Appendix 12: Tracts, Sermons & Poems.

The first four items in this Appendix are a selection of pre–nineteenth century works which, in one way or another, have some relevance as a background to The Rubaiyat. All are devotional, and certainly they were all still widely read in the nineteenth century, but in addition they all contain images which relate to some of those contained in The Rubaiyat.

a) Jeremy Taylor – Holy Dying

Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667) was an English divine and chaplain in ordinary to King Charles I. He is noted for two related treatises, The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living (1650) and The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying (1651). Both went through many editions and are often found bound together, as indeed they appear to have been in the copy given to FitzGerald by John Allen in January 1830 (I.81n1). (Allen gave him the book in a kindly effort to help him with his flagging faith!) But FitzGerald was not impressed. As he wrote in a letter to Allen at the end of that same month:

“I have not got on with Jeremy Taylor, as I don’t like it much. I do not like subdivisions of virtue, making a separate article of each particular virtue or crime. I much more like the general, and artless, commands of our Saviour. Who can say anything new after him? It seems to me absurd to attempt it, except as far as concerns stepping into a bishoprick.” (I.80)

Allen clearly persisted in trying to get FitzGerald to read Taylor, for FitzGerald wrote in a letter to Allen in November 1832:

“I shall do as you say about reading for Christianity: and read Barrow, Hooker and Jeremy Taylor. I assure you, a slender pretence will make me throw myself upon Christianity.” (I.121)

By May 1835, FitzGerald had worked up some enthusiasm for Taylor, mainly, it seems, by reading some selections from his work in Basil Montagu’s Thoughts of Divines and Philosophers (1833). At any rate, he wrote in a letter to Allen:

“What a man he is! He has such a knowledge of the nature of man, and such powers of expressing its properties, that I sometimes feel as if he had had some exact counterpart of my own individual character under his eye, when he lays open the depths of the heart, or traces some sin to its root.” (I.163-4)

FitzGerald’s enthusiasm, though, seems not to have lasted, and there is no mention of Taylor in his letters after 1838.

Taylor’s works are of interest to us here not for their moral guidance, but for some of the imagery that he uses. The following is extracted from the opening section of chapter 1 of The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying. The section is entitled. “Consideration of the Vanity and Shortness of Man’s Life”:

“A Man is a Bubble, (said the Greek proverb), which Lucian represents with advantages and its proper circumstances, to this purpose; saying, that all the world is a Storm, and Men rise up in their several generations, like bubbles descending a Jove pluvio, from God and the dew of heaven, from a tear and drop of rain, from Nature and Providence; and some of these instantly sink into the deluge of their first parent, and are hidden in a sheet of water, having had no other business in the world, but to be born, that they might be able to die: others float up and down two or three turns, and suddenly disappear, and give their place to others: and they that live longest upon the face of the waters are in perpetual motion, restless and uneasy; and, being crushed with a great drop of a cloud, sink into flatness and a froth; the change not being great, it being hardly possible it should be more a nothing that it was before. So is every man: he is born in vanity and sin; he comes into the world like morning Mushrooms, soon thrusting up their heads into the air, and conversing with their kindred of the same production, and as soon they turn into dust and forgetfulness – some of them without any other interest in the affairs of the world, but that they made their parents a little glad and very sorrowful: others ride longer in the storm; it may be until seven years of vanity be expired, and then peradventure the sun shines hot upon their heads, and they fall into the shades below, into the cover of death and darkness of the grave to hide them. But if the bubble stands the shock of a bigger drop, and outlives the chances of a child, of a careless nurse, of drowning in a pail of water, of being overlaid by a sleepy servant, or such little accidents, then the young man dances like a bubble, empty and gay, and shines like a dove’s neck, or the image of a rainbow, which hath no substance, and whose very imagery and colours are fantastical; and so he dances out the gaiety of his youth, and is all the while in a storm, and endures only because he is not knocked on the head by a drop of bigger rain, or crushed by the pressure of a load of indigested meat, or quenched by the disorder of an ill-placed humour: and to preserve a man alive in the midst of so many chances and hostilities is as great a miracle as to create him; to preserve him from rushing into nothing, and at first to draw him up from nothing were equally the issues of an Almighty Power. And therefore the wise men of the world have contended who shall best fit man’s condition with words signifying his vanity and short abode. Homer calls a man “a leaf,” the smallest, the weakest piece of a short-lived, unsteady plant. Pindar calls him “the dream of a shadow:” another “the dream of the shadow of smoke.” But St. James spake by a more excellent spirit, saying, ‘Our life is but a vapour.’”

The reference to Lucian is to his Charon, or the Inspectors (§19) (see note 57f); Jupiter Pluvius is the God Jupiter as the giver of rain; the reference to Homer is to the Iliad 6.146f (again see note 57f); the reference to Pindar is to his Pythian Ode no. 8, lines 96-7; and the reference to St James is to the New Testament (James 4.14.) The “dream of the shadow of smoke” quote is a mystery, though human life as “the shadow of smoke” occurs in a fragment of Aeschylus preserved by Stobaeus, and cited by Erasmus in his Adages 2.3.48, which Taylor may well have used as a source, and misquoted. (See The Adages of Erasmus, selected by William Barker (2001), p.174. Barker’s translation of Adages 2.3.48 as a whole is well worth Omarian attention.)

b) Robert Blair – The Grave.

Robert Blair (1699-1746) was ordained minister of Athelstanford, in East Lothian, in 1731, where he stayed for the rest of his life, living “very much in the style of a gentleman.” He married, and had five sons and one daughter. His fame today rests largely on his poem The Grave, which was written in 1743 and went through many editions, the most notable – and famous –of which was the one illustrated by twelve engravings based on drawings by William Blake, published in 1808. (FitzGerald had a copy of this: “I got it for 15s. which is cheap”, he told John Allen in a letter written in August 1834. (I.152) Today all twelve engravings are most easily accessible together in The Grave, a Poem, illustrated by Twelve Etchings executed by Louis Schiavonetti, from the original inventions of William Blake, 1808, published by Wildwood House, London, in 1973. The poem itself is not included in the book, however. Two examples of Blake’s illustrations are shown in Gallery 8G, Fig.1 and Fig.2.

As the title of the poem suggests, this is not a light-hearted work. Blair sums up his cheery aim thus:

the task be mine,
To paint the gloomy horrors of the tomb;

Blair, like Omar, muses on human aspirations for fame, glory and power:

Absurd! to think to over-reach the Grave,
And from the wreck of names to rescue ours !
The best concerted schemes men lay for fame
Die fast away : only themselves die faster.
The far-fam'd sculptor, and the laurell'd bard,
Those bold insurers of deathless fame,
Supply their little feeble aids in vain.
The tap'ring pyramid, th’ Egyptian's pride,
And wonder of the world, whose spiky top
Has wounded the thick cloud, and long outlived
The angry shaking of the winter's storm :
Yet spent at last by th’ injuries of heav’n,
Shatter'd with age, and furrow'd o'er with years,
The mystic cone with hieroglyphics crusted
Gives way. Oh lamentable sight ! at once
The labour of whole ages lumbers down,
A hideous and mis-shapen length of ruins,
Sepulchral columns wrestle but in vain
With all-subduing Time:

As might be expected, Blair, like Omar, deals with Death as the Great Leveller:

As if a slave was not a shred of nature,
Of the same common nature with his lord:

Each “shakes hands with dust, and calls the worm his kinsman”, for:

Under ground
Precedency's a jest; vassal and lord
Grossly familiar, side by side consume.

This life is a preparation for a life to come, and its trials are to be faced with faith and courage. Blair has this to say about those who, like Omar, simply avoid the trials, and instead, eat, drink and make merry :

If death was nothing, and nought after death;
If when men died, at once they ceas'd to be,
Returning to the barren womb of nothing
Whence first they sprung; then might the debauchee
Untrembling mouth the heav'ns: then might the drunkard
Reel over his full bowl, and when 'tis drain'd,
Fill up another to the brim, and laugh
At the poor bug-bear death;

But there is an afterlife, and to run away from the world’s ills by hedonistic pleasures – or worse still, by suicide – “is but a coward’s trick.” for “this world's ills… at the very worst will soon blow o'er.”

But like Omar, Blair wishes that there could be some signal from beyond the grave to reassure us:

Tell us ye dead! will none of you in pity
To those you left behind disclose the secret?
Oh that some courteous ghost would blab it out !
What ’tis you are, and we must shortly be.

And again like Omar:

What is this world?
What but a spacious burial-field unwall'd,
Strew'd with death's spoils, the spoils of animals
Savage and tame, and full of dead men's bones?
The very turf on which we tread, once liv'd;
And we that live must lend our carcases
To cover our own offspring: in their turns
They too must cover theirs. 

Blair discourses on Sin – far worse than any volcano or flood, for they are local in their disastrous effects, whereas Sin infects the whole world. He then returns to the promise of the afterlife, which should not make us fear death, but rather welcome it:

Thrice welcome death !
That, after many a painful bleeding step
Conducts us to our home, and lands us safe
On the long-wish'd-for shore.

For Death is but a long sleep, on which note Blair closes his poem thus:

‘Tis but a night, a long and moonless night,
We make the grave our bed, and then are gone.
Thus at the shut of ev'n, the weary bird  
Leaves the wide air, and in some lonely brake
Cow'rs down, and dozes till the dawn of day,
Then claps his well-fledg'd wings and bears away.

c) Edward Young – Night Thoughts.

Edward Young (1683-1765) was an English poet – and, later in life, clergyman – most famous today for his poem Night Thoughts. Actually its full title was The Complaint: or, Night Thoughts on Life, Death & Immortality, and it is probably best described, in a nutshell, as a very long and rambling poem, but with some very good bits! The full text is divided into nine sections or ‘Nights’, which were published serially from the summer of 1742 to the winter of 1745-6. Only in 1750 were the nine Nights brought together into a single volume, and only after Young’s death was his name ever attached to the poems. Night Thoughts enjoyed great popularity and was translated into several European languages, including French, Spanish, Italian and German. In England it ran to many editions down into the nineteenth century, probably the best known of which is Young’s Night Thoughts, with Life, Critical Dissertation and Explanatory Notes by Rev. George Gilfillan (1853). Amongst Young’s more famous lines are “Procrastination is the thief of time” (Night 1, line 393); “By night an atheist half believes in God” (Night 5, line 176); and “Who, without Pain's advice, would e'er be good?” (Night 9, line 378). Some of Young’s images are captivating even today:

Though grey our heads, our thoughts and aims are green ;
Like damaged clocks, whose hand and bell dissent ;
Folly sings six, while Nature points at twelve.
(Night 5, lines 633-5)

That Night Thoughts should have been read by many Victorians in their times of doubt is hardly surprising (though FitzGerald does not appear to have read it), and among poets, both Byron and Shelley were fans. Much later, Edmund Blunden, in his Undertones of War (1928) talked of reading Night Thoughts in the trenches during the First World War. He wrote:

“During this period my indebtedness to an eighteenth century poet became enormous. At every spare moment I read in Young’s Night Thoughts on Life, Death and Immortality, and I felt the benefit of this grave and intellectual voice, speaking out of a profound eighteenth-century calm, often in metaphor which came home to one even in a pillbox. The mere amusement of discovering lines applicable to our crisis kept me from despair.” (p.236)

According to the introduction to the Gilfillan edition mentioned above, Night Thoughts was prompted by “the deepest gloom of affliction” (p.xv) – Young’s step-daughter, Mrs Temple (Narcissa in the poems) died in 1736, her husband, Mr Temple (Philander in the poems) died four years later; and in 1741 Young’s wife (Lucia in the poems) also died. And yet Young kept his faith:

I’ll raise a tax on my Calamity, 
And reap rich compensation from my pain.
(Night 5, lines 280-1)

This is to use life’s trials as a means of spiritual growth, as Rabbi ben Ezra does in Browning’s poem, and thence as a pathway to Heaven:

Religion ! Providence ! an After-state !
Here is firm footing; here is solid rock !
(Night 4, lines 557-8)

And again:

Religion's all. Descending from the skies 
To wretched man, the goddess, in her left.
Holds out this world, and, in her right, the next;
(Night 4, lines 550-3)

To those who, in the face of life’s trials, cannot see God’s purpose, and begin to lose their faith as a result, Young has this assurance:

Could we conceive Him, God He could not be ;
Or He not God, or we could not be men.
A God alone can comprehend a God ;
(Night 9, lines 833-5)

For Young, the contemplation of the vastness and intricacy of Creation was proof of God’s existence in itself:

But, miracles apart, who sees Him not,
Nature's controller, author, guide, and end?
Who turns his eye on Nature's midnight face.
But must inquire — “What hand behind the scene,
What arm almighty, put these wheeling globes
In motion, and wound up the vast machine?
Who rounded in his palm these spacious orbs?
Who bowl'd them flaming through the dark profound.
Numerous as glittering gems of morning dew?” 
(Night 9, lines 1272-1280)

It was the scale of things which prompted another of Young’s more famous lines:

Devotion ! daughter of Astronomy !
An undevout astronomer is mad.
(Night 9, lines 772-3)

For those who placed Reason above Faith, Young had this message:

Who worship God, shall find him. Humble Love,
And not proud Reason, keeps the door of heaven;
Love finds admission, where proud Science fails.
(Night 9, lines 1858-1860)


Dost thou not know, my new astronomer,
Earth, turning from the sun, brings night to man?
Man, turning from his God, brings endless night ;
(Night 9, lines 2010-2012)

Earlier in Night Thoughts, Young had warned those who placed too much emphasis on Reason:

Would you be still more learned than the learn'd?
Learn well to know how much need not be known,
(Night 5, lines 737-8)

As for the so-called ‘major’ preoccupations of human life – the “vanities” of Ecclesiastes, the “Worldly Hope” of FitzGerald’s verse 14 – Young has this to say:

Why all this toil for triumphs of an hour?
What though we wade in wealth, or soar in fame?
Earth's highest station ends in " Here he lies :"
And " Dust to dust" concludes her noblest song.
(Night 4, lines 97-100)

As for death, here is Young’s parallel for FitzGerald’s “Couch of Earth” in verse 22:

Where is the dust that has not been alive?
The spade, the plough, disturb our ancestors ;
From human mould we reap our daily bread.
(Night 9, lines 92-4)

And a little later:

O'er devastation we blind revels keep ;
Whole buried towns support the dancer’s heel.
(Night 9, lines 97-8)

In Young, too, we find the transience of Empires:

Empires die: where, now,
The Roman? Greek? They stalk, an empty name !
(Night 9, lines 107-8)

But more than this, there is the transience of all things. Young’s predilection for astronomy furnishes him with this image:

Death ! great proprietor of all ! 'tis thine
To tread out empire, and to quench the stars.
The sun himself by thy permission shines ;
And, one day, thou shalt pluck him from his sphere.
(Night 1, lines 205-8)

William Blake was commissioned to produce a number of engravings relating to images in Night Thoughts, an edition of the first four Nights incorporating some of them being published in 1797. (The remaining Nights and their illustrations were never published, alas.) Today they are most easily accessible together in William Blake’s designs for Edward Young’s Night Thoughts by M.J.Tolley, E.J.Rose, J.E. Grant and D.V. Erdman (2 volumes, 1980). An example of Blake’s illustrations can be found in Gallery 8G (Fig.3.) For the various editions of Young’s poem, see A Bibliography of Young’s Night Thoughts by Henry Pettit (1954).

d) James Hervey – Meditations among the Tombs.

James Hervey (1714-1758) was a tub-thumping clergyman and author of numerous devotional works, among which was his Meditations among the Tombs, first published in 1746, but which ran through many subsequent editions down into the 19th century (I here refer to and quote from the 26th  edition of 1792.) Hervey’s meditations, sparked off by a visit to a country churchyard in Cornwall, naturally centre on death – on those who die young, on loved ones separated at death, on death by accident and, of course, on Sin, Hell, the Afterlife and the glorious Resurrection.

Here is Hervey meditating on the gravestones, and their message from Death as the Great Leveller:

“Examining the Records of Mortality I found, I found the Memorials of a promiscuous Multitude. They were huddled, at least they rested together, without any Regard to Rank or Seniority. None were ambitious of the uppermost Rooms, or chief Seats in this House of Mourning. None entertained fond and eager Expectations of being honourably greeted, in their darksome Cells. The Man of Years and Experience, reputed as an Oracle in his Generation, was content to lie down at the feet of a Babe. In this House appointed for all Living, the Servant was equally accommodated, and lodged in the same Story, with his Master. The poor indigent lay as softly and slept as soundly, as the most opulent Possessor. All the distinction that subsisted, was, a grassy Hillock, bound with Osiers; or a sepulchral Stone, ornamented with Imagery. Why then, said my working Thoughts, O! why should we raise such a mighty Stir, about Superiority and Precedence; when the next Remove, will reduce us all to a State of equal meanness? Why should we exalt ourselves, or debase others; since we must all, one Day, be upon a common Level, and blended together in the same undistinguished Dust? O! that this Consideration might humble my own, and others Pride; and sink our Imaginations as low, as our Habitations will shortly be!” (p.9-10)

And here is Hervey meditating on death by accident:

“Legions, Legions of Disasters such as no Prudence can foresee, and no Care prevent lie in wait to accomplish our Doom A starting Horse may throw his Rider; may at once dash his Body against the Stones, and fling his Soul to the invisible World. A Stack of Chimnies may tumble into the Street, and crush the unwary Passenger under the Ruins…….The most common Occurrences, those, from which we suspect not the least Harm, may prove the Weapons of our Destruction. A Grape stone, a despicable Fly, may be more mortal than Goliath, with all his formidable Armour. – Nay, if God give Command, our very Comforts become killing. The Air we breathe, is our Bane; and the Food we eat, the Vehicle of Death. That last Enemy has unnumbered Avenues for his Approach. ” (p.23-4)

But when accidental death strikes like this, is it ever truly accidental?

“Was it then a random Stroke? Doubtless, the Blow came from an aiming, though invisible Hand. God presideth over the Armies of Heaven; God ruleth among the Inhabitants of the Earth; and God conducteth, what Men call Chance. Nothing, nothing comes to pass thro’ a blind and undiscerning Fatality. If Accidents happen; they happen according to the exact Fore-knowledge, and conformably to the determinate Counsels, of eternal Wisdom………what we term Casualty, is really Providence; accomplishing deliberate Designs, but concealing its own Interposition. – How comforting this Reflection!” (p.21-2)

Hervey’s book was well enough known to William Blake for him to produce a detailed and symbolic pen and water-colour picture entitled “Epitome of James Hervey’s ‘Meditations among the Tombs’” (it is reproduced in Gallery 8G, Fig.4, with a commentary on its rather complex detail.) See, for example, S. Foster Damon, A Blake Dictionary (1988), entry “Hervey” and M. Butlin, A Catalogue of the Works of William Blake in the Tate Gallery (1957), #39 (p.52-3).


The following three items are all early twentieth century poems which, in one way or another, have some relevance to The Rubaiyat. The fourth item, also early twentieth century, is an oddity – a sermon based on a verse from The Rubaiyat !

e) Fred Emerson Brooks – The Gravedigger.

The first edition of Brooks’s poem was published by The Roycroft Shops, New York, in 1916. By 1922 it was being published by Sather Gate Book Shop of Berkeley, California, and had acquired the subtitle: “An Answer to the Rubaiyat.” It might also have acquired the subtitle “A Modern Meditations among the Tombs”.

Brooks was a popular poet, story teller and orator who could hold his audiences spellbound – at least according to the testimonials that his publishers chose to quote in their publicity leaflets! Certainly he had a large following in his time, publishing various volumes of verse, such as Pickett’s Charge and Other Poems, first published in 1902. (The poem “Pickett’s Charge” was a stirring account in verse of the famous military action at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863.) The Gravedigger, though, was very different to his usual run of verse.

Like The Rubaiyat, the poem opens at Dawn, with “Aurora’s steeds” putting the darkness to flight. The poet’s theme is quickly made clear. Here are verses 3 to 6:

Kind Nature solves her riddle on her scroll;
Who solves the riddle of the man? asked I:
What is eternal life and what the goal
Of spirit radium we call the soul?
I sought among the dead to get reply.
I found a digger spading out a hole;
"What enterprise?" I asked. He doffed his hat
And then to help his brain he scratched his poll:
"A grave I dig for some departed soul
Who left his carcass here," and then he spat.
Tis not for sympathy I dig, but pay;
The dirt’s thrown in upon the selfsame terms;
Let common corpses molder how they may,
He was embalmed to last till Judgment-Day
To please his friends and disappoint the worms.
But yesterday a millionaire I’m told;
A winding-sheet for all his hoarded gains;
At last he knows what truth the Scriptures hold;
Now penniless, his heirs have all the gold
Except the trifle paid me for my pains.

The same thought recurs in verse 13:

Some worship still the calf of molten gold,
Counting themselves much better than their kind;
Whereas they differ but in this, I m told:
The poor at death take with them all they hold –
The rich must leave their arrogance behind !

The dead, the gravedigger tells the poet, have no cares, are not prone to envy or greed, and dwell in harmony “because they’re dead.” (v.8)  In verse 9 he points to the grave of a drunkard:

There lies a man who lived to feast and revel:
Each drunken night offset the sober day –
Base appetites bring all to that same level –
Brave in his cups he oft would toast the Devil,
Who now is toasting him the debt to pay.

Then he points to the grave of a labourer (v.11), a cheating trader (v.14), a soldier (v.18), then those of Hurry (v.21) and the Man of Greed (v.22):

The tomb of Hurry stands across the way;
To others master – to himself a slave;
Nor God’s command to rest would he obey;
By crowding much into each single day
He shortened much his journey to the grave.
In yonder vault is housed the man of Greed;
Ambition gave him wealth, but left him cold;
His wife’s caress he took with scanty heed;
His rival now, with more indulgent creed,
Has all the love, the widow and the gold.

There then follow some verses on women, love and marriage. Here are verses 27 and 28, where the love of a good woman becomes a proof of Divine Purpose:

The soul that glows from out a woman’s eyes
Who loves, and loves as only woman can,
Is proof there is another paradise:
A soul so great must live beyond the skies
That can with love redeem a worthless man.
Were I the guard of yonder pearly gate
I d still be kind to all these patrons human
And overlook their frailties small or great –
Save his who had been brutal to his mate
Or faithless to a love-devoted woman.

In verse 34 we have a more direct expression of faith in God and the existence of a life after death:

The Power that made the world created man,
With mind to choose betwixt the good and ill;
The body dies, the spirit never can.
Then why should mortal question Heaven’s plan?
Since God is God – and was – and ever will!

Verse 36 looks at the limitations of Man’s conception of God:

Why doubt that which we can not understand?
We can not comprehend the things that be:
The ant upon the barren desert land
Believes the world is flat and made of sand,
Because, forsooth, it never saw the sea.

As for anyone who doubts the existence of God (already dismissed in verse 15 as “the boasting fool”), he surely cannot be serious. Here is verse 38:

This monster world was made to swing in air
By that Electric Will that bids it go.
The Skeptic knows, when reason plays him fair,
Those countless myriad planets everywhere
Are moved by some Celestial Dynamo.

And verse 42:

If everything in Heaven’s great mystery
Were well explained, we could not understand:
We did not recognize the Deity
Ev’n though He came a-walking on the sea:
We doubted once the nail-prints in his hand.

By verse 48 we are back to the importance of kind words and good deeds, and in verses 49 and 50 we visit the graves of Optimist (who had “a taste of Heaven here below”) and Pessimist (who “through finding fault, the good in life he missed”) In verse 51 comes a warning to ‘Mighty’ Man:

The mortal boasts his strength of brawn and brain;
His wireless wonders earth and ocean span;
Outsoars an eagle in his aeroplane;
Hurls armies forth to ply the craft of Cain –
And yet the tiny microbe kills the man.

In verse 59 comes a warning to those who live for today:

The fool hath said, “The future is in doubt –
I’11 have my fling in revels while alive!”
He learns before the present’s half worn out,
Grim Retribution rides the selfsame route,
Where all may pity him, but few may shrive.

We then visit further graves – such as that of the Cynic, who “held religion obsolete”, though “perhaps he changed his mind when Death was near” (v.63); that of “one who mourned a world of sin / But overlooked his own”, and who, as a result, was directed by St Peter to “take his parchment skin / Where his asbestos face might serve him well”(v.64); and that of “old Parson Good”, whose selfless good deeds on earth earned him his place in Heaven (v.65). Come verse 67 we are back to the love of a good woman again. Here are verses 69 and 70, from which we can safely conclude, I think, that our poet was either very happily married or else a bachelor writing from idealised theory:

Divinely formed! God’s masterpiece art thou;
Beyond the painter’s skill, the sculptor’s dream;
Fair as the sun-glow on the mountain’s brow;
Man’s lure and guide from Eden’s blush till now
And in life’s drama still the roseate theme.
With precious gems are woman’s charms arrayed,
Yet is her haloed love a choicer boon
Than all the jewels dug from earth’s dark shade,
Like star-bits fallen when the heavens were made
Or sculptor’s chips dropped from the chiseled moon.

In verses 76-79 we revisit the subject of Bodily Death:

Through senseless fear is Death so much maligned!
Those who have met him made no great ado –
Nor to return have ever been inclined;
The open door he deftly hides behind,
And none has shown a fear while passing through.
Our drowsy nerves can no sensation feel;
We know not when we sleep nor when we die!
From out this tenement the soul will steal
Nor shut the door its absence to conceal,
Nor stop to close the shutters of the eye.
From seeming Death have myriads returned,
Yet not a single pang did any feel:
The phantom barge from which they half-discerned
The Holy Citadel, for which they yearned,
Had borne them hence had Death but pushed the keel.
Grim Death, stern mariner of worlds to come,
Hath mortal never kindly word for thee?
Shall not the blind, the ailing and the dumb
Pay unto thee their first encomium
For passage to the shores of Ecstacy?

In verses 82-84 we are brought back to the realisation that it is the Gravedigger is who is speaking in all this:

I love all these confided to my keep
As mortals lodging at a sacred inn;
To dust their bodies changing while they sleep;
May not their evil sink into the deep
And earth absorb the odor of the sin?
Their very silence seems an endless plea;
Think you that Mercy never listens now?
Behind Creation stands the Deity
With Hope raised high for all mankind to see
God’s love redeem the world on Olive’s brow.
Upon the cross the thief repentant cries;
The shortest and the soonest answered prayer –
“O Lord remember me!” The Lord replies,
“Today thou’lt be with me in Paradise!”
Which takes away from mortals all despair.

The Poet addresses the Gravedigger in verse 85:

“For one who digs at graves, you seem well bred –
Whence comes this wisdom? meaning no offense!”
"From these I learn!" the quaint gravedigger said,
"They’re bound to tell the truth to me when dead,
And wisdom after all is common sense!"

And the Poet concludes his work thus in verse 86:

Thus in the sexton’s words the truth I read:
The love of God is round about us all
Leaving no path for Doubt or Fear to tread;
‘T was man that sinned, but it was God who bled –
And Heaven’s pardon far exceeds the fall.

f) Rev. R. Gregg – God is Love: a Theodicy in Verse.

The theological problems posed by the presence of Sin and Evil in a world created by a supposedly Loving and Omnipotent God are discussed at some length in Appendix 2. Gregg’s little book of 54 pages, published in Cincinnati in 1904, is an unusual attempt to tackle these problems in verse.

In his Preface, Gregg wrote:

“Some one has said, ‘Never write poetry if you can help it.’ I do not admit a violation of this rule. Borne on the tide of a strange inspiration, hardly knowing whether in the body or out, at times writing ninety lines a day, it has afforded me about the richest joy of my life. May the reader share this pleasure!”

Early in the book Gregg deals with the problem of Original Sin, setting out his aim thus (p.9):

This darkest problem of the moral world
I solve in such a way as proves God’s love.

How? God’s Love provides us with many gifts, and indulgence in the enjoyment of these is no sin. It is over-indulgence in them which “brings guilt and woe upon the once pure soul” (p.10) and leads to sin. Man must earn his place in Heaven by learning to resist overindulgence:

The law which puts a limit on desire
Is given in love. Desire indulged aright
Brings higher joy than when ‘tis overgorged.
The law of love, which sets its rightful bounds,
Prepares the way for added higher joy.
That law obeyed, we then resemble God.
We rise – we soar above all sordid things
And taste the heavenly bliss of doing right.
A loving God has planned this boon for us.
So count it joy when sin would tempt the soul,
The joy of conquest then is offered you.
Then seize at once the prize, and glory win,
And when all earthly glory fades away,
A fadeless crown will then adorn thy brow. (p.10)

Gregg argues that since God created Man in his own image, and Man has a conscience, therefore God must have a conscience too, and it is this which led God to devise this strategy of Man overcoming his own tendency to sin by overindulgence. Only by achieving this can Man gain admittance to the Great School of Heaven and thereby more fully know God:

A teaching God! A schoolroom home in heaven!
Tuition free! Eternal years the term! (p.12)

Two aspects of God’s love are, of course, his Mercy and his Wisdom. But what of God’s Wrath? Is that consistent with God’s Love? Gregg argues that it is, because there are two forms of wrath, good and bad:

Bad wrath opposes fiercely what is good.
Such is the wrath of demons and bad men.
Should it prevail, one universal hell
Would ruin all beneath the “great white throne.”
But loving wrath, the mighty wrath of God,
Opposes all things wrong. It guards a realm,
A realm all pure which sin shall not pollute. (p.14)

Thus it is that Hell is actually consistent with God’s love:

I look on endless pain as the result of sin,
The reaping of the harvest madly sown,
The living such a life as love forbids.
I think of sin as poison to the soul.
I think of spirits lost as suicides,
And high in light above their dark abode. (p.18)

That is, if a soul ends up in Hell, it is its own fault for rejecting the Love of God which is offered by the chance of going to Heaven, and such souls cannot be allowed into Heaven because of their polluting influence. Gregg offers the analogy of a loving father who warns his son not to go too near a deep well. When the child ignores his father and is killed by falling into the well as a result, does that disprove the father’s love for the child? (p.26) Of course not.  (Gregg doesn’t say anything about why, if the loving father knew about the dangers of the well, he didn’t put a fence around it, but never mind.) As for the polluting influence of the wicked if they were ever admitted to Heaven, Gregg uses an interesting plague analogy, as we shall see presently.

So why do the wicked seemingly prosper in this world? Gregg has an answer: the Love of God is giving them the opportunity to change their ways, and in addition, giving the devout the chance to do good deeds by helping them to change (p.28-9). Earth is a Reformatory for souls (p.31) and Hell is a Pesthouse (p.31-2) – a place where the unredeemably wicked are confined, as a last resort, to prevent their pestilence of sin spreading any further. If Gregg seems rather to skate over the conflict between this and the supposedly infinite extent of God’s Mercy, which he has mentioned earlier in his poem, then here is a partial explanation:

Our God delights in holy, happy souls.
The dearest wish of His great heart of love
Is for pure souls to share with Him the joy
Of holiness. He wants the numbers vast.
To bring a multitude of souls to heaven
Was the prime object of creating souls,
Creating them with all the dangers seen, –
Dangers He could not shun and form the soul
Just right to reach the highest heaven of bliss.
The wish to fill a heaven with happy souls
Explains redemption’s glorious, awful work.
The foreseen agony of Christ on earth,
The foreseen doom of ruined souls in hell,
Give awful emphasis to God’s great wish
To crowd a heaven with holy, happy souls.
Although these woes were all foreseen by Him,
Yet glories grander far by Him were seen, –
So grand these woes were but small accidents
In the great plan His loving wish devised. (p.43)

In other words, Hell is part of the cost of God’s greater plan, just as the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross was.

One of the most interesting parts of Gregg’s poem is the way he addresses the insignificant place of the earth in the universe, as revealed by modern astronomy. First he tells us:

I’m glad our race is on so small a world,
‘Tis large enough for sin’s dread work of woe. (p.45)

In other words, if our world were any bigger, that would simply create more room for sin!

As for the multitude of other worlds revealed by the astronomers, Gregg theorises that the Earth is a sort of testing ground for God’s Plan – this tiny earth being made special as the choice of place for Christ’s incarnation – and that He will mostly people these other worlds when He sees what happens on this one:

And if unnumbered worlds now roll in space
All made “for Him” who died on Calvary,
We claim the right to reaffirm the hope
That peopling worlds has mostly been postponed,
And will not be resumed until this war,
This awful moral war, that rages now
Shall end in glorious victory for the right. (p.46-7)

As for Judgement Day:

Our future judgement-day has oft been called
The final hour in God’s great moral plan.
But standing where I do, with my high hopes,
I gladly think of it as the last line
That God will write as preface to the book,
The long, long book that tells His future work.” (p.49)

In other words, “we aint seen nothin’ yet!” To emphasise this, Gregg returns to the subject of Hell, and how the seeming awfulness of Eternal Punishment is really nothing when seen against the background of God’s Greater Plan:

I seem to stand high on a mount of joy,
With all the light of love around my head,
With hallelujahs ringing in my ears,
While all the woes of earth and wails of hell
Seem but one sigh compared with myriad shouts,
And all the blackness caused by sin’s dark work
Seems scarce a speck on the broad sea of love. (p.52-3)

Finally, a word to those “human worms” who doubt Gregg’s vision of what he calls the Temple of Truth:

I go abroad to tell its glories grand,
And meet a human worm that crawls in dust,
Who uses human words, but has no faith,
And thinks there’s nothing better than the dust;
Has no belief that he could ever soar,
And scarcely thinks there’s beauty anywhere.
With much entreaty I persuade that worm
To go with me to see what I have seen.
We reach the temple I so much admire;
But O! that worm will not for once look up.
With cynic soul he sharply looks below,
And soon he plunges deep into a hole
Some other worm like him had dared to make. (p.53-4)

But dig as they might, the worms can never undermine the foundations of the Temple of Truth, for, as the closing words of Gregg’s poem say, in capital letters, “GOD IS LOVE.”

g) Albert J. Edmunds – A Duet with Omar

This curious little book of 38 pages was first published in Philadelphia in 1913. It contains a poem of 72 ‘rubaiyat’, following FitzGerald’s pattern, together with 5 pages of notes by the author, giving his readers some useful insights into what the poem is about.

In chapter 3 of the main essay we looked at the conflict between Religion and Science, and in particular the problems caused for Biblical Chronology by the Fossil Record. As FitzGerald put it in a letter to Cowell, there quoted, “A few fossil bones ….have opened a greater vista back into Time than the Indian imagination ventured upon for its Gods.”(I.476) In a similar vein, here is verse 14 of Edmunds’ poem:

Neanderthal and Java yielded skulls
From ape-humanity's abandoned hulls,
Dry on the shores of geologic time:
One fact entire theologies annuls.

But Edmunds’ poem is not a diatribe against religion. On the contrary, Edmunds believed that religion had now reached a stage where its superstitious elements could be replaced by a scientific basis. His first two verses read:

In days of eld Imagination reigned,
On angel wings were heights divine attained,
But now we rear cathedrals out of fact:
My heaven-wooing verse by Truth is trained.
No priest or wizard, murmuring for hire.
Can wrap the spirit in the final fire,
But line by line and here and there we glean
The straws that blaze and all the soul inspire.

In his note on the second verse (p.24), Edmunds explains that “the greatest promotion of spiritual truth has been made by men who have lived for religion, and not by religion.” One of his heroes in this respect was F.W.H. Myers, who, a decade earlier, had published his book Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death (2 vols; 1903). Myers, and his fellow members of the Society for Psychical Research (several of whom are named in verses 22 & 26) would put religion – and in particular, the issue of life after death – onto a scientific footing. That is why we would no longer need “priest or wizard” to guide us. Thus he writes in verse 17:

Lo, Myers comes, to wrestle in the dark
And fire Truth's tinder with a tiny spark.
Proving that Man, the million-summered fruit,
Dies not the death of saurian and shark.

In fact, Edmunds dwells at some length in his poem on two cases from Myers’ book, in both of which information was received from beyond the grave, which could not have been known by the sitters at the time, but which later proved to be correct. The first is the case of John Wilkie of Chicago, who received a message from beyond the grave for his friend Oscar de Woolf. The message came from the spirit of a deceased Katy McGuire, whom de Wolf had known in his younger days, but who was totally unknown to Wilkie (verses 33-44: based on Myers, vol.2, p.214-7.) The second is the case of Hensleigh Wedgwood, who witnessed the reception of information, delivered via automatic writing through the mediumship of Mrs R, from the deceased John Gurwood. The information related to Colonel Gurwood’s being wounded in the head in 1812 in the Peninsular War, and to his subsequent suicide in 1845 (verses 45-52; based on Myers, vol.2, p.161-7.) Edmunds asks how such information from beyond the grave can come through if the soul doesn’t survive death? (verses 52-3) But we aren’t out of the woods yet. These things take time and there is a long way to go. As Edmunds says in verses 55-6:

Be patient, Man! The star-lore time is slow,
And like her cycles is the silent flow
Of all our learning down the centuries:
Millions of minds must think before we know.
"A jury of the choicest of the wise
Of many generations” must advise
The judges with a verdict, but to-day
At least we know 'tis not the soul that dies.

Thus far, then, we have Psychical Research as a scientific basis for a developing new religion. Edmunds did believe that religion evolved – indeed, in verse 7 he names Max Müller as “a Darwin born” who with his Sacred Books of the East “saved religion from an age of scorn.” Ruskin and Carlyle receive a mention (verse 15) for their contributions, and in verse 16 he writes, “Religion we have traced / With Tylor, Frazer, from the frozen waste / Of man’s primeval dreams.” But there is another thread to Edmunds’ poem which relates in a rather different way to the emerging science of Comparative Religion.

In chapter 10 of the main essay mention was made of the missionaries Huc and Gabet, who in Tibet in 1845, were startled by the striking parallels between their own Catholic rituals and those of the native Buddhists. One approach to these parallels (that adopted by Huc and Gabet) is that they were the result of the Buddhists adopting their rituals from earlier Catholic missionaries. But there is another approach – the one adopted by Edmunds – that the influence was the other way about: that Buddhism reached the west very early, and influenced Christianity.

Before his excursion into poetry, Edmunds had published his magnum opus, a work in two volumes entitled Buddhist and Christian Gospels. First published in 1902, it stirred up such controversy that by 1908-9 it was in its fourth edition – the edition I quote here. Basically Edmunds claimed that at the time of Christ, Buddhism was the most powerful religion on the planet (vol.1, p.111); that Buddhist missionaries went forth to preach, and may have reached as far west as Antioch and Alexandria (vol.1, p.153); and that the Christian Gospels – notably that of Luke – were actually influenced by Buddhist literature as a result (vol.1, p.156.) This is Edmunds’ theme in verses 8 – 13 of his poem. The westward spread of Buddhism was “a wave of Oriental faith” (v.8); the story of Buddha was “known at Benares, Balkh and Samarkand” (v.9); and Buddha was “born with men to be the Hindu Christ” (v.11.) As for the Gospels, here are verses 12 and 13:

Research revealed the spectral caravan
Of thought: from Balkh to Antioch it ran,
Where Luke was learning in a Hebrew school
The Gospel he re-wrought and gave to man. 
In the deep waters of the ancient dark
We dived to find thy lost finale, Mark!
How Christ appeared to Peter all alone,
Gave him the power, and left him true and stark.

(This verse repeats the belief that the Gospel of Mark, as we know it, has a lost ending which has been somewhat clumsily supplied by some other author. Edmunds references the controversy over it in his note on this verse, on p.26.)

Edmunds returns to his Buddhist theme in his verses 23–5, where he mentions the Buddhist story of the appearance of the deceased lay-disciple Anathapindiko to Buddha. This, of course, links up not only with Christ’s after-death appearances but also with the appearances of the dead recorded by the likes of Myers. (For the story of Anathapindiko, see Edmunds vol.2, p.194ff; Edmunds links up with Myers in vol.2, p.201ff.)

In the history of religion, of course, we have a series of Holy Men or Enlightened Ones, of which Buddha and Christ are only two. Such beings are another component of the evolution of religion towards a scientific basis, and they bring us to verses 59-60 of Edmunds’ poem:

Thus Bucke, the friend of Whitman, wrought a tower
Of Cosmic Consciousness, a work of power
Because the cloud of witnesses are called
Who from the minster-turret sound the hour.
The seer himself, who wrote the book, began
By beatific vision, rare to man,
Seen early in mid life, the age of most
Who know the Highest and who lead the van.

The reference here is to Richard Maurice Bucke’s book, Cosmic Consciousness: a Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind, first published in 1901, but with many reprints since then. Bucke’s thesis was that what he saw as the increasing incidence of Enlightened Ones in history was a sign of the evolution of human consciousness towards a higher plane. In his list of “Instances of Cosmic Consciousness” Bucke included not only Holy Men like Buddha, Christ and Mohammed, but also the literary likes of Dante, Francis Bacon, William Blake and Walt Whitman. (One cannot help but think that the inclusion of this last had something to do with Whitman being a personal friend of his!) Under the heading of Lesser or Possible Instances, Bucke included Moses, Gibbon, Pascal, Swedenborg (whom Edmunds mentions in his verse 3), Wordsworth, Pushkin and Tennyson.

As for the “beatific vision” of verse 60, this refers to an occasion on which Bucke himself had a brief experience of Enlightenment. This was a vision in which he seemed to be enveloped in a fiery cloud, which at first he took to be a fire outside his hansom cab, but which in fact turned out to be a ‘fire’ within himself, following upon which he experienced intense joy and the intellectual illumination that led ultimately to his book. This experience is described by Edmunds in his verses 61-67.

Edmunds concludes his poem thus (verses 70 – 72):

In ages hence, when long arcades of Truth,
Seen in perspective from the planet's youth,
Upbuild the vast cathedral of our thought,
Naught shall remain of savage or uncouth.
Allied to Science now for evermore,
The Soul is marching in a holy war,
And from the minarets of light on high
A world-muezzin doth the music pour
That wakes the nations from the brunt of strife
To thought and labor, with enrichment rife,
And warfare only with the beast within.
Hark! 'tis the rising tide — Eternal Life!

Ironically, in the year following the publication of A Duet with Omar, the First World War broke out.

h) Rev. E.F.Dinsmore – The Moving Finger

Rev. Dinsmore, the minister of Unity Church, Santa Barbara, California, found stimulus and inspiration in The Rubaiyat, not because he accepted Omar’s negative fatalism, but because he found in Omar a ‘worthy opponent’ by which to test his faith. He even took FitzGerald’s famous “moving finger” verse (v.71 of the 3rd and 4th editions) as the subject for one of his sermons. Luckily, the sermon was subsequently published as a booklet of ten pages, or it might otherwise have been lost to us: The Moving Finger of Omar Khayyam (1909), the front cover and title page of which bore a slightly mis-worded version of FitzGerald’s verse (with “blot” instead of “wash”):.

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 blot out a word of it.

The booklet opens thus:

“One reason why I enjoy Omar Khayyam is that, in his treatment of the great questions which exercised his mind, he states the problem instead of solving it –  for thus, instead of satisfying, he stimulates and arouses me; because my soul rebels against any suggestion that life holds unsolvable puzzles, and rejects any weak solution; and while I realize that some may regard the questions raised as unanswerable and, overwhelmed by them, indulge in pessimistic wails and the despair of Fatalism, yet these are but the weaklings of the race, and the strong-souled will be stirred by the very difficulties to overcome them.” (p.3)

Having sorted out the weaklings from the strong-souled, he goes on:

“Elihu Vedder, in his magnificent illustrations of Omar's Rubaiyat, gives us, for the verse we are studying, the  picture of a chained eagle, suggesting limitation; while in the back-ground the stars are bound, and their course thro' space clearly indicated, their orbits pre-determined.

Now this may do for eagles and stars, but for man, he would be a rash fool who should undertake to define human limits, and to say "Thus far shalt thou go but no farther." The flight of the eagle, it may be, has its bounds, but man has ascended five miles already, and communication with the inhabitants of Mars is suggested as feasible, while the moon, having been examined, is rejected as not being worth annexing. For my part I refuse to be the servant of the past, the slave of yesterday, or the puppet of Fate.

Omar's verse contains the statement of an absolute truth – it suggests not Fate decreeing our future, but the recording of our lives, the irrevocable registration of our thoughts and deeds upon the indestructible parchment of our characters.” (p.3-4)

This last paragraph we shall return to shortly, but meanwhile, the cited Vedder illustration can be found in Gallery 3H (Fig.12.) As regards the “moving finger” verse, Rev. Dinsmore further notes:

“The Persian poet's verse seems like an acknowledgment that we are the creatures of Fate, and I am not disposed to sneer at the combination of circumstances which men call Fate, and among which what we call Environment and Heredity are potent powers – but the story of the progress of life, from monad to man, is a tale of the surmounting of these influences, and it is man's duty to master fate and not cower before it.” (p.7)

How are we to “master fate”? The clue is in the reference to “the indestructible parchment of our characters” at the end of the previous quotation:

“Much of the disappointment of life arises from our pursuit of will-o'-the-wisps – our reaching after bubbles which float upon the surface of the stream; men say "Fate is against me," when they have been trying to grasp shadows. No man ever earnestly strove after the things which Jesus, and all great Teachers esteemed, and failed to secure them; –  in this effort fate has no power to prevent success: – "it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Luke 12:32. True, the baubles of life are beyond the reach of multitudes who yearn for them, but what of that?” (p.8)

The important thing, then, is to live a good (Christian) life – to be of good character – and that cannot be denied to us by ‘Fate’, for it can be achieved by all who earnestly strive for it. [Even so, most people would still readily admit that it is nice to have the odd bauble or two, and occasionally a little galling when one cannot actually have them: “the meek shall inherit the earth” is all very well, but it wears a bit thin when the rich seem to be having a much better time of it!]

But let’s get back to that moving finger. Basically, as Rev Dinsmore sees it, we cannot undo the errors of the past, but we can certainly prevent those of the future. We can conduct our lives so that in the future there is nothing more that we will regret, nothing more that we shall wish to erase. In that sense, we can control the moving finger:

“…it is for ourselves to determine what record the eternal finger shall write – this makes us the master of our fate…..what that record shall be, it is for yourself to decide – escape its writing, you cannot, but that which shall be written it is for you and you alone to determine: – the writing is inevitable, ineffaceable, make it such as you would have it to be…” (p.9-10)

By way of rounding off his sermon, Rev. Dinsmore composed three variations on Omar’s verse to illustrate his point. The first reads thus:

"The Moving Finger writes," but what is writ
Depends upon ourselves; and since nor wit,
Nor piety, nor tears, can change a line,
We should select with care each word of it.

The second, in a “more personal manner”, reads thus:

"The Moving Finger writes," but what is writ
Is first determined by my own, sole, wit:
Then I may leave that which, in every line,
Shall give me pride in every word of it.

The third shows why man should not “shrink and cower from facing a record which himself determines”:

"The Moving Finger writes," and by no power
Shall what it writes be blotted from the scroll?
Then will I make the record, every hour,
Reveal the upward movement of my soul.

And there endeth the sermon.


The following three items relate to the parodies of The Rubaiyat discussed in note 65 of the main essay and in Gallery 2H.

i) Rose Roy – Rubaiyat of the Rose

The equivalent in parody terms of Edmund J. Sullivan or Gordon Ross illustrating every single verse of FitzGerald’s first edition is surely Rose Roy’s Rubaiyat of the Rose (1941), in which the author undertakes to paraphrase every verse of FitzGerald’s fourth edition. The book is printed with FitzGerald’s verses on the left hand pages and Roy’s parodies of them on the right hand pages. The book’s cover (reproduced in Gallery 2H, Fig.20) bears an image of the Holy Bible with a rose clasped within its pages, this being indicative of the intention of the author to take her readers on a spiritual reinterpretation of The Rubaiyat. But this is not a critical reinterpretation. Rather it is one which sees in Omar’s verses, at least if you squint a bit and think laterally, a strangely Christian spiritual outlook. Not that she claims that Omar was a closet Christian – rather she sees that Omar’s (or FitzGerald’s) verses, given a bit of a tweak, can convey a Christian message. To that end her own verses are accompanied by Biblical references for the more dedicated of her readers to follow up, if they so wish.

Rose begins her Foreword thus:

“The following poem is my reaction to the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam as translated, or adapted, by Edward FitzGerald who made himself and Omar famous by his free English translation. The Rubaiyat conveys to me a haunting similarity to the songs and lamentations of the prophets and suggests the biblical references opposite each Rose quatrain. The present poem, however, is written with no thought of doubting FitzGerald’s translation, but rather with the thought that Omar was seeking Something more satisfying than the Wine and Song of the Sufis.”

For Roy, then, Omar was no wine bibbing agnostic, but a poet more akin to a dissatisfied Sufi, one whose verses were symbolic. She concludes her Foreword thus:

“Was Omar, then, not an Epicure but a Mystic? Shadowing the Deity under the symbolical figures of his Wine, Cupbearer, Nightingale and the Rose? Do the Psalms of David, the Canticles of Solomon, the Lament of Jeremiah and the cry of the Prophet Isaias mingle with the exquisitely molded and expressed philosophy of futility and sensuality?

With this the central thought the author presents the following poem suggesting the Spiritual implications permeating the Rubaiyat as translated by Edward FitzGerald.”

Before we look at some of Roy’s verses, let us look at why she adopts the title The Rubaiyat of the ROSE particularly. Some Christian symbolism associated with the Rose can be found in the notes on verse 18, but there is much more. Among the many titles of the Virgin Mary are “rose of modesty”, “rose of virtue”, “rose of heaven”, “mystical rose” and “rose without thorns”, this last, apparently, symbolic of Mary’s exemption from Original Sin. (As the Mother of Christ, of course, she had to be exempt in order that her Son would not be tainted!) In all of these the rose is being used as a symbol of perfection – akin to talking, say, of the “flower of the aristocracy”. Again, the association of Mary with the rosary is well known – another of her titles is, in fact, “The Virgin of the Rosary”, though rosary devotions entail meditations and prayers related more to events in the life of Christ than that of the Virgin. Finally, in the allegorical interpretation of the Biblical Song of Solomon (also known as Canticles), the Rose of Sharon (2.1) is most commonly held to represent Christ (or his Church). That this particular reference was significant for Roy is made clear by the “Cant. 2” almost lost at the base of the title, as it is printed on the title page. This also explains why, in the years since its publication, Roy’s book has acquired the subtitle, “The Rose of Sharon speaks to the Mystic Poet of Persia”. Whether the author’s Christian name also contributed something to the title of her book is unclear, but it would appear that it did by her reference to “each Rose quatrain” in the above quote from her Foreword.

I here quote a representative selection of Roy’s clearer reinterpretations, starting with her verse 12 (a parody, remember of the same numbered verse in FitzGerald’s 4th edition):

The Book of Life ‘neath the Sheltering Bough
The Living Wine, the Sacred Bread – and Thou
Heeding my Night song in the Wilderness –
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

That is, Omar’s sojourn beneath the bough transforms into a Eucharistic celebration (cf the quote from G.K. Chesterton in chapter 4 of the main essay.) Here now is verse 21, whose meaning changes dramatically when FitzGerald’s “Cup that clears” becomes “Faith that clears”:

Ah, my Beloved, give me the Faith that clears
Today of past Regrets and future Fears;
Tomorrow? Why, Tomorrow I shall be
Myself with Yesterday’s unnumbered years.

In verse 58 we have another Eucharistic reference:

And lately through my Prison Door agape,
Came stealing through the Dusk an Angel shape,
And in his hand he Bore the Sacred Cup,
And bade me of the Life Blood freely take.

As regards “Prison Door”, compare Evelyn de Morgan’s painting, “The Soul’s Prison House” in Gallery 3F (Fig.5.) The physical body is viewed as a kind of prison in which the soul is confined until its release by death, at which point it can begin its ascent to heaven.

Next we come to Life-after-Death. Verses 63 – 64 read thus:

Oh, threats of Hell, and Hopes of Paradise!
One fills with fear, the other seeks the Prize:
Divine Laws are certain – the rest is Lies:
The Spirit once created – never dies.
‘Tis not strange that there are myriads who
Have pierced this Veil of Darkness through
For One returned and told us of the Road,
That we may fill our Lamps and travel too.

That is, Christ’s return from the dead is all the proof a Christian needs of the promise of an afterlife.

One wonders what FitzGerald would have made of Roy’s transformations of his verses!

j) George Frederic Viett – New Rubaiyat from a Southern Garden

Another spiritual reaction to The Rubaiyat, but more hostile to Omar than Rose Roy’s, is George Frederic Viett’s New Rubaiyat from a Southern Garden (New York, 1915.)

Viett’s theme is “Man and his Destiny …the Pageantry of Time” (v.2), and for him “the Rising of the Sun of Faith” will smite “the hosts of Darkness and of Doubt” (v.3) – including, of course, Omar. “Bring thou old Khayyam’s Verse”, he urges his readers in v.9, “and let us seek / With him, the Pathway to the Heart’s Desire.” But he warns his readers (v.25):

Beware this Persian rhyme! And here confess
We pore the Page but for its loveliness,
Holding our Faith despite the siren chant
That lures to Doubt with Melody’s caress.

And again (v.30):

When then his luring Lines you pensive read,
Beware the Spell that would thy foot-steps lead
Adown the paths unblest of Faith and Hope!
Take them but for their Beauty – not their Creed.

These verses recall the complaint of Rev. John Kelman, quoted at the beginning of chapter 4 of the main essay, that one had better take The Rubaiyat as nothing more than fascinating poetry, otherwise it might become “a sort of Eastern plague” of Doubt.

One of Viett’s primary concerns is the reality of an Afterlife, on which score he refutes Omar’s fatalistic “Dust into Dust, and under Dust, to lie” with his verse 43:

Thus much, old Omar, I’ll not yield to thee –
I will nor hail nor praise thy blasphemy;
I do protest – by Love’s Immortal Soul
Protest – the Dust is not my Destiny!

The body might go to dust, but not the soul. Here is verse 124:

Life’s meaning! Hast thou not read it – why then
Thou hast not lived! These multitudes of Men
That went Before, they left the Record clear –
That Clay is of the Earth, the Soul of Heav’n.

Viett looks to Spring as Nature’s testimony to Resurrection (vv.13-23), adding (v.51):

Deem not because thou dost not see the Light
There is no Light; mayhap ‘tis lack of sight,
Perchance thou treadest some dim tangled track
From whence thou canst not read the Signs aright.

Faith not Barren Reason is the key (v.56), for “Beyond the Grave / Is Life Eternal by the Master’s grace.” (v.63) Why do we not know about the Afterlife as a fact? Why has God made it all such a mystery? Viett has an answer: it is because “Death is but passing through the Shadows deep / That guard the secrets of Divinity. “(v.83). In verse 96 he writes:

I know but little, but this much I know –
That Death, which gathers all things here below,
Is but a Means unto some viewless End;
By Nature’s Law, and Faith, that much I know!

So confident was Viett about the Afterlife that he had one of his verses (v.79) inscribed on his tombstone (he is buried in Norfolk City, Virginia):

Though strange perplexities enwrap my Lot,
And weak my Vision to divine the Plot,
Thus much is clear – “Where Death is I am Not,”
And clearer still – “Where I am Death is Not.”

There are some curious ideas in Viett’s Rubaiyat. First, concerning reincarnation, here are verses 80-81:

I lived Before, yet know not how, or where;
Dim intimations come, and Visions fair
Of purest Presences, and pleasant plains,
And halcyon joys in which I had a share:
Herein methinks, “Reincarnation” holds
Clue to the Secret that nought else unfolds –
That Spirits pass and choose their heaven or hells
Through myriad forms that mundane Nature moulds.

Even more curious is verse 114:

I sometimes think these Stars above my head
Are blest Abodes of the unnumbered Dead
That wend their Heav’nward way from Sphere to Sphere,
And find in each a Paradise to tread.

There was an interesting, if eccentric, theory proposed in the nineteenth century. It was to the effect that the souls of the inhabitants of the Earth – and of those beings presumed to exist on other planets – progressed at bodily death to a sort of planetary etheric realm, until ultimately they incarnated on the Sun, which was actually fuelled by their spiritual energy. (At least, that was what happened to the good souls – the bad ones had to reincarnate on their respective planets and ‘try again’, as it were.) The constant influx of good souls was why the Sun didn’t seem to cool down over time, something that was very difficult to explain in the days before there was any knowledge of the nuclear reactions that maintained the Sun’s tremendous surface temperatures, and any sort of ordinary burning process was deemed inadequate. Of course, orthodox astronomers remained distinctly unimpressed by this strange theory, which was proposed in Louis Figuier’s book, The Day after Death (1881), this being translated from the French Le Lendemain de la Mort, first published in 1871. (Its introduction opened with what must surely rank as one of the most depressing opening phrases ever addressed by an author to his readers: “Reader, you must die.”)

Figuier’s theory had an ancient antecedent which is mentioned in Plutarch’s little work, Concerning the Face which appears in the Orb of the Moon (sections 28-30.) It involved a belief that Man was composed of three parts – body, soul and mind – and that he suffered two deaths as a result. At the first death the body was shuffled off, and the soul and mind ascended to the Moon. (At least, the good ones did: the bad ones lingered near the surface of the Earth as ghosts, trapped in a form of ‘hell’.) After a suitable time on the Moon, during which period they could periodically return to the Earth to take charge of oracles, participate in rituals, and right wrongs, the good beings suffered their second death. The soul was shuffled off and the mind – the purest component of Man – ascended to the Sun, a sort of spiritual ‘heaven’.

But getting back to Viett, after musing in Plutarchian vein that the Moon might be “a Pilgrim resting-place / Where erstwhile Earthly Guests take brief repose” (v.115), he goes on (v.117):

These myriad Worlds, so wondrous to the view,
May not One hold to our sad Search the clue?
May not there be in this Immensity
Some Garden where Earth’s fairest Dreams come True?

Would that were so!

k) Oliver Opp-Dyke – The Omar Sonnets

I include this book here as much for its curiosity value as anything. Its full title, only the first part of which concerns us, is: The Omar Sonnets and the Lefra Lyrics, translated and edited by Oliver Opp-Dyke. It was published in a limited edition of 250 copies in New York in 1909.

Oliver Opp-Dyke was the pseudonym of John Baker Opdycke, and he used it for his poetical works – other examples are The Lure of Life – Lyrics of the ‘Zeitgeist’ (Boston, 1910), The Unfathomable Sorrow – a Sonnet Sequence from the Passion, and Other Scriptural Sonnets (New York, 1910), and Amor Vitaque – a Little Book of Speculation in Lyric, Ballad and Omargram (Boston, 1912), of which more presently. Under his real name – for by profession he was a teacher of English in New York City – he wrote The Elements of Composition for Secondary Schools (New York, 1913) and Good English (New York, 1918), both of these co-authored with H.S.Canby. His speciality, though, was the use of English in business and commerce, in which field he wrote several books, notably News, Ads, and Sales – the Use of English for Commercial Purposes (New York, 1915), the title page of which tells us that at the time of publication he was Chairman of the English Department at the  Julia Richman High School, New York City, prior to which he had been an instructor in English at the High School of Commerce, also in New York City.

But getting back to the Omar Sonnets, Opp-Dyke begins his Preface to the book thus:

“The subject matter of the verse herein contained, representing as it does two widely different moods, is taken almost in toto from supposed Ancient American tablet-writings. The first twenty-five sonnets have been Englished into a new, hitherto unused verse-form the Omar sonnet. It consists of three inter-rhymed Omar quatrains and a final couplet.” (p.3)

In the three Omar Sonnets to be quoted here by way of example, all follow the rhyming pattern:  a-a-b-a-b-b-c-b-c-c-d-c-d-d. (In fact, all 25 of the Omar Sonnets bar one, no.23, follow this pattern.) Opp-Dyke goes on:

“The editor maintains that this type of sonnet has just as suitable a raison d’être for the expression of certain kinds of thought as the Petrarchian, the Spenserian, and the Shakesperean types have for other kinds. The tone of this series is, for the most part, pessimistic a fact that has led archaeologists to believe that at the time of the composition of these writings the Ancient Americans were undergoing political, economical, or spiritual oppression. The modernity of thought gives further noteworthy testimony to the high degree of civilization attained by this people.” (p.3-4)

As regards the second half of the book – the Lefra Lyrics – all we need say here is that these consist of fifty lyrics, mostly sonnets, which detail “a part of the love message of a (Maya?) Prince (cir. 8000 BC) to one, Lefra, whom he would have made his Princess had not considerations of state forbidden.” (p.4) [Lefra, however, also features in The Lure of Life – see Part 1, poems 45, 50, 52 & 58. The significance of this is not clear.]

As for the “Ancient American tablet-writings”, from which Opp-Dyke purportedly translated his sonnets, where they came from, and what museum or collection they reside in, is not made clear, and nor have I been able to find out anything further about them. Indeed, I wonder if they are anything more than an imaginative invention on which to hang his sonnets. But whatever, here is Sonnet 2:

Yes, drink the cup with merry laughter round,
And let the hall with clinking toast resound,
As high is held the genial sparkling wine.
Must not a drop within the bowl be found
When thou hast wooed the daughter of the vine;
To such degree the vessel must incline
That e‘en the dregs reluctant thou mayst drain, –
Thy hearty worship show at Bacchus’ shrine.
Then let the goblet, whence thou didst obtain,
Fall careless down with loud resounding strain.
Wouldst keep it for thy needs to-morrow? Nay,
Uncertain is the time thou shalt remain.
Drink deeply, fully, ardently, to-day, –
The holder of thy joy cast thou away!

This, then, is Omarian wine-drinking ancient American style, though how Bacchus got into it, except via Opp-Dyke’s poetic licence, is a mystery. (Compare FitzGerald’s verse 37 – “Ah fill the Cup: – what boots it to repeat…”)

Moving to Sonnet 11, now:

They asked of transcendentalism first,
About empiricism they conversed,
They pondered long on realism too,
With idealism thought to quench their thirst,
They basked ‘neath optimism’s roseate hue,
They deemed the depths of pessimism true,
In theism they sought eternal light,
Till pantheism dawned upon their view.
Yet none of these, no matter how bedight,
Could focus clear the philosophic sight.
But pragmatism came and cleared the way
By compromise, – declaring they were right
Who lived the life all livingly to-day,
And bothered not about remote survey.

Again, then, we have the carpe diem philosophy, Ancient American style, though the various “-isms” cited smack more of 19th century religious conflicts.

Finally, here is Sonnet 17:

“To-morrow" and "To-day" and "Yesterday,"-
Time s trinity whose flight no hand can stay
Each one of which into the other leads,
And from the other makes its constant way.
To-day to Yesterday too soon proceeds,
To-morrow to To-day as quickly speeds,
The hasting panorama glides as tho
To mock at contemplated human deeds.
Live then To-day: for out of it doth grow
Your past and future, unto it you owe
Whatever was or will be. Time’s estate
Entire, is now and here To-day. Let no
Regrets for Yesterday procrastinate,
To-morrow s dawn do not anticipate.

All of which again recalls FitzGerald’s “unborn tomorrow, and dead yesterday, / why fret about them if today be sweet!” (v.37), but how much does it owe to Ancient America?

As noted above, in his book Amor Vitaque (Love and Life), Opp-Dyke invented the Omargram, which is essentially an Omarian epigram, though the poet himself defined it as “the cocktail of your mental menu.” (p.165). Some examples are:

“We are the bric-a-brac of the world – molded from common clay – and the gods are the bulls in the china shop.” (p.139) [Compare the Kuza Nama in FitzGerald, of course.]

“Immediately after great disasters the pulpit, you may have noticed, is very busy explaining.” (p.156) [Compare Voltaire on the Lisbon Earthquake, quoted in chapter 3 of the main essay.]

“Every church is a Bastile (sic). Our duty is to storm it. But first we must sharpen the guillotine for the gaoler.” (p.158) [Compare Richard le Gallienne, “To abolish all the churches and to make a bonfire of prayer-books would be a sure way to discover the truly religious”, quoted in chapter 4 of the main essay.]

Some of the poems in Part 2 of Opp-Dyke’s collection The Lure of Life also have interesting Omarian themes. I here quote three, starting with sonnet 4, an interesting example of the impact of modern astronomy and evolution on the concept of God:

A Mystery of Space long aeons past
Was shaken by an energy supreme
Called God or "X”, and into it was cast
Trillions of orbs, which yet with motion teem.
And one at least of these – the motley earth –
In vegetation showed the parent flame,
Which, after countless ages of rebirth,
The reptile, bird, and animal became.
Then upward on the slow evolving scale
The force divine advanced, until at last
The form of man became its coat of mail, –
The great epitome of all its past.
Its course complete, its strength by death renewed.
Again through time the cycle is pursued.

Next sonnet 25, this time an interesting example of the influence of Comparative Religion (on which see chapter 10 of the main essay) – the awareness that all religions are at heart variations on the same theme – and disdain at religious intolerance:

Religions all I sought to find a key
Which would unlock the choicest of their store, –
The truth that forms their universal core.
O'erwhelmed with creeds' disquieting crudity,
Within the realms of contradictory
Interpretation lost, made deaf by roar
Of flames which sank in embered martyr's gore –
My quest I kept till clearly I could see –
Renunciation – common stock of all.
Of gods whose deeds do godliness proclaim,
Of Buddha, Krishna, Christ, – whate'er the name,
Of every sainted martyr, great or small, –
Of you and me, first striving to attain,
And then renouncing self for others' gain!

[Sonnet 26 follows a similar theme, beginning thus: “By Buddha, Vishnu, Zoroaster, Christ, / Mohammed, Krishna, Virgin, Father, God, – / And others have our hearts been oft enticed / In worship…... “]

Finally, sonnet 53, which is reminiscent of Rev Dinsmore’s sermon on “the Moving Finger” in section h above:

Man is himself the master of his fate,
The real designer of his circling way;
'Tis he alone must bear the onerous weight
Of causing sin and being to it a prey.
He shapes tomorrow by his deed today,
And on and on his future thus must grow.
His past did then the same iron rule obey, –
For segments do the whole of circles show.
As in an endless chain each link we know
To be like those that follow or precede.
So in man's life doth each short day bestow
The product of his past, his future need.
And lives like days by Janus views are bound, –
Each one but holds dependent middle ground.


The next item lists some largely forgotten poetic odds and ends featured in The Pall Mall Magazine in the late 1890s and early 1900s. They all, one way or another, relate to The Rubaiyat.

l) Poems from the Pall Mall Magazine

In the Notes on Gallery 2A, Folder 1 we saw how five of Edmund J. Sullivan’s illustrations for The Rubaiyat had appeared in the Pall Mall Magazine in about 1900, some years before they were finally used in his complete illustrated edition, first published by Methuen in 1913. I was curious to know the context in which they had appeared in the magazine, and set out to investigate.

The Pall Mall Magazine was a literary magazine which began publication in 1893 and ran until 1914. It featured poetry, short stories, longer stories in serialised form (such as H.G.Wells’ A Story of the Days to Come, also illustrated by Sullivan – for which see Gallery 5B, Fig.5), and miscellaneous cultural contributions. It transpired that the magazine sometimes used poems as “fillers”, generally without illustration, but often they used illustrated poems, spread over two or three pages, as more major features. Thus, Sullivan’s illustrations, printed with the appropriate verse beneath each, used up five magazine pages, spread over three issues as follows: in February 1901, verse 13 appeared on p.276 and verse 69 on p.277; in April 1901, verse 23 appeared on p.450 and verse 27 on p.451; and finally, in November 1902, verse 14 appeared on p.415.

It was in tracking these down (Sullivan had been a bit vague as to dates) that I found a number of interesting poems, some illustrated, some not, which gave an interesting insight into the poetic tastes of the 1890s and early 1900s, at which period The Rubaiyat was particularly popular (recall Richard Le Gallienne’s The Romantic’90s, as quoted in chapter 13 of the main essay.) The first to catch my eye was a two-page illustrated carpe diem poem, “The Passing Hour”, which appeared in the January 1899 issue, p.48-49. It can be found illustrated in Gallery 7F (Fig.14a and Fig.14b), though readers may find the following description useful.

On p.48 the following three verses are superimposed on the illustration, done in the style of Beardsley, depicting a young couple in old-fashioned dress, walking beneath a tree. A cherub walks before them, scattering roses in their path, as butterflies flit all around in the air:

Catch, oh! catch the passing hour
Youth is quick to flee away.
Beauty fadeth, joy departeth,
Night succeedeth onto Day.
There is sorrow in the future
And regret must hold the past.
But the present! Catch, oh! catch it,
Flutt’ring, fleeing, flying fast.
Wait, oh! wait not for tomorrow,
There is danger in delay.
All the wisdom of the ages
Cannot reconstruct “today”.

On p.49 facing the foregoing, the following two verses are superimposed on the illustration, depicting an angel with a sword in her right hand and hour-glass in her left; with ravens hovering in the air. In the right foreground a gravedigger hacks out a grave with a pickaxe, a skull poking out of the earth beside him:

E’en the fragrance of the flowers,
E’en the sunshine on the stream,
Vanish into nothingness, –
Youth itself is like a dream.
Catch, then catch the passing hour,
Ere it wings itself away;
Tempt it, lure it, oh! secure it! –
Happiness is loth to stay.

The poem is signed I. Solomon, and the illustration bears the signature S.H. Sime. Note that this is a two page spread of a single illustration, broken by the spine of the magazine: the angel and the couple are actually walking on opposite sides of the same tree – the hand and cane of the man on p.48 are just visible on the left hand edge of p.49.

Now whatever one might think of this as poetry – and it is hard to imagine it appearing in any literary magazine today – it is clearly very Omarian in nature (though not in FitzGerald’s format), and one can imagine that its readers back in 1899 would readily recall the likes of Omar’s verse 72 (“Alas, that Spring should vanish with the Rose! / That Youth’s sweet-scented Manuscript should close!”). In other words, overly sentimental and ‘corny’ as it might be, it is symptomatic of its time.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find out anything about I.Solomon, the author of the poem, but S.H.Sime is comparatively well known as an artist, being noted mainly for his illustration of Lord Dunsany’s book The Gods of Pegana (1905).

Another illustrated Omarian poem – “Carpe Diem” by M. Tredinnick – appeared in the August 1896 edition of the Pall Mall Magazine (p.589-591). The poem itself appeared on p.590, sandwiched in between two full page illustrations by T. Williamson (see Gallery 7F, Fig.15a and Fig.15b.) That on p.589 depicts a young couple in antique dress walking down a garden path, the man offering the woman a flower; that on p.591 depicts a group of young men in antique dress raising a toast. The poem itself reads:

Of lives we have but one,
As far as I can see:
Then speed the joyous fun
With song and gaiety.
Enjoy it while you may,
As genial Herrick sings;
With Horace ‘pluck the day,’
Nor think on after things.
Let fellowship abound,
Throw sorrow to the wind,
Let not a care be found,
To-morrow put behind.
Then comrades fill the bowl,
Let Nature’s bounty flow
And cheer the gloomy soul,
And drown all thoughts of woe.
Pour deep the ruddy wine
And drink a toast with me:
“Here’s to the Three, – the Nine,
And Camaraderie.”

[I am not at all clear as to the significance of “the Three – the Nine” here. For various carpe diem quotes, including those of Herrick and Horace, see the notes on verse 7, verse 26 and verse 72.]

For those interested in pursuing other examples, two poems illustrated by Patten Wilson, in a nice Pre–Raphaelite style, appeared in the September 1899 issue, p.68–9 (Henry Newbolt’s poem “Among the Tombs”) and the November 1900 issue, p.394–5 (F.H.K’s poem “Eternal Love” – the theme being lovers parted by death.) Also illustrated and worth looking up are: H.C.Marillier’s poem “Revocata Fides” (Aug.1897, p.433-5 – not strictly Omarian, being about a young woman who has entered a nunnery, but is ‘called back’ to the everyday world); Dorothy Nevile Lees’ poem, “To the Mummy of an Egyptian Girl” (April 1900 p.563-5); and Steven Gwynn’s poem, “A Death Mask” (January 1901, p.76-7 – a contemplation of a death mask of an unknown woman, surreptitiously made in a morgue, then copied and sold in the streets – “A traffic that does her no shame./ Death takes of her new dignity.”)

There are also some interesting examples which are not illustrated. Here is one – Richard Osborne’s poem “Falling Leaves” – interesting for its link with FitzGerald’s line “The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one” (verse 8 of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th editions):

One by one they fall and fade, –
Some in the sunshine, some in the shade;
Some in the bright and glowing noon,
Some ’neath the cold and quiet moon;
One whirleth here, one falleth there,
Till the ground is cover’d, the bough is bare;
So every passing hour receives
These falling, fading, dying leaves.
One by one we fall and fade, –
Some in the sunshine, some in the shade;
Some in the broad, unclouded light,
Some in the cold and quiet night;
One mourneth here, one parteth there,
Till the soul is heavy, the home is bare;
So every passing hour receives
These falling hearts, these dying leaves.

For autumn leaves as a symbol of mortality, see also note 57h of the main essay and the notes on verse 72.


m) Walter E. Holloway - Rubaiyat of Today

Subtitled “For Thinkers and Dreamers”, and published by Authors Publishing Committee, Los Angeles, in 1938, Rubaiyat of Today looks forward to the establishment of a Utopian society of social equality to be achieved through the pursuit of Science and an adherence to Natural Law, and with the abolition of repressive artificial man-made institutions. It is a Rubaiyat of Freedom. Thus Holloway writes in the Preface to his Rubaiyat:

Any social institution that blocks man’s freedom dooms him to deterioration. This applies to all institutions, political, ecclesiastic and economic. Any regimentation of men that standardizes their thinking makes automatons of them and strikes at the very foundations of life. This is the law as it comes from Nature's lips and any law made by man which is not in accordance with Nature's law is unconstitutional in the Supreme Court of the Cosmos. (p.3)

As he writes in his verse 147 (there are 155 in all):

Oh, doubting Man let love of Truth inspire
Your Mind with inextinguishable Fire!
Pull down this Mad–house Knaves and Fools have made,
And build a Home to fit the Heart’s Desire!

But getting back to Science and Natural Law, the universe, the author reminds us, operates under fixed inexorable laws, and it is only through Science's understanding of these laws, not through prayers to capricious gods, that Man can build his ideal world. It is time, then, for Man to shake off “the long, weary centuries of dependence upon false ‘Gods’ and their agents.”(p.4) As he writes in his verse 64, “Ah me, if Man were wise enough to slay / His Gods and follow Nature's Laws instead!” then things would improve, for the ideal society can only happen, “When Gods are dead, and Men, at last are Men.” (verse 148) As Holloway sees it, Religion is the enemy of Science, as the past burning of scientists as heretics shows. Here is verse 76:

Mad Demons, dancing round the Fagot’s Flame,
Burned Men of Science in Religion’s Name,
Their only Crime the Crime of finding Facts
Not known to Man when gentle Jesus came.

When it comes to the Church, Monarchy and War, Holloway again waxes lyrical on Man's failure to learn any lessons from the past. Here are verses 39–41:

In looking back across the fear–filled Span
Of Time on Earth, since Man arose as Man,
We see him moulding Gods Today the same
As in old Asia where he first began.

And everywhere the Priests have been aligned
With Tyrants for the Plunder of Mankind:
The King could not have bound the Hands of Man
Had not the Priest put shackles on his Mind.

Whenever War has ridden East or West,
And Slaughter–lust has raged with savage Zest
The Priests of some mad God with shuttered Eyes
The bestial Carnival of Blood have blessed.

At the time when Holloway was working on his Rubaiyat, of course, the Second World War was brewing, and he wrote in his Preface:

Today, as I write, millions of men stand in arms on the frontiers of nations ready to destroy each other at the command of their governors while at home their pale–faced wives and mothers agonize under the guidance of their priests who if war comes will immediately switch from begging God for peace to begging him for assistance in slaughter. One’s heart grows sick at the prospect of war now or later and confidence in man’s ability to solve his problems is shaken. (p.5)

But getting back to Science and the solution of Man's problems, here is verse 98, with another jibe at the relative ineffectiveness of Priests:

The patient Man of Science found the Way,
He banished Plagues that cursed the olden Day,
Death–dealing Plagues that still would rage unchecked
If Man depended on his Priests to pray.

This is true enough, as most of us would admit, I think, and were Omar alive today he would no doubt agree wholeheartedly! Again, though on a different front, here are verses 104 & 105:

A thousand Engines, Children of Man's Brain,
With iron Nerves and Flesh immune to Pain.
Can feed his Wants so lavishly that he
Need never feel the Pangs of Want again.

Aye, Poverty, ashamed to walk by Day,
Would slink like some night-prowling Beast away,
If Man would let his Engines work their Fill,
And give each Man his rightful Share as Pay.

This is a simple ideal, of course, though this is not the place to discuss why the Industrial Revolution never succeeded in achieving it! Rather, let us stick with Holloway's vision. In general terms, here it is, as expressed in his verse 115:

Man, then, with Nature’s Forces in his Hand,
And Social Forces under his Command,
Can build his Home on Earth and be secure:
I bid him look, and see, and understand.

But let us draw things to a close by returning to Holloway's Preface:

The problem confronting mankind - that of making himself comfortable and happy on this earth - calls for all we possess of knowledge and courage. The present world scene is tragic and disconcerting in the extreme. The physical earth is abundantly provided with materials and energies, science has made commendable progress in ascertaining the laws of Nature, and yet man even after millions of years upon earth has failed miserable (sic) in making a home. The race as a whole is hag–ridden by ignorance and superstition, it wallows in poverty and misery and crime and disease, it continues to behave in a way which, as George Dorsey says, would shame a polecat and disgust a hyena. (p.5)

I leave readers to decide for themselves how much progress has been made since Holloway wrote that back in 1938. Meanwhile, in “The After-Thought” of his Rubaiyat of Today, Holloway expresses great sympathy with Omar, and finds it no surprise that in his day he, “Found Love and Wine and Song the only Cure / For Sorrrows that infest the Soul of Man” (verse 132); nor that he found, “the Doctors and the Saints / Were prattling Fellows ignorant and blind.” (verse 134) So let us close with one of Holloway's Omarian verses (no. 142), in which he addresses Omar thus:

Dear Omar, could I share a Jug with you,
I might not learn which is the False and True,
But I should hear your Song, and that methinks,
My failing Hope and Strength would soon renew.


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