The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

For in and out, above, about, below, ’tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show play’d in a Box whose Candle is the Sun, round which we Phantom Figures come and go.

OPENING
I am A Man of Letters. I’ve been reading lately, and I have found some words I would like to share. Today, selections from “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.” Omar Khayyam was born in 1048 and died in 1131. He was a poet and a mathematician. “The Rubaiyat” was translated from Persian to English by Edward FitzGerald in 1859.

BODY
AWAKE! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light.

Dreaming when Dawn’s Left Hand was in the Sky
I heard a voice within the Tavern cry,
“Awake, my Little ones, and fill the Cup
Before Life’s Liquor in its Cup be dry.”

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.”

[…]

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 Promise go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!

[…]

I sometimes think that never blows so red
The Rose as where some buried Caesar bled;
That every Hyacinth the Garden wears
Dropt in its Lap from some once lovely Head.

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

Ah, my Beloved, fill the Cup that clears
To-day of past Regrets and future Fears –
To-morrow? – Why, To-morrow I may be
Myself with Yesterday’s Sev’n Thousand Years.

Lo! some we loved, the loveliest and best
That Time and Fate of all their Vintage 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 may yet 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!

[…]

Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss’d
Of the Two Worlds so learnedly, are thrust
Like foolish Prophets forth; their Works to Scorn
Are scatter’d, and their Mouths are stopt with Dust.

Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown forever dies.

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.

With them the Seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with my own hand labour’d it to grow:
And this was all the Harvest that I reap’d –
“I came like Water and like Wind I go.”

[…]

Ah, fill the Cup: – what boots it to repeat
How Time is slipping underneath our Feet:
Unborn To-morrow, and dead Yesterday,
Why fret about them if To-day be sweet!

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!

Oh, plagued no more with Human or Divine,
To-morrow’s tangle to itself resign,
And lose your fingers in the tresses of
The Cypress-slender Minister of Wine.

Waste not your Hour, nor in the vain pursuit
Of This and That endeavor and dispute;
Better be merry 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.

And lately, by the Tavern Door agape,
Came stealing 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 subtle Alchemest that in a Trice
Life’s leaden Metal into Gold transmute.

Why, be this Juice the growth of God, who dare
Blaspheme the twisted tendril as Snare?
A Blessing, we should use it, should we not?
And if a Curse – why, then, Who set it there?

But leave the Wise to wrangle, and with me
The Quarrel of the Universe let be:
And, in some corner of the Hubbub couch’d,
Make Game of that which makes as much of Thee.

For in and out, above, about, below,
‘Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
Play’d in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.

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 fellows, and to Sleep return’d.

Why, if the Soul can fling the Dust aside,
And naked on the Air of Heaven ride,
Is’t not a shame – Is’t not a shame for him
So long in this Clay suburb to abide?

[…]

I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that After-life to spell:
And after many days my Soul return’d
And said, “Behold, Myself am Heav’n and Hell.”

Heav’n but the Vision of fulfill’d Desire,
And Hell the Shadow of a Soul on fire,
Cast on the Darkness into which Ourselves,
So late emerg’d from, shall so soon expire.

While the Rose blows along the River Brink,
With old Khayyam and ruby vintage drink:
And when the Angel with his darker Draught
Draws up to Thee – take that, and do not shrink.

[…]

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 much as Ocean of a pebble-cast.

‘Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
And 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.

[…]

And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’t we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to it for help – for It
Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.

With Earth’s first Clay They did the Last Man knead,
And then of the Last Harvest sow’d the Seed:
Yea, the first Morning of Creation wrote
What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.

Yesterday This Day’s Madness did prepare;
To-morrow’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.

[…]

Ah, with the Grape my fading Life provide,
And wash my Body whence the Life has died,
And in a Windingsheet of Vine-leaf wrapt,
So bury me by some sweet Garden-side.

That ev’n my buried Ashes such a Snare
Of Perfume shall fling up into the Air,
As not a True Believer passing by
But shall be overtaken unaware.

[…]

Ah Love! could thou and I with Fate 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!

Ah, Moon of my Delight who know’st no wane,
The Moon of Heav’n is rising once again:
How oft hereafter rising shall she look
Through this same Garden after me – in vain!

And when like her, oh Saki, 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!

CLOSING
Thank you for listening. For more information about the words I have read and the music to follow, please visit A Man of Letters. amoletters.com.

Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.

MUSIC
Django Reinhardt – The Sheik of Araby (His Master’s Voice B8737 1937)

Episode 1550