of Omar Khayyam: "Earth could not answer; nor the Seas that mourn"
Page of illuminated manuscript by William Morris, illustrated by Edward Burne-Jones, 1870s.
Illustration by Arthur Szyk for 1940 edition

Authenticity and analysis

The number of quatrains attributed to Khayyam varies from about 1,200 (according to Saeed Nafisi) to over 2,000. Many scholars believe that not all the attributed quatrains are authentic and some have been added to Khayyam's Diwan in later years for various reasons. A few literary researchers, for example, Mohammad-Ali Foroughi and Farzaneh Aghaeipour[1] have selected and published a subset of the quatrains believed to be original using various research methods.

Mystical interpretation

"Wine of the Mystic" by Paramahansa Yogananda[2] is an illustrated interpretation of the FitzGerald translation. Each quatrain is accompanied with Persian text, a glossary of terms, Yoganada's spiritual interpretation, and practical interpretation. It won the 1995 Benjamin Franklin Award in the field of Religion. Yogananda makes an argument for the mystical basis of Khayyam's Rubaiyat.

In Who is the Potter? ,[3] Abdullah Dougan, a Naqshbandi Sufi, provides a verse-by-verse commentary of the Rubaiyat. Dougan says that while Omar is a minor Sufi teacher compared to the giants – Rumi, Attar and Sana’i, for us he is a marvelous man because we can feel for him and understand his approach. The work is much more accessible than Sana’i's for instance; "Every line of the Rubaiyat has more meaning than almost anything you could read in Sufi literature". Dougan says that the many critics of Fitzgerald miss the point as he is only an instrument for what Allah wanted to happen – there have been many more literally correct translations, but Fitzgerald's is divine inspiration, something far superior, a miracle. In Dougan's opinion, while many read the Rubaiyat literally and hence see Omar as a materialist, he is in fact a spiritual teacher and is much maligned because people do not understand him. Abdullah Dougan says the work is deeply esoteric and "if you approach the quatrains with that in mind, the poem will have a tremendous impact on you as you try to understand it."

Religious beliefs were deeply instilled in the people of the time, which gave much influence to the clergy, and the prosecution of poets who made statements contradictory to religious messages were prevalent, as was the case with Hafiz (whose house was raided several times, and was forced to burn some of his more liberal poems) and Ferdowsi (who was branded a heretic and was not permitted to be buried in the Muslims graveyard).

The mystic interpretation of themes in poetry which were contrary to Islamic teachings became popular after the Safavid dynasty rise to power and the establishing of Twelver school of Shi'a Islam as the official religion of Iran. At this time poets such as Ferdowsi (who glorified the pre-Islamic Iran and patriotism), Hafiz (with his Epicurean view on life) and Khayyam (with openly agnostic themed poetry) had already found their roots among Iranian culture and their works were looked upon as masterpieces of Persian literature. In order to justify their popularity and lay "credence" to their messages, many Haram themes were interpreted as having hidden mystical meanings and parallels were drawn between verses and Shi'a themes and traditions. Some religious hardliners however repudiated Khayyam and the like altogether (and to a lesser extent still do today).

Everything aside, Khayyam never identified himself as a Sufi nor did anyone in his time. On several occasions, in fact, he mocks the devoutly religious who criticize the non-religious.



Like Shakespeare's works, Omar Khayyám's verses have provided later authors with quotations to use as titles:

Equally noteworthy are these works likewise influenced:

That is not dead which can eternal lie
And with strange aeons even death may die.
Lovecraft was obsessed with the Arabian Nights and had no doubt read the Fitzgerald translation - the couplet follows Fitzgerald's metre and rhyme pattern for the first half of a Khayyam quatrain.
A jug of wine,
A leg of lamb
And thou!
Beside me,
Whistling in
the darkness.[7]
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!
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 as in I went.




Other media



The nature of a translation very much depends on what interpretation one places on Khayyam's philosophy. The fact that the rubaiyat is a collection of quatrainsand may be selected and rearranged subjectively to support one interpretation or anotherhas led to widely differing versions. Nicolas took the view that Khayyam himself clearly was a Sufi. Others have seen signs of mysticism, even atheism, or conversely devout and orthodox Islam. FitzGerald gave the Rubaiyat a distinct fatalistic spin, although it has been claimed that he softened the impact of Khayyam's nihilism and his preoccupation with the mortality and transience of all things. Even such a question as to whether Khayyam was pro- or anti-alcohol gives rise to more discussion than might at first glance have seemed plausible.

Edward FitzGerald versions

Illustration by Edmund Joseph Sullivan for Quatrain 11 of Fitzgerald's First Version.
Illustration by Edmund Joseph Sullivan for Quatrain 12 of Fitzgerald's First Version.
Illustration by Edmund Joseph Sullivan for Quatrain 51 of Fitzgerald's First Version.

The translations best known in English are those by Edward FitzGerald (1809–1883).

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 after his death on the basis of manuscript revisions FitzGerald had left.

FitzGerald also produced Latin translations of certain rubaiyat.

As a work of English literature FitzGerald's version is a high point of the 19th century and has been greatly influential. Indeed, the term "Rubaiyat" by itself has come to be used to describe the quatrain rhyme scheme that FitzGerald used in his translations: AABA.[12]

However, as a translation of Omar Khayyam's quatrains, it is not noted for its fidelity. Many of the verses are paraphrased, and some of them cannot be confidently traced to any one of Khayyam's quatrains at all. Some critics informally refer to the FitzGerald's English versions as "The Rubaiyat of FitzOmar", a nickname that both recognizes the liberties FitzGerald took with his source and also credits FitzGerald for the considerable portion of the "translation" that is his own creation.

In fact, FitzGerald himself referred to his work as "transmogrification". "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). And, "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).

Perhaps the most famous of FitzGerald's verses is this one, of which the final version is much beloved:

Quatrain XI in his 1st edition:

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 in his 5th edition:[13]

"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 following are several samples of Fitzgerald's translation, concluding with another well-known verse (FitzGerald's quatrain LI in his 1st edition):

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

And much as Wine has played the Infidel
And robbed me of my robe of honour, well ...
I often wonder what the vintners buy
One half so precious as the stuff they sell

For some we loved, the loveliest and best
That from His rolling vintage Time has pressed,
Have drunk their glass a round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to rest

But helpless pieces in the game He plays
Upon this chequer-board of Nights and Days
He hither and thither moves, and checks ... and slays
Then one by one, back in the Closet lays

"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."

Graf von Schack

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!

Omar Kayyim'

Friedrich Martin von Bodenstedt

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.

Edward Henry Whinfield

Two English editions by Edward Henry Whinfield (18361922) consisted of 253 quatrains in 1882 and 500 in 1883.

Quatrain 84 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):

In the sweet spring a grassy bank I sought
And thither wine and a fair Houri brought;
And, though the people called me graceless dog,
Gave not to Paradise another thought!

J. B. Nicolas

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.

John Leslie Garner

An English translation of 152 quatrains, published in 1888.

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

Justin Huntly McCarthy (1859–1936) (Member of Parliament for Newry) published prose translations of 466 quatrains in 1889.[14]

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

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

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.

Example quatrain (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):

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.

Jessie Cadell

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.[15]

Franz Toussaint

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.

A. J. Arberry

In 1959, Professor A. J. Arberry, a distinguished scholar of Persian and Arabic, attempted to produce a scholarly edition of Khayyam, based on thirteenth-century manuscripts. However, his manuscripts were subsequently exposed as twentieth-century forgeries.[16]

Robert Graves and Omar Ali-Shah

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.[16][17]

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

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.[18]

Peter Avery and John Heath-Stubbs

A modern version of 235 quatrains, claiming to be "as literal an English version of the Persian originals as readability and intelligibility permit", 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.

Karim Emami

In 1988, the Rubaiyat was translated by a Persian for the first time.[19] 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.[20] Emami was an outstanding translator of English in Iran, who had also translated many contemporary Persian poems.

Example from Emami's work:

It's early dawn, my love, open your eyes and arise
Gently imbibing and playing the lyre;
For those who are here will not tarry long,
And those who are gone will not return.

Example quatrain 160 (equivalent 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.

Ahmad Saidi

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.

Quatrain 75:

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.

Other languages

Anniversary events

2009 marked the 150th anniversary of Fitzgerald's translation, and the 200th anniversary of Fitzgerald's birth. Events marking these anniversaries included:

See also


  1. "Omar Khayam (in Persian)" (PDF). Retrieved 20 January 2008.
  2. Paramhansa Yogananda (1 May 1996). Wine of the Mystic: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam : a Spiritual Interpretation. Self-Realization Fellowship Publishers. ISBN 9780876122266.
  3. Abdullah Dougan Who is the Potter? Gnostic Press 1991 ISBN 047301064X
  4. "The Handbook of Hymen by O. Henry". Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  5. "Old Fashioned American Humor". Old Fashioned American Humor. 6 March 2013. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  6. "". Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  7. "Principia Discordia, the book of Chaos, Discord and Confusion". Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  8. Cooper, Miriam (1973). Dark Lady of the Silents. Bobbs Merrill. p. 104. ISBN 0672517256.
  9. "See album". Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  10. Selvin, Joel. "Alton Kelley, psychedelic poster creator, dies". San Francisco Chronicle. 3 June 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-25.
  11. "The Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam". Valley Entertainment-Hearts of Space Records. Retrieved 23 June 2010.
  12. "Rubaiyat stanza". Merriam-Webster, an Encyclopædia Britannica Company. Retrieved 18 August 2011.
  13. "". Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  14. Omar Khayyam, Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by Justin Huntly McCarthy MP. [London] : D. Nutt, 1889. (Source: Trinity College Dublin Library)
  15. Raza, Rosemary Cargill (2004). "Cadell, Jessie Ellen (18441884)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/4300. (subscription required (help)).
  16. 1 2 Irwin, Robert. "Omar Khayyam's Bible for drunkards". The Times Literary Supplement. Archived from the original on 18 March 2007. Retrieved 5 October 2008.
  17. Aminrazavi, Mehdi: The Wine of Wisdom. Oneworld 2005, ISBN 1-85168-355-0, p. 155
  19. Azarang, Abd-al Hussein. "Emami, Karim". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
  20. Emami, Karim. Ups and Downs of Translation, Tehran, 1988, pp. 134-169
  21. "Logo". Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  22. Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam: A Translation Into Assyrian Language Plus Other ... - Omar Khayyam, Eshaya Elisha Khinno - Google Books. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  23. 1 2 Rubaije Omera Hajjama (Serbian)
  24. "Web of the Galician Culture Council". Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  25. "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam". Odia Book Bazar. 2015. Retrieved September 26, 2015.
  26. 1 2 3 4 5 Omar Khayyam. Rubaiyat. Translated by Ryosaku Ogawa (小川亮作 Ogawa Ryosaku). Iwanami Shoten, 1949 (revised ed. in 1979), pp. 16773. ISBN 978-4003278314.
  27. "図書カード:ルバイヤート". 21 July 2006. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  28. Edward FitzGerald. "Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám | Folio Illustrated Book". Retrieved 11 April 2013.
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