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In 2015, I bought The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (the Dover Thrift edition) because I’ve always been fascinated by ancient writings, particularly poetry. How strangely comforting is it to read the thoughts of someone born centuries before your own time echoing the same thoughts, feelings, and concerns that we face even now in modern times?
A Persian mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and poet, Omar Khayyám was born in 1048 and died at the age of 82. “Khayyám” means “tentmaker” in Arabic and “Rubáiyát” translates to the poetic term “quatrains,” so while the title may sound a little mystical, what we’re reading today is literally “The Quatrains of a Tentmaker.” In 1859, Edward Fitzgerald published his adaptation of the Persian poetry, taking the liberty of combining the epigrams into a continuous poem that flows from theme to theme.
Reading The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám takes around an hour if you read it straight through, but I enjoyed taking my time between quatrains, considering the eternal questions of life and death, and the ultimate question of what may await us after…
11 Quotes from The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám
1. “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! ––The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (pg. 5)
2. 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! ––The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (pg. 8)
3. 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. ––The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (pg. 9)
4. And many Knots unravel’d by the Road; But not the Knot of Human Death and Fate. ––The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (pg. 10)
5. 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 Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (pg. 10)
6. 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.” ––The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (pg. 11)
7. 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! ––The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (pg. 12)
8. 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 Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (pg. 14)
9. And when the Angel with his darker Draught Draws up to Thee—take that, and do not shrink. ––The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (pg. 14)
10. ’Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays: ––The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (pg. 15)
11. 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 Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (pg. 15)