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Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Paperback – Mar 6 1984

4.5 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (March 6 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140059547
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140059540
  • Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 1.1 x 23.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 204 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #850,645 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


'I found Robert Wilson's 'Omar Khayyam' very readable. It will stand well in print in Scotland' EDWIN MORGAN The Rubaiyat of Omar... takes on a contemporary gloss in a rumbustious reworking in Scots of the literal text of the Persian poet. THE HERALD --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Publisher

An illustrated gift edition of the quatrains of Omar the tentmaker, which have more admirers today than ever before. Edward Fitzgerald's rendition stands as a monument to the translator's art.

Full-color photographs throughout. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Although I have a handsome face and colour, Cheek like the tulips, form like the cypress, It is not clear why the Eternal Painter Thus tricked me out for the dusty show-booth of earth. Read the first page
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Format: Paperback
"The Ruba'iyat of Omar Khayyam" translated by Peter Avery and John Heath-Stubbs is available in two Penguin editions. This edition (ISBN 01400595447) comes in a larger format with 32 beautiful colored illustrations of Persian miniature paintings from the 16th and 17th century, and an essay on the history of the miniatures that points out the influence of Chinese painting on Persian graphic arts (an interesting subject in itself). The other edition is the Penguin Classics edition (ISBN 0140443843), which is identical to this edition but lacks the illustrations and the essay on Persian graphic arts. The illustrated, larger sized edition is definitely worth the slightly higher price, in my opinion.
A reader who is familiar with FitzGerald's classic "re-creation" - "translation" is a term that is too weak in this context - will be surprised at the defiant materialism of Omar Khayyam's quatrains in Avery's literal translation stripped of the poetic spark of FitzGerald's work.
For example, while the Victorian gentleman Edward FitzGerald chose to translate Omar Khayyam's praise of simple joys and poetry in his famous "A Book of Verses underneath the Bough, / A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread - and Thou / Beside me singing in the Wilderness - / Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!", Peter Avery gives us not only a more literal translation (#98) but also a much more worldly (and spicy) version of the same theme:
If chance supplied a loaf of white bread,
Two casks of wine and a leg of mutton,
In the corner of a garden with a tulip-cheeked girl
There'd be enjoyment no Sultan could outdo.
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Format: Paperback
Omar Khayyam (1048-1131) was a Persian mathematician whom we in the West know primarily as the poet of the Rubaiyat (literally: quatrains). In fact most people only know Omar Khayyam for the 101 individual quatrains translated and arranged by Edward Fitzgerald in 1859. Fitzgerald's work was more than an ordinary translation, one critic wrote, it was so inspired that some people believed it was an English poem with Persian allusions.
Omar Khayyam writes about the fragility and transience of life,
Oh threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain - this Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies. (#63)
and about the inspiration to be found in wine and friendship:
A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread - and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness -
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow! (#12)
In his best moments he rises above what some critics saw as cynical lament and reaches an appealing state of amused resignation:
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 where in I went. (#27)
The world of Omar Khayyam - Islamic Persia in the eleventh century - demands some explanation to fully appreciate the poetry. Unfortunately, my edition (Peter Pauper Press, White Plains, NY, 1991) did not contain footnotes to the quatrains and only the shortest of introductions. Scholarly comment is often indicated for key words in poetry. Take the word "wine", for example. It is interesting to be reminded that the subject of wine was inflammable because wine and drunkenness were prohibited by the principles of Islamic law.
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Format: Hardcover
Many people accuse the Fitzgerald translation of deviating too much from the Persian original. Personally, I don't like to see poetry translated from one language to another in verse either, because I will always feel that something has been missed.
However, if it is not translated in verse, then it is no longer has the quality of the original poetry. So what shall we do here?
I think that Fitzgerald has done an excellent job in translating Khayyum. It is said that good poetry has a balance of two things - beautiful language and meaning. Ftizgerald has achieved this.
If you are looking for a more "literal" translation, to get exactly what Khayyum said and thought, then you are better to look to a word for word, unrhyming translation, that has taken care to keep the authentic quatrains only - not all the ones ascribed to him. The "Persian Heritage Series" has produced a good translation like this.
Also beware of "commentaries" telling you that Omar Khayyum was a sufi, mystic, or whatever... and that his verses have special meanings outside of the literal interpretation. It is true that poets in Persia used such imagery as "may" (wine), "maykhana" (tavern), "saqi" (cup-bearer), "yar-e nazanin" (lovely maiden) etc. etc. to bring across meanings of God, and heaven, though this doesn't mean that these things are always implied.
One of the qualities of poetry is that it is ambiguous. It must be recognised that people like Omar Khayyum and Hafez were living in times of religious persecution. If you said something against the established sect, then you could be accused of "kufr" (blasphemy) and punished accordingly.
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