Born in Persia in the 11th century Omar Khayyam was better known as an astronomer and a mathematician than as a poet. Being a master of Algebra,Geometry,Astronomy and Physics he revised the Persian calendar for Sultan Malik Shah and named it the Jalali Calendar.
While mathematics was his occupation his heart’s wanderings took him to the realm of verse where his free spirit wondered in the company of wine. Before he passed away in 1123 AD he had composed an enormous body of work in the form of Rubais peculiar of their rhyme and striking content. While most of the ideas were self contained they were unified by a central philosophy of enjoying life while it lasted.
The Rubaiyat was unknown to the western world for the next 600 years,till Edward FitzGerald published a translation around 1860.
There have been many translations since but the one by Fitzgerald is still the most popular.
I am presenting here a few of his rubais that I like more than the others :
Tis all a chequered board of Nights and Days
Where destiny with men of pieces plays
Hither and thither moves,and mates and slays,
And one by one back in the closet Lays
The moving finger writes and having writ,
Moves on : Nor all thy piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.
And that inverted bowl we call the sky,
whereunder crawling coop’t we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to it for help – for it
Rolls impotently on ….as thou or I.
With Earth’s first clay they did the last man’s knead,
And then of the last harvest sowed the seed.
Yea,the first morning of creation wrote,
What the Last dawn of reckoning shall read.
Me thinks this Wheel at which we gape and stare,
Is Chinese lantern – like we buy at fair;
The lamp is Sun and paper shade the world,
And we the pictures whirling unaware. .
The Skies rotate, I cannot guess the cause;
And all I feel is grief, which in me gnaws;
Surveying all my life, I find myself
The same unknowing dunce that once I was!