Verse by Verse Notes on The Rubaiyat (1859 edition).

Preliminary Note:

In what follows frequent reference is made to the different editions of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat, as well as to other translations (notably that of E. H. Whinfield) and to the works of Heron-Allen. A very useful web-site, for comparing the four editions of FitzGerald published during his lifetime, can be found at:

This site also contains the 1883 edition of Whinfield, cross-referenced to FitzGerald (and also, incidentally, Richard Brodie’s extraordinary anagrammatic paraphrase of FitzGerald.) As for Heron-Allen’s invaluable reference books, these can be found online, via the web-site of the Dutch Omar Khayyam Society:

or directly, along with an assortment of Heron-Allen’s extraordinary range of other works, at:

One work of Herron-Allen's of which I wasn't aware until I was well into putting together this verse by verse commentary, was his book The Second Edition of Edward FitzGerald's Rubaiyat of Umar Khayyam (1908; 1912.) Though there is inevitably some overlap - references to Hafiz, Anacreon and Tennyson, for example - surprisingly there is not a great deal! Heron-Allen quotes extensively from J.P. Muirhead's translation of Vaux de Vire (1875) and from James Thomson's Essays, Dialogues and Thoughts of Giacomo Leopardi (1905), for example, neither of which I have used at all. What I did discover via Heron-Allen was Herbert A. Giles' Gems of Chinese Literature (1884), which turned out to contain far more Omarian material than Heron-Allen himself used. Rather than insert this material bit by bit into the following verse by verse notes, however, I have opted to put it all together in Appendix 21, to which readers are referred.

Another verse by verse commentary, this time of the 5th edition, is The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam with a Commentary by H.M. Batson and a Biographical Introduction by E.D. Ross, published in 1900. Again, though there is some overlap, there is surpringly little of it, demonstrating, it would seem, that there is a lot of Omarian material out there!

Finally I should add that in the course of my studies I came upon some interesting antecedents of Omarian thought in ancient Egyptian and Babylonian literature. These are not included in the verse by verse note that follow, but are gathered together in Appendix 2g, immediately following the section dealing with the related topic of ancient Egyptian and Babylonian Theodicy, Appendix 2f.

Verse 1.

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 Sultán's Turret in a Noose of Light.

Sunrise. The Sun (the Stone), when it rises (is flung) into the Sky (the Bowl of Night), causes the Stars to become invisible (it puts them to flight). According to FitzGerald’s note on this verse, “Flinging a Stone into the Cup was the Signal for ‘To Horse!’ in the Desert.” The image thus likens the start of the day to the start of a journey. The Hunter of the East is, again, the rising Sun, the Noose of Light being the hunter’s lasso.

This verse is a prime example of the assertion that the freshness and originality of the first edition of The Rubaiyat was rather spoiled by the revisions made in subsequent editions. The flinging of the stone into the bowl was particularly problematic, and may even have arisen from a scribal misreading of the original Persian (see below), but the image was, as FitzGerald put it (II.280-1), “so pretty and so smacks of the Desert Life….that it is worth risking it.” As Martin (note 1e, p.205) says:

“Unfortunately, he was nagged by his friends and his conscience until he felt compelled to eliminate what he had invented. He ruined a superbly evocative opening in so doing, and for years thereafter he fiddled inconclusively with the stanza, trying unsuccessfully to find another way of breathing life into the flatness of the original.”

The verse in the fifth edition reads:

Wake! For the Sun, who scatter’d into flight
The Stars before him from the Field of Night,
Drives Night along with them from Heav’n, and strikes
The Sultan’s Turret with a Shaft of Light.

The stone has disappeared – and in fact, it only ever appeared in the first edition. FitzGerald’s most detailed thoughts on the image are contained in one of his letters, written to Cowell in the summer of 1857 (II.280-1, as cited above.) Here he talks of the throwing of a pebble into a cup as “a sign of breaking up the Party…though in this case it does not mean breaking up any Party but that of Night, whose departure is a sign for the Drinkers to assemble.” (Hence this serves as a lead in to verses 2 and 3 below, with the drinkers assembling before the tavern door.) It does seem odd that the stone flung into a cup at the end of a party becomes, in verse 1, the Stone flung into the Bowl of Night to signal the start of the day’s party, but there it is!

According to Heron-Allen (as note 11a, p.3-5) FitzGerald’s source of inspiration for the stone was verse 134 of the Calcutta Manuscript. But in the corresponding verse in other manuscripts, a word for “wine” (bāda) is used instead of one for “stone” (muhra), leading to the possibility that the verse from the Calcutta Manuscript is a scribal misreading, and that the image should be one of splashing wine into a bowl rather than casting a stone into a bowl. (If that sounds odd, the idea seems to have been that the spreading reddish colour of the dawn sky was being likened to the pouring of rosy wine into the bowl of the sky.)

Heron-Allen also says that flinging a stone into a cup or pot “is the signal for ‘striking camp’ among tribes of nomad Arabs”, an assertion taken up by, for example, R.A.Nicholson in his notes on the verse (in the A & C Black edition of 1909): “Among some nomadic tribes the signal for striking camp was given by casting a stone into a bowl.” Where the “striking camp” and “tribes of nomad Arabs” have come from is a mystery, and neither Heron-Allen nor Nicholson gives a source to enlighten us. I personally have never seen any actual reference to this practice in any book of traveller’s tales, and it seems extremely unlikely (though see below) that casting a stone into a bowl would make enough noise to rouse a whole camp! Far more effective, surely, would be gunshots, drums or gongs, or even something akin to the call to prayer. However, as FitzGerald indicates in the above cited letter to Cowell, Francis Johnson’s A Dictionary – Persian, Arabic and English, under muhra (stone), certainly does give (in the 1852 edition, p.1280) the following entry: “muhra dar jām afgandan, To throw the pebble into the cup (a signal for mounting on horseback.).” This is clearly the source of FitzGerald’s note on the opening verse of his first edition, so there is some substance behind this, but unfortunately Johnson’s own source is not stated, and that source remains stubbornly unclear despite considerable co-operative efforts to find it, these efforts involving Sandra Mason, Bill Martin, Garry Garrard and myself. The most promising lead so far has come from the translation of The Shahnama of Firdausi by Arthur George Warner & Edmond Warner, published in 9 volumes between 1905 and 1925. The Warners tell us that the signal for an army to march forth was given by the Shah dropping a ball into a cup attached to the side of his elephant, both cup and ball being made of bell-metal (vol.1, p.79.) Thus, for example, prior to Zal leading his army against Afrasiyab, we read (vol.1, p.381):

"....When he mounted
His elephant and dropped a ball the sound
Made by the cup was heard for miles around."

Poetic licence ? Possibly. Bell-like resonance ? Possibly. But, of course, neither FitzGerald, nor Heron-Allen, nor Nicholson, said anything about marching armies, so the whole business remains something of a mystery!

For those interested, more details can be found at Bill and Sandra’s site, at:

Verse 2.

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."

Dawn’s Left Hand (which became “the phantom of False morning” in the second and subsequent editions) was referenced as follows by FitzGerald in his Notes to the First Edition:

“The ‘False Dawn’: Subhi Khasib, a transient Light on the Horizon about an hour before the Subhi Sadhik, or True Dawn; a well-known Phenomenon in the East. The Persians call the Morning Grey, or Dusk, ‘Wolf-and-Sheep-While.’ ‘Almost at odds with, which is which.’”

The rather puzzling ‘Wolf-and-Sheep-While’ sentence, which FitzGerald dropped from the note in subsequent editions, was probably taken from Robert B.M.Binning, A Journal of Two Years’ Travel in Persia, Ceylon etc (1857):

“Most travellers in this country have noticed the frequent phenomenon of the false dawn; but this is of too common occurrence in India, to attract the notice of anyone coming from that country.

The gray of morning just preceding daybreak, is called by the Persians hava e goorg u meesh (time of the wolf and sheep) as at that time a man is supposed to be able to see these animals on the road before him, but would be unable to distinguish the one from the other. The phrase is very similar to the French ‘entre chien et loup.’” (vol.1, p.176.)

The False Dawn is certainly a reference to the zodiacal light, as was very ably demonstrated by J.W.Redhouse back in the nineteenth century (see The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol.10, p.344-354 (1878) and vol.12, p.327-334 (1880), particularly the latter, p.333, letter from W.J.L.Wharton.) It is now known to result from the reflection of sunlight from interplanetary debris in the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun (the ecliptic), and so is more especially visible (in the northern hemisphere) after sunset in spring and before dawn in autumn, at lower latitudes, where and when the plane of the ecliptic is more steeply inclined to the horizon. Being relatively faint, it is also more easily seen in places where the air is clear and free from the light pollution of modern cities. Hence in Omar Khayyam’s time and place, it would have been a much more visible phenomenon than it is for most of us today. As indicated above, in the northern hemisphere, it is visible both before sunrise (especially in September/October) and after sunset (especially in March/April), but only its morning appearance has ever been of any significance to Islam, as it can give a false message to the faithful about the onset of the true dawn, when the morning prayers begin, and especially during Ramadan, when both prayer and fasting begin. The phenomenon is referred to, somewhat obscurely, in Surah 2.187 of the Qur’an: “Eat and drink until the white thread of dawn appears to you distinct from its black thread, then complete your fast till the night appears.” (translation Abdullah Yusuf Ali) For a scientific account of the phenomenon, see M. Minnaert, The Nature of Light and Colour in the Open Air (1954), p.290-295.

In this verse is the first of many references to the Tavern and drinking wine, the recurring theme of the poem being “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die, and there is NOTHING after death.” The last two lines use Cup in a dual sense – “fill the Cup” in the third line means “pour a cup of wine to drink”, whilst the Cup in the last line is the first of many symbolic references to human beings, Cups being made from Clay as Adam was made from Clay by God (compare verse 35, for example.) The life disappearing from the body of a human being at death is likened to the wine drying out in a cup.

It is of interest to compare this verse of FitzGerald’s with verse 200 of E.H. Whinfield’s translation of 1883:

When false dawn streaks the east with cold, grey line,
Pour in your cups the pure blood of the vine;
The truth, they say, tastes bitter in the mouth,
This is a token that the "Truth" is wine.

This, of course, is a good example of a Sufic verse, where the wine is unequivocally symbolic.

As regards drinking wine in the morning, the Persian poet Hafiz, in one of his odes, refers to the “enlivening draught of morning wine” (translation by John Nott), to which Nott appends this footnote:

“A cheerful cup of wine in the morning was a favourite indulgence with the more luxurious Persians. And it was not uncommon among the Easterns to salute a friend by saying, ‘May your morning compotation prove agreeable to you.’”

See Samuel Rousseau, The Flowers of Persian Literature (1805 ed), p.164-5. Rousseau (whose book, as mentioned earlier, was published as “A Companion to Sir William Jones’s Persian Grammar”) also quotes the following translation (by Jones himself) of another ode of Hafiz (p.158):

The dawn advances veiled with roses.
Bring the morning draught, my friends, the morning draught!

Whilst the morning draught might seem quite civilised to many of us, the injunction, made later in the same ode, to “drink…incessantly the pure wine” seems considerably more worrying! But then Hafiz did live in the days before a glass of wine counted as two units of a suggested weekly intake, and, in any case, his injunction may be a Sufic one, a striving for increasingly Divine Intoxication! (For the morning draught in Hafiz, see also the extracts from Odes IV and V of Cowell’s translations in Appendix 1h.)

Verse 3.

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."

This verse continues the Dawn theme of verses 1 and 2 with a Cock crowing. Lines 3 and 4 say, in effect, life is all too short, and when we die, that is it – there is no coming back. (Cf. “Drink! – for once dead you never shall return” in verse 34.)

The injunction to drink while you live, for once dead there is no going back either to the Tavern or to the World of the Living, finds an echo in an epigram from The Greek Anthology (a fascinating collection of short poems, mostly epigrams, ranging in date from Classsical to Byzantine times). The translation used here, and in later quotations from it, is by W.R.Paton (Loeb, 1919):

“This is the monument of grey-haired Maronis, on whose tomb you see a wine cup carved in stone. She the wine-bibber and chatterer, is not sorry for her children or her children’s destitute father, but one thing she laments even in her grave, that the device of the wine-god on the tomb is not full of wine.” (7.353)

I regret that I do not know more of the story of Maronis, for she has at least two such epitaphs! A second one is quoted in the notes on verse 23 below. (The explanation of the two epitaphs of Maronis is probably that some of the so-called epitaphs in the Greek Anthology are not real ones but imaginary ones, written in jest or to make a philosophical – often Omarian – point about Life and Death..)

Verse 4.

Now the New Year reviving old Desires,
The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
Where the WHITE HAND OF MOSES on the Bough
Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires.

This is a puzzling verse at first. The “New Year reviving old Desires” is, as FitzGerald indicates in his notes, a symbolic reference to the renewal of Nature associated with the Spring Equinox, here associated with human thoughts and feelings – as Tennyson put it in Locksley Hall, “in spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” The spring revival is here illustrated with the twinned references to blossoms bursting forth on the trees (“the White Hand of Moses on the Bough puts out”) and flowers bursting forth from the ground (“Jesus from the Ground suspires”), this twinning being nicely illustrated in FitzGerald’s quote from Robert B.M.Binning, A Journal of Two Years’ Travel in Persia, Ceylon etc (1857):

“The sudden approach and rapid advance of the spring, are very striking. Before the snow is well off the ground, the trees burst into blossom, and flowers start forth from the soil.” (vol.2, p.165.)

A similar image is to be found in Sir James Baillie Fraser’s Narrative of a Journey into Khorasan in the Years 1821 and 1822 etc (1825), which FitzGerald may well have read (42):

“Spring here claimed and enjoyed her full sway; the wood in many places lofty and magnificent, consisted of oak, beech, elm, alder; with thickets of wild cherry, and thorns, which were covered with a sheet of white and maiden blush blossoms…….flowers of various kinds, primroses, violets, lilies, hyacinths, and others no less lovely though unknown, covered the ground in the richest profusion, and mingled with the soft undergrowth of green herbage.” (p.599)

But of course there is no direct reference in these accounts to either Moses or Jesus, who are both, incidentally, present in the original Persian verse: “The hands of Moses appear like froth upon the bough, / And the breath of Jesus comes forth from the earth.” (Heron-Allen, as note 11a, p.13.)

One suggestion is that the White Hand of Moses and Jesus are both blossoming plants of spring named after the two prophets (in Islam, Jesus is regarded as just another prophet, like Moses). The name of the first, a white tree-blossom (“on the Bough”), relates to two verses in the Qur’an (Surahs 7.108 and 26.33), and to a similar verse in the Bible (Exodus 4.6), in which the hand of Moses is miraculously turned as white as snow (or leprous) by God. (In Persian poetry, hand and leaf are poetically interchangeable.) As for “Jesus from the ground suspires”, this means that the plant bursts forth in life from the ground – the word “suspires” = “breathes forth” is used because the life-giving power of the prophet Jesus was believed to reside in his breath.

However, a rather more likely suggestion is that though the White Hand of Moses may be the name of a particular tree-blossom (though I have to say that I have been unable to discover which), Jesus is not the name of any particular flower. Rather the reference is to spring flowers generally bursting forth from the ground, as if enlivened by the life-giving breath of Jesus.

This reference to the Breath of Jesus probably stems from Surah 5.110 of the Qur’an, in which Jesus makes a model bird out of clay, and, by breathing upon it, brings it to life. The Qur’an in its turn probably borrowed this story from a source like the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas (Greek Text A, II.3-4; Greek Text B, III.1. A standard translation can be found in M.R.James, The Apocryphal New Testament (1924).) By way of explanation of this, since living beings breathe, it is natural to connect life-force with the breath, and in New Testament Greek the word pneuma can refer both to the spirit that animates the body and to the breath from the nostrils or mouth. Associated with this is the episode described in John 20.21-22 in which Christ appears to his Disciples after the crucifixion:

“Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.”

Here pneuma is used in relation to the Holy Ghost (or Spirit). Compare also Genesis 2.7:

“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

Verse 5.

Irám indeed is gone with all its Rose,
And Jamshýd's Sev'n-ring'd Cup where no one knows;
But still the Vine her ancient Ruby yields,
And still a Garden by the Water blows.

Iram with lofty pillars” (as it is dubbed in Surah 89.7 of the Qur’an) was a fabulously wealthy garden city, adorned with trees and fruits and flowers, said to have been destroyed by God for its wickedness, and long ago lost in the desert sands of southern Arabia. It is equated with the lost city of Ubar and the ancient Omanum Emporium of Ptolemy, its legendary wealth being a result of the frankincense trade. It was dubbed “the Atlantis of the Sands” by Bertram Thomas, an explorer who had ventured across the so-called “Empty Quarter” of Arabia, and who wrote a book about his adventures, Arabia Felix, published in 1932. Thomas wrote:

“Suddenly the Arabs, who were always childishly anxious to draw attention to anything they thought would interest me, pointed to the ground. ‘Look, Sahib,’ they cried. ‘There is the road to Ubar.’

‘Ubar?’ I wondered.

‘It was a great city, our fathers have told us, that existed of old; a city rich in treasure, with date gardens and a fort of red silver. [Gold?] It now lies buried beneath the sands in the Ramlat Shu’ait, some few days to the north.’

Other Arabs on my previous journeys had told me of Ubar, the Atlantis of the sands, but none could say where it lay.” (p.160-1)

Iram/Ubar was finally located with the help of satellite images, and an expedition to investigate the site (at modern Shisur), using geophysical scanners and such like, took place in the early1990s. It turned out that the city (actually, more of a town in size) was destroyed when it collapsed into a sink hole. See Nicholas Clapp, The Road to Ubar: Finding the Atlantis of the Sands (1998) – the figure on p.201 (reproduced in Gallery 7F, Fig.8) gives a vivid impression of its extraordinary demise sometime between about 300 and 500 AD. Ironically, Bertram Thomas had actually been there, without realising that it was Ubar (Arabia Felix, p.135-137.)

As for Jamshyd, according to various sources, most notably the great epic poem of Persia, The Shahnama, written by the poet Firdausi around 1000 AD, Jamshyd was a (legendary) Persian King, said to have reigned over a Golden Age lasting 700 years, during which pain, suffering and even death were unknown. During his reign Jamshyd is said to have raised humanity from a state of abject barbarism to a state of true civilisation, giving them the security of houses, the luxury of silk, and the delights of jewellery and wine. He is also credited as the first person to create a structured society, by dividing his people into four classes – priests, warriors, artificers and husbandmen. He is further said to have founded the great city of Persepolis, now in ruins (Persepolis was the Greek-derived name of the city, meaning “The City of the Persians”; in Persian its name was Takht-e Jamshyd, meaning “The Throne of Jamshyd”, in accordance with the legend.) But pride comes before a fall, as they say: Jamshyd set himself up as a god, his nobles deserted him and, with the help of King Zohak, they deposed him and “sawed him in twain”.

Jamshyd’s discovery of wine, briefly mentioned above, is referred to in an engaging footnote in Sir John Malcolm’s The History of Persia, from the Earliest Period to the Present Time (1815):

“Jemsheed was the first who discovered wine. He was immoderately fond of grapes, and desired to preserve some, which were placed in a large vessel and lodged in a vault for future use. When the vessel was opened, the grapes had fermented; their juice, in this state, was so acid, that the king believed it must be poisonous; he had some vessels filled with it, and poison written upon each; these were placed in his room. It happened that one of his favourite ladies was affected with nervous headaches; the pain distracted her so much, that she desired death; observing a vessel with poison written on it, she took it and swallowed its contents. The wine, for such it had become, overpowered the lady, who fell down into a sound sleep and awoke much refreshed. Delighted with the remedy, she repeated the doses so often, that the monarch’s poison was all drunk. He soon discovered this, and forced the lady to confess what she had done. A quantity of wine was made; and Jemsheed, and all his court, drank of the new beverage, which, from the circumstances that led to its discovery, is to this day known in Persia by the name of zeher-e-khoosh, or the delightful poison. – Moullah Ackber’s MSS.” (vol.1, p.16)

Jamshyd is said to have owned a fabulous Cup whose precise nature is every bit as mysterious as the Christian Holy Grail. It is sometimes said that it was used for the magical purposes of drinking the Elixir of Life, but more usually it is associated with Divination Its interior is said to have been decorated with seven rings, corresponding to the 7 regions of the world, the 7 seas and the 7 heavens (or the 7 planets – see the notes on verse 31 below.) This would give anyone using the Cup for scrying purposes the power to see what was happening in any corner of the 7 regions of the world.

The idea of glimpsing the future, or spying on distant events, by peering into a cup or bowl of water (or other liquid), which is clearly related to gazing into a crystal ball or magic mirror, is both widespread and ancient. It is said, too, that the technique originated in Persia. Thus, St Augustine, in his City of God (7.35), says of Numa Pompilius, the second King of Rome after Romulus, that he resorted to such practices, “making his gods (or rather his devils) to appear in water and instruct him ….which kind of divination, says Varro, came from Persia.” (Translation John Healey, Everyman’s Library, 1945.) Strabo, in his Geography (16.2.39), in a list of types of divination in use amongst various peoples, says of the Persians that there are “the dish-diviners and water-diviners, as they are called.” (Translation H.L.Jones, Loeb, 1930.) Thomas Taylor, in a footnote to his translation of Iamblichus – on the Mysteries of the Egyptians, Chaldeans and Assyrians (3.14) in which Iamblichus talks of divining in water, says:

“This divination according to the imagination through water may be illustrated by the following extract from Damascius (apud Photium): ‘There was a sacred woman who possessed in a wonderful manner a divinely gifted nature. For pouring pure water into a certain glass cup, she saw in the water that was within the cup the luminous appearances of future events, and from the view of these she entirely predicted what would happen.” (2nd edition, 1895, p.150-1)

There is a biblical example of such a divining cup – albeit an infuriatingly fleeting reference to one – in Joseph’s silver cup (Gen.44.2) “whereby indeed he divineth” (Gen.44.5 & 15). S.R.Driver, in The Book of Genesis (1909) says, in his note on this:

“The allusion is to the method of divination called hydromancy: water was poured into a glass or other vessel, pieces of gold, silver, or precious stones were then thrown in; and from the movements of the water, or the figures which appeared in it afterwards, the unknown was divined.” (p.358)

In his footnote to this, Driver adds:

“Norden (quoted by Knobel), whose Travels were published in 1752-5, relates that when he and his party sent their firman to a local dignitary in Egypt, they were met with the reply, ‘The firman of the Porte is nothing to me. I have consulted my cup, and I find you are Franks in disguise, who have come to spy out the land.’ And Lane (Modern Egyptians, vol.1, p.337ff.) mentions a ‘magic mirror’ of ink: in order to discover the author of a theft, ink was poured by a magician into a boy’s palm; he was directed to look into it steadfastly, and at last declared that he saw in it the image of a person, who proved to be the thief. See also Wade, Old Testament History, p.81.” (p.358)

Joseph’s divining cup makes only a fleeting appearance in the Old Testament, and it is equally fleeting in Louis Ginzberg’s meticulous compilation Legends of the Jews (1925). Here Joseph pretends not to recognise his brothers (as in Gen.42.7), but, unlike in Genesis, says to them that “by this magic cup I know that ye are spies.” (vol.2, p.83). Somewhat curiously, later in the story, Joseph has “a magic astrolabe…whereby he knew all things that happen” (vol.2, p.98), but the cup hidden in Benjamin’s sack (as in Gen.44.2 & 12) is now mentioned as if it is only an ordinary silver one (ib.p.99-100). (Interestingly, the cup seems only to be an ordinary one in the Qur’an, Surah 12.70 & 72.) However, Robert Graves and Raphael Patai’s account, in their Hebrew Myths; the Book of Genesis (1964) is more consistent: Joseph uses his divining cup to denounce his brothers (p.265) and it is this same cup which is hidden in Benjamin’s sack (p.269).

The article on Jewish Divination in Hastings’ Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (vol.4, p.807) says of Gen.44.5 & 15 that:

“To judge from later parallels, the practice must have consisted in filling a cup with water or wine, and gazing intently on the surface till the beholder saw all kinds of images.”

To this is added the following survival of this technique:

“To find out whether a man will survive the year: take silent water from a well on the eve of Hosha’anah Rabba, fill a clear glass vessel with it, put it in the middle of the room, then look into it; if he sees therein a face with the mouth open, he will live, but, if the mouth is closed, he will die. This must be done in the hour of the domination of the moon. Some do it on the Day of Atonement, with a vessel filled with lighting oil instead of water. (Mifaloth, 119.)” (ib.p.807)

The article on Christian Divination in the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (vol.4, p.789), in talking of divining the future by gazing into water, and referencing St Augustine as mentioned above, says this:

“This practice still survives in the water of silence and other ceremonies associated with Christmas Eve, Halloween, St Mark’s Eve, and Midsummer Eve. A love-couplet quoted by Abbott from Salonica illustrates the practice: ‘A lump of gold shall I drop into the well, that the water may grow clear, and I may see my husband that is to be.’ (Macedonian Folklore, p.51-57.)”

Getting back to Jamshid’s Cup, in the Shahnameh, in the story of Byzun and Manijeh, Kai Khosru uses Jamshid’s Cup to divine that the missing Byzun is still alive, and though bound in fetters, he will soon be successfully released.

Of FitzGerald’s verse 5, Heron Allen (as note 11a, p.13) says that it is “a very composite quatrain, which cannot be claimed as a translation of all, or the main part” of any particular quatrains in the Calcutta or Ouseley manuscripts, and he gives no specific antecedents for it. Indeed, he says, “I have never found any reference to the Garden of Iram in quatrains attributed to Omar Khayyam.” Nor does he give any manuscript source for FitzGerald’s reference to “Jamshyd’s Sev’n-ring’d Cup” However, verse 355 of E.H.Whinfield’s 1883 edition reads thus:

To find great Jamshid’s world-reflecting bowl
I compassed sea and land, and viewed the whole;
But, when I asked the wary sage, I learned
That bowl was my own body, and my soul!

The last two lines, of course, are a Sufistic version of Jamshid’s Cup, meaning, as Whinfield says, that “man is the microcosm.” Originally, though, it was undoubtedly a real divining cup

The overall theme of verse 5 is that everything man-made must perish, but that nature herself continues on regardless of time – “still the Vine her ancient Ruby (grapes/wine) yields” etc.

Verse 6.

And David's Lips are lock't; but in divine
High piping Pélevi, with "Wine! Wine! Wine!
Red Wine!" – the Nightingale cries to the Rose
That yellow Cheek of hers to'incarnadine.

This is a very obscure verse. David is the author of the Psalms in the Bible (see also the Qur’an, Surahs 4.163 and 17.55), but instead of singing his holy songs (Psalms), he calls for wine, perhaps because, from an Omarian point of view, singing about Wine is ultimately just as significant as singing about God. Actually, there is a little more to it than this, as we shall see shortly, but first we need to take a look at the strange connection between the Nightingale and the Rose.

Persian folklore links them in variations on the following basic story: Originally, the Nightingale could not sing very well, and all Roses were white. But then one day the Nightingale noticed the Rose and fell in deeply in love with her. So inspired was he by her beauty that he actually began to sing melodiously for the first time, but not only that, in pressing his body against the flower, a thorn pierced his breast, and his blood poured out over the Rose, turning it red. Thus were created together the Song of the Nightingale and the Red Rose. Prof. R.A.Nicholson, in his notes on this verse in a 1909 edition of The Rubaiyat, says:

“In Persian poetry the Nightingale (Bulbul) is constantly represented as the lover of the Rose (Gul), a charming fancy, and one that is supported by rhyme, if not by reason.”

Rhyme alone, of course, cannot account for this strange association, and I have been unable to trace its origins. One contributory factor, however, may well be supplied by the following observation about the nightingale in Persia, taken from Robert B.M.Binning, A Journal of Two Years’ Travel in Persia, Ceylon etc (1857):

“It is migratory here, as in England, making its appearance with the roses in April, and disappearing with the rose, at the end of the summer.” (vol.2, p.311.)

Binning makes two other references to this in vol.1, p.219 and vol.2, p166.

A good example of the association between the nightingale and the rose in Persian poetry is the following, taken from ode 14 in Gertrude L. Bell’s translation of Poems from the Divan of Hafiz (1897):

The nightingale with drops of his heart's blood
Had nourished the red rose, then came a wind,
And catching at the boughs in envious mood,
A hundred thorns about his heart entwined.

In Persian Art, too, the Rose and the Nightingale are a popular decorative theme – see the article “Gol o Bolbol” in the (online) Encyclopedia Iranica, and for some examples of art-work, see Gallery 7A, Folder 1.

Getting back to FitzGerald, though, in verse 6 the link between David and the Nightingale is singing, and the reference to the Nightingale, the Rose, and “that yellow Cheek of hers to incarnadine”, derives from the foregoing folktale, FitzGerald using “to incarnadine” meaning “to make blood-red”, the link with red wine being, of course, that it is like blood in colour. But whatever, according to Heron Allen (as note 11a, p.15 n.2), in Persian literature yellow is the colour of sickness and misery (compare yellow = jaundiced in English), so that the Nightingale’s song, in turning the yellow cheek of the rose to incarnadine (the colour of healthy flesh) is effectively infusing it with health and happiness. Incidentally, in editions after the first, FitzGerald changed “yellow” to “sallow”.

But getting back to David, why are his lips “lock't; but in divine / High piping Pélevi, with "Wine! Wine! Wine! / Red Wine!"? The explanation of this curious phraseology appears to be that David is here not literally the Psalmist (Singer of Holy Songs), but a fore-image of the Nightingale, whose Song is not a Psalm but a bird-call: "Wine! Wine! Wine! Red Wine!", if repeated over and over again, would have the characteristic repetitiveness of birdsong. That, I think, is why David’s lips are “lock’t” – they are locked in repetitive bird call; why they are “high piping” – which relates more to birdsong than a sung Psalm; and why he sings in “Pehlevi”, the ancient language of Persia – which relates more easily to the Persian Nightingale than to the Jewish David, for, as FitzGerald tells us in his note on this verse, “Hafiz also speaks of the Nightingale’s Pehlevi, which did not change with the People’s.” That is, in Persian lore the Nightingale’s song preserves the original language of Pehlevi, whilst that of the People changes with time.

Linking David with the Nightingale does occur elsewhere in Persian poetry, notably in FitzGerald’s own translation of Attar’s Bird Parliament (lines 192ff), where the Nightingale says: “Yea, whosoever once has quaff’d this wine / He leaves unlisten’d David’s Song for mine.” However, David does not feature in the original verse on which FitzGerald based his verse 6, as can be seen from Heron-Allen’s translation of it (as note 11a, p.15-17):

It is a pleasant day, and the weather is neither hot nor cold;
The rain has washed the dust from the faces of the roses;
The nightingale in the Pehlevi tongue to the yellow rose
Cries ever: “Thou must drink wine!”

In verse 6, then, FitzGerald himself has brought David into things, adding what is seemingly his own novel twist: he has David literally morphing into the Nightingale as the verse unfolds.

Interestingly, the Persian folk-tale of the Nightingale and the Rose has a modern incarnation in Oscar Wilde’s short story The Nightingale and the Rose. The story is given in an edited form, with some commentary on sources etc, in Appendix 10. In its turn, Wilde’s story has inspired a number of western art-works, some examples of which are given in Gallery 7A, Folder 2.

On the Red Rose and Blood, see also the note on verse 18 below.

Verse 7.

Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly – and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.

“Come fill the Cup” – the eat, drink and be merry theme again; don’t regret the past (Winter), live for today (Spring) – for life is short. “The Bird of Time” image is very neat.

Similar sentiments are to be found in John Gay’s The Beggars Opera (1728), in the second verse of the 22nd Air:

Let us drink and sport to-day,
Ours is not tomorrow.
Love with youth flies swift away,
Age is nought but sorrow.
Dance and sing,
Time's on the wing,
Life never knows the return of spring.

John Gay, it should be remembered, was buried in Westminster Abbey, beneath an epitaph which included his own Omarian couplet:

Life is a jest, and all things show it;
I thought so once and now I know it.

God had the last laugh, however. In the 1930s it was discovered that Gay’s epitaph obscured a medieval wall-painting, and so it was removed to the abbey triforium, away from public gaze, where it remains today (2011).

Inevitably here “tempus fugit” (time flies) comes to mind, a catch-phrase whose original form is not so catchy: “fugit inreparabile tempus” meaning “time flies beyond recall”. It comes from Virgil’s Georgics (3.284) and its context is surprisingly mundane. Virgil has decided to change his subject from animal lusts in the breeding season to putting herds of sheep and goats out to pasture. The original “tempus fugit” is simply part of a poet’s way of saying, “time to move on” or “time to change the subject.” Thus it was actually a mundanely used turn of phrase, rather than a carefully considered attempt to be clever, which became a world famous dictum fully two thousand years after its author penned it! Perhaps not surprisingly, “tempus fugit” features on the occasional tombstone (I recently came across one quite by accident in the Kensal Green Cemetery in north London) and also quite regularly on old sundials (for example, at the Parish Church of Reigate, Surrey.)

Incidentally, another Latin catch-phrase regularly quoted on old sundials (at Cadder House, near Glasgow, for example) is one already used a couple of times in the course of the main essay – namely, “carpe diem,” meaning “seize the day”. This comes originally from the Odes of Horace (Book 1, Ode 11), its context being so Omarian that the relevant lines of the ode are well worth quoting here, in the neat translation by W.G.Shepherd (1983):

“Be wise, decant the wine, prune back / your long-term hopes. Life ebbs as I speak: / so seize each day, and grant the next no credit.”

For the use of these Latin catch-phrases on sundials, see, for example, The Book of Sundials, originally compiled by the late Mrs Alfred Gatty, enlarged and re-edited by H.K.F.Eden and Eleanor Lloyd (1900): (#108; p.221-2) for “carpe diem” and (#1337; p.425-6) for “tempus fugit.” Also of interest is The Book of Old Sundials and their Mottoes, illustrated by Alfred Rawlings and Warrington Hogg, with an introductory essay by Launcelot Cross (1922), for in addition to “carpe diem” (p.29) and “tempus fugit” (p.73; p.92), we see that by 1922 some of FitzGerald’s verses were actually appearing as the mottoes on sundials (verse 46 on p.63 & verse 51 on p.94.) For more a more detailed account of Omarian themes in epitaphs and on sundials, see Appendix 14.

Lord Byron made a famous use of “carpe diem” in a letter to John Cam Hobhouse, written from Bologna, and dated August 20th, 1819:

“My time has been passed viciously and agreeably – at thirty-one so few years months days hours or minutes remain that ‘carpe diem,’ is not enough – I have been obliged to crop even the seconds – for who can trust to tomorrow? tomorrow quotha? to-hourto minute –- I can not repent me (I try very often) so much of any thing I have done – as of any thing I have left undone – alas! I have been but idle – and have the prospect of early decay – without having seized every available instant of our pleasurable year.- This is a bitter thought – and it will be difficult for me ever to recover the despondency into which this idea naturally throws me.” (Byron’s Letters and Journals, edited by Leslie A. Marchand (1976), vol.6, p.211.)

But to return to the subject of Time, Hector Berlioz, in a letter to his friend Saint-Georges, dated 27th November 1856, wrote: “Time is a great teacher, it is said; unfortunately, it is a cruel teacher that kills its pupils!” (For the original French, see Pierre Citron, Hector Berlioz – Correspondance Générale (1989), vol.5, p.2187.)

Verse 8.

And look – a thousand Blossoms with the Day
Woke – and a thousand scatter'd into Clay:
And this first Summer Month that brings the Rose
Shall take Jamshýd and Kaikobád away.

For every thousand flowers that grow, a thousand others die (return to dust, earth or Clay); more than this, at the same time as a single Rose blossoms in a garden, great kings may pass away – Kaikobad, like Jamshyd in verse 5, was a legendary Persian king, mentioned in the great epic poem of Persia, The Shahnama, already mentioned in connection with Jamshyd in verse 5 above. For Kaikobad in particular see verse 9 below. Compare also the association of the Rose with a buried Caesar in verse 18 below, But the Blossoms in line 1 and the Clay in line 2 have deeper connotations, for the Blossoms are symbolic of people, and the Clay symbolic of “the dust of the ground” from which God created Man (Gen.2.7), and to which, on death, Man must return: “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”, as it says in the Book of Common Prayer. See also notes on verse 36, verse 53 and verses 59-66 in the Kuza Nama.

For this image of flowers “scatter’d into Clay”, compare Walter Crane’s strange painting “The Mower”, in which the winged Mower – the Angel of Death – scythes down human-faced flowers in a meadow (see Gallery 3D, Fig.3.) The scythe also features in a similar sense in Millais’ painting “Spring (Apple Blossoms)” (see notes on verse 72 & Gallery 3C, Fig.7.) It also features, of course, in his “Time, the Reaper”, as mentioned in chpter 11 of the main essay. Another unusual use of the image of Time as the Reaper is to be found in a clock designed by Gustave Doré, now much more famous for his engravings than his paintings or his sculptures. The clock is being scaled by numerous cherub-like figures, who, as they reach the top, are scythed down by the winged figure of Time (illustrated in Gallery 8D, Folder 2, Fig.2.) Returning to poetry, another use of the scythe of Time is to be found in Shakespeare’s 12th Sonnet (“nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence”) and yet another in Edward Young’s Night Thoughts, first published in the 1740s, but very popular throughout the Victorian period. This extract comes from Night 1, lines 193-8:

Each Moment has its sickle, emulous
Of Time's enormous scythe, whose ample sweep
Strikes empires from the root; each Moment plays
His little weapon in the narrower sphere
Of sweet domestic comfort, and cuts down
The fairest bloom of sublunary bliss.

For a number of Omarian parallels to be found in Young’s Night Thoughts see Appendix 12c. For Doré’s clock, see “Design for a Clock, ‘Time mowing down the Hours’, modelled by Gustave Doré” in Amelia B. Edwards’ article “Gustave Doré: Personal Recollections of the Artist and his Work” in The Art Journal (Dec 1883), p.390. It is Edwards’ illustration of the clock that is shown in Gallery 8D, Folder 2, Fig.2, as mentioned above. For the origins of Father Time and his Scythe see Appendix 14c.

Verse 9.

But come with old Khayyám, and leave the Lot
Of Kaikobád and Kaikhosrú forgot:
Let Rustum lay about him as he will,
Or Hátim Tai cry Supper – heed them not.

Kaikobad and Kaikhosru are Kai Kobad and Kai Khosru, legendary kings of the Persian Kayanian Dynasty or Kaianids (hence the Kai). Kaikhosru was the great grandson of Kaikobad.

Rustum (or Rostam) is, as FitzGerald notes from his first edition onwards, the Hercules of Persia. He was the all-action hero, who, according to the Shahnama, required the milk of ten nurses at birth and felled a rampaging elephant whilst still a child. He grew up to slay a dragon, outwit a cunningly disguised witch, single-handedly rout an army, and destroy a demon known as the White Deev, these being four of the so-called Seven Labours of Rostam (which of course naturally invite comparison with the Twelve Labours of Hercules.) A key episode in the Shahnama is the story of Rostam and Sohrab. Sohrab was the son of Rostam by the Princess Tahmina, but grew up with his father being unaware of his existence. The two were destined to meet, unrecognised by each other, in single combat at the head of two armies – Rostam at that of Persia, and Sohrab at that of Turan. Rostam slew Sohrab, but only learned that he was his son after the event – the core of the tragedy. The episode was taken up by Matthew Arnold in his poem “Sohrab and Rustum”, first published in 1853. For some Persian Miniature illustrations of the deeds of Rustum, see William Lillys’s section of Oriental Miniatures: Persian, Indian, Turkish, edited with Introductions and Notes by William Lillys, Robert Reiff and Emel Esin (1965).

Hatim Tai, that is, Hatim of the Tribe of Tai, is the epitome of generosity and hospitality, just as Rostam is the epitome of courage and strength. It is said that while Hatim’s mother was pregnant with him, she dreamt that she was given a choice between ten ordinary sons and one son of extraordinary generosity. She chose the latter option. It is further said that Hatim would refuse to feed at his mother’s breast unless she suckled another child on her other breast at the same time. In another story, the adult Hatim received a royal emissary whilst his flocks were in pasture, so he slaughtered his own horse to feed his guest. Hatim died an infidel, for which he should have been tormented in the fires of Hell after his death. But on account of his virtue, an exception was made for him, and, by way of compensation, he was allowed to dwell in a paradisical garden in the midst of the Flames of Hell! (This, of course, is one of the problems of religious dogmatism: there are always the truly virtuous outside that dogma!) See the articles “Hatem Tai” in the (online) Encyclopædia Iranica and “Hatim al-Tai” in the (First) Encyclopedia of Islam.

Verse 9 means let you and I forget the Lot (fate) of Kings Kaikobad (verse 8) and Kaikhosru; ignore the feats of that greatest of heroes, Rustum; and ignore, too, Hatim Tai, that great chieftain famed throughout the world for his hospitality (for they are all of no real consequence.)

Verse 10.

With me along some Strip of Herbage strown
That just divides the desert from the sown,
Where name of Slave and Sultán scarce is known
And pity Sultán Máhmúd on his Throne.

(Following on from verse 9) Ignore all that Earthly power, and come with me to a quiet place where no-one cares who is a Sultan and who is a Slave; indeed, let us pity Sultan Mahmud (= Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni, in Afghanistan, ruled 998-1030 AD) with all the problems that his kingship brings him. (“Strown”, used to rhyme with “sown”, is an old form of the word “strewn”, meaning “scattered”; the wording is a bit artificial, but is intended to convey the idea of a piece of land, at the edge of the desert, where grass and flowers grow, but which is not cultivated, and is thus, symbolically, well away from it all – in other words, well away from the ordered court of the Sultan, and all its power struggles.) A.J. Arberry (note 1d, p.200) has suggested that the linking of Slave and Sultan in line 3 is a reference to “the celebrated passion of Mahmud for his slave-boy Ayaz, frequently cited by the Persian poets as an instance of the unpredictable vagaries of human love.” Even if only a possibility, the idea is of some interest.

Sadi, in his Gulistan (=Rose Garden, for which see also Appendix 1h), tells us that on one occasion Sultan Mahmud was asked why, when he had so many handsome slaves, he had such high regard for Ayaz, who was in no way remarkable for his looks. Mahmud replied, “Whatever pleases the heart appears fair to the eye.” (E.B. Eastwick, The Gulistan of Sadi, Ch.5, Story 1, 1880 ed., p.158.) Sadi repeated the story in his Bustan (= Orchard) thus:

“Someone found fault with the king of Ghazni, saying: ‘Ayaz, his favourite slave, possesses no beauty. It is strange that a nightingale should love a rose that has neither colour nor perfume.”

This was told to Mahmud, who said: ‘My love, O Sir, is for his virtues, not his form and stature.’” (A.H.Edwards, The Bustan of Sadi (1911), Ch.3, p.65-66.)

For the strange love of the Nightingale for the Rose, alluded to here, see the note on verse 6 above.

The homosexual love of the Sultan Mahmud for the Slave Ayaz finds something of a parallel in the love of the Roman Emperor Hadrian for Antinous. Antinous was not a slave, and unlike Ayaz, he was gifted with classical good looks (not unlike Michelangelo’s David, in fact!), but, nevertheless, their love crossed social boundaries. Antinous is said to have drowned himself in the Nile, as a voluntary sacrifice which would ensure the success of some chosen undertaking of his beloved Emperor. Hadrian was grief-stricken at his death, and had numerous statues of him set up throughout the Empire. Hadrian seems genuinely to have believed that a newly visible star, presumably a nova, was a celestial manifestation of the soul of Antinous, a belief which brought him much ridicule. (See Dio Cassius 69.11.)

Of course, there are also unpredictable vagaries of heterosexual human love, a good example of which is the (albeit fictional) love of the African King Cophetua for the young beggar-girl Penelophon. The King never took any interest in women at all until, one day, he just happened to catch sight of Penelophon through his castle window, and, in the words of the poet, Cupid had speared him with his dart. She was apparently soon as speared as he was. The two were married and lived happily ever after. Indeed, they were eventually buried together. The story, which seems to have originated as a medieval romance, was told in some detail in Richard Johnson’s Crown Garland of Goulden Roses (1612), and was well enough known for Shakespeare to make a passing reference to it in Romeo and Juliet (Act 2, Scene 1: “…Cupid, he that shot so true/when King Cophetua loved the beggar-maid.”) Johnson’s text was reprinted in Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765), and it was probably Percy’s version which was read by Tennyson and inspired his poem “The Beggar-Maid” (written in 1833, but not published until 1842). William Holman Hunt illustrated Tennyson’s poem in the famous Moxon edition of Tennyson’s poems, published in 1857. The story was also the inspiration for Edward Burne-Jones’s wonderful painting, “King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid” (1884) (Gallery 3A, Fig.2).

The unpredictable vagaries of heterosexual human love are also the subject of the 4th Ode in Horace’s Book 2, which opens thus (translation by W.G.Shepherd):

“No need to blush because you love / a slave-girl, Xanthias. By way of precedent, / the snowy skin of Briseis / moved Achilles; / the beauty of Tecmessa moved her / master Ajax;”

But getting back to Sultan Mahmud, he seems to have become, in Persian poetry, a useful symbol of the transience and ultimate futility of earthly power: see, for example, the rather strange account of Mahmud’s eyes in Cowell’s article on The Rose Garden of Sadi in Appendix 1h.

The lessons to be learned from contrasting “Slave and Sultan” find another example in a verse of Omar Khayyam’s, not used by FitzGerald, but used to great effect by E.H. Whinfield (listed in note 13) as verse 473 of his translation of 1883

A Shaikh beheld a Harlot, and quoth he,
"You seem a slave to drink and lechery";
And she made answer, "What I seem I am,
But, Master, are you all you seem to be?"

The equalising of Slave and Sultan in FitzGerald’s verse 10 brings to mind an epigram from The Greek Anthology. It is the epitaph of a slave named Manes. The translation is again that of W.R.Paton:

“This man when alive was Manes, but now he is dead he is as great as Darius.” (7.538)

Darius was, of course, the great King of the Persians.

Again, Marcus Aurelius, in his Meditations (VI.24), wrote:

"Alexander the Great and his groom, when dead, were both upon the same level, and ran the same chance of being scattered into atoms or absorbed in the soul of the universe." (Translation of Jeremy Collier, 1891)

Another aspect of Death as the Great Leveller is to be found in Lucian’s Dialogues of the Dead, in particular in the dialogue of “Nireus, Thersites and Menippus.” The scene is set in Hades. Menippus is basically a philosophical observer who appears in several of the dialogues, whilst Nireus and Thersites are characters from Homer’s Iliad – the former having been in life the most handsome of the Greeks to sail to Troy (Iliad 2. 672-3), the latter the ugliest (Iliad 2. 219). Both are now skeletons in Hades and they enjoin Menippus to judge which of them is the most handsome. In their skeletal state, of course, they are indistinguishable. As Menippus says to Nireus, “Neither you nor anyone else is handsome here. In Hades all are equal, and all alike.” (Translation by M.D. Macleod, Loeb 1961.)

Verse 11.

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse – and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.

In the quiet place of verse 10, with bread to eat and wine to drink, and with you reading poetry to me, such a place would be Paradise. (Enow” is an old fashioned poetical word for “enough”.) This is one of the most famous verses in FitzGerald’s translation, and one much illustrated, and though there is a possible antecedent for it in the original verses of Omar Khayyam (or of one of his imitators!), it is amusing to reflect that one of the verses which FitzGerald actually used in his ‘translation’ featured a loaf of bread, a gourd of wine and a leg of mutton (Herron-Allen, as note 11a, p.23) – no book of verse! But then for most of us today there is little romance in a leg of mutton! Incidentally, in contrast to Professor Arberry’s assertion, mentioned above, that the poet’s companion on this picnic was “a pretty young boy”, another picnic verse (verse 32 in the Ouseley Manuscript, quoted in the notes on verse 56 below) has him accompanied by “a playmate houri-shaped” – a girl. Again, another Persian original has him accompanied specifically by “a tulip-cheeked girl.” (See the translation by Avery and Heath-Stubbs, cited in note 13, verse 234.) Certainly, most illustrators opt for a pretty young girl when it comes to illustrating this verse! (See Galleries 1C & 2C for some examples)

There is an interesting classical parallel for the sentiments of this verse in the Latin poem Copa. Formerly thought to be a minor poem of Virgil’s, it is now thought merely to be written in the style of Virgil by some unknown author, at some unknown date. It is contained in a collection of such pseudo-Virgilian poems, all probably by different authors, in a collection known as the Appendix Virgiliana. Copa – it means the Barmaid – is a song sung by the hostess of a roadside tavern to her customers. The following is extracted from the translation of H. Rushton Fairclough, revised by G.P.Goold (Loeb, 2000):

“Why go away when you’re tired with the heat and the dust? How much better to recline on a couch with a drink! Here are panelled booths and cabins and goblets, roses, flutes, harps, and a pavilion cooled by a shady curtain of reeds…..And there are little cheeses, dried in rush baskets, and waxen plums of autumn’s season and chestnuts and sweetly blushing apples: here are loaves of purest bread, here Love, here wine…Come here and rest your weary limbs beneath the shade of vines, and entwine your drooping head in a coronet of roses, and kissing the luscious lips of a pretty girl….Why save fragrant wreaths for ungrateful ashes ? D’you want your bones buried under a garlanded tombstone? Set forth the wine and dice! To hell with him who thinks of tomorrow! Death is tweaking my ear and says: ’Live it up now, for I am coming!’” (p.439-441)

Similar thoughts are to be found in The Greek Anthology, the translation used here being again that of W.R.Paton:

“Let us bathe, Prodike, and crown our heads, and quaff untempered wine, lifting up greater cups. Short is the season of rejoicing, and then old age comes to forbid it any longer, and at the last death” (5.12)

And again:

“This is life, and nothing else is; life is delight; away, dull care! Brief are the years of man. Today wine is ours, and the dance, and flowery wreaths, and women. Today let me live well; none knows what may be tomorrow.” (5.72)

Verse 12.

"How sweet is mortal Sovranty!" – think some:
Others – "How blest the Paradise to come!"
Ah, take the Cash in hand and waive the Rest;
Oh, the brave Music of a distant Drum!

How enticing is earthly kingship; how enticing is the promise of heaven after we die; but better to take the good things you have now (“the Cash in hand”), than to long for things we might never have or which are unattainable (“the brave Music of a distant drum”). A recurring idea throughout The Rubaiyat is that not only is Heaven unattainable, but that life after death does not even exist.

With FitzGerald’s verse 12 we may compare Horace, Odes 1.9 thus:

“Avoid speculation / about the future; count as credit the days / chance deals; youth should not spurn / the dance or sweet desire.” (Translation by W.G.Shepherd.)

Verse 13.

Look to the Rose that blows about us – "Lo,
Laughing," she says, "into the World I blow:
At once the silken Tassel of my Purse
Tear, and its Treasure on the Garden throw."

The Treasure of the Rose is its pollen, from which other Roses will grow; its Purse is the stamen of the flower. The idea here is that real Treasure has nothing to do with money, or commerce, or power. The carefree words of the laughing rose contrast nicely with the serious thoughts of mankind’s “worldly hopes” in the next verse.

Compare “the too brief spell of the rose” in Horace Odes (2.3). This, like the other references to Horace cited in the notes on verse 7, verse 10 and verse 12 above, is one of a number of parallels that have been drawn between Horace and Omar Khayyam (see also the allusion to Horace in More’s article in Appendix 7.) Other examples are: “Pallid death kicks impartially at the doors of hovels and mansions” (from Odes 1.4) and “virtue can give no pause to wrinkles or imminent age or invincible death” (from Odes 2.14) – the translations here being again by W.G.Shepherd, in the Penguin Classics edition of Horace’s odes and epodes. I do not propose to go further into the parallels here, but refer interested readers to Herbert Edward Mierow’s article “Horace and Omar Khayyam” in The Classical Weekly, vol.xi, no.3 (1917), p.19-21. It was, as we have already seen, Horace who coined the Omarian catch-phrase “carpe diem”, in his Odes (1.11). Interestingly, though FitzGerald was a great fan of Lucretius, he was not a fan of Horace (II.590 & 593).

Verse 14.

The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns Ashes – or it prospers; and anon,
Like Snow upon the Desert's dusty Face
Lighting a little Hour or two – is gone.

The aims of Worldly Hope are fleeting, no matter whether that hope ends in failure (burnt to Ashes) or success (for even success is like Snow, it melts and is gone all too soon.) Everything is transient.

The insignificance of human “Worldly Hope” was famously captured by Keats in his poem “When I have fears that I may cease to be” (1818), in the closing lines:

....then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think,
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

Longfellow was one of few poets who had a slightly more optimistic approach. In “A Psalm of Life” (1838) he wrote:

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

There are two views of Fame. Fame in its posthumous aspect is seen by some as one of the few ways of living on in this world after physical death, the most famous example of this view being Petrarch’s poem “The Triumph of Fame over Death” (on which see Gallery 8H, Fig.15, and the notes on it.) The Roman poet Martial was not so sure of such a view. Posthumous fame is all very well, he felt, but you have to be dead to get it! (This is the sense of the last two lines of the 10th epigram in his Book 5.) In the Christian tradition, of course, “all is vanity”, so the quest for posthumous fame becomes a sin (see, for example, St. Augustine’s City of God, 5.14.) Not only that, but in the long term even posthumous fame must fade and die with time, and so in this sense Death must ultimately triumph over Fame, this being the message of FitzGerald’s verse 5 (“Iram indeed is gone with all its rose / And Jamshyd’s Sev’n-ring’d Cup, where no one knows.”) It is ironic that so many of the famous names mentioned in Petrarch’s “Triumph of Fame over Death” are quite unknown to most people today! But then “hope springs eternal in the human breast”, as Pope famously said in his Essay on Man back in 1734, and so the yearning to transcend death through posthumous fame continues!

Incidentally, on literary fame and its celebration, either by burial or by effigy, in Westminster Abbey, FitzGerald had a theory that no-one should be celebrated there until at least a hundred years after their death. Only by then, he argued, will posterity have determined whether or not they are really famous enough to qualify. FitzGerald declined to subscribe to a monument to his friend William Makepeace Thackeray for this very reason (though he was sure that Thackeray would eventually qualify, as we shall see). In a letter to W.F. Pollock, written in December 1864, he wrote:

“…there are already such a heap of vulgar Statues to People no one, even now, cares for that I shouldn’t care to see WMT lumped among them, next to – Sir W. Follett, for instance. What Foreigner, looking into the Noble Abbey, but must wonder at such an Intrusion; the Name not known, I suppose, out of Britain, and not exciting any very lively recognition here.” (II.537)

A little later in this same letter, FitzGerald added:

“I feel sure WMT will be known and admired one hundred years hence…and then the New Zealander may make a Bust, or a Statue as he pleases.”

The New Zealander here is effectively “a person in the distant the future”, an image very popular in FitzGerald’s day, but largely forgotten today. For its origins, which are rooted in notions of the transience of empires, see note 40 to the main essay.

Again, in a letter to Anna Biddell written in January 1873, FitzGerald complained about the burial in the Abbey of the author and politician Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton:

“Not one word of his clever Books do I remember, or ever wish to return to: and in fifty years hence I believe Posterity will be even more ignorant of him than I. So I don’t think they should have laid him in Westminster Abbey, though he be quite as worthy as half the People there. I say one hundred years should elapse before those beautiful Walls are made the Records of men: if their ‘Works have followed them’ and are known a hundred years after, there is a strong presumption for their being known another – and perhaps another – hundred.” (III.398)

FitzGerald’s comments here are very apt, as any thoughtful visitor to Westminster Abbey knows: so many of the great and good of past ages are totally unknown to most of us today: sic transit gloria mundi, yet again.

But getting back to “worldly hope”, in art, the figure of Hope was famously depicted by both Edward Burne-Jones and George Frederick Watts.

Burne-Jones depicted “Hope” (1896) as a young woman, imprisoned and chained, yet looking and reaching towards heaven. She holds a sprig of apple-blossom, symbolic of hope (possibly a relative of the cornucopia traditionally held by the Roman goddess Fortuna.) Interestingly, flowers are shown growing in the spaces between the cracks in the floor of her cell. These could simply indicate that the flower – like hope – takes root where it can, but another, more negative suggestion, is that they are periwinkles, garlands of which were formerly placed on the heads of those condemned to execution, “whence, perhaps, comes the Italian name for periwinkle of fiore di morte (flower of death.)” (See W.G.Constable’s article, “’Hope’ by Edward Burne-Jones”, in The Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts, vol.39, no.231 (February 1941), p.12-14; also Malcolm Bell, Sir Edward Burne-Jones: a Record and Review (1899), p.112-113. For the painting itself, see Gallery 3A, Fig.3.)

Incidentally, if some of these symbolic interpretations of flowers sound a little far fetched, we should remind ourselves that most of us today remember very little of the flower-symbolism used and readily understood by our Victorian forebears.(The red rose as a symbol of love is probably the most famous survival.) There were numerous books on the subject, one of the most famous today being a little book entitled The Language of Flowers. First published in 1884, it is still famous today mainly because it was illustrated by Kate Greenaway. Leafing through a copy, if you’ll pardon the pun, reveals that actually some of the symbolism is still preserved in flower and plant names – the forget-me-not as a symbol of true love and the weeping willow as a symbol of mourning, for example. Other symbols are preserved via classical mythology (eg the narcissus as a symbol of egotism) or via the symbolic conventions of Christian art (eg the white lily as a symbol of purity – it is regularly used in connection with the Virgin Mary.) But other symbolism well known in the past is now very obscure – the bluebell as a symbol of constancy, for example, or the peony as a symbol of shame. As for the flower known as Queen’s Rocket, presenting one of these to a young lady would apparently convey the message, “You are the Queen of Coquettes”, this presumably working by nothing more than rhyming slang! Incidentally, the Greenaway book is currently satisfying a renewal of interest in such things in paperback form.

But getting back to Hope in art, Watts’ painting depicted the figure of “Hope” (c.1885-6) as a blindfolded young woman sitting upon a globe and pressing her head against a lyre all of whose strings, save one, are broken (Gallery 3G, Fig.1.) The globe symbolises the world, of course, and the blindfold symbolises the fact that Hope, like Faith, is often blind. The lyre symbol is interesting. Watts himself indicated that it wasn’t the negative aspect of the broken strings which mattered, but the positive aspect offered by the single unbroken string. “It is only when one supreme desire is left that one reaches the topmost pitch of hope,” he said. Interestingly, the Roman goddess Fortuna, mentioned above, was also sometimes depicted in art wearing a blindfold, or in literature represented as blind; and one of her ancillary symbols was a globe or wheel – the latter being the Wheel of Fortune (as depicted in the paintings of that title by Burne-Jones, mentioned earlier: indeed, in one version Fortune is shown blindfolded – see Gallery 3A, Fig.8.) In the case of Fortuna the globe might possibly represent the world (many educated people in Roman times would certainly have regarded the world as a globe and not flat – see, for example, Pliny’s Natural History, Book 2, chapters 2 & 64) but it may possibly be just a ball of stone on which the goddess stands, rolling unpredictably, thus symbolising the unpredictable nature of fate. The wheel on the other hand is spun by the goddess to dole out fate, again unpredictably – rather like deciding fate on the basis of the spin of a roulette wheel. See also the notes on verse 49 below, particularly the quotation from Pacuvius. Incidentally, the globe appears to be an earlier symbol which came later to be replaced by the wheel.

Hope and Fortune are paired together in an anonymous epigram in The Greek Anthology. The translation is again by W.R.Paton:

“Hope and Fortune, a long farewell to you both! I have found the way. I no longer take delight in aught of yours. Away with both of you! for ye lead men far astray. Ye present to our minds, as in visions of sleep, things that never shall really be, as if they were. Away with thee, poor puppet, mother of many woes; away with you both! Make sport, if you will, of whomever ye find after me, whose mind dwells on things he should not think of. Of a truth Fortune is a delusion for all mortals; for she is without force, and mostly even without being. – Who wrote this, God knows. Why? Himself only knows.” (9.134, 135)

This type of epigram must have enjoyed some popularity – both Hope and Fortune are similarly bade farewell in 9.49 and 9.172.

For Watts’ painting see The Vision of G.F.Watts, edited by Veronica Franklin Gould (2004), p.77-8 and also her book G.F.Watts: the Last Great Victorian (2004), p.193ff. For an imaginative look at Watts’ “Hope”, see H.W.Shrewsbury, The Visions of an Artist – Studies in G.F.Watts R.A., O.M. – with Verse Interpretations (1921), p.63-70. For the Roman goddess Fortuna, see, for example, the articles on “Fortuna” in the standard Smith’s and Lemprière’s Classical Dictionaries; also useful is H.V.Canter’s article “Fortuna in Latin Poetry”, in Studies in Philology, vol.19, no.1 (January 1922), p.64-82.

The image of “Snow upon the Desert’s dusty Face” in FitzGerald’s verse 14 is, incidentally, to be found in the original Persian (where the snow is depicted as “resting for two or three days” – see Heron-Allen, as note 11a, p.30-31.) See also the paragraph from Robert B.M.Binning, A Journal of Two Years’ Travel in Persia, Ceylon etc (1857), vol.2, p.165, quoted in the notes on verse 4 above.

Verse 15.

And those who husbanded the Golden Grain,
And those who flung it to the Winds like Rain,
Alike to no such aureate Earth are turn'd
As, buried once, Men want dug up again.

Those who are cautious with wealth (= who store the Golden Grain) and those who are reckless with it (= who scatter their Golden Grain to the winds) all share the same fate – they alike become rotting corpses which, once buried, no-one wants dug up again. (Aureate Earth = gold-infused earth, linking up with the Golden Grain.)

The last two lines of verse 15 amuse me because they are about the only part of The Rubaiyat that I would actively disagree with, and for this reason: relics – and most particularly those of Christian Saints. Objects of devotion, often revered for their healing powers, the bones of the saintly dead have long been dug up and put on display to the faithful, who, far from shunning them, have sought to get as close to them as possible!

Quite where and when it all started is difficult to pinpoint with certainty – possibly as early as the 2nd century AD – but the corpses of early Christian saints and martyrs were certainly being ‘translated’ (a polite word for what effectively meant ‘looted’) from the Catacombs to the Churches of Rome from about the 7th century. One of the most famous corpses – that of St Cecilia, the patron saint of music – was removed from the Catacomb of Praetextatus in AD 821, and deposited in a church purpose-built for her. Again, sometime in the late 9th to 10th centuries, in northern Spain, the bones of St James the Greater were allegedly dug up at Compostela, the great Cathedral of Santiago (= St Iago = St James) becoming the focus of the third greatest Christian pilgrimage after Jerusalem and Rome, and, of course, the source of vast amounts of pilgrim revenues. Likewise, in Cologne in 1106 AD the alleged bones of the martyred St Ursula and her 11,000 Virgins were dug up and eventually put on proud display in the purpose-built Church of St Ursula. Again, in England, following the murder of St Thomas Becket in 1170, his corpse became the focus of a cult at Canterbury Cathedral. Nor are such devotions an outmoded or medieval fad – the corpse of St Bernadette Soubirous, famous for her visions of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes in 1858 – today still lies on display in the Convent of St Gildard at Nevers.

But returning to Khayyam’s “aureate earth”, the trade in Christian relics became very big business. As early as the 9th century a character by the name of Deusdona was raiding the catacombs of Rome ‘to order’, and even acting as middle-man between Pope Eugene II and the church of Soissons in France for the sale of the body of St Sebastian! Again, in the 11th/12th century the monks of Mount Sinai sent a finger of their corpse of St Catherine of Alexandria to Rouen Cathedral in return for “regular donations” from the city to monastery funds. And if you couldn’t buy it, well, you could always steal it, the most famous of such thefts being that of the body of St Mark, stolen from Alexandria in AD 828 by Venetian merchants to be deposited in the great Basilica of St Mark in Venice. Much earlier than any of these, in the 4th century AD, St Gregory of Nyssa somewhat gruesomely declared that “the mould and dust from the martyred body of St Theodore was carried away as if it were gold” – aureate earth, indeed! (Most of the foregoing is taken from James Bentley, Restless Bones (1985), the quote about St Theodore being on p.27. For St Bernadette Soubirous, see Father André Ravier, The Body of St Bernadette (1986).)

But if one thinks about it, this preoccupation with bodily relics is not confined to Christian saints. There are secular relics too – the body of Lenin, displayed in his mausoleum in Moscow, is probably the most famous example; the head of Oliver Cromwell is another; and poor old Tutankhamun has had more than his fair share of attention!

Actually, it is Oliver Cromwell who links us up with FitzGerald, if not with Khayyam, via FitzGerald’s researches, undertaken on behalf of Thomas Carlyle, into the true site of the Battle of Naseby – this in connection with Carlyle’s great book on Oliver Cromwell.

Basically, FitzGerald (whose family owned the estate on which the battle had taken place) doubted that Carlyle had quite the correct location for it (I.339 & 349), favouring, instead, the location suggested by local tradition (I.342-3). In a letter written to Bernard Barton in September 1842, FitzGerald described how he had had a trench dug, and found “bones nearly all rotted away, except the teeth, which are quite good.” At the bottom of the trench, he went on, lay “the form of a perfect skeleton: most of the bones gone, but the pressure distinct in the clay: the thigh and leg bones yet extant: the skull a little pushed forward.” He went on: “I don’t care for all this bone-rummaging myself: but the identification of the graves identifies also where the greatest heat of the battle was. Do you wish for a tooth?” (I.351) Subsequently one local resident proposed using the grave-soil containing the crumbling remains “as a manure for turnips” (I.355), to which Carlyle responded, in a letter asking FitzGerald to send him “a tooth and a bullet”: “Honour to thrift. If of 5000 wasted men, you can make a few usable turnips, why, do it!” (I.356)

The finding of the remains, though, also struck both FitzGerald and Carlyle in more traditionally poignant ways. In the above mentioned letter to Bernard Barton, FitzGerald wrote of the newly uncovered remains:

“…let the full harvest moon wonder at them as they lie turned up after lying hid 2400 revolutions of hers. Think of that warm 14th June when the Battle was fought, and they fell pell-mell…”

Then he added the detail that reminds us why the dead are indeed “no such aureate earth”:

“…and then the country people came and buried them so shallow that the stench was terrible, and the putrid matter oozed over the ground for several yards: so that the cattle were observed to eat those places very close for some years after.”(I.351)

In the above mentioned letter to FitzGerald, Carlyle wrote:

“The opening of that burial-heap blazes strangely in my thoughts: these are the very jawbones that were clenched together in deadly rage, on this very ground, 197 years ago! It brings the matter home to one with a strange veracity, – as if for the first time one saw it to be no fable and a theory, but a dire fact.” (I.356)

Verse 16.

Think, in this batter'd Caravanserai
Whose Doorways are alternate Night and Day,
How Sultán after Sultán with his Pomp
Abode his Hour or two, and went his way.

Here, the world is likened to a Caravanserai, a desert accomodation built for the use of travellers, whose entrances and exits are days and nights, and whose guests (Sultans, Kings and Emperors) come and go (are born and die). The theme is the transience of earthly power, and recalls that well-known verse from Gray’s Elegy written in a Country Churchyard (for more on which see Appendix 24):

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave
Awaits alike th’inevitable hour:-
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Less well known are these lines from Longfellow’s poem “Haroun al Raschid”:

Where are the kings, and where the rest
Of those who once the world possessed?
They’re gone with all their pomp and show,
They’re gone the way that thou shalt go.

Prof. R.A.Nicholson gives an interesting aside on verse 16, in his notes on a version of FitzGerald’s first edition, first published in 1909:

“Attar relates in the Memoirs of the Saints that one day Ibrahim ibn Adham, Prince of Balkh, was seated on his throne, giving audience to his subjects and surrounded by courtiers and pages in due ceremony. Suddenly a man entered, whose appearance struck the attendants with such awe that their tongues sank into their throats, and not one of them dared to ask his name. He advanced and stood in front of the throne. ‘What do you want?’ said Ibrahim. He replied, ‘I have come to lodge in this caravanserai.’ ‘This is not a caravanserai,’ said Ibrahim, ‘but my palace; you must be mad.’ ‘Who was the owner of this palace before you?’ asked the stranger. ‘My father.’ ‘And before that?’ ‘My father’s father.’ ‘And before that?’ ‘Such and such a one.’ ‘And before that?’ ‘The father of such and such a one.’ ‘Where are they all gone?’ ‘They are dead.’ ‘Then,’ cried the unknown, ‘is this not a caravanserai, where one comes and another goes?’ With these words he departed and was seen no more.”

The episode is to be found in A.J.Arberry’s Muslim Saints and Mystics: Episodes from the Tadhkirat al-Auliya (Memorial of the Saints) by Farid al-Din Attar (1966), p.63-4. Ibrahim (or Ebrahim) was a Prince who, after the fashion of Buddha, renounced his kingdom and took to asceticism. The above episode is preceded by the following, here taken from Arberry:

“Ebrahim ibn Adham’s saintly career began in the following manner….One night he was asleep on his royal couch. At midnight the roof of the apartment vibrated, as if someone was walking on the roof. ‘Who is there?’ he shouted. ‘A friend,’ came the reply. ’I have lost a camel, and am searching for it on this roof.’ ‘Fool, do you look for the camel on the roof?’ cried Ebrahim. ‘Heedless one,’ answered the voice, ‘do you seek for God in silken clothes, asleep on a golden couch?’” (p.63)

Returning the earlier episode of the caravanserai, though, the mysterious stranger who departed (or in Arberry’s translation, vanished) was Khezr/Khidr/Khadir, whom tradition reckons to be the unnamed one consulted by Moses, on his travels, in the Qur’an (Surah 18.65ff). His character is a fine example of the vagaries and complexities of myth and folklore, for the associations of his name with the colour green associate him with Spring and the Fountain of Life on the one hand, and yet, on the other hand, he is associated with both Elias of the Old Testament (of whom he is said to be a reincarnation) and with our St. George (but without the Dragon) on the other! See, with particular reference to Turkey, F.W.Hasluck, Christianity and Islam under the Sultans (1929), vol.1, p.319-336. Also, Saint George for England: the Life, Legends and Lore of our Glorious Patron by “H.O.F.” (c.1935) pp.13 (Northern Syria), 23-4 (Saracen), & 53 (Persia). The links between Khidr and St George are, however, tenuous. A.J.Wensinck’s article “Al Khadir” in The (First) Encyclopedia of Islam refers only once to St George, where he talks of “a confusion with St George, with whom al-Khadir has certain points of resemblance” (p.864, col.1)

The caravanserai as a symbol is also used by Hafiz in one of his Odes, the following translation being from Prof. Cowell’s Ode VII (Appendix 1h):

“Since from this caravanserai, with its two gates, departure is inevitable, What matter whether the arch of life’s lodging be high or low?”

In his footnote to the “two gates” Cowell writes:

“The world is here represented as a caravanserai, with its two gates of birth and death. The caravanserai is an open area, surrounded by a wall, in which are built numerous arched recesses, where the travellers lodge for the night.”

William Kinglake, in his Eothen (1844) goes into a little more detail:

“A caravanserai is not ill adapted to the purposes for which it is meant. It forms the four sides of a large quadrangular court. The ground floor is used for warehouses, the first floor for guests, and the open court for the temporary reception of the camels, as well as for the loading and unloading of their burthens, and the transaction of mercantile business generally. The apartments used for the guests are small cells opening into a corridor, which runs round the four sides of the court.” (Chapter 17)

Edmund J. Sullivan did an interesting illustration of this verse – see Gallery 2A, Folder 1, Fig.3 and the notes on it.

Verse 17.

They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
The Courts where Jamshýd gloried and drank deep:
And Bahrám, that great Hunter – the Wild Ass
Stamps o'er his Head, and he lies fast asleep.

The lion and the lizard as the inhabitants of the ruins of the former palaces of kings is the type of image beloved of the Biblical prophets. Isaiah chapter 34 is a particularly fine example of doom-laden invective, directed against the Edomites, whose land shall be laid waste by the Lord:

“The cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it…and thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof; and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls. The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest.” (verses 11-14)

Again, as we saw in chapter 8 of the main essay, Volney pictured the ruins of the palaces of Palmyra as the dens of wild beasts, and its temples as the haunt of savage reptiles. Such images, of course, have a basis in fact. Rose Macaulay, in her marvellous book The Pleasure of Ruins (1953), quotes R.D.Traill (in his 1847 edition of Josephus) on the ruins of ancient Caesarea, “once the glory of Palestine, now the haunt of jackals and wild boars” (p.66); she tells how Alfonse de Lamartine, when visiting the ruins of Baalbek in the 1830s, stayed in the house of a Christian bishop, “the first living being he had seen in Baalbek except jackals and swallows” (p.79); and she quotes J.E. Baum’s account of the ruins of the highland stronghold of Gondar, (in former Abyssinia):“And now hyena and jackal, hyrax and lizard, hold high revel in these silent, crumbling halls” (p.432). Macaulay also records that in the 15th century nothing was left of the former glories of Athens “but a miserable village infested by foxes and wolves” (p.155). Indeed, so established was this type of image that when the strange fashion for building artificial ruins as garden décor arose throughout Europe in the 18th century (the ‘Roman Arch’ at Kew Gardens, built in 1759-60, is a famous example), its resident flora and fauna were an essential ingredient, as Macaulay explains:

“For the perfect ruin, there had to be ivy, an owl (preferably screech), a raven and a few bats in the tower, a broken arch, with moss, trees thrusting through Gothic windows, a toad, an adder, and perhaps a fox. There might, too, be a hermit; but in that case the roof must not be so ruinated as to let in the rain; a ghost was less trouble.” (p.32)

Rose Macaulay, incidentally, was related to Thomas Babington Macaulay – the famous historian, of particular relevance to us in this essay on account of his role in the saga of the New Zealander (see note 40 of the main essay): her grandfather, Samuel Herrick Macaulay, was a cousin of the famous historian. The Pleasure of Ruins is a must for anyone interested in any aspect of the lore of ruins, though, oddly enough, she doesn’t mention the New Zealander at all!

But to get back to verse 17, for Jamshyd, see the note on verse 5 above. As for Bahram, he is not a legendary king but a real one, and one of the most popular kings of Iranian history – namely, the Sasanid king Bahram V (420-438 AD.) His name is sometimes rendered Varahran in English. His nickname Bahram Gor comes from his love of hunting the onager or wild ass (= gor). One legend has it that he actually earned his nickname by slaying a lion and an onager with a single arrow! According to one account he even died whilst out hunting, though another account does say that he died a natural death in the summer of 438 AD.

According to another story, before Bahram became king there was a second claimant to the throne, and in order to decide who should become king, Bahram suggested that the royal crown should be placed between two lions, and whoever could retrieve it by killing the beasts should become king. The second claimant withdrew, but Bahram slew the two lions and thus gained the crown. (This episode is to be found in The Shahnameh and also in the Haft Peykar – see below.)

As FitzGerald says in the notes to his first edition onwards (see also II.318, 320n1 & 321), Bahram is also known for his Seven Castles, each of a different colour, each housing a royal mistress, each of whom tells Bahram a tale. One of the principal accounts of all this is to be found in the Haft Peykar (Seven Beauties) of Nizami. In brief, Bahram Gor acquires seven mistresses, one from each of the seven regions of the World. He is advised by a learned architect, geometer and astrologer to build a domed pavilion for each of them, and, in order to ensure good fortune, he is advised that each of the pavilions should be of the colour that is associated with the region of the World from which its occupant comes, and with its ruling planet. The story is thus riddled with sevens – seven mistresses, seven pavilions (or castles), seven colours, seven regions of the world and seven planets. Nor is that the end of the sevens, for a large part of the poem is taken up with the seven tales that are told to the appropriately dressed (colour-coded!) Bahram Gor by each of the mistresses in turn, these stories being told on the seven successive days of the week, the particular day being the one associated with the planet that governs the region from which the mistress comes. Thus, for example, the Russian mistress is installed in the Red Pavilion, this being the colour associated with Mars, which governs her region of the world; and Bahram Gor, dressed in red, is told her story on Tuesday, which is the day associated with the planet Mars! Needless to say, many a Persian ruin with the slightest hint of colour came to be associated with this extraordinary story. Thus, Sir William Ouseley, in his Travels (see note 42 of the main essay), tells of being shown the ruins of three of these pavilions by his guides: the Green one (vol.2, p.225), the Blue one (vol.3, p.204) and the Red one – this last one, somewhat suspiciously, in two different locations! (vol.2, p.422 & p.440) Robert Binning, too, in his Journal of Two Years’ Travel in Persia, Ceylon etc (1857) mentions the Yellow Palace, said by his guides to have been inhabited by Bahram Gor’s Chinese mistress …(vol.2, p.353-4).

For all of the foregoing see the articles “Bahram” and “Haft Peykar” in the online Encyclopædia Iranica. For the Haft Peykar in particular, see The Haft Paikar, translated by C.E.Wilson (1924), in two volumes, vol.2 being Commentary; and The Haft Paykar, translated by Julie Scott Meisami (1976; 1995). For three interesting Persian miniatures illustrating three of the pavilions/castles/palaces, see Werner Forman (photographs), Vera Kubrickova (text) and R. Finlayson-Samsour (translator), Persian Miniatures (1967?), nos. 33-35, these being the Red, Turquoise and White palaces respectively: the miniatures literally glow with their respective colours! The Red palace miniature is shown by way of example in Gallery 7F, Fig.9.

The meaning of verse 17 is that the former palace of Jamshyd (verse 5 and 8), now in ruins, has become the haunt of wild animals like the Lion and the Lizard; and Bahram lies buried in some unknown place where the wild animals that he once hunted now walk over his grave while he lies still in death (“fast asleep”). (In the original Persian lines used here by FitzGerald there was a play on words, for the word “gor” can mean both wild ass and grave.)

Teimourian (note 1i, p.224-6) wonders if Khayyam’s imagery in verse 17 and elsewhere in The Rubaiyat was based on his visits to the ruins of Ctesiphon (about 20 miles south-east of Baghdad) and of old Babylon or Babel. In Khayyam’s day, both were already “the scurrying ground of lizards”.

Khayyam’s theme here, as elsewhere, is the transience of earthly power, of course, an interesting parallel for which comes from Edward Robinson and Eli Smith, Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai and Arabia Petraea: a Journal of Travels in the Year 1838 (3 vols, 1841.) Talking of their visit to the Pyramids of Gizeh they write:

“They are probably the earliest, as well as the loftiest and most vast of all existing works of man upon the face of the earth; and there seems now little room to doubt that they were erected chiefly, if not solely, as the sepulchres of kings. Vain pride of human pomp and power! Their monuments remain unto this day, the wonder of all time; but themselves, their history and their very names, have been swept away in the dark tide of oblivion!” (vol.1, section 1, p.38.)

Harriet Martineau also visited the pyramids, describing her experience in her book Eastern Life, Past and Present (3 vols,1848), in vol.2, Part 1, ch.19. Leaving her ear-trumpet behind so as to keep her hands free for climbing, she clambered to the top of the Great Pyramid, then down again to explore the interior. Then she recalled the old saying, still quoted in guide books today, that “All things dread Time; but Time dreads the Pyramids.” (p.74)

Shelley would not grant even this: in time the monuments themselves would crumble away into oblivion, as he wrote in “Queen Mab”, written in 1813 (Part II, lines 126-133):

‘Beside the eternal Nile
The Pyramids have risen.
Nile shall pursue his changeless way;
Those Pyramids shall fall.
Yea! not a stone shall stand to tell
The spot whereon they stood;
Their very site shall be forgotten,
As is their builder’s name!’

The haunting image of former glory ruined and lost in desert sands is also to be found in Shelley’s poem Ozymandias, published in 1818:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear –
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'

There has been much controversy over what inspired Shelley to write this poem. What is not widely known is that it was written as part of a verse-writing competition, on the chosen theme of “Ozymandias, the King of Kings”, with his friend Horace Smith, which took place just after Christmas in 1817. Both poems were afterwards published in the Examiner – Shelley’s on January 11th 1818 and Smith’s (which is quoted in note 40 of the main essay) on February 1st. The chosen theme, plus some overlap of the two poems, shows that something specific prompted the competition. Certainly the title and the words which Shelley puts on the pedestal show that Diodorus Siculus, a Greek historian of the first century BC, was a primary source. Diodorus describes a huge statue of a seated pharaoh:

“….marvellous by reason of its artistic quality and excellent because of the nature of the stone, since in a block of so great a size there is not a single crack or blemish to be seen. The inscription upon it runs: ‘King of Kings am I, Osymandyas. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works.’” (Book 1, ch.47, translation by C.H.Oldfather, Loeb 1933)

Ozymandias is now identified as Rameses II, Ozymandias being a Greek rendering of one of his names.

Beyond Diodorus Siculus, disagreement reigns as to the precise source(s) of inspiration. What seems fairly certain is that Shelley’s meeting with “a traveller from an antique land” is a poet’s way of saying that he (and Smith) saw an engraving of a broken statue in a book of someone else’s travels to Egypt, and linked it up, possibly on the basis of nothing more than poetic fancy, with that wonderful inscription recorded by Diodorus (which, so far as I know, has never actually been found on any statue!) But an engraving of which broken statue and in which book exactly? The candidates are legion. See, for example, D.W.Thompson, “Ozymandias”, in the Philological Quarterly, vol.16 (1937), p.59-64; Johnstone Parr, “Shelley’s Ozymandias” in the Keats-Shelley Journal, vol.6 (Winter 1957), p.31-35; Eugene M.Waith, “Ozymandias: Shelley, Horace Smith, and Denon” in the Keats-Shelley Journal, vol.44 (1995), p.22-28; and John Rodenbeck, “Travelers from an Antique Land: Shelley’s Inspiration for ‘Ozymandias’” in Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, No.24 (2004), p.121-148.

Another view of the time-ravaged statuary of ancient Egypt is provided by.the following extract from a letter from Gustave Flaubert to Louis Bouilhet, written on his tour of Egypt, and dated June 2nd, 1850:

“I have seen Thebes: it is very beautiful. We arrived one night at nine, in brilliant moonlight that flooded the columns. Dogs were barking, the great white ruins looked like ghosts, and the moon on the horizon, completely round and seeming to touch the earth, appeared to be motionless, resting there deliberately. Karnak gave us the impression of a life of giants. I spent a night at the feet of the Colossus of Memnon, devoured by mosquitoes. The old scoundrel has a good face and is covered with graffiti. Graffiti and bird-droppings are the only two things in the ruins of Egypt that give any indication of life. The most worn stone doesn’t grow a blade of grass; it falls into powder, like a mummy, and that is all…Often you see a tall, straight obelisk, with a long white stain down its entire length, like a drapery – wider at the top and tapering towards the base. That is from the vultures, who have been coming there to shit for centuries. It is a very handsome effect and has a curious symbolism. It is as though Nature said to the monuments of Egypt: ‘You will have none of me? You will not nourish the seed of the lichen? Eh bien, merde. I’ll shit on you.” ( From The Letters of Gustave Flaubert 1830-1857, selected, edited and translated by Francis Steegmuller (1981), p.119)

It is an apt observation that has a modern parallel. In any large English city there are statues of the good and great of past times, most of them now quite unknown to the people who pass them by today, and all of them seem to be the ignominious haunt of pigeons. Even Queen Victoria is not exempt. Sic transit gloria mundi, as they say.

But getting back to FitzGerald, in his note on verse 17 in the first edition, he adapts the following passage from vol.2, p.19-21 of Robert B.M.Binning, A Journal of Two Years’ Travel in Persia, Ceylon etc (1857) in which the traveller found various lines of poetry scrawled by ancient tourists on walls in the ruins of Persepolis:

“Persians entertain our, not very praiseworthy, custom of writing their names in remarkable places which they may happen to visit; but the Persian usually accompanies his autograph with a verse or two of poetry, of his own or anybody else’s composition. In the nooks and recesses of this quadrangle, I observed sundry metrical effusions, illustrative of the vanity of human ambition, in connexion with these large structures; and copied one quatrain, an original no doubt, in rather halting metre which runs thus:

‘Behold that proud temple that once reared its crest to the heavens. Kings and princes came hither to rub their foreheads upon its threshold. On its highest pinnacle I saw a ringdove perched, and she sang out coo, coo, coo (i.e. ‘where, where are they?’)’

The writer, though no great poet, is right in his sentiment. The builders of the palace-temple of Persepolis were doubtless influenced, like the Pharaohs who erected the pyramids, by a vain ambition and delusive hope of terrestrial immortality; and if events always turned out as human judgement proposes they should, the memory of these princes would co-exist with their beautiful works: but the hopes of man are rarely realized, and their names, and the period when they lived, are alike forgotten.

In the same recess, another visitor had transcribed an apposite couplet from Hafiz:

‘The final resting-place of everyone is a handful or two of earth: say then where is the use of building stately mansions, lofty as the skies.’”

FitzGerald spotted that the verse about the ringdove quoted by Binning was a corrupt version of one of Omar Khayyam’s verses, namely quatrain no. 419 in the Calcutta Manuscript (II.335). In the notes to the first edition he rendered the verse thus:

This Palace that its Top to Heaven threw,
And Kings their Forehead on its Threshold drew –
I saw a Ringdove sitting there alone,
And ‘Coo, Coo, Coo,’ she cried; and ‘Coo, Coo, Coo.’

As Binning points out, the word ‘coo’ in Persian means ‘where?’, here used in reference to the vanished glory of Persepolis. FitzGerald first mentioned this verse from Binning in a letter to Cowell written in January 1859 (II.325 & 326 n.9), without realising at that stage that it was Omar’s.

Incidentally, in respect of Persepolis, in a footnote to the above quoted couplet from Hafiz, Binning quotes three lines from Horace, Odes 2.18, which may be translated thus:

“But you, though in the very shadow of death, place contracts for cutting marble slabs, and build houses without giving a thought to your tomb.” (translation by Niall Rudd, Loeb, 2004)

Verse 18.

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.

A poetic notion that the redness of a Rose is derived from the blood of some slaughtered King (Caesar) who died on the spot where it grows; that every Hyacinth marks the spot where some Beauty died. FitzGerald gives an interesting note on this in his 3rd and 4th editions:

“Apropos of Omar's Red Roses...I am reminded of an old English Superstition, that our Anemone Pulsatilla, or purple ‘Pasque Flower’ (which grows plentifully about the Fleam Dyke, near Cambridge), grows only where Danish Blood has been spilt.”

Similarly, Christina Hole, in her book English Folklore (1940), writes:

“Near Daventry, on Burrow Hill, the purple danesweed is said to spring from the blood of the Danes killed in battle near the Danish camp there; it is said to bleed on a certain day of the year, when cut, though I was unable to find anyone who knew the exact date. The York and Lancaster rose is another flower connected with warfare; it is said to have bloomed first on the battlefield when the blood of Lancastrians and Yorkists mingled in the dust and produced a new flower.” (p.96)

Such ideas have ancient antecedents. Thus H.J.Rose writes, in his book A Handbook of Greek Mythology (1928), about the story of how Aphrodite met and became enamoured with Adonis whilst he was out hunting a wild boar:

“She warned him to be careful, but he persisted in going hunting, and so was killed by the boar – either by an ordinary one, or one specially sent by Artemis, who for some reason was angry with him, or by Ares, who was jealous, or even by Ares himself disguised as a boar. From his blood sprang the rose, or the anemone, or else the latter sprang from the tears of Aphrodite shed for her dead love; roses, which once were all white, were reddened by the blood of Aphrodite, who had pricked herself on a thorn as she ran to help the dying Adonis.” (p.125)

In Christian lore, Albertus Magnus wrote of “the rose made red by the blood of Christ in his Passion.” (See Frank Graziano’s Wounds of Love (2004), p72.) Likewise, St Louis de Montfort, in his devotional book The Secret of the Rosary (in the second prefatory section, on the Red Rose), talks of the Rose made Red “because the Precious Blood of Our Lord has fallen upon it” (and of its thorns, which prick us to give us “pangs of conscience…in order to cure the illness of sin and to save our souls”!) Indeed, according to Saints Basil and Ambrose, before the Fall of Man, roses grew in the Garden of Eden without thorns! (Barbara Seward, The Symbolic Rose (1960), p.20.) Others say that the Poppy was made red by the blood of Christ (see the entry “Poppy” in George Ferguson’s Signs & Symbols in Christian Art (1954).)

Again, the association of the colour red with blood led to the red rose becoming a symbol of martyrdom, the white rose, in contrast becoming a symbol of purity (see the entry “Rose” in Ferguson, op. cit.) Indeed, in The Secret of the Rosary, whilst the above mentioned second prefatory section, on the Red Rose, is expressly “for sinners”, the first prefatory section, on the White Rose, is “for priests”. (Since de Montfort died in 1716, his devotional book was written long before the scandals that have beset the Catholic Church in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, though some would argue – probably Omar among them – that priestly sin has been with us for a lot longer than that!)

In similar vein, only this time redness is associated with fire, in chapter 9 of Sir John Mandeville’s Travels, written in the 14th century, we read of a young Christian maiden, “falsely accused of fornication”, who was condemned to be burnt as a result. But when the fire was lit she prayed to Christ to help her and prove her innocence. Immediately the fire went out:

“… and those branches that were alight became red rose-trees, and those that had not caught became white ones, full of blooms. And those were the first roses and rose bushes that were ever seen.” (Translation of C.W.R.D.Moseley, Penguin Classics, 1983, p.74-5.)

Both blood and fire enter into two different folktales of how the robin got its red breast, as Christina Hole (op.cit.p.74) tells us:

“The robin and the wren are both connected with fire, and an old legend tells how the wren braved the dangers of Hell to bring fire to mankind. He returned in flames, and the robin wrapped himself round the burning bird and so scorched himself that his breast has remained red ever since. Another story says the robin got his crimson breast by trying to draw a thorn from the Crown of Thorns; a drop of Our Lord’s blood fell on him and dyed his breast feathers for ever.”

Recall also the comments on verse 6 above, as regards the Nightingale and the Rose; also the comments on verse 8, as regards the Rose and Jamshyd & Kaikobad. (As regards the robin, I cannot resist adding a bit of modern folklore, namely, that he got his red breast by eating tomato soup without wearing a bib!)

In a different but related vein, Tennyson, in his In Memoriam (XVIII.1; see Appendix 9) imagines that violets may spring from the ashes of his beloved friend Hallam:

’Tis well; ’tis something; we may stand
Where he in English earth is laid,
And from his ashes may be made
The violet of his native land.

Again, Richard Le Gallienne, in his book The Lonely Dancer and Other Poems (1914), included the following short poem about his wife Mildred, who had died some twenty years earlier:

Her eyes are bluebells now, her voice a bird,
and the long sighing grass her elegy;
She who a woman was is now a star
in the high heaven shining down on me.

How much of this imagery connects, consciously or unconsciously, with imagery he picked up from Omar (see note 13 of the main essay) isn’t clear.

But returning to verse 18, the Hyacinth, like the Rose, has its own mythology, in the form of two quite distinct legends – the first, that it arose from the blood of the handsome youth Hyacinthus; the second, that it arose from the blood of the Homeric hero Ajax. Both legends, conveniently, are to be found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

The first legend (Metamorphoses Book 10, lines 162ff) tells how the god Apollo loved Hyacinthus beyond all other mortals, and how one day, when engaged in a discus-throwing competition, Hyacinthus was accidentally killed when Apollo’s discus bounced off the ground and struck him in the face. Apollo caused Hyacinthus’ blood to be turned into a new kind of flower, brighter than Tyrian purple and in the shape of a lily, whose petals bore the Greek letters AI AI (standing for “Alas! Alas!”) to commemorate his grief. (This version of the legend is invoked by those who would see homoerotic imagery in FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat, since both Apollo and Hyacinthus were naked and smeared in olive oil when these events occurred – see, for example, Erik Gray’s essay “Common and Queer”, as note 1m., p.34. But we must remember that this is, actually, only one version of the legend, though the primary one.)

The second legend (Metamorphoses Book 13, lines 382ff) tells how Ajax slew himself with his own sword, and how from his blood sprang forth the flower which had previously sprung forth from the blood of Hyacinthus, the letters AI AI on its petals now signifying “Aias! Aias!” (= Ajax! Ajax!) or “Aias Aiacides” (= Ajax the Aeacid – ie of the family of Aeacus.).

The insistence of the legends on the initials AI AI on the petals of the flower make it clear that the flower involved was not actually a hyacinth at all, but some other flower, there being much confusion of flower-types (and colours) in ancient times. The Purple Iris and Blue Larkspur have been suggested, though it still requires considerable imagination to see the letters! (See Gallery 7F, Fig.10 and Fig.11, for images of these two flowers.)

Verse 19.

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!

This continues the theme of the last verse – in effect it says that in sitting on a River Bank, just think that the Herb on which you sit might mark the spot where some unknown person died. There is a pun here, in that the Herb is on the Lip (= Bank) of the river, and grows from the Lip of the long-dead person.

It is interesting that Walt Whitman, in the opening poem of Leaves of Grass (1855), imagines being asked by a child, “What is the grass ?”, and gives as one possible answer that it is “the beautiful uncut hair of graves.” He goes on:

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people and from women, and from offspring taken soon out of their mothers' laps,
And here you are the mothers' laps.

The last two lines presumably signify that the bodies of dead infants, snatched by death from their mothers’ laps, themselves become ‘mothers’ in the sense that they generate new-born life in the grass that grows upon their graves.

[The opening poem of Leaves of Grass was untitled in the first edition of 1855. Only later was it given the title by which it is now generally known, “Song of Myself.” It was also only later that it was subdivided into numbered sections, the quoted lines being in section 6 of the poem as we now know it.]

The joint theme of verses 18 and 19 is echoed in the following lines from Shelley’s Queen Mab (Part II, lines 211-215):

There’s not one atom of yon earth
But once was living man;
Nor the minutest drop of rain,
That hangeth in its thinnest cloud,
But flowed in human veins.

Voltaire, in his article “Resurrection” (part 2), in his Philosophical Dictionary, uses this as an argument against resurrection: for how can the resurrected dead get their bodies back if those bodies have become incorporated into the bodies of those living at the time of the Resurrection?

Verse 20.

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.

“The Cup that clears” = a glass of wine (compare the Cup in verse 7); the meaning is not unlike drinking to drown one’s sorrows over past regrets and future fears. The end of the verse seems to mean something like “tomorrow, the ‘me’ of today will just be another part of history”. According to some, in Omar Khayyam’s day, “yesterday’s 7000 years” was reckoned to be the number of years of human history that had elapsed since the creation of Adam and Eve, though FitzGerald, in his first edition, thought it signified 1000 years for each of the 7 planets (see the notes on verse 31 below.)

Any reference to tomorrows and yesterdays almost inevitably recalls that famous speech from Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5) beginning:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.

The speech is quoted in full in the notes to verse 46 below.

Verse 21.

Lo! some we loved, the loveliest and the 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.

The endless procession of Birth and Death. The best of humanity is likened to a good wine Vintage; their lives are likened to drinking a cup of wine before they creep off to Rest (die).

FitzGerald’s phrase “some we loved, the loveliest and the best” recalls the poignant events surrounding the composer Berlioz and the re-burial of his two wives.

The story of Berlioz’s disastrous first marriage to the actress Harriet Smithson in 1833 is well known. The couple separated in 1840, and shortly after Harriet’s death in 1854, Berlioz married his mistress, Marie Recio. After only eight years of marriage, however, Marie died suddenly, at the early age of 48. Harriet had been buried at what was known as the smaller Montmartre cemetery, whereas Marie was buried in the larger Montmatre cemetery. Some time after Marie’s interment, a friend of Berlioz, who thought her tomb too modest, offered to set up a family vault for the composer. Berlioz accepted, little realising what was in store:

“A vault was built, and I had to witness my wife’s exhumation and her re-interment in the new grave. It was a harrowing experience and I was deeply affected by it; but it was nothing to what fate had in store for me; it is as if I was destined to sup full with the worst horrors such rites can conjure up. Not long afterwards I was officially notified that the smaller Montmartre cemetery, where my first wife Henriette Smithson was buried, was about to be demolished, and that consequently any remains that I valued should be removed elsewhere. I gave the necessary instructions at the two cemeteries, and one morning in dull weather went along to the burial ground. A municipal officer, who had orders to witness the exhumation, was waiting for me. The grave had already been opened. On my arrival, the gravedigger jumped down into it. The coffin, though ten years in the ground, was still intact; only the lid had decayed from damp. Instead of lifting out the whole coffin, the gravedigger wrenched at the rotting planks, which came away with a hideous crack, exposing the coffin’s contents. The gravedigger bent down and with his two hands picked up the head, already parted from the body – the ungarlanded, withered, hairless head of ‘poor Ophelia’ – and placed it in a new coffin ready for it at the edge of the grave. Then, bending down again, with difficulty he gathered in his arms the headless trunk and limbs, a blackish mass which the shroud still clung to, like a damp sack with a lump of pitch in it. It came away with dull sound, and a smell. The municipal officer stood a few yards off, watching. Seeing me leaning back against a cypress tree, he called out, ‘Don’t stay there, M. Berlioz, come over here, come over here!’ And as if the grotesque must also have its part in this grim scene, he added (mistaking the word), ‘Ah, poor inhumanity!’A few moments later we followed the hearse down the hill to the larger cemetery, where the new vault stood ready, open. Henriette’s remains were laid in it. The two dead women lie there now in peace, awaiting the time when I shall bring my own share of corruptionto the same charnel-house.

I am in my sixty-first year; past hopes, past illusions, past high thoughts and lofty conceptions. My son is almost always far away from me. I am alone. My contempt for the folly and baseness of mankind, my hatred of its atrocious cruelty, have never been so intense. And I say hourly to Death: ‘When you will.’ Why does he delay?” (The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz, translated and edited by David Cairns (1969), p.496-7.)

He was to live another five years before he got his wish.

Verse 22.

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?

This verse continues the theme of verse 21, and is largely self-explanatory. We today are likened to “Summer dresses in new Bloom” (flowers in bloom), who will all too soon wither and die to make way for the next generation of flowers. “The Couch of Earth” is like “the River’s Lip on which we lean” in verse 19 – we live (lean) upon the Earth before we are buried (descend) beneath it, to become part of the Earth on which future generations live (lean).

The historian G.M.Trevelyan wrote in his book An Autobiography and Other Essays (1949):

“The poetry of history lies in the quasi miraculous fact that once, on this earth, once on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing into another, gone as utterly as we ourselves shall shortly be gone, like ghosts at cockcrow.” (p.13)

Trevelyan’s observation is one aspect of a broader psychological phenomenon – I have come across it several times with different people, though I do not know how widespread it is, nor if it has received any academic attention – namely, that when one looks at an old and faded photograph, of a street scene, say, taken a hundred years ago, then one does get various feelings of nostalgia and curiosity about the people in it – who were they? what became of them? Often with those feelings of nostalgia and curiosity, comes the eerie feeling that every single one of the people in that photograph is now long-dead. It seems to happen quite spontaneously, and not necessarily to be associated with feelings of morbidity. We seem to tune in somehow to the realisation that each generation descends beneath the couch of earth to make way for the next. Curiously, it seems to happen with photographs, but not with paintings, perhaps because a photograph captures a particular instant in time which, of course, no painting can do.

Verse 23.

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust Descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust, to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer and – sans End!

Make the most of Life before you die, for when you do die, that is IT! (Compare verse 3 above.) Sans = without. Compare the famous lines from Jacques’ speech on the Seven Ages of Man in Shakespeare’s play As You Like It (Act II, Scene VII, lines 163 –166):

“…Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

The “sans wine” of this verse recalls an epitaph from The Greek Anthology. The translation is again that of W.R.Paton:

“Wine-bibbing old Maronis, the jar-drier, lies here, and on her tomb, significant to all, stands an Attic cup. She laments beneath the earth not for her husband and children whom she left in indigence, but solely because the cup is empty.” (7.455)

Cf. the similar epitaph quoted in the notes to verse 3 above.

The sentiments of verse 23 were well echoed by Robert Herrick, in one of three poems addressed to his mistress Sapho / Sappho (who was probably imaginary, after the poetic fashion of his day):

"Let us now take time and play,
Love, and live here while we may;
Drink rich wine, and make good cheer,
While we have our being here;
For once dead and laid i'th' grave,
No return from thence we have."

Herrick expressed similar sentiments in the last verse of "Corinna's going a-Maying", a poem about celebrating May Day with Corinna, another of his mistresses (again probably imaginary.) They should enjoy this "harmless folly of the time" while youth allows, he urges, for all too soon they will "grow old apace, and die" and "all delight" will be, like them, "drowned ... in endless night." He adds:

"Our life is short, and our days run
As fast away as does the sun;
And, as a vapour or a drop of rain,
Once lost, can ne'er be found again."

Verse 24.

Alike for those who for TO-DAY prepare,
And those that after a TO-MORROW stare,
A Muezzín from the Tower of Darkness
cries "Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There."

A Muezzin is the man who calls the faithful to prayer from the minaret or tower of a Mosque. The sense here is presumably one of a disembodied Voice calling from the Great Unknown. The last line seems to show the Voice’s contempt for the Human preoccupation with Rewards (for virtue, endeavour, piety and such like) – for there aren’t any, neither today nor tomorrow – because on a Cosmic Scale such human qualities are of no consequence whatsoever. At least one illustrator of The Rubaiyat (Gordon Ross – see Gallery 2B, Folder 1, Fig.3), has pictured the Muezzin as the Grim Reaper or Angel of Death. Note that the Muezzin in this verse is a rather controversial figure. Heron Allen (note 11a, p.41-3) renders the Persian original thus:

Some are immersed in contemplation of doctrine and faith,
Others stand stupefied between doubt and certainty,
Suddenly a Muezzin from his lurking place, cries out
“O Fools! The Road is neither here nor there.”

According to A.J.Arberry (note 1d, p.207), the Muezzin does not appear in the original Persian and is “quite fanciful”. His literal translation of the original Persian reads as follows:

Some people are meditating upon doctrine and faith,
one group are bewildered about doubt and certainty;
suddenly a proclamation emerges from a hiding-place –
‘O ignorant ones, the way is neither that nor this.’

However, Heron Allen and Arberry cite different verse numbers from the Calcutta manuscript (nos. 396 & 411 respectively), so this is all a bit puzzling. But whatever, this verse is a good example of how FitzGerald often improved on the original verses of Khayyam.

Verse 25.

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

“The Two Worlds” are presumably this world and the next. The meaning here seems to be that no matter how hard the Saints and Sages try, “The Two Worlds” retain their mystery almost in scorn of all their learning, their efforts thus being rendered worthless, like the babblings of “foolish Prophets” (deluded Messaiahs and such like.) The said Saints and Sages simply end up dead like the rest of us – their mouths, with which they argued so learnedly, being filled up with the earth (Dust) in which they are buried.

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), in his poem “Questions” (Fragen), took a similar view of the efforts of “all the Saints and Sages”. The translation is by Hal Draper, from The Complete Poems of Heinrich Heine (1985), p.154:

By the sea, by the desolate midnight sea,
A young fellow stands,
His breast full of sadness, his head full of doubt,
And with mournful lips he questions the waters:

"Oh, solve me the riddle of life,
The tormenting primordial riddle
That so many heads before me have pondered -
Heads in hierogyph miters,
Heads in turbans and black birettas,
Periwigged heads, and thousands of other
Poor, perspiring heads of humans:
Tell me, what is the meaning of Man?
Where has he come from? Where is he going?
Who dwells up there on the golden stars?"

The waters murmur their eternal murmur,
The wind is blowing, the clouds are fleeting,
The stars are gleaming indifferent and cold,
And a fool waits for an answer.

In his first “Supplement to ‘Lazarus’” (Zum Lazarus), Heine wrote of another problem that has defeated “all the Saints and Sages”, its last verse containing a curious precursor of FitzGerald's phrase “their Mouths are stopt with Dust.” The translation is again by Hal Draper (op.cit. p.709):

Drop those holy parables and
Pietist hypotheses:
Answer us these damning questions -
No evasions if you please.

Why do just men stagger, bleeding,
Crushed beneath their cross's weight,
While the wicked ride the high horse,
Happy victors blest by fate?

Who's to blame? Is God not mighty,
Not without power panoplied?
Or is evil His own doing?
Ah, that would be vile indeed.

Thus we ask and keep on asking,
Till a handful of cold clay
Stops our mouths at last securely -
But pray tell, is that an answer?

The theological issues of the injustices of Fate and the presence of Evil in a world presumed to be governed by a just and loving God are dealt with in some detail in Appendix 2 (particularly Appendix 2b), and we shall return to them again in the notes on verses 57, 58, 63 & 64 below.

In the Louvre in Paris there are two silver drinking-cups, thought to date from the first century AD. They are decorated with the skeletal figures of Greek poets and philosophers, notably Epicurus, these figures being accompanied by mottoes like “Pleasure is the final object” and “Enjoy yourself whilst you are alive”. A good account of these cups (which are illustrated in Gallery 8C Fig.18) can be found in Frederick Parkes Weber’s wonderful book, Aspects of Death and Correlated Aspects of Life in Art, Epigram and Poetry, which ran through four increasingly large editions between 1910 and 1922, the fourth edition being over 800 pages long! His comments respecting the philosophers are of particular Omarian interest:

“The devices on the two cups were doubtless intended to signify the temporary nature of all kinds of philosophic learning and sensual pleasure alike. The meaning would then be as follows: No matter whose philosophy you follow, you will have to die like the philosophers themselves, though whilst you live you can choose between seriousness and merely sensual pleasure. But a more decidedly ‘Epicurean’ hint was also probably intended, such as: ‘You may be learned and wise like these philosophers, and able to discourse on every subject under the sun; but what does it all amount to? what practical lesson do you teach? Only the lesson that these skeletons tell us, namely, Edite! Bibite! Post mortem nulla voluptas! (= Eat! Drink! After death there is no pleasure.) ”(4th edition, p.38-9.)

For this irreverent attitude to philosophers, compare the notes on Edmund J. Sullivan’s illustration of verse 27 in Gallery 2A, Folder 1 ( Fig.6.) Incidentally, though Weber does not quote FitzGerald on this particular point, he does quote him – not surprisingly! – several times in the course of his book.

Verse 26.

Oh, come with old Khayyám, 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 for ever dies.

One of the most famous verses of The Rubaiyat, the last line being a particularly poignant expression of Omar Khayyam’s belief that once we die, that’s IT! The first line, “come with old Khayyam” recalls verses 9 to 11.

This use of the flower as a symbol of the transience of human life recalls the imagery of verse 8 above. Robert Herrick uses similar imagery in his poem “To the Virgins, to make much of Time” (1648) - a poem somewhat coyly re-titled "Counsel to Girls" in Palgrave's Golden Treasury:

Gather ye rosebuds, while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” has become itself a carpe diem proverb, of course, and inspired two paintings by John William Waterhouse (Gallery 3E, Fig.1 and Fig.2). But the idea behind it did not originate with Herrick, for it has ancient antecedents in a Latin poem known as “De Rosis Nascentibus” (On Budding Roses), which may actually have prompted Herrick’s lines. At one time attributed to Virgil, this poem is now reckoned to be by the fourth century Roman poet Ausonius. In it the poet describes walking in a garden at dawn, musing over whether the dawn sky gives colour to the roses, or borrows it from them. The poem finishes thus:

“Nature, we grieve that such beauty is short-lived: once displayed to our eyes forthwith you snatch away your gifts. As long as is one day, so long is the life of the rose; her brief youth and age go hand in hand. The flower which the bright Morning Star beheld just being born, that, returning with late evening, he sees a withered thing. But ‘tis well; for though in a few days the rose must die, she springs anew prolonging her own life. Then, maidens, gather roses, while blooms are fresh and youth is fresh, and be mindful that so your life-time hastes away.” (Ausonius, translated by Hugh G. Evelyn White, Loeb 1921, vol.2, p.277-281.)

Robert Burton, in his Anatomy of Melancholy, first published in 1621, quotes “De Rosis Nascentibus” on gathering roses while youth is fresh, in the course of airing his views about the point at which virgins pass their sell-by date in respect of marriage: “for if they tarry longer, to say truth, they are past date,” as he puts it (see his Partition 3, Section 2, Member 5, Subsection 5 – was there ever such a book of cumbersome subdivisions?) This, of course, was written in politically very incorrect days, though actually this is as nothing compared to his views on “Mahometans”, which can be found a little later on (in, and which these days would earn him fundamentalist death-threats galore! (see note 49a of the main essay)

Rather earlier than Ausonius, the Greek poet Philostratus, the second of that name, who lived in the third century AD, wrote a series of love poems, several of which use the transience of the rose to similar symbolic effect. The thing about Philostratus, though, is that his poems are addressed both to women and boys, so that in that respect, some would say, he is not unlike Omar. Here is an extract from one of his letters "To a Woman":

“I saw at Rome the flower-bearers running and by their speed indicating how precarious is beauty's prime; for their running signifies that that prime should be enjoyed. If you hesitate, it is gone. A woman too withers with the roses, if she loiters. Do not delay, my fair one; let us join in sport. We will crown ourselves with roses; let us speed upon our way together.” (Letter 55, translation of A.R. Benner & F.H. Fobes, The Letters of Alciphron, Aelian and Philostratus, Loeb 1990.)

In the interest of Equal Opportunities, we had better include a similar letter to a boy:

“Both beauty and the rose have their spring; and he who enjoys not what is to his hand is foolish; for he delays among delights that do not brook delay, and in the face of fleeting joys he loiters. Time indeed is grudging and effaces the bloom on the flower and carries away the heyday of beauty. Do not delay at all, O rose with voice of man, but, while you may and while you live, share with me what you have.” (ib. Letter 17; & compare Letter 64.)

Shelley used similar imagery in his poem “Mutability” – his second poem of that title, written in 1821:

The flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow dies;
All that we wish to stay
Tempts and then flies.
What is this world's delight?
Lightning that mocks the night,
Brief even as bright.

In his first “Mutability” poem, written earlier and published in 1816, he preferred the following image to express the same theme of transience:

We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;
How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly!–yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost for ever;

Horace, in his Odes (4.7), wrote of the awful irreversibility of death thus:

“When once you have perished and Minos has passed his royal verdict, / neither race, Torquatus, nor eloquence, nor righteous deeds shall restore you.” (Translation by W.G.Shepherd.)

Minos features here not in his role as the (legendary) King of Crete but in his later role (assumed after his own death) as one of the three Judges of the Dead in the Underworld. Torquatus is assumed to be a friend of Horace, to whom the Ode was addressed.

Verse 27.

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.

The phrase “great Argument about it and about” presumably refers to endless, and ultimately unresolved, philosophical debate about the Nature of Things. Compare verse 25 above. “Came out by the same Door as in I went” means “came out not really knowing any more than when I went in, despite all the learned argument!” Edmund J. Sullivan did a marvellous illustration for this verse – see Gallery 2A, Folder 1, Fig.6.

Verse 28.

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."

The development of the Poet’s philosophical studies are likened to a crop – seed, growth, harvest – and yet the end result is the realisation of the utter transience of earthly life, and the pointlessness of philosophising: “I came like Water, and like Wind I go”. Compare the reference to the Wind in John 3.8 (“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth…”); also the epitaph on the tomb of the poet John Keats in Rome: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.”

Much less well known than the epitaph of Keats is the following verse by John Masefield, typewritten on a piece of paper addressed to his "Heirs, Administrators and Assigns", and found only after his death in 1967. Curiously, it asks that Water and Wind be allowed to disperse his ashes after cremation:

Let no religious rite be done or read
In any place for me when I am dead,
But burn my body into ash, and scatter
The ash in secret into running water,
Or on the windy down, and let none see;
And then thank God that there's an end of me.

He didn't get his wish, of course - as Poet Laureate he was doomed to have his ashes interred in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey, amidst traditional pomp and ceremony. Also ignored were his wishes regarding publication of his life and letters, as expressed in a short poem entitled "Sweet Friends", which poem became the last in the edition of the Collected Poems of John Masefield, first published by Heinemann in 1923:

Print not my life nor letters; put them by:
When I am dead let memory of me die.
Blessed be those who in their mercy heed
This heartfelt prayer of mine to Adam's Seed;
Blessed be they, but may a curse pursue
All who reject this living prayer, and do.

Not that Masefield was an Omarian who believed that death was an end from which there was no return, for he seems to have believed in reincarnation. Thus, for example, the opening verse of his poem "A Creed" reads thus:

I held that when a person dies
His soul returns again to earth;
Arrayed in some new flesh-disguise
Another mother gives him birth.
With sturdier limbs and brighter brain
The old soul takes the roads again.

For Masefield's views on death and for the above-mentioned poem to his "Heirs, Administrators and Assigns", see Constance Babington Smith, John Masefield: a Life (1978), p.223-4.

Verse 29.

Into this Universe, and why not knowing,
Nor whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing:
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing.

This verse continues and expands upon the Wind and Water theme of Verse 28.

Verse 30.

What, without asking, hither hurried whence?
And, without asking, whither hurried hence!
Another and another Cup to drown
The Memory of this Impertinence!

“Another and another Cup” (of wine.) The meaning is similar to that of “the Cup that clears” in Verse 20. The “Impertinence” is the way we are buffeted along by Fate without being asked and, all too often, without any choice in the matter. This verse, on account of its last line, is sometimes referred to as “the chiding verse”, though actually this line seems not to be found in any Persian original, and appears to be an invention of FitzGerald’s! (See Heron Allen, note 11a, p.49-51; Arberry, note 1d, p.22, p.128-9 & p.210.)

Verse 31.

Up from Earth's Centre through the seventh Gate
I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate,
And many Knots unravel'd by the Road;
But not the Knot of Human Death and Fate.

At the time of Omar Khayyam, the Earth was generally believed to be at the centre of the universe, and surrounded by seven spheres associated with the then known seven planets. In order of distance from the Earth, the spheres were those of: (1) The Moon, (2) Mercury, (3) Venus, (4) the Sun, (5) Mars, (6) Jupiter, (7) Saturn. The sense of this verse is that the Poet ascended to the outermost sphere of the universe so that he could view the whole “from the outside”, and though this journey made many things clear to him, he could still not see the answer to the riddle of human Death and Fate. It is sometimes said (see note 3c of the main essay) that Omar Khayyam, as an astronomer, was ahead of his time, and advocated a Sun-centred model of the Universe rather than the more ‘obvious’ Earth-centred one, but this verse does seem to be Earth-centred. Of course, this is FitzGerald’s translation, and is a poetic reference rather than an astronomical one. Nevertheless, more literal translations of the Persian also seem to be Earth-centred. Thus Edward Heron-Allen (note 11a, p.51) gives, “From the Nadir of the earthly globe, up to the Zenith of Saturn”; and Edward Henry Whinfield, “down from Saturn’s wreath, unto this lowly sphere of Earth beneath.” (Verse 303 of the 1883 edition; Dole, note 1a, vol.1, p.63.)

Verse 32.

There was a Door to which I found no Key:
There was a Veil past which I could not see:
Some little Talk awhile of ME and THEE
There seemed – and then no more of THEE and ME.

The Door and Veil are metaphorical barriers which prevent us from seeing the answer to the riddle of human Death and Fate. The idea seems to be that while the mysterious voices behind these barriers talk about us, we live; but once they stop talking, we must die. It is interesting that in Islam, “…death is believed to be a door to the realm of the afterlife, which according to Islamic tradition starts with the grave.” (Oliver Leaman, The Qur’an: an Encyclopedia, 2006, p.196.) It is interesting, too, that “the Veil” is a term commonly used by Spiritualists to describe the supposed barrier that exists between the spirit world and the land of the living – hence the title of a series of books written in the 1920s by Reverend George Vale Owen, Life beyond the Veil.

Verse 33.

Then to the rolling Heav'n itself I cried,
Asking, "What Lamp had Destiny to guide
Her little Children stumbling in the Dark?"
And – "A blind understanding!" Heav'n replied.

There is no Lamp to guide us through Life – we must just stumble through it as best we can with “a blind Understanding”.

Verse 34.

Then to this earthen Bowl did I adjourn
My Lip the secret Well of Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmur'd – "While you live,
Drink! – for once dead you never shall return."

This is the first of many references to earthen bowls or pots, which for Omar Khayyam are both drinking vessels and symbolic of people (via Adam being made from clay or earth; hence earth to earth, ashes to ashes etc – see notes on verse 8 above.) In some cases, he pictures the Clay from which an Earthen Vessel is made as being that formed from the body of some long-dead person which has turned back into earth again (see the next verse). Here, in drinking from the bowl, the poet’s lip presses on the lip of the bowl – compare the similar lip theme in verse 19. Here again we have Omar’s philosophy, repeated throughout the poem, but here expressed by the earthen wine bowl, “Drink! – for once dead you never shall return!”

The following lines by Hafiz involve not only the image of the cup of mortal clay touching the lips of the living, but also other Omarian images of the transience of Kings (verses 8 and 17) and of flowers growing from the dust of the dead or from their spilt blood (verse 18.) The translation is from Gertrude Bell's Poems from the Divan of Hafiz (1897), poem 26:

...Time's revolving sphere
Over a thousand lives like thine has rolled.
That cup within thy fingers, dost not hear
The voices of dead kings speak through the clay?
Kobad, Bahman, Djemshid, their dust is here.
'Gently upon me set thy lips!' they say.

What man can tell where Kaus and Kai have gone?
Who knows where even now the restless wind
Scatters the dust of Djem's imperial throne?
And where the tulip, following close behind
The feet of Spring, her scarlet chalice rears,
There Ferhad for the love of Sherin pined,
Dyeing the desert red with his tears.

(The forbidden love between the lowly Ferhad and the princess Sherin is an old Persian love story. Ferhad killed himself in the desert when he was tricked into believing that Sherin was dead. Hearing of Ferhad's death, Sherin also killed herself, and subsequently the two were buried together.)

But getting back to Omar, Gordon Ross did an interesting illustration of verse 34, with Omar drinking from the earthen bowl, and the presence of Death signified by the blade of a huge scythe which curves around him – see Gallery 2B, Folder 1, Fig.4.

John Eliot Hodgkin and Edith Hodgkin, in their book Examples of Early English Pottery, Named, Dated and Inscribed (1891), illustrate a plate of Lambeth Delft ware, just over 8 inches in diameter, which bears the inscription, in blue letters on a white background, ‘You and I are Earth 1661’ (p.87, no.312.) The plate is illustrated here in Gallery 8H, Fig.14. They also cite two other examples of Lambeth Delft ware which are of Omarian interest. One is a small wine jar bearing the inscription “Drinke and be Mery 1655” (p.79, no.286) and the other is a posset-pot bearing the inscription “Bee Merry and Wise 1660” (p.85, no.306)

F.P.Weber, in his book Aspects of Death and Correlated Aspects of Life in Art, Epigram and Poetry (1922), mentioned earlier in the notes on verse 25, describes a large dish, adorned with shields of arms and various emblems, which bore the rhyming couplet (spelling modernised) ‘Earth I am it is most true / disdain me not for so are you. Jan. 16th, 1660.’ Unfortunately this dish was destroyed in the Alexandra Palace Fire of 1873, where it was part of an exhibition of English pottery (Weber p.664). Weber also describes (p.658ff) a number of Graeco-Roman clay drinking vessels adorned with dancing skeletons bearing festive garlands of flowers, musical instruments, wine-jars etc, which are generally thought to have an Epicurean “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die” significance. (These lead us into the field of memento mori emblems, on which see Appendix 14a. Compare also the Roman drinking cups described in the notes on verse 25 above.)

Verse 35.

I think the Vessel, that with fugitive
Articulation answer'd, once did live,
And merry-make; and the cold Lip I kiss'd
How many Kisses might it take – and give.

“The Vessel” here is the earthen bowl of the previous verse. The lip of the bowl becomes the lip of someone once living, and thus once capable of giving kisses.

The idea that, on death, we return to earth or clay from which can be made a Vessel/ Cup/Bowl is but one idea. Another idea is that our clay may become that of simple building bricks. Thus, for example, Hafiz wrote that “this ruined world is resolved, when we are dead, to make only bricks of our clay!” (from Ode VI in the translation by Cowell cited in Appendix 1h.; there is a similar image in Jami – see Cowell’s Ode III.) Yet another idea is contained in the famous Churchyard Scene in Hamlet (Act 5, scene 1), where Hamlet says: “To what base uses we may return Horatio! Why may not imagination trace the noble dust of Alexander, till he find it stopping a bung-hole?” This is followed a few lines later by:

Imperious Caesar, dead and turn’d to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.

But getting back to Omar, the following epigram is from The Greek Anthology, the translation again being that of W.R.Paton:

“Give me the sweet beaker wrought of earth, earth from which I was born, and under which I shall lie when dead.” (11.43)

Verse 36.

For in the Market-place, one Dusk of Day,
I watch'd the Potter thumping his wet Clay:
And with its all obliterated Tongue
It murmur'd – "Gently, Brother, gently, pray!"

This is the first reference to the Potter, whose Shop makes a major appearance in verses 59 to 66. The Clay that the Potter thumps, like the earthen drinking vessel in verse 34, was once human. FitzGerald (in his notes to the 3rd edition, where this is verse 37) gives an interesting aside here:

“One of the Persian Poets–Attár, I think–has a pretty story about this. A thirsty Traveller dips his hand into a Spring of Water to drink from. By-and-by comes another who draws up and drinks from an earthen Bowl, and then departs, leaving his Bowl behind him. The first Traveller takes it up for another draught; but is surprised to find that the same Water which had tasted sweet from his own hand tastes bitter from the earthen Bowl. But a Voice–from Heaven, I think–tells him the clay from which the Bowl is made was once Man; and, into whatever shape renewed, can never lose the bitter flavour of Mortality.” [This episode can actually be found in FitzGerald's own translation of Attar's Bird Parliament, lines 964-985. The thirsty Traveller is the Prophet.]

Related to this, Sir James Frazer, in the opening chapter of his monumental study Folklore in the Old Testament (1918), writes:

“So in Greek legend the sage Prometheus is said to have moulded the first men out of clay at Panopeus in Phocis. When he had done his work, some of the clay was left over, and might be seen on the spot long afterwards in the shape of two large boulders lying at the edge of a ravine. A Greek traveller, who visited the place in the second century of our era, thought that the boulders had the colour of clay, and that they smelt strongly of human flesh.” (vol.1. p.6)

That Greek traveller was Pausanias, his account being given in his Itinerary of Greece (10.4.4). Frazer goes on to say that he himself visited the site “some seventeen hundred and fifty years later”, but all he found was “a reddish crumbling earth, perhaps a relic of the clay out of which Prometheus modelled our first parents.” (p.7) Alas, he doesn’t say whether or not the clay smelt of human flesh, or had the bitter flavour of mortality! [Other travellers have done tests, however. Sir William Gell, in his book The Itinerary of Greece (1827), said that he found “a species of stone very different from the lime stone of the country, and which on rubbing emits an odour” (p.201). William Martin Leake, on the other hand, in his book Travels in Northern Greece (1835), said that he found “large masses of stone” which “may answer to those sandy coloured rocks from which Prometheus made the human race” but that he could not “perceive the smell of human flesh in them, which Pausanias recognised.” (vol.2, p.111-2)]

As Frazer’s study shows, the idea of Man being fashioned by the gods from clay is extremely ancient, having both Babylonian and Egyptian antecedents. The latter is particularly interesting in that the Egyptian ram-headed god, Khnum, was believed to have moulded men out of clay on a potter’s wheel. (Frazer ib. p.6) For an illustration of this, see Gallery 7F, Fig.13 and the note on it.

Frazer's study, which remains a classic in its field, shows that the idea of Man being fashioned from clay is very widespread, as well as ancient. Thus he cites a myth of the Natchez Indians of Louisiana in which, to create Man, "God had kneaded some clay, such as that which potters use", and had given life to his creation by blowing upon it (Frazer, ib. p.27; compare the bird of clay brought to life by the breath of Jesus in the notes on verse 4.) Again, Frazer cites a Melanesian legend in which the hero Qat first moulded men out of red clay (Frazer, ib. p.12), this colour being specified in a number of such stories, probably, as Frazer says, by association with blood (ib. p.29.) Indeed, he points out that "the Hebrew word for man in general is adam, the word for ground is adamah, and the word for red is adom; so that by a natural and almost necessary concatenation of causes we arrive at the conclusion that our first parent was modelled out of red earth."(ib. p.29) In contrast, though, one Chinese myth has the goddess Nu Wa create Man out of yellow clay (for details see Appendix 21.) And again, Philip Freund, in Myths of Creation" (1964), cites the following myth from the Philippines:

"The Tagalog story, in the Philippines, is a very familiar one. God carefully shapes a small clay figure but does not know how much heat is needed to bake it. Left too long in the oven, the image comes out burned black. This is the Negro. The next figure is underbaked and comes out pasty white. The Caucasian. The third time God takes His clay from the oven at exactly the right moment, when it is a lovely warm brown. So the brown man, the Malay and Filipino, begins his career by pleasing God." (p.97)

Verse 37.

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!

“Fill the Cup” – drink! (compare verse 34) – live for today! “What boots it to repeat?” means “What good does it do us to repeat?”

Compare Horace, Odes (2.11):

“Better to drink while we may, / reclining insouciant beneath some / lofty plane or pine, greybeards wreathed / in fragrant roses, anointed / with Syrian nard. Bacchus dissipates / nagging cares.” (Translation by W.G.Shepherd)

Bacchus is, of course the God of Wine; nard is an aromatic balsam.

Horace also wrote of dead yesterdays as “the days / that transient time has shut away / in superseded calendars.” (Odes 4.13; translation again by W. G. Shepherd.)

Verse 38.

One Moment in Annihilation's Waste,
One moment, of the Well of Life to taste –
The Stars are setting, and the Caravan
Starts for the dawn of Nothing – Oh, make haste!

Life is likened to a Caravan journeying through a desert (Annihilation’s Waste) with an oasis (Well of Life). The end of the journey is the Dawn of Nothing (death; annihilation), so why make haste to set off on the journey? The phrase “Dawn (= Beginning) of Nothing” is presumably used as an effective opposite of “Dawn of the Afterlife” or “Dawn of Paradise”. In the 3rd, 4th and 5th editions this became verse 48 and read thus:

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!

Verse 39.

How long, how long, in infinite Pursuit
Of This and That endeavour and dispute?
Better be merry with the fruitful Grape
Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.

Similar in meaning to verses 27-30: why bother trying to figure out the meaning of it all, just eat, drink and be merry – “the fruitful Grape” is the wine, in contrast to the fruitless task (“bitter Fruit”) of philosophising. Note the double-edged use of “fruit”.

Verse 40.

You know, my Friends, how long since in my House
For a new Marriage I did make Carouse:
Divorced old barren Reason from my Bed,
And took the Daughter of the Vine to Spouse.

“Make carouse” = celebrate. The meaning is that the Poet gave up philosophy (“old barren Reason”) and took up drinking wine instead (“the Daughter of the Vine” = wine.)

This is a much illustrated verse. Examples by Bateman and Tajvidi can be found in Gallery 1C, Folder 4 (Fig.3) and Gallery 1C, Folder 7 (Fig.2) respectively; and by Sullivan and Ross in Gallery 2A, Folder 1 (Fig.10) and Gallery 2B, Folder 1 (Fig.6) respectively.

Verse 41.

For "Is" and "Is-NOT" though with Rule and Line,
And, "UP-AND-DOWN" without, I could define,
I yet in all I only cared to know,
Was never deep in anything but – Wine.

This continues the theme of Verse 40, with philosophy, jokingly described in terms of geometrical construction, rejected in favour of drinking wine.

Verse 42.

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 start of another series of “Drink!” verses. The poet is introduced to wine (“the Grape”) by an Angel Shape. Compare the Angel of Death in verse 48 below. (Apparently the “Angel Shape” was the result of FitzGerald misreading the Persian word pírí (meaning “old man”) as pirí (meaning “fairy”). Thus, what was originally an old man became transformed into an angel! See Heron-Allen, as note 11a, p.91.)

Interestingly, though the Angel Shape is specifically male, both Pogany Gallery 1C, Folder 3, Fig.1) and Dulac (Gallery 2C, Fig.6) depicted him as a woman.

Verse 43.

The Grape that can with Logic absolute
The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects confute:
The subtle Alchemist that in a Trice
Life's leaden Metal into Gold transmute.

The precise meaning of this verse is not clear, but the meaning of the first two lines seems to be that wine (the Grape) can befuddle (confute) the logic of even the wisest theologian and his arguments. The 72 “jarring” (arguing) sects are interpreted in different ways. Some say that the different religions of the world are 72 in number; others that Islam was supposed to have splintered into 73 sects, the true, original religion of the prophet Mohammed, plus 72 heretical sects (see below). Either way, the meaning is one of heated theological dispute, which disputes can all be defeated (hence “settled”) by the befuddling effects of wine! The last two lines I am not clear about, but it occurs to me that Wine is the Alchemist, the cup that cheers, that enables the drinker to forget his problems (“Life’s leaden Metal”) and see things in a more cheerful light (“Gold”). The ultimate aim of Alchemy was to be able to transmute Lead into Gold, but here the Alchemist is transmuting Life’s problems into a state of cheerfulness.

As regards “the-two-and-seventy jarring sects”, there is an interesting article – “Sects of Islam” – in Thomas Patrick Hughes, A Dictionary of Islam, originally published in 1885, but with several modern reprints. Hughes tells us that, Mohammed is said to have prophesied that his followers would be divided into numerous sects:

“ ‘Abdu ‘llah ibn ‘Umar relates that the Prophet said: ‘Verily it will happen to my people even as it did to the Children of Israel. The Children of Israel were divided into seventy-two sects, and my people will be divided into seventy-three. Every one of these sects will go to Hell except one sect.’ The Companions said, ‘O Prophet, which is that?’ He said, ‘The religion which is professed by me and my Companions.’ (Mishkat, book I,, pt.2.)

Hughes gives a traditional list of the seventy-three, consisting of 12 groups with 6 sects in each, who would all go to Hell, plus the Saved Ones as the seventy third, who would go to Heaven. The trouble is, of course, that in Islam, as in Christianity, each sect believes that its members are the Saved Ones, and that all the others will go to Hell. Added to which, as Hughes says, the actual number of sects has “far exceeded the Prophet’s expectations” – one estimate putting it at “not less than 150”. The sects of Islam, Hughes goes on, “even exceed in number and variety those of the Christian religion.”

It is perhaps worth mentioning some of the sects in Hughes’ list, for some of these are certainly relevant to issues raised in the verses of The Rubaiyat. Thus there are the Salabiyah, “who say God is indifferent to the actions of men, as though He were in a state of sleep”; the Akhnasiyah, “who hold that there is no punishment for sin”; the Muztariyah, “who hold that both good and evil are entirely from God, and man is not responsible for his actions”; the Hasabiyah, “who hold that in the world there is no such thing as fate or predestination”; and the Wahmiyah, “who say the actions of man are of no consequence, whether they be good or evil.” Rather different are the Ishaqiya, “who say the age of prophecy is not yet completed” and the Azraqiyah, “who say there is no holy vision now to be obtained by the sons of men, as the days of inspiration are past.” Plus there are oddities like Tanasukhiya “who believe in the transmigration of souls”, a belief which prompted one Sufi teacher to proclaim that “of all the erring sects in the world, those who believe in Metempsychosis, or the Transmigration of Souls, is the very worst.” (quoted in Hughes’s article “Sufi”, section VIII).

The foregoing are all from the list in Hughes, but there are others, an intriguing example of which is the sect of the Shazlis. These were a disaffected Moslem group in Damascus in around 1870, who via visions and communal rapture, became (as the Orthodox Islamic powers-that-be came to see it) infected with Roman Catholicism! The sect had small beginnings, but the ‘infection’ spread rapidly so as to embrace some 25,000 souls, at which point the threat of so many potential conversions to Christianity prompted the authorities to act. A dozen or so Shazlis were apparently sentenced to death as a deterrent to the rest, though that sentence was subsequently commuted to banishment from Damascus, through the intervention of Sir Richard Burton, who was British Consul there at the time. Unfortunately, the precise nature of what actually happened has been coloured somewhat by Lady Isabel Burton’s staunchly Catholic outlook, and her desire to make converts, but the sect does seem to have been a strange blend of Sufism and Catholicism. See, for example, Frank McLynn, Burton: Snow upon the Desert (1990), p.278-9. For Lady Burton’s view of things, see her Life of Captain Sir Richard Burton (1893), vol.1, p.546ff.

Verse 44.

The mighty Mahmúd, the victorious Lord,
That all the misbelieving and black Horde
Of Fears and Sorrows that infest the Soul
Scatters and slays with his enchanted Sword.

Again, not clear, but the Poet seems to liken Wine to “the mighty Mahmud” – this being the Mahmud of Ghazni, mentioned previously in verse 10, who, in the pursuit of bringing Islam to India, slaughtered “a misbelieving and black Horde” of Hindus. For the Poet, wine (Mahmud) slaughters “the Fears and Sorrows that infest the Soul” (the black horde of Hindus). It makes you feel happy.

For two interesting illustrations of this verse by Sullivan and Ross, see, respectively, Gallery 2A, Folder 1 (Fig.12) and Gallery 2B, Folder 1 (Fig.8.)

Verse 45.

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

The verse means: but let the Wise argue (wrangle) about the Meaning of it all (the Quarrel of the Universe); let you and I find a quiet corner (Hubbub = noise of philosophical argument) and just laugh about (“make game of”) the very idea of trying to find the Meaning of it all, exactly as the Universe itself seems to laugh at us for not being able to find that Meaning, if indeed there is one! Compare, perhaps, the contempt expressed in the line, “Fools! Your Reward is neither Here nor There!” back in verse 24.

Verse 46.

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.

The reference here is to a Magic Lantern, a set of opaque images of people, animals and such like, imprinted onto a cylinder made of transparent material, which cylinder is made to revolve around a central lamp, in ancient times a candle. As the cylinder revolves, the shadows of the images are projected onto the walls of the room, revolving round the room as the cylinder revolves. The Poet here likens the World to one of these Magic Lanterns, its central lamp being, not a Candle, but the Sun (this, perhaps, contributing to the occasional claims that Omar Khayyam either knew of the Earth’s rotation or advocated a heliocentric universe – see notes 3b & c to the main essay), and we are its projected shadows – “come and go” having the double meaning of “come and go as the Lantern revolves” and “Live and Die” (as time marches on.) The fleeting shadow analogy is similar to that found in the famous speech from Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, Lines 19-28):

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

See also the notes on verse 20 for the coupling of tomorrows and yesterdays.

In FitzGerald's second edition verse 46 became verse 73 (verse 68 in subsequent editions), and the wording changed to:

We are no other than a moving row
Of visionary Shapes that come and go
Round with this Sun-illumin'd Lantern held
In Midnight by the Master of the Show.

The notion of a "Master of the Show" - a higher force that invisibly governs the events of our lives (and not always for the better!) - is an interesting one with a long history stretching back at least as far as the Greek tragedians, notably Aeschylus. Thomas Hardy, a great fan of Aeschylus, wrote, in the closing paragraph of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, that, "the President of the Immortals, in Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess." (This was a controversial thing to write in the 1890s, even though, as Hardy indicated, the epithet "President of the Immortals" was a literal translation from a respected Classical author, being from line 169 of Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound.)

In The Dynasts, Hardy's Epic Poem of the War with Napoleon, written in blank verse, he took this notion much further. The poem (or drama) is written, in places, in the manner of an ancient Greek play, in that the human action is witnessed, commented upon, and occasionally influenced by "Phantom Intelligences", such as the Spirit of the Years, the Spirit of the Pities, the Spirits Sinister and Ironic, and the Spirit of Rumour. One of Hardy's famous quotes occurs in the final After Scene of Part 3. Here, what FitzGerald called "The Master of the Show" Hardy calls, through the mouthpiece of the Spirit Ironic, "...the dreaming, dark, dumb Thing/ That turns the handle of this idle Show/ ...some hocus-pocus to fulfil." But actually such images occur throughout the poem. Indeed, the Fore Scene of Part 1 opens with the Shade of the Earth asking, "What of the Immanent Will and Its designs?", receiving the answer from the Spirit of the Years, "It works unconsciously, as heretofore." A little later in this Fore Scene, the Immanent Will becomes "This viewless, voiceless Turner of the Wheel" with "Its mindlessness of earthly woes." Later in Part 1 Hardy has the Spirit Sinister say to the Spirit of the Years, that if he were to set about "trying to prove that there is any right or reason in the Universe" he would "not accomplish it by Doomsday" (Act 1, Scene 6.) Later still, in Part 2, the Spirit Ironic talks of "Life's queer mechanics", adding that, "The groping tentativeness of an Immanent Will ... cannot be asked to learn logic at this time of day!" (Act 4, Scene 5.) [In another poem, "Nature's Questioning", Hardy gives no less than four different images of "The Master of the Show". Besides "an Automaton / Unconscious of our pains" and a "Godhead ... brain and eye now gone", he has "some Vast Imbecility" who "framed us in jest" and who leaves us now to the caprice of Chance. The best that Hardy can see is the possibility of "some high Plan ... as yet not understood."]

But getting back to The Dynasts, it is also interesting, in view of FitzGerald's Lantern image, that in Part 1 (Act 4, Scene 5) Hardy has the Spirit of the Years describe Napoleon as:

Moved like a figure on a Lantern-slide,
Which, much amazing uninitiate eyes,
The all-compelling crystal pane but drags
Whither the showman wills.

It is worth quoting here, too, another Omarian verse from The Dynasts, this time from Part 3 (Act 7, Scene 9.) The Spirit of the Years is again referring to Napoleon:

Such men as thou, who wade across the world
To make an epoch, bless, confuse, appal,
Are in the elemental ages' chart
Like meanest insects on obscurest leaves.

Finally, as Edward Heron-Allen pointed out in his commentary on FitzGerald's second edition, the Magic Shadow Show of verse 46 calls to mind that curious image at the start of Book 7 of Plato's Republic in which the fettered dwellers in a subterranean cavern can only form their ideas of the outside world via the shadows cast on the walls of their cave. Plato's point here, of course, is that our own conception of the outer world could be as inadequate as that of the cave-dwellers, and it is interesting that in the ethereal realms of modern Higher Mathematics the theory of the Calabi-Yau Manifold suggests, if I understand it correctly, that our four dimensional world (3 dimensions of Space plus 1 of Time) can be seen a projection - a sort of mathematical shadow - of a 10 dimensional universe. By analogy, a shadow is a 2 dimensional projection of the 3 dimensional object which casts it. Just so, if the Mathematicians have their way, we are the 3 dimensional shadows of a higher ten dimensional reality, but, like the inhabitants of Plato's cavern, we do not know it.

Verse 47.

And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
End in the Nothing all Things end in – Yes –
Then fancy while Thou art, Thou art but what
Thou shalt be – Nothing – Thou shalt not be less.

And if everything you do in this life, like the pleasures of Wine and Women (“the Lip you press” could be the lip of a woman, as in verse 19; but possibly again the Lip of a Wine Bowl, as in verse 34; or both, as in verse 35), ends in nothing – well, don’t worry, just think about it, you can’t be less than Nothing, so whatever you do in this life, it can’t be worse than indulging in Wine and Women!

Thomas Jordan wrote a fine poem on enjoying life before “the Nothing all Things end in.” Its Latin title was “Coronemus nos Rosis antequam marcescant” (meaning “let us crown ourselves with roses before they are withered” – the phrase comes from the Vulgate (Latin) version of chapter 2, verse 8 of The Wisdom of Solomon, on which see Appendix 11a.) Jordan’s poem was published in 1637.

Let us drink and be merry, dance, joke, and rejoice,
With claret and sherry, theorbo and voice!
The changeable world to our joy is unjust,
All treasure’s uncertain,
Then down with your dust!
In frolics dispose your pounds, shillings, and pence,
For we shall be nothing a hundred years hence.

We’ll sport and be free with Moll, Betty, and Dolly,
Have oysters and lobsters to cure melancholy:
Fish-dinners will make a man spring like a flea,
Dame Venus, love’s lady,
Was born of the sea;
With her and with Bacchus we’ll tickle the sense,
For we shall be past it a hundred years hence.

Your most beautiful bride who with garlands is crown’d
And kills with each glance as she treads on the ground,
Whose lightness and brightness doth shine in such splendour
That none but the stars
Are thought fit to attend her,
Though now she be pleasant and sweet to the sense,
Will be damnable mouldy a hundred years hence.

Then why should we turmoil in cares and in fears,
Turn all our tranquill’ty to sighs and to tears?
Let’s eat, drink, and play till the worms do corrupt us,
’Tis certain,
Post mortem nulla voluptas.
For health, wealth and beauty, wit, learning and sense,
Must all come to nothing a hundred years hence.

Note that a theorbo a musical instrument related to the lute, and very popular in the 17th century. Venus was the Roman Goddess of Love, the equivalent of the Greek goddess Aphrodite who, according to one legend was born from the foam (aphros in Greek) of the sea – hence Botticelli’s famous painting “The Birth of Venus”, in which the goddess is carried across the sea in a giant scallop shell. Bacchus is the god of wine. The two together here represent the joys of love and wine. “Post mortem nulla voluptas” means “after death (there is) no pleasure.”

The following is a somewhat more bitter appraisal of “the nothing all things end in”. It comes from The Greek Anthology:

“It was not for any sin of mine that I was born of my parents. I was born, poor wretch, and I journey towards Hades. Oh death-dealing union of my parents! Oh for the necessity which will lead me to dismal death! From nothing I was born, and again I shall be nothing as at first. Nothing, nothing is the race of mortals. Therefore make the cup bright, my friend, and give me wine the consoler of sorrow.” (7.339: translation by W.R.Paton. cf 10.118.)

Verse 48.

While the Rose blows along the River Brink,
With old Khayyám the Ruby Vintage drink:
And when the Angel with his darker Draught
Draws up to thee – take that, and do not shrink.

Given the previous verse, as long as Roses grow on the River Brink (= River Bank, referring back to the imagery of verses 18-19), come with me and drink wine (“the Ruby Vintage”). But when “the Angel with his darker Draught” [= the Angel of Death (his “darker Draught” is the drink of death) comes for you (“draws up to thee”), accept it (“do not shrink”) just as you did when the Angel Shape brought you your wine (verse 42).]

The image of “the Darker Draught”, which is clearly derived from death as a result of drinking poison, be it suicide or murder, was used by Elihu Vedder in his painting “The Cup of Death”, a painting clearly related to his illustration for this verse of The Rubaiyat (both are illustrated in Gallery 3H, Fig.3 and Fig.4.) Another illustration of this verse, by Herbert Cole, is shown in Gallery 8H, Fig.1. Alfred Rethel’s curious drawing “Death as Servant” (1848) invokes a similar image, seeing the figure of Death as a butler serving drinks at what appears to be a party. This too is illustrated in Gallery 8H, Fig.2.

Verse 49.

’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.

Life is here likened to a game of Chess or Chequers, the black and white squares of the Chess-board being likened to Nights and Days. Destiny is the player who captures (slays) pieces in the course of the game, removing them from the board and putting them back in the storage box (Closet.) It is Destiny too, who finishes the game – “mates” in Line 3 is “Check Mate” – the term for the end of a Game of Chess. The overall idea is that Destiny kills us all off, one by one.

The related image of Death playing Chess with Mortals to decide where and when they will die is probably best known to most people through Ingmar Bergman’s film “The Seventh Seal” of 1957. What is less well known is that Bergman got the idea for this image from a wall-painting in the medieval church of Täby in Stockholm, dating from the latter half of the 14th century! (For this and related illustrations, see Gallery 8H and the commentary on it, particularly Fig.3.)

The idea that human life is a game of the gods is ancient. Thus, as Canter notes in his article “Fortuna in Latin Poetry” (already cited in the notes on verse 14 above), the goddess Fortuna “delights in mockery and in making man the victim of her sport.”(p.74-5) Thus, Virgil, in The Aeneid (11.425-7) talks of Fortuna mocking mankind by knocking them down then picking them up again, as fancy takes; Horace, in his Odes (3.29.49-52), talks of Fortuna pursuing her wanton sport by deliberately switching her favours from one person to another; and Juvenal in his Satires (3.39-40) talks of Fortuna raising men from the gutter to high office just to amuse herself.

The Roman tragedian Pacuvius, who lived in the 2nd century BC, wrote of the goddess Fortuna as follows:

Dame Fortune, some philosophers maintain,
Is witless, sightless, brutish; they declare
That on a rolling ball of stone she stands;
For whither that same stone a hazard tilts,
Thither, they say, falls Fortune; and they state
That she is witless for that she is cruel,
Untrustworthy, unstaid; and, they repeat
Sightless she is because she nothing sees
Whereto she’ll steer herself: and brutish too
Because she cannot tell between the man
That’s worthy and unworthy. But there are
Other philosophers who against all this
Deny that there is any goddess Fortune,
Saying it is Chance Medley rules the world.
That this is more like unto truth and fact
Practice doth teach us by the experience;
Orestes thus, who one time was a king,
Was one time made a beggar.

(The translation is by E.H.Warmington, and is taken from his Remains of Old Latin (Loeb, 1936), vol.2, p.319. For the rolling ball, see the notes on verse 14.)

In modern times, Bertrand Russell opened his essay “A Free Man’s Worship”, first published in 1903, with an account of God’s creation of Man, as given by the devil Mephistopheles to Dr. Faustus:

“The endless praises of the choirs of angels had begun to grow wearisome; for after all, did he not deserve their praise? Had he not given them endless joy? Would it not be more amusing to obtain undeserved praise, to be worshipped by beings whom he tortured? He smiled inwardly, and resolved the great drama should be performed.”

Verse 50.

The Ball no Question makes of Ayes and Noes,
But Right or Left as strikes the Player goes;
And He that toss'd Thee down into the Field,
He knows about it all – HE knows – HE knows!

Life here (as an alternative to verse 49) is likened to a Ball Game, actually the equivalent of our modern game of Polo (see note 42 of the main essay.) Ayes are votes in favour of a proposal; Noes are votes against. The first line thus means that the Ball (Man) has no choice (no vote) in the Game (of Life), it just goes here and there according to the whim of the Player who hits it. The reference here is surely to Free Will and Destiny – we are given Life (the Ball), but how much Choice (Free Will) do we really have in it? We are seemingly just bounced from here to there. But though it makes little sense to us, God (He that tossed thee, the ball, down into the playing field) – he knows what it is all about, he knows, HE knows, for He is Omniscient – he just isn’t telling US…. (Another interpretation is in terms of the Rules of the Game: the Ball doesn’t know the rules, it just goes here and there according to which player hits it where; only He (God) who made up the game knows the Rules, he knows, HE knows….) The gist of verses 49-50 is not unlike that of Shakespeare’s King Lear, Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 36-37:

“As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods;
They kill us for their sport.”

Life (and Death) viewed as a game has given rise to many interesting images. Two such are to be found in Richard Dagley’s book Death’s Doings, first published in 1826, followed by a much enlarged edition in 1827, which ran to two volumes (continuously paged), and from which I quote here. The subtitle of the book makes its nature clear enough: “consisting of numerous Original Compositions in Prose and Verse, the friendly contributions of Various Writers, principally intended as Illustrations of Thirty Copper Plates designed and etched by R. Dagley.” As might be expected, then, this is a book of moral guidance on Christian Living and an aid to squaring up to what might be called Christian Dying and what certainly used to be called (to those with a secure faith in the Afterlife) “a good death.” Two of Dagley’s plates are of interest here. The first, “The Cricketer”, views Life as a Game of Cricket, and Death the end thereof – not as odd as it seems at first, when you recall that we today still refer to a long and happy life as “a good innings”. A sample of the verse relating to this plate (p.72f), by the Rev. M. Cotton, runs thus:

When we've play'd our last game, and our fate shall draw nigh,
(For the heroes of Cricket, like others, must die,)
Our bats we'll resign, neither troubled nor vext.
And give up our wickets to those that come next.

Dagley’s second plate worthy of note here is “The Gamester”, and part of the text by R. Montgomery relating to it tells the story of young Theodore, who came from a good family but was, alas, a compulsive gambler. The end of Theodore’s story runs thus:

“Sometimes he determined to retire for ever from the scene of his ruin ;— but then the remembrance of his losses, and the hope that this last risk would recover them, interrupted the half-formed resolution, and allured him to the trial. The hour came at last, and with a thrilling bosom did Theodore take his accustomed seat at the gambling-table. He knew that his all was risked, and this fatal truth chilled every limb, and woke up the cautiousness of terror and hope. If he rose a winner, he should then be free to renounce his present mode of life, and return to that of peace and virtue; if not, there was nothing but despair to refer to, and its dictates to follow! He sat tremblingly opposite his adversary, and commenced the game. The first two throws of the dice were equal on both sides, — it now depended on the last one for the termination of the contest. Theodore threw — the number was low, though not so low but his adversary's might be more so. He watched with breathless anxiousness the raising of his arm, — heard the dice rattle, — too plainly saw the icy sternness of his adversary's features, — murmured a tone of anguish, the dice were thrown by Death!” (p.108)

Again, if the image of Death playing dice seems odd, recall the image of Death playing Chess in the notes on verse 49 above. Recall, too, that phrase of Julius Caesar’s: “the die is cast.” Both of Dagley’s plates can be found in Gallery 8H (Fig.5 and Fig.6.)

A rather different type of image of Death playing a game is Alfred Rethel’s print “Totentanz III” (“Death Dance 3”), which views Death as a street-magician. This was one of six such prints produced by Rethel in 1849, in the aftermath of the widespread revolutionary upheavals of 1848. The street-magician’s trick is to balance a pair of scales containing a King’s Crown in one pan and a Commoner’s Clay Pipe in the other. Behind him, the sign on the wall says “Freedom, Equality, Fraternity.” The crowd on the left of the picture are enthralled, but on the right an old woman (who has seen this all before, possibly in the French Revolution) hurries away a young child before he too becomes sucked into what can all-too-easily end in death and destruction. Rethel’s print can also be found in Gallery 8H (Fig.7.)

Rethel’s and Dagley’s images are the 19th century successors to the extensive medieval preoccupation with “The Dance of Death”, on which see the note in Appendix 14a and, for some of Holbein’s famous illustrations of the theme, see Gallery 8B.

Verse 51.

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.

The meaning is perfectly clear, and powerful in its expression, but why “the Moving Finger” as opposed to the moving Pen? Perhaps the intention is to portray something like a finger tracing out letters in the (shifting) Sands of Time? Or again, compare the famous Biblical episode of Belshazzar’s Feast in Daniel 5.5, in which “the fingers of a man’s hand” trace out the words MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN (Daniel 5.25) on the wall. At any rate, a Pen does feature in the original Persian verses on which this verse is based. Heron Allen (as note 11a, p.105-7) translated one original verse thus:

From the beginning was written what shall be;
Unhaltingly the Pen (writes) and is heedless of good and bad;
On the First Day He appointed everything that must be –
Our grief and our efforts are vain.

A.J.Arberry (as note 1d, p.125-6 & p.224) translated a similar original verse thus:

Nothing becomes different from what the Pen has once written,
and only a broken heart results from nursing grief;
though all your life through you swallow tears of blood
not one drop will be added to the existing score.

This verse is an excellent example of how FitzGerald takes ideas from Omar Khayyam, and then creates something new and powerful from them which at the same time preserves the essence of the original.

Verse 51, incidentally, became the subject of a sermon delivered by a Reverend E.F. Dinsmore, later published in the form of a booklet, The Moving Finger of Omar Khayyam (1909). Rev. Dinsmore approached the verse from a moralistic point of view, arguing that though one could not wash out the errors of the past, by leading a good Christian life one could minimise the errors of the future, and thus to some extent control the Moving Finger. For details see Appendix 12h.

On a different front, in a poem entitled "His Age", and dedicated to his friend John Wickes under the name of Posthumus, Robert Herrick wrote, using words which are reminiscent of FitzGerald's phrase, "nor all thy Piety nor Wit":

"Ah, Posthumus! Our years hence fly,
And leave no sound; nor piety,
Or prayers, or vow
Can keep the wrinkle from the brow."

Omar’s original verses refer, of course, to the unstoppable nature of events which are predestined anyway, but FitzGerald’s version could just as easily refer to time itself. One of the most dramatic references to this unstoppability must be that in the closing scene of Christopher Marlowe’s play Dr Faustus, at the point where Faustus realises that the time for his damnation is getting inescapably closer:

Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of Heaven,
That time may cease, and midnight never come;
Fair Nature's eye, rise, rise again and make
Perpetual day; or let this hour be but
A year, a month, a week, a natural day,
That Faustus may repent and save his soul!
O lente, lente, currite noctis equi!
The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,
The Devil will come, and Faustus must be damned.

(The line “O lente, lente, currite noctis equi!” means “O run slowly, slowly, horses of the night!”)

Shelley, at the beginning of his poem “Time”, written in 1821 but first published by his wife in Posthumous Poems in 1824, addressed Time thus:

Unfathomable Sea! whose waves are years,
Ocean of Time, whose waters of deep woe
Are brackish with the salt of human tears!

Verse 52.

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.

For the Bowl of the Sky, compare verse 1. Here the Bowl of the Sky is pictured as an inverted cup under which is trapped (“coop’t”) the insect-like being which is Man. And it is no use appealing to Heaven, either, any more than it was back in verse 33, for it can do nothing about it (“rolls impotently on”), any more than you or I can.

Verse 53.

With Earth's first Clay They did the Last Man's 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.

This verse can be taken as a pessimistic suspicion that everything is predestined: with the Earth’s first Clay, from which God created (moulded, as a sculpture) the first man, Adam, God also created (“knead” = shape, as in shaping the dough for a loaf of bread) the clay for the Last Man. The second line likens God’s creation of Man to planting a crop: the Harvest at the End of the World is predetermined by the Seed which God planted at the Beginning. The last two lines neatly contrast WRITE at the Creation, with READ at the End (Last Dawn of Reckoning.)

Verse 54.

I tell Thee this – When, starting from the Goal,
Over the shoulders of the flaming Foal
Of Heav'n Parwín and Mushtarí they flung,
In my predestin'd Plot of Dust and Soul

This is a very obscure verse. Relating back to the last verse, it seems to mean something like this: when, in the Beginning (“starting from the Goal”), God set up the Heavens (represented by “the flaming Foal” = the Sun – compare the horses that pull the Chariot of the Sun in, for example, the Phaethon Myth of Greek Mythology; Mushtara = the planet Jupiter; and Parwin = the Pleiades star cluster), he also set aside for me (the Poet) a “Plot of Dust and Soul”. That is, the Poet’s life was predestined from the beginning – hence, perhaps, the use of the contradictory phrase “starting from the Goal” – the Goal being an End rather than a Beginning! The astronomical elements of this verse are perhaps an allusion to astrological predestination; the idea that everything is foretold in the stars, if you know how to read them. In fact, some people interpret this verse as meaning that Omar Khayyam was born with Jupiter and the Pleiades “in the ascendant”, but this interpretation doesn’t seem likely as the Pleiades would not specifically feature in any type of regular horoscope (though of course, the zodiacal constellation of Taurus, in which the Pleiades lie, might well do so.) It has been suggested that “starting from the Goal” in this verse indicates a belief in the cyclic nature of existence, for with a repeating cycle, its goal and its starting point are one and the same. But though this would fit in with a Buddhist cycle of reincarnations, or indeed with the reincarnational beliefs of some sects of Islam (see below), it hardly fits in with the philosophy of Omar Khayyam, for whom “The flower that once has blown for ever dies” (verse 26) and who wrote “once dead, you never shall return” (verse 34). However, Browne (as note 1k, p.254-5) and de Polnay (as note 1g, p.187-8) cite an interesting story about Omar’s life which does support a belief in reincarnation. According to this story, Omar was one day walking with a group of students outside the college where he taught, just as some donkeys were carrying bricks inside the college. However, one of the donkeys stubbornly refused to enter the college gates, and Omar went up to it and extemporised this verse:

O lost and now returned ‘yet more astray’,
Thy name from men’s remembrance passed away,
Thy nails have now combined to form thy hoofs,
Thy tail’s a beard turned round the other way!

The stubborn donkey thereupon entered the college. Omar explained to his astonished students that the donkey had been a lecturer at the college in a former life, and that his reluctance to enter was out of shame. But the verse made it clear to the donkey that Omar had recognised him, so that there was no longer any reason not to enter.

As regards reincarnational beliefs within Islam, B. Carra de Vaux’s article “Tanasukh” ( = transmigration or metempsychosis) in the (First) Encyclopædia of Islam says that such beliefs are “widespread in India and among several sects of the Muslim world.” The sects are apparently all Shia, and their beliefs vary. Thus, the Ismailis did not believe that a human being could reincarnate as an animal, only as another human being. The Nusairis, on the other hand “believe that the sinner of their religion will return to the world as a Jew, Sunni Muslim or Christian; the infidels who have not known ‘Ali become camels, mules, asses, dogs or other similar animals.” (See also the notes on verse 43 above.)

But returning to the above quoted verse about the teacher reincarnating as a donkey, no verse in FitzGerald is so blatantly reincarnational, but verse 97 of the 3rd, 4th and 5th editions (verse 105 of the 2nd) is suggestive of reincarnation - or at least, the hope of reincarnation:

Would but the Desert of the Fountain yield
One glimpse – if dimly, yet indeed, reveal’d,
To which the fainting traveller might spring,
As springs the trampled herbage of the field!

This is not FitzGerald at his clearest, for once, and the intention of the Persian original is made rather clearer by Heron-Allen (as note 11a, p.143:

Oh! would that there were a place of repose,
Or that we might come to the end of the road;
Would that from the heart of earth, after a hundred thousand years,
We might all hope to blossom again like the verdure.

Likewise, Edward Henry Whinfield’s translation (verse 442 in his edition of 1883):

Ah! Would there were a place of rest from pain,
Which we, poor pilgrims, might at last attain,
And after many thousand wintry years,
Renew our life, like flowers, and bloom again!

In the third century BC the Greek poet Moschus used similar imagery in his famous Lament on the death of his fellow poet and mentor, Bion. The translation is that of Anthony Holden, from his book Greek Pastoral Poetry: Theocritus, Bion, Moschus, The Pattern Poems (Penguin, 1974), p.190:

Ah, when the mallows perish in the orchard,
or the green parsley, or the thickly blossoming dill,
they grow again, and live another year;
but we who are so great and strong, we men
who are so wise, as soon as we are dead,
at once we sleep, in a hole beneath the earth,
a sleep so deep. so long, with no end,
no reawakening. And so it is for you:
in the earth you shall lie, shrouded in silence.
(Moschus III, lines 98ff.)

See also Dole (as note 1a, vol.1, p.188.)

Verse 55.

The Vine had struck a Fibre; which about
It clings my Being – let the Súfi flout;
Of my Base Metal may be filed a Key,
That shall unlock the Door he howls without.

The meaning seems to be that Wine can give the Poet an insight into things (albeit a drunken one!) which, though it may inspire contempt in the learned Sufi (a Moslem mystic; “flout” means reject with contempt), nevertheless the drunken Poet may be right and the learned Sufi wrong. The last two lines are rather neat. The Poet likens his being to a Base Metal from which a Key could be made to unlock the Door which metaphorically prevents the Sufi, despite all his learning and erudition, from discovering the Secrets of Life and Destiny. (Compare the Door and Veil in verse 32.)

Verse 56.

And this I know: whether the one True Light,
Kindle to Love, or Wrath consume me quite,
One Glimpse of It within the Tavern caught
Better than in the Temple lost outright.

“The One True Light” is the Divine Light of Truth, and whether it infuses one with Love (= enthusiasm or devotion ?) or consumes one with Wrath (= exasperation or distaste?), it is better to have glimpsed it in the Tavern than not to have glimpsed it at all in the Temple (Mosque, Church or Synagogue). There is perhaps here some mockery of organised religion: does one really need a Mosque, a Church, a Synagogue – a Temple of any sort – in order to know God? Compare verse 32 of the Ouseley Manuscript, translated by Heron Allen (as note 11c, p.148-151) thus:

In the spring, on the bank of the river and on the bank of the field,
With a few companions and a playmate houri-shaped,
bring forth the cup, for those that drink the morning draught
are independent of the mosque and free from the synagogue.

Omar’s disdain was for organised religion generally, as in the first two lines of verse 24 of the Ouseley Manuscript (ibid.p.140-141):

In cell, and college, and monastery, and synagogue
Are those who fear hell and those who seek after heaven.

Heron-Allen’s note on the first line indicates that the references are specifically to a Christian cell or monastery; the school attached to a mosque; a collective monastery or cloister; and a Jewish synagogue.

Verse 57.

Oh Thou who didst with Pitfall and with Gin
Beset the Road I was to wander in,
Thou wilt not with Predestination round
Enmesh me, and impute my Fall to Sin?

Thou” is God; “Pitfall” = a hidden danger or unexpected difficulty; “Gin” = a trap. The meaning here is that God, in giving us a predestined life (= “round”), must have deliberately put in place the hidden dangers and traps of that life, and if that is the case, how can he impute any failure on our part to Sin? Can we really Sin if God predestined us to do so?

This verse is the first in which FitzGerald tackles the thorny issue of Sin, and its apparent incompatibility with a good and omniscient God. After all, predestination aside, how could a good God even create a world in which Sin was so rife? If God is omniscient, He must have known that Sin was going to be so prevalent in His Creation, and that He was, in effect, putting Man in an impossible situation, so why did He go ahead and do it?. Why did He create a world so full of temptations, knowing full well that Man would succumb, and have to be punished as a result? Finally, if God is all-powerful, why does He not simply stop Man from sinning, as a good parent would stop a child from entering into a dangerous situation?

FitzGerald returns to Sin in verse 58 below, and it is interesting that in his second edition he added a further three verses (verses 84-86) on this theme which are well worth quoting here:

What! out of senseless Nothing to provoke
A conscious Something to resent the yoke
Of unpermitted Pleasure, under pain
Of Everlasting Penalties, if broke!

What! from his helpless Creature be repaid
Pure Gold for what he lent us dross-allay'd–
Sue for a Debt we never did contract,
And cannot answer–Oh the sorry trade!

Nay, but, for terror of his wrathful Face,
I swear I will not call Injustice Grace;
Not one Good Fellow of the Tavern but
Would kick so poor a Coward from the place.

Associated with the Problem of Sin is the broader Problem of Evil, not just the evils created by human beings (sin), like murder and tyranny, but natural evils, like terminal cancer in children and the indiscriminate wiping-out of whole communities in natural disasters like earthquakes. Why does a good God let such things happen – indeed, why did He create a world in which, given his omniscience, He knew such things would happen? For more detailed account of these issues see Appendix 2b.

Verse 58.

Oh Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make,
And who with Eden didst devise the Snake;
For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man
Is blacken'd, Man's Forgiveness give – and take!

This verse follows on from the previous verse. The meaning here is that when God created Man from Clay and put him in the Garden of Eden, he also created the Snake (or Serpent) that would be responsible for Man’s downfall through Sin. In other words, what the Lord gives with one hand (forgiveness), he takes away with the other, and this, really, seems to be the implication of the last line of FitzGerald’s translation. However, it seems that the last two lines of this verse were based on FitzGerald's misunderstanding of some lines in the original Persian which meant, "O Lord, grant me repentance and accept my excuses, You who grant repentance and accept the excuses of everyone." (See Heron Allen, as note 11a, p.121 and Arberry, as note 1d, p.140 and p.227-8.) This, of course, is quite different from, “Man’s forgiveness give – and take!” The misunderstanding was pointed out to FitzGerald by Cowell, but he chose to keep what he had written, believing that it was quite consistent with general spirit of Omar Khayyam’s verses! (Incidentally, the Snake of line 2 is not to be found in the original Persian, and is one of FitzGerald’s apt inventions whose origins are traced in Heron Allen (as note 11a, p.119-121.See also Arberry, as note 1d, p.228.)

This is a much illustrated verse. For examples by Vedder, Balfour and Tajvidi, see, respectively, Gallery 1C, Folder 1 (Fig.3); Gallery 1C, Folder 2 (Fig.6); and Gallery 1C, Folder 7 (Fig.6). For examples by Sullivan and Ross, see, respectively, Gallery 2A, Folder 1 (Fig.14) and Gallery 2B, Folder 1 (Fig.9.)

The role of the Snake (or Serpent) in the Biblical account of the Fall of Man (Genesis chapter 3) is of great interest in its symbolism. One of the puzzles of the Biblical account is the sudden and unexplained appearance of the Serpent in Gen.3.1, and the announcement that “the serpent was more subtil (= devious) than any beast of the field.” Though it is not expressly stated, the Serpent tempts Eve alone to try the forbidden Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen.3.1-5). Adam is with her only in verse 6, where he is tempted into eating the fruit by Eve. Thus the storyteller paves the way for Man to blame Woman for their Fall (Gen.3.12), and, incidentally, for Woman to blame the Serpent (Gen.3.13)! By eating the Forbidden Fruit – and by tempting Adam into eating it – Woman has, in effect, introduced Evil into the world. Woman is thereafter cursed with the pain of childbirth and is to be subservient to her husband (Gen.3.16). Adam, for his part, is condemned to till the earth for his food (Gen.3.17-18), whereas in the Garden of Eden, such labour was not necessary, for he had merely to pluck fruit off the trees (Gen.2.16). Primarily, though, by eating the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the major evil of Death was introduced into the world (Gen.2.17 & 3.19) – “for dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return.”, as it says in the latter verse.

The story basically seeks to explain the presence of evils like pain, suffering and death in a world created by a good God, for it was inconceivable that a good God would actually create evils to plague a mankind which He himself had created. The problem is here ‘solved’ by transferring the blame from God to Woman. (For a more detailed look at the Problem of Evil, see Appendix 2.)

But getting back to the Serpent, its punishment for its role in the Fall of Man is for it to be cursed above all other animals, and for it to be condemned to slither, legless, over the ground (Gen.3.14). Thus the story accounts, simultaneously, for the natural human dread of snakes and for the fact that it is the only animal that moves over the ground in that way. (In Jewish lore, the Serpent originally had legs – see, for example, Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews (1925), vol.1, p.71. Some artists have also depicted the Serpent with legs – and a human-like head! – see, for example, “The Fall” by the 15th century Flemish painter Hugo van der Goes, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. For this and other examples, see Gallery 7B.)

Note, though, that in Genesis there is no indication that the Serpent is the Devil, for this association only came later, its first appearance being in The Apocrypha, in The Wisdom of Solomon (2.23-24): “For God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity. Nevertheless, through envy of the devil came death into the world.” (See S.R.Driver, The Book of Genesis (1909), p.44.) The Serpent as the Devil appears also in the New Testament, in Revelation, as “that old serpent called the devil” (Rev.12.9 & 20.2). It was the first of these references which led in religious art to the Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Conception being stood upon a vanquished serpent. (See, for example, Anna Jameson, Legends of the Madonna (1904), p.131; Tiepolo painted a particularly fine example of the type, now in the Prado in Madrid. It is reproduced in Gallery 7B, Fig.9.)

But how did it come about that the Serpent was “more subtil than any beast of the field”? Related to this is Christ’s exhortation to his disciples to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10.16). This is much more difficult to account for.

Mythological beliefs often develop in such irrational ways that their raison d’être is no longer amenable to modern rational analysis. It is likely that all serpent symbolism arises from the observation of the more unusual habits or attributes of the snake. We have already seen, for example, its lack of legs mythologically accounted for as a punishment for the Fall of Man. Again, it is undoubtedly the snake’s sloughing of its skin that has led to its association with rejuvenation and eternal life, and it is interesting, and probably more than coincidental, that in the story of Genesis chapter 3, Man inherits death and loses immortality through the intervention of the Serpent. Sir James Frazer, in his Folklore in the Old Testament (1918), vol.1, ch.2, hypothesises that in the original form of the Genesis story, the Serpent deceived Eve into eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in order that it could keep the fruit of the Tree of Life – and thus Immortality – for itself (p.49). As Frazer points out (p.50-1), in the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, Man is also cheated out of Immortality by the Serpent, when it steals from him a plant that has the power to renew youth. (See also K.R.Joines, Serpent Symbolism in the Old Testament (1974), p.18.) As for the devious (“subtil”) nature of the Serpent in Genesis, this perhaps comes from its alleged habit of hypnotising its prey before it strikes, and its forked tongue has perhaps also contributed to the image, as indicative of duplicity. (Lovers of Westerns will no doubt recall that classic line of the Indian brave that, “White man speaks with forked tongue.”) It is interesting that the ancient Egyptians believed that “an amulet of serpent skin would add to the craftiness and cunning of a man.” (Joines, op. cit. p.22.) Not only that, but the snake’s habit of rapidly disappearing into holes in the ground naturally led to its association with the Underworld and the spirits of the dead, from whom they could glean oracular knowledge. One of the most famous examples of this was the Oracle at Delphi, guarded by the dragon Python, which was killed by Apollo when he took over the shrine. (H.J.Rose, A Handbook of Greek Mythology (1974), p.136-7; Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature (2005), article “Serpents and Dragons”, p.1516.) Elsewhere, in Mesopotamia, various procedures of divination involved the serpent, and in Hebrew, certain words for “serpent” and “divination” are clearly related (Joines, op.cit. p.22) From craftiness and oracular divination to wisdom, largely in its more negative forms, is but a short step, and the New Testament injunction to “be ye wise as serpents” (which may actually carry connotations of being wary, itself a form of craftiness!) has numerous antecedents in the Ancient Near East (Joines, op.cit. p.21)

There is an excellent article on “Serpent Worship” in Hastings’ Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, vol.11, p.399-423.

KUZA-NAMA means The Book of Pots. It continues the theme started back in verses 34 to 36, where Clay Pots are seen as people who once lived, Man being originally made from Clay by God. The Poet imagines himself in a Potter’s shop in which the Pots come to life and talk to each other about the meaning of their existence. As FitzGerald noted: "This relation of Pot and Potter to Man and his Maker figures far and wide in the Literature of the World, from the time of the Hebrew prophets to the present." (In fact there are more ancient Babylonian and Egyptian antecedents – see the notes on verse 36 above.)

An example from the Bible is Isaiah 64.8: “But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.” Another example from the Bible is given in the comments on verse 63 below. Likewise in Surah 55.14 of the Qur’an it is said of Allah that “He created man from sounding clay like unto pottery.” (Translation: Abdullah Yusuf Ali.) By way of explanation, sounding clay is dry clay, which emits a sound when struck.

As a modern example, Voltaire used a pot and potter image in his poem The Lisbon Disaster (“The pot…does not say to the potter, ‘Why am I so lowly, weak and vulgar?’”) For another modern example, from Browning’s poem Rabbi ben Ezra, mentioned in chapter 12 of the main essay, see Appendix 8 (in particular, verses 25-27.) Finally, the following is the epitaph “on an old Woman who kept a Potter’s Shop at Chester”, and is taken from Thomas Caldwall’s book A Select Collection of Ancient and Modern Epitaphs and Inscriptions (1796), p.170. The capitalised words are as in the original:

Beneath this stone lies old KATHARINE GRAY,
Chang’d from a busy life to lifeless CLAY;
By EARTH and CLAY she got her pelf,
But now is turn’d to EARTH herself.
Ye weeping friends, let me advise,
Abate your grief, and dry your eyes;
For what avails a flood of tears?
Who knows but in a run of years,
In some tall PITCHER, or broad pan,

For more on Omarian epitaphs, see Appendix 14a.

Verse 59.

Listen again. One Evening at the Close
Of Ramazán, ere the better Moon arose,
In that old Potter's Shop I stood alone
With the clay Population round in Rows.

“The better Moon” is the crescent Moon that signals the end of the fasting associated with Ramadan (or Ramazan).

Verse 60.

And strange to tell, among that Earthen Lot
Some could articulate, while others not:
And suddenly one more impatient cried –
"Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?"

The last line seems to mean something like, “Exactly what are we, and who made us?” That is, is God the Potter and is Man the Pot? However, another suggestion is that the question here posed is, “Did, God create Man, or did Man create God?” – that is, is the Potter God or Man, and is the Pot Man or God? But then again, perhaps this oversimplifies things, for in the third edition of The Rubaiyat, FitzGerald rendered this verse (by now numbered verse 87):

Whereat some one of the loquacious Lot –
I think a Sufi pipkin – waxing hot –
“All this of Pot and Potter – Tell me, then,
Who makes – Who sells – Who buys – Who is the Pot?”

A pipkin is a small earthenware pot; “waxing hot” means “losing his temper”. The last line here possibly represents a Sufi predilection for squeezing obscure symbolism from absolutely everything.

Neat illustrations of this verse by Sullivan and Ross can be found in Gallery 2A, Folder 1 (Fig.15) and Gallery 2B, Folder 1 (Fig.11) respectively

Verse 61.

Then said another – "Surely not in vain
My substance from the common Earth was ta'en,
That He who subtly wrought me into Shape
Should stamp me back to common Earth again."

The question here is the eternal one: why does God give human beings life only to take that gift away from them again when they die? The last two lines contrast the subtle shaping or creation of Man from Clay, which is Life, with the brutal stamping back to common Earth again, which is Death.

Verse 62.

Another said – "Why, ne'er a peevish Boy
Would break the Bowl from which he drank in Joy;
Shall He that made the Vessel in pure Love
And Fancy, in an after Rage destroy!"

This continues the theme of the last verse: would God lovingly create Man (the Vessel, made from Clay), only to destroy his creation again, as if “in an after rage” (ie. in death)?

James Kennedy in Conversations on Religion with Lord Byron and Others (1833) recalled one remark made by Byron in conversation, though he could not recall the exact circumstances of it:

“I suppose I must have said something about the sovereignty of God, and alluded to the similitude used in Scripture of the potter and his clay; for I distinctly remember his lordship having said, that he would certainly say to the potter, if he were broken in pieces, 'Why do you treat me thus?'" (p.45)

Verse 63.

None answer'd this; but after Silence spake
A Vessel of a more ungainly Make:
"They sneer at me for leaning all awry;
What? did the Hand then of the Potter shake?"

Here, in effect, a deformed Pot asks how he could be the imperfect creation of a perfect creator: did the Potter’s hand shake, or what? A modern version of this question would be: “Why does God allow innocent children to be born disabled, deformed, or with terrible illnesses?” The inequalities of God’s handiwork receive a similarly ceramic treatment in the Bible, in Romans 9.21: “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” Not that in Romans God is being criticised – for the inequalities are part of God’s Purpose, like the trials and tribulations in Browning’s poem, Rabbi Ben Ezra (Appendix 8.) Nevertheless the metaphorical parallel with The Rubaiyat is an interesting one, to which we should add the parallel offered in The Apocrypha by the following verse from The Wisdom of Solomon:

“For the potter, tempering soft earth, fashioneth every vessel with much labour for our service: yea, of the same clay he maketh both the vessels that serve for clean uses, and likewise also all such as serve to the contrary: but what is the use of either sort, the potter himself is the judge.” (15.7)

Also from The Apocrypha, this time from Sirach (otherwise known as Ecclesiasticus, and not to be confused with the Biblical Ecclesiastes), we have: “The furnace proveth the potter’s vessels; so the trial of man is in his reasoning” (27.5) and, “as the clay is in the potter’s hand, to fashion it at his pleasure: so man is in the hand of him that made him, to render to them as liketh him best.”(33.13) (More Biblical parallels with The Rubaiyat, used to similar ends, are to be found in The Apocrypha, in Chapter 2 of The Wisdom of Solomon; and in the Bible itself in Ecclesiastes – see Appendix 11.)

The inequalities meted out by the gods to mortal men were the subject of Seneca’s book On Providence, written in response to the question, posed by his friend Lucilius, as to why, if Providence rules the world, it still happens that many evils befall good men. In many ways Seneca is a precursor of Browning’s Rabbi ben Ezra, in that he sees adversity as a form of life-training (2.2). In response to his friend’s question as to how it can be for any man’s ‘own good’ to suffer public disgrace, broken health or the death of his child, Seneca replies (the translation is that of John W. Basore, Loeb 1928):

“If you are surprised that these things are for any man’s good, you must also be surprised that by means of surgery and cautery, and also by fasting and thirst, the sick are sometimes made well. But if you will reflect that for the sake of being cured the sick sometimes have their bones scraped and removed, and their veins pulled out, and that sometimes members are amputated which could not be left without causing destruction to the whole body, you will allow yourself to be convinced of this as well, – that ills are sometimes for the good of those to whom they come; just as much so, my word for it, as that things which are lauded and sought after are sometimes to the hurt of those who delight in them, being very much like over-eating, drunkenness, and the other indulgences which kill by giving pleasure.” (3.2)

As for the ultimately beneficial challenge of life’s ills, here is another of Seneca’s ‘consoling’ analogies:

“A gladiator counts it a disgrace to be matched with an inferior, and knows that to win without danger is to win without glory. The same is true of Fortune. She seeks out the bravest men to match with her; some she passes by in disdain. Those that are most stubborn and unbending she assails, men against whom she may exert all her strength. Mucius she tries by fire, Fabricius by poverty, Rutilius by exile, Regulus by torture, Socrates by poison, Cato by death. It is only evil fortune that discovers a great exemplar.” (3.4)

We have already met Dame Fortune, of course, in the notes on verse 14 above. But to get back to Seneca, a little later he uses another military analogy:

“Why is it that God afflicts the best men with ill health, or sorrow, or some other misfortune? For the same reason that in the army the bravest men are assigned to the hazardous tasks; it is the picked soldier that a general sends to surprise the enemy by a night attack, or to reconnoitre the road, or to dislodge a garrison. Not a man of these will say as he goes, "My commander has done me an ill turn," but instead, "He has paid me a compliment." (4.8)

One tends think, of the authors such sentiments, that they probably never had to suffer many of life’s ills themselves, or they wouldn’t have been nearly so philosophical about them. The situation seems rather like that of a well-off and well-fed 19th century clergyman telling the poor of his parish that their poverty and hunger are ultimately for the good of their souls! But how far does this apply to Seneca? He certainly did suffer from some poor health, but then he also lived a long life by Roman standards, and was financially well-off. He was at one point banished to Corsica by the Emperor Claudius (on a charge of adultery with a sister of Caligula), though he was recalled a few years later to become the tutor to the young Nero. It was in Corsica, in fact, that he wrote his philosophical Consolations, and though exile is indeed a grave enough misfortune, he clearly made it something of a literary event! But his greatest misfortune – something of an understatement! – was an enforced suicide for his alleged part in a plot to murder Nero. The historian Tacitus tells us, in his Annals of Imperial Rome (15.62), that when Nero’s orders were issued to him, Seneca was quite unmoved, and asked for tablets on which to inscribe his will. He also rebuked some of his friends, who were present and tearful at the news, as follows, the translation being that of A.J.Church and W.J.Brodribb (1876):

"’Where,’ he asked again and again, ‘are your maxims of philosophy, or the preparation of so many years' study against evils to come? Who knew not Nero's cruelty? After a mother's and a brother's murder, nothing remains but to add the destruction of a guardian and a tutor.’” (15.62)

Tacitus goes on to say that after he had opened his veins and was dying:

“Even at the last moment his eloquence failed him not; he summoned his secretaries, and dictated much to them which, as it has been published for all readers in his own words, I forbear to paraphrase.” (15.63)

Unfortunately, his last words seem not to have survived, and we can only regret that Tacitus didn’t record them, for much controversy has raged over what they might have been. So, we do not know whether he was philosophical right up to the end, or whether he quietly cursed the Emperor who had condemned him to death! In Seneca’s case, though, the former does seem likely, at least if Tacitus is to be believed. (For a full account of the controversy surrounding Seneca’s enforced suicide and his last words, see James Ker, The Deaths of Seneca (2009).)

On the subject of life’s inequalities, injustices, misfortunes and the associated problem of evil, already encountered in the likes of verses 57 and 58 above, see again Appendix 2. Of particular interest for its links with verse 63 is the Sumerian myth quoted in Appendix 2f (at end.)

Neat illustrations of verse 63 by Sullivan and Ross can be found in Gallery 2A, Folder 1 (Fig.16) and Gallery 2B, Folder 1 (Fig.12) respectively.

Verse 64.

Said one – "Folks of a surly Tapster tell,
And daub his Visage with the Smoke of Hell;
They talk of some strict Testing of us – Pish!
He's a Good Fellow, and 'twill all be well."

The problem of Hell: The surly Tapster is either God or the Devil, pictured as an Innkeeper (one who pours wine into a glass by turning the Tap on a barrel), in line with the Wine and Pots theme. The second line is saying that God’s or the Devil’s face is stained with the Smoke of Hell, like a man who shovels the fuel (condemned souls) into a furnace (the Fires of Hell). The last two lines question any Testing of us, which, if we fail, can lead to us being cast down to Hell, for God is Merciful, so how can he send anyone to Hell or allow the Devil to send them there? Surely everything will be alright in the end! (Again, see Appendix 2b & c.) It does seem odd to talk of God’s face being stained with the Smoke of Hell, but nevertheless the “He” of the last line, which can only refer to God, does seem to be the same person as the “surly Tapster” of the first line. This verse became verse 88 of the 3rd, 4th and 5th editions of The Rubaiyat, where it read:

'Why,' said another, 'Some there are who tell
Of one who threatens he will toss to Hell
The luckless Pots he marr'd in making–Pish!
He's a Good Fellow, and 't will all be well."

This again seems to refer to God rather than the Devil. Nevertheless, at least one illustrator of The Rubaiyat (Gordon Ross – see Gallery 2B, Folder 1, Fig.13) has depicted the surly Tapster as the Devil, and perhaps not surprisingly. “Marr’d” means “spoiled”. “Pish!” is an old-fashioned expression of dismissal, like “Bah!” In effect, it means “Never mind!”

For an odd illustration of this verse, by Sullivan, see Gallery 2A, Folder 1, Fig.17.

Verse 65.

Then said another with a long-drawn Sigh,
"My Clay with long oblivion is gone dry:
But, fill me with the old familiar Juice,
Methinks I might recover by-and-bye!"

“The old familiar Juice” is Wine. Compare the imagery of verse 2: “Fill the Cup, before Life’s Liquor in its Cup be dry.”

Verse 66.

So, while the Vessels one by one were speaking,
One spied the little Crescent all were seeking:
And then they jogg'd each other, "Brother! Brother!
Hark to the Porter's Shoulder-knot a-creaking!"

“The little Crescent” is the Moon heralding the end of Ramadan, as in verse 59. Fasting over, it is time to celebrate, and the Porter (the man bringing the Wine with which to celebrate) is approaching – the Porter’s Shoulder-knot was a leather pad worn on the porter’s shoulder to prevent the strap, from which hung heavy jars of wine, from digging into his shoulder. As the Porter walked and the jars swung about, the strap would ‘creak’ as it rubbed against the leather of the shoulder-knot. “Hark to” means “listen to.”

Verse 67.

Ah, with the Grape my fading Life provide,
And wash my Body whence the life has died,
And in a Windingsheet of Vineleaf wrapt,
So bury me by some sweet Gardenside.

The meaning is: let me drink Wine while I live, and when I die, wash my body in Wine, give me a Vine Leaf for my shroud, and bury me in a nice Garden somewhere.

Edward Scott Waring, in his book A Tour to Sheeraz, by the Route of Kazroon and Feerozabad (1807), of which FitzGerald had a copy (see note 42 to the main essay), relates the following:

“Many of the great people keep sets of Georgian boys, who are instructed to sing, to play on various instruments, and perform feats of activity. The Persian songs are very sweet and pathetic; and the music which accompanied their voices I thought to be very good. Their songs are in praise of wine and beauty, mixed with frequent complaints of the cruelty of their mistresses. The following is a specimen of their songs:

Hasten hither, O cup bearer! ere I die;
See that my shroud be made of the leafy vine.
Wash me in rosy wine,*
And scatter my ashes at the door of the tavern.
I am faithful, I am still constant;
Turn not away from me, for I am a suppliant.

The Arabic songs are sung in parts, and much quicker than the Persian time. There are two men at Sheeraz who are considered to be very superior players on an instrument very like a violin; I heard them, and admired them much, but could form no judgment on their performance. These men, and the dancers, drink wine in enormous quantities, and that too publickly.” (p.53-4)

Waring’s footnote (*) reads: “It is the custom in all Moosulman countries to wash the body before it is buried.”

Related to the above are two epitaphs from The Greek Anthology. The translations are those of W.R.Paton:

“Here lies Hiero’s nurse Silenis, who when she began to drink untempered wine never made a grievance of being offered one cup more. He laid her to rest in his fields, that she who was so fond of wine should even dead and buried be near to vats” (7.456)

And the second – a curious case of “she who lives by the vine, shall perish by the vine”:

“The tippler Ampelis, already supporting her tottering old age on a guiding staff, was covertly abstracting from the vat the newly pressed juice of Bacchus, and about to fill a cup of Cyclopean size, but before she could draw it out her feeble hand failed her and the old woman, like a ship submerged by the waves, disappeared in the sea of wine. Euterpe erected this stone monument on her tomb near the pressing-floor of the vineyard.” (7.457)

Verse 68.

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.

The meaning is clear enough, though it is not clear from FitzGerald’s rendering here whether the Perfume relates to the Wine drunk by the dead poet, or whether it relates back to the Garden in the previous verse. FitzGerald made it clear in later editions that it did relate to wine, though, for he altered the word “Perfume” to “Vintage”. Heron-Allen (as note 11a, p.136-7) translates the original for this verse as follows:

I will drink so much wine that this aroma of wine
Shall rise from the earth when I am beneath it;
So that when a drinker shall pass above my body,
He shall become drunk and degraded from the aroma of my potations.

This makes it quite clear that, even in the original, the Perfume is definitely the aroma of wine. (See also the translation by Avery and Heath-Stubbs , listed in note 13, verse 80.) It is also not clear from FitzGerald’s rendering whether there is intended irony in a dead skeptic attracting the attention of True Believers (devout Moslems, who would not, therefore, drink wine), or whether the ‘True Believers’ are, for the Poet, his fellow drinkers of wine, who have possibly discovered as much Truth through wine as any devout Moslem has in the Mosque or through Sufi teachers (see verses 55 & 56, for example.) Again, Heron-Allen’s translation of the original for this verse makes it clear that FitzGerald’s True Believers are, in fact, Omar’s fellow drinkers.

There is a rather curious counterpart for wine’s “Snare of Perfume” in the ancient Athenian wine-festival of Anthesteria (on which more below, in respect of verse 75), for, “attracted by the smell of the wine that rose from the opened pithoi (storage jars) and spread throughout the city, the souls (of the dead) emerged from the underworld.” (C. Kerényi, Dionysos (1976) p.303)

The sentiments of this verse bear comparison with Pierre de Ronsard’s “Epitaph of Rabelais”. According to Hilaire Belloc, Ronsard and Rabelais had been drinking buddies – the former had often seen the latter’s “large and honourable mouth worshipping wine” and indeed had often seen him “full length upon the grass and singing so.” (See “The Epitaph on Rabelais” in Belloc’s Avril – being Essays on the Poetry of the French Renaissance (1904).) Others, though, are not so sure that they were buddies, since the Epitaph is anything but complimentary in places! (See Samuel F. Will, “A Note on Ronsard’s Epitafe de François Rabelais” in Modern Language Notes, vol.51, no.7 (Nov. 1936), p.455-458.) But whatever, in 1554, the year after Rabelais had died, Ronsard penned this poem. Four lines of it are of particular interest here:

Une vigne prendra naissance
De l’estomac et de la pance
Du bon Rabelais, qui boivoit
Tousjours ce pendant qu’il vivoit

Roughly translated this means:

A vine will take birth
From the stomach and the paunch
Of the good Rabelais, who drank
Always while he lived.

Belloc, presumably out of respect for Rabelais, edited out some of Ronsard’s less flattering images of the Master, such as, that with his big mouth he could knock back wine faster than a pig could guzzle fresh milk; or that the Sun never caught him without a drink in his hand – and nor, for that matter, did the Night; or that when drunk he could wallow like a frog in mud, singing the praises of Bacchus! One can see, then, why some scholars think that Ronsard really didn’t like Rabelais much at all!

The image of a vine springing from the corpse of this noted drinker bears comparison not only with the aroma of wine rising up from the grave of Omar, but also with the Rose blooming “where some buried Caesar bled” in verse 18.

Verse 69.

Indeed, the Idols I have loved so long
Have done my Credit in Men's Eye much wrong:
Have drown'd my Honour in a shallow Cup,
And sold my Reputation for a Song.

“Idols” = earthly things, profane rather than sacred. The third line means that he has lost his honour through drinking wine; the last line that he has lost his reputation through his merry-making. – see verse 40.

This verse, which becomes, with “honour” replaced by “glory”, verse 101 of the 2nd edition and verse 93 of the 3rd, 4th and 5th editions, is traced by Heron-Allen (as note 11a, p.136-9) to this verse of the Calcutta Manuscript:

When my mood inclined to prayer and fasting,
I said that all my salvation was attained;
Alas! that those Ablutions are destroyed by my pleasures,
And that fast of mine is annulled by half a draught of wine.

This, of course, is saying that any salvation that Khayyam might have achieved through the religious observances, completed when he was in the mood, are negated by his pleasures and his love of wine – not quite the loss of honour and reputation that FitzGerald gives him! On the other hand, in the translation by Avery and Heath-Stubbs, listed in note 13 to the main essay, the first two lines of verse 117 read:

It is morning, let us pour out the rose-red wine,
Smashing on the rocks the glass of fame and reputation:

As always, though, we should bear in mind, that we have no idea whether Omar himself wrote any or all of these lines, or whether they were written by his imitators!

Verse 70.

Indeed, indeed, Repentance oft before
I swore – but was I sober when I swore?
And then and then came Spring, and Rose-in hand
My thread-bare Penitence apieces tore.

The meaning is clear enough: He intended to mend his ways often enough, but never quite made it! The Spring and the Rose are here symbols of the attraction back to his old ways.

This verse, which became verse 102 of the 2nd edition and verse 94 of the 3rd, 4th and 5th editions, was traced by Heron-Allen (11a, p.138-9) to this verse of the Calcutta Manuscript:

Every day I resolve to repent in the evening,
Making repentance of the brimful goblet and cup;
Now that the season of roses has come, I cannot grieve.
Give penitence for repentance in the season of roses, O Lord!

This says much the same as FitzGerald, though how much better FitzGerald puts it!

For illustrations of this verse by Sullivan and Ross, see Gallery 2A, Folder 1 (Fig.19) and Gallery 2B, Folder 1 (Fig.14) respectively

Verse 71.

And much as Wine has play'd the Infidel,
And robb'd me of my Robe of Honour – well,
I often wonder what the Vintners buy
One half so precious as the Goods they sell.

Follows on from the last two verses: Even though Wine has robbed him of his honour, would he have had it any other way, really? Vintners are wine-merchants. The last two lines refer to the transformation of simple grapes (“what the Vintners buy”) into intoxicating wine (“the Goods they sell.”)

This verse, which became verse 103 of the 2nd edition and verse 95 of the 3rd, 4th and 5th editions, was traced by Heron-Allen (11a, p.138-141) to this verse of the Ouseley Manuscript:

Although wine has rent my veil (of reputation),
So long as I have a soul I will not be separated from wine;
I am in perplexity concerning vintners, for they –
What will they buy that is better than what they sell?

Again, this says much the same as FitzGerald, but yet again FitzGerald says it so much better!

Verse 72.

Alas, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth's sweet-scented Manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the Branches sang,
Ah, whence, and whither flown again, who knows?

The Spring and the Rose again (compare verse 70), here used to signify fading youth. (Compare Isaiah 40.6-7: “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth.”) And where does youth go? The Nightingale here appears to have little to do with the Nightingale and the Rose of verse 6. Rather it seems to be the Bird of Youth, which, once it leaves our branches, flies off to who-knows-where. Compare the Bird of Time metaphor in verse 7.

Shakespeare, in the well-known love-song “O Mistress Mine!” (Twelfth Night, Act 2, Scene 3) wrote of love and youth thus:

What is love? ‘tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What’s to come is still unsure;
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

Andrew Marvell, of course, wanted more than just a kiss, in the poem “To his Coy Mistress”. Were there time enough, he told her:

An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;

But, alas, Death comes all too soon, he tells her, and then:

Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserv’d virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

The same complaints, this time from a young man named Asclepiades, are to be found in The Greek Anthology. The translation is again that of W.R.Paton:

“Thou grudgest thy maidenhead? What avails it? When thou goest to Hades thou shalt find none to love thee there. The joys of Love are in the land of the living, but in Acheron, dear virgin, we shall lie dust and ashes.” (5.85)

Another epigram from The Greek Anthology reads thus:

“I send thee this garland, Rhodoclea, that with my own hands I wove out of beautiful flowers. There are lilies and roses and dewy anemones, and tender narcissus and purple-gleaming violets. Wear it and cease to be vain. Both thou and the garland flowers will fade.” (5.74)

Looking from a different viewpoint at “youth’s sweet-scented manuscript”, in 1833 Richard Monckton Milnes, later Lord Houghton, published a poem called “Carpe Diem”:

Youth, that pursuest with such eager pace
Thy even way,
Thou pantest on to win a mournful race:
Then stay! oh, stay!

Pause and luxuriate in thy sunny plain;
Once past, Thou never wilt come back again,
A second Boy.

The hills of Manhood wear a noble face,
When seen from far;
The mist of light from which they take their grace
Hides what they are.

The dark and weary path those cliffs between
Thou canst not know,
And how it leads to regions never-green,
Dead fields of snow.

Pause, while thou mayst, nor deem that fate thy gain,
Which, all too fast,
Will drive thee forth from this delicious plain,
A Man at last.

Milnes, who was only 24 years old when he penned these lines, is a character who surfaces repeatedly in the background 19th century history of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat. He is perhaps best remembered today for his extensive collection of pornography (now housed in the British Library), his unsuccessful wish to marry Florence Nightingale, and his biography of John Keats, published in 1848, but from our point of view here, his main claim to fame is as a breakfast party host. These breakfast parties became the meeting place for many of the famous names of the day, many of them, of course, involved in the background to the rise of The Rubaiyat. His guest-lists included, at one time or another, Swinburne, Carlyle, Robert Browning, W.M. Thackeray, George Meredith and Sir Richard Burton – indeed, Swinburne and Burton first met at one of Milnes’s parties, in June 1861, and struck up a most unlikely friendship, at least in part based on a liking for brandy! Though FitzGerald was never a party-guest, he certainly corresponded with Milnes about John Keats, whose poetry he much admired (see, for example, III.344-5, which includes one of FitzGerald’s many digs at “Messrs Browning, Morris, Rossetti etc.”) Tennyson, too, was counted among Milnes’ friends.

In his youth, Milnes was a minor poet, the above quoted “Carpe Diem” being one poem out of several published volumes of his work, all virtually forgotten today. “The Flight of Youth”, also published in 1833, followed a similar theme. Somewhat earlier, in the course of his travels in Italy, he wrote a short poem “Roman Ruins”, a pale imitation of the similar meditations of Spenser and Dyer, mentioned in chapter 8 of the main essay. Though Milnes must have been familiar with The Rubaiyat – Burton had read from it at one of his parties in 1861 (see Appendix 5) – there is no mention of any familiarity with or liking for it in Sir Thomas Wemyss Reid’s The Life, Letters and Friendships of Richard Monckton Milnes (2 vols, 1890), nor in James Pope-Hennessy’s two part biography Monckton Milnes – the Years of Promise 1809-1851 (1949) and Monckton Milnes – the Flight of Youth 1851-1885 (1951).

In art, Millais’ painting “Spring (Apple Blossoms)”, (Gallery 3C, Fig.7) painted in 1859 and housed, like “Bubbles”, in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, is an interesting symbolic reference to the transience of youth. The Gallery notes on the picture tell us:

“Some young women are enjoying an idyllic picnic of milk and cream. They are in the bloom of early youth, and the apple blossom behind them also represents the fragile beauty of adolescence – the rich ephemeral splendour of spring, the beginning of the new year. The idyll cannot last; the beauty of both girls and apple blossom will soon fade; the scythe and cut flowers at the right indicate their fate. This is a mood picture – in this case the ‘mood’ or underlying theme is the transience of youth and beauty.”

The painting forms an interesting symbolic pairing with his other painting, “Autumn Leaves”, as mentioned in (note 57h to the main essay). As with “Bubbles” and “Autumn Leaves”, though, J.G.Millais says nothing about any intended symbolism in the picture, and indeed its early stages suggest quite different intentions, involving a lady and a knight, under the title “Faint Heart Never Won Fair Ladye”! (vol.1, p.323-4)

For all the above-mentioned paintings by Millais, see Gallery 3C.

The Lady Lever Art Gallery notes on “Apple Blossoms” refer to similar works by Tissot (“Le Printemps (Spring)”) and Whistler (“Pink and Grey: Three Figures” and “Girl with Cherry Blossom”). Tissot’s painting may, in fact, have been partly inspired by that of Millais – the two are stylistically very similar – see Michael Wentworth, James Tissot (1984), p.52-3.

Verse 73.

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!

A wonderful expression of how most of us feel! René Bull did a fine illustration for this verse – see Gallery 2C, Fig.2.

Verse 74.

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!

“Moon of my Delight” is the Poet’s Beloved, she being constant, unlike the Moon of Heaven, which waxes and wanes as the month goes by. The meaning of the last two lines is that there will come a time when the Moon of Heaven looks down upon the Poet’s Garden, but will no longer find him there, because he will be dead (see the next verse.) Incidentally, it is an easily missed fact that the rising Moon in this verse, at the end of the poem, pairs with the rising Sun in verse 1 at the beginning, the whole poem thus effectively following the course of Omar’s musings through a symbolic day, from Sunrise to Moonrise. Did FitzGerald intend this from the beginning, or did he only notice it later? It is a fact that FitzGerald only pointed out the Sunrise to Moonrise progression in a letter written to his publisher Bernard Quaritch in 1872, fully thirteen years after the appearance of the first edition. Talking of Omar, he wrote:

“He begins with Dawn pretty sober and contemplative: then as he thinks and drinks, grows savage, blasphemous, etc, and then again sobers down into melancholy at nightfall.” (III.339)

It was this late notice which led Martin (as note 1e, p.209), for example, to speculate that it was “probably hindsight”.

For illustrations of this verse, see Gallery 2A, Folder 1, Fig.20 (Sullivan) and Gallery 2C Fig.3 (Bull) and Fig.16 (Tajvidi.)

Verse 75.

And when Thyself with shining Foot shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scatter'd on The Grass,
And in Thy joyous Errand reach the Spot
Where I made one – turn down an empty Glass!

The meaning here is something like: And if you, dear reader, happen to pass by the place where I am buried, “turn down an empty Glass” – pour a glass of wine over my grave in celebration of my life. Or perhaps “Thyself” of this verse refers to Omar’s “Moon of my Delight” in verse 74, and his “Love” of verse 73. Either way, R.A.Nicholson gives an interesting aside on this verse in his notes to a 1909 edition of The Rubaiyat:

“It is related of the pre-Islamic poet, Asha, who was a great wine-drinker, that revellers used to meet at his grave and pour on it the last drops that remained in their cups.”

Likwise, in The Greek Anthology we find the following sepulchral epigram dedicated to the Greek poet of Love and Wine, Anacreon:

“O stranger, who passest this tomb of Anacreon, pour a libation to me in going by, for I am a wine-bibber.” (7.28: translation by W.R.Paton)

Again, in modern times, Daniel P. Mannix, in the epilogue to his hugely entertaining book The Hell-Fire Club (1961), records how, on his visit to England in 1958, he decided to make a pilgrimage to the various places connected with that notorious Club. In particular, he wanted to pour a little “divine milk punch” (a spirituous concoction which, needless to say, contained no milk whatsoever!) on the grave of its founder, Sir Francis Dashwood, at West Wycombe. Alas, his ambitions were thwarted – by the English licensing laws! But that Sir Francis was a great Omarian is shown by the motto which, according to Mannix, he placed over the door of the church on the family estate when he renovated and largely rebuilt it. (This is the church of St Lawrence, famous for its ‘Golden Ball’, and in which Sir Francis is buried.) Instead of the usual motto “Memento Mori” (remember death) he used the punning motto “Memento Meri” (remember drinking)! Sir Francis was not known for his piety! (Strictly speaking, the word Meri refers to unmixed wine rather than drinking, but clearly the word was used here for its punning value. For the motto Memento Mori see Appendix 14a.)

But getting back to libations, in the issue of New Statesman for 4th September 2004 there appeared an article by Catherine Merridale entitled “Cheated of their Vodka and Cake”. It was about the sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk and the resulting entombment of its crew. Merridale’s theme was that the disaster would rob the families of the crew-members of their cherished funeral rites. She wrote:

“The scene was a boat in the Barents Sea, and the people in the picture were grieving mothers and sisters holding hands, fathers staring at the horizon. Some people had brought flowers, hothouse carnations with absurdly long stems, and as the boat that carried them slowed, they threw them over the rail, an act recognisable to anyone who has visited the site of a motorway or air accident in Britain. But then someone lobbed a bottle of vodka into the water. It was not a piece of vandalism, nor was it merely rage. What lay behind it was a tradition far older than the laying of a wreath. The dead, for Russians, still have material needs. The vodka was not a memorial, but a gift.”

On land, as Merridale points out, the ceremony takes a more direct form: the vodka – as part of a memorial celebration – is poured over the grave.

Again, I have here a Welsh newspaper report, dating from November 2010, about a gentleman pouring a libation of vodka over the grave of a World War II Czech airman in the war graves section of Barry Cemetery. Another news report, this time from Danbury, Connecticut, dating from August 2010, records a libation ceremony for a local Revolutionary War patriot. The participants drank Madeira Wine from two chalices, and poured the remainder over the grave of the long dead war hero. This particular libation ceremony was said by one of its participants to date back to Philip of Macedonia, who instituted it to honour his fallen horsemen.

As we have already seen, such practices certainly do have ancient antecedents in The Greek Anthology, and earlier still in the “libations to all the dead, first with mingled honey and milk, then with sweet wine, and last of all with water” made by Odysseus and his followers at the beginning of Book 11 of The Odyssey (translation E.V.Rieu, Penguin, 1946.) These were accompanied by offerings of white barley and “prayers to the helpless ghosts of the dead.” (Compare the “libations of milk mixed with golden honey” to Hesiod in The Greek Anthology, 7.55.) Again, the ancient Greek festival of Anthesteria, in honour of Dionysos, lasted for three days, the second of which, named Choes (the Feast of Cups/Jugs), was a day of merry-making (including drinking contests) but also of offering libations of wine to the dead, again accompanied by food offerings. The difference between modern drink libations to the dead and those of the ancient Greek festival of Anthesteria is that the former are merely done “in fond memory” whereas the latter were largely done either to appease the angry spirits of the dead and thus avert hauntings, or to secure the help of the friendlier spirits of the dead for the living. (The subject is a complex one – see, for example, Jane Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1903), ch.2; M.P. Nilsson, Greek Folk Religion (1984) p.33-34; C. Kerényi, Dionysos (1976) p.302-5; Walter Burkert, Greek Religion (1985) p.237-241; and for ancient Greek libations to the dead more generally, see S.I. Johnston, Restless Dead (1999) p.28-9, 41, 45, 46-7. As regards averting hauntings by making libations to the dead, compare the case from modern India, quoted below.)

The ancient Romans had their “dies parentales”, or days of worshipping the dead, on which they would visit family graves to make offerings of water, wine, milk, honey, oil, and sometimes the blood of sacrificial animals. (W.Warde Fowler, The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic (1969), p.308.) Roman tombstones often had a circular cavity in them, the bottom of which was pierced with holes so that libations could drain down into the funeral urn containing the ashes of the deceased. Franz Cumont, in his After Life in Roman Paganism (1922) brings us back to Omarian thoughts in the following passage:

“It is comprehensible that an unbeliever protested against this practice in his epitaph. ‘By wetting my ashes with wine thou wilt make mud,’ he says, ‘and I shall not drink, when I am dead.’ But how many other texts there are which show the persistence of the ancient ideas! ‘Passer-by,’ says a Roman inscription, ‘the bones of a man pray thee not to soil the monument which covers them; but if thou be benevolent pour wine into the cup, drink and give me thereof.’” (p.50-51)

In ancient Egypt, too, it was apparently common practice to make weekly libations of water to the dead, this custom being said to originate from the fact that the goddess Isis made such libations at the grave of her husband, Osiris. This ancient Egyptian custom survived in Nubia down to modern times. (See “Libations to the Dead in Modern Nubia and Ancient Egypt” by A.M.Blackman, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol.3 (1916), p.31-4.)

Moving from ancient Egypt to late 19th or early 20th century India now, W.Y.Evans-Wentz, in his book The Tibetan Book of the Dead (1927), recounts the following amusing case:

“The editor has heard of a European planter who, having died in the jungles of the Malabar country of south-west India was buried there by the people. Some years after, a friend of the planter found the grave carefully fenced in and covered with empty beer and whiskey bottles. At a loss to understand such an unusual sight, he asked for an explanation, and was told that the dead sahib’s ghost had caused so much trouble and that no way had been discovered to lay the ghost until and old witch-doctor declared that the ghost craved whiskey and beer, to which it had long been habituated when in the flesh and which were the real cause for its separation from the fleshly body. The people, although religiously opposed to intoxicants, began purchasing bottled whisky and beer of the same brands which the sahib was well known to have used, and with a regular ritual of the dead, began sacrificing them to the ghost by pouring them out upon the grave. Finding that this kept the ghost quiet, they kept up the practice in self-defence.” (Foreword, p.xxxv, footnote 2.)

Similar practices have occurred throughout the ancient and modern worlds, then, but the above will suffice to illustrate the ancient and widespread antecedents for turning down an empty glass.

Returning to verse 75, FitzGerald’s use of the phrase “the Spot where I made one” in reference to Omar’s grave is curious, and he never elucidated it. Nor are we helped any by Heron Allen’s antecedent for this verse (as note 11a, p.146-7):

Friends when ye hold a meeting together,
It behoves ye warmly to remember your friend;
When ye drink wholesome wine together,
And my turn comes, turn (a goblet) upside down.

So why “the spot where I made one”? I wonder if we have here an echo of a phrase in Cowell’s article on Hafiz in Fraser’s Magazine for September 1854, which FitzGerald had certainly read (see Appendix 1h), where Cowell says, of Sufi beliefs, that “the soul has once been absorbed in God, and only in reabsorption can it hope to find rest.” (p.290) There is also an echo of a passage from Robert B.M.Binning, A Journal of Two Years’ Travel in Persia, Ceylon etc (1857), which FitzGerald had certainly read, remember, again relating to Sufi doctrines:

“I may briefly observe that the principal article in their creed, is a kind of pantheism – holding that the spirit or essence of the Deity pervades all nature; that human souls are portions of this divine spirit, to be eventually re-absorbed into their source.” (vol.1, p.399.)

Both Cowell and Binning refer to the Sufi Doctrine of Divine Unity (tawhid), well illustrated by the story of the Drop and the Ocean, in which:

“The natural cycle by which water from the ocean evaporates, falls on the land as rain and then makes its way along streams and rivers back to the ocean is used as a metaphor for the journey of the individual human soul back to union with its Source. Hence the many Sufi references to the drop becoming one with the ocean…” (John Baldock, The Essence of Sufism (2004), p.76.)

So, does FitzGerald’s phrase “where I made one” parallel the Sufi drop “becoming one with the ocean”? I don’t know – particularly since FitzGerald did not believe that Omar was a Sufi. But it is a nice line and a nice image, so maybe FitzGerald decided, as with the Stone in verse 1, “to risk it.” There is, incidentally, a Qur’anic precedent for the Sufi concept of Divine Unity, namely Surah 2.156 (“To Allah we belong, and to Him we shall return.”)

Finally, in respect of Omar Khayyam’s grave, there is the interesting story about it, repeated by FitzGerald in the introduction to all his editions, and taken from Cowell’s article in The Calcutta Review (Appendix 1f.) It was told originally by one of Khayyam’s former pupils, named by FitzGerald (and Cowell) as Khwajah Nizami of Samarcand:

“I often used to hold conversations with my teacher Omar Khayyam, in a garden; and one day he said to me, ‘My tomb shall be in a spot where the north wind may scatter roses over it.’ I wondered at the words he spake, but I knew that his were no idle words. Years after, when I chanced to revisit Naishapur, I went to his final resting-place, and lo! it was just outside a garden, and trees laden with fruit stretched their boughs over the garden wall, and dropped their flowers upon his tomb, so that the stone was hidden under them.”

There are variations on this story, all based on the same source, and arising from different translations of it. Thus, in Garrard (note 1f, p.42-3) and de Polnay (note 1g, p.184-5), there are no roses in Omar’s prophecy regarding his grave. Rather, he predicts that trees will shed their blossoms on his grave twice a year, the prophecy being fulfilled by the pear trees and peach trees which overhang his grave. In Teimourian (note 1i, p.xi-xii) the prophecy is similar: there are no roses, and the two types of tree that shed their blossoms on his grave are named as pear and apricot, “which blossomed at different times of spring.” Finally, Aminrazavi (note 1h, p.31) quotes Omar as saying that “my grave will be in a location that every spring the north wind will spread flowers upon my grave” (no mention of twice a year), and has the prophecy fulfilled by the blossoms of pear and apricot trees.

In respect of FitzGerald’s version, Prof. E.G.Browne (note 1k, p.248) had this to say, after himself giving Omar’s prophecy as, “My grave will be in a spot where the trees will shed their blossoms on me twice a year”, and having the prophecy fulfilled by pear and peach trees:

“These earliest notices of ‘Umar show us … that the idea prevalent in the ‘Umar Khayyam Society that he was buried under a rose-bush is a delusion based on the double meaning of the word gul, which means a flower in general as well as the rose in particular, the context in the full form of the original anecdote, as here given, showing clearly that not rose-leaves, but the blossoms of peach-trees and pear-trees are here meant.”

It does rather seem, then, that the rose bush planted at the head of FitzGerald’s grave, and grown from hips taken from a rose bush next to Omar Khayyam’s grave, is something of a romanticised fancy based on a mistranslation! Nevertheless, it is still rather apt in view of the prominence of symbolic roses in The Rubaiyat.

Sir James Baillie Fraser in his Narrative of a Journey into Khorasan in the Years 1821 & 1822 &c (1825) gives the following account of his visit to Omar’s grave. His account contains the famous story of the three friends, also recorded by FitzGerald in the Introductions to all four of his editions of The Rubaiyat. The “large edifice” that Fraser mentions is “a monument … built, it is said, over the remains of Seyed Mahomed, a brother of Imaum Reza’s”:

“Close by this large edifice, there is a small building, in which repose the relics of Omar Keyoomee, a poet who flourished in the days of the celebrated Nizamool Moolk, chief minister of the great Sooltaun Malek Shah, of the Seljook dynasty. The wuzeer himself, the well known Hussun Soubah, and the poet Omar were school- fellows, and during the days of their youth they entered into a mutual agreement, that whoever of the three should first arrive at riches or power, should share his good fortune with his two companions. When Nizamool Moolk was raised to the wuzeerut, upon the death of his father, Omar Keyoomee went to him, and claimed the benefit of their mutual agreement: Hussun Soubah also went to see his old friend, but he refused any favour, haughtily observing, that he looked too high for even the wuzeer to help him onward, and would carve out his own fortune. Omar, enamoured of poesy and ease, said, "Place me in a situation where I may live in comfort, and enjoy wine in abundance to inspire my muse". The wuzeer assigned him the district of Nishapore, then celebrated for its rich fruits and wines; here the poet lived, died, and was interred. My friend the meerza was delighted at finding this tomb, and paid his devotions at it with true enthusiasm; for he looked upon the poet as a congenial soul, and only regretted that no Nizamool Moolk existed in these degenerate days to bestow upon him the means of a like happy and careless life. These tombs are inclosed in a garden, once laid out in tanks, fountains, and parterres, now all gone to decay; a few fruit trees, and five or six very fine old pines, give a shade to the place, and shelter to multitudes of rooks.” (p.401)

For illustrations of verse 75 see Gallery 1C, Folder 4, Fig.1 (Bateman) and Gallery 2C, Fig.7 (Dulac).

TAMAM SHUD = It is finished.

But actually, we are not quite finished yet, for Tamam Shud became, in effect, the epitaph of a man who died in mysterious circumstances, and whose identity remains unclear to this day. It became known as the Tamam Shud Case.

In December 1948 a man was found dead on Somerton Beach, Adelaide (hence the case is also known as the Somerton Man Mystery.) He was in his forties, nearly six feet tall, carried no identification, and an autopsy revealed no apparent cause of death. No-one could identify him, even though his photograph was widely circulated. His fingerprints were not on record anywhere, and his teeth matched no known dental records.

Deep inside one of his pockets, though, was a slip of paper with the words Tamam Shud printed on it, which inscription was soon recognised as being from the end of a copy of The Rubaiyat. When a photo of this paper and its inscription was published, a man came forward to say that a week or so before the body was discovered, he had found a copy of The Rubaiyat on the back seat of his car, which he had left unlocked, and it looked like the Tamam Shud paper matched a hole at the back of it. How the book got there, he had no idea.

It turned out that this book - a Whitcombe and Tombs edition published in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1944 - was indeed the book from which the Tamam Shud paper had been torn or roughly cut. Furthermore, in the back of the book someone had pencilled in five lines of capital letters, thus:


The second line of letters was crossed out, it is thought because it was a mistake for the fourth line. The inscription proper, then, whatever it was intended to signify, consisted of the first, third, fourth and fifth lines - a sort of coded quatrain!

Also pencilled into the back of the book was the phone number of a woman who, as it turned out, lived close to where the body had been found. She said that during the war, in 1945, she had owned a copy of The Rubaiyat, but had given it to a man called Boxall. However, she said that she didn't recognise the dead man, and in any case, Mr Boxall turned up alive and well, and still with his copy of The Rubaiyat! How the woman's phone number had got into the other copy of The Rubaiyat remained a complete mystery.

The cryptic inscription reproduced above, the lack of any identification of the body, and the fact that there was no apparent cause of death (which led to speculation that he had been poisoned with something like digitalis), led to theories that the man had been a secret agent. But the truth of it was never established, and the case remains one of Australia's great unsolved murder mysteries.