Omar Khayyam
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

(1040-1131 or 1023-1123 depending on who you believe)—

"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 Rubaiyat, XXIII)

Omar Khayyam was born in Nishapur, Persia (now Iran) on 18 May 1040 although this is only a purported date and some claim that it was 1023. He studied geometry and astronomy and in Samarkand worked for the chief magistrate and the ruler of Bokhara, Shamsolmolk Nasr. He went on to enter the service of Saljuq Sultan Malekshah (who ruled between 1072 and 1092). He also traveled to Mecca and Baghdad before returning to Nishapur. With his great expertise in the study of the stars he helped to construct an observatory and compile a set of astronomical tables upon which was based a new calendar era. As such Khayyam’s contemporary reputation was as a scientist. Of the scientific works he produced some still survive. He died in December 1131, but again some historians have given a different date: 1123.

Khayyam’s times were hazardous ones due to the Saljuq Turks who were finishing off their infiltration of Iran, Mesopotamia and Asia Minor when he was young and by the time he died they were completing their empire stretching from the River Oxus to Syria. In these turbulent times Khayyam’s verse gives the reader a sense of logic and clarity. The poems of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam are four-part stanzas that display then controversial irreligious skepticism and were therefore likely to have been circulated covertly, anonymously and with some considerable danger for their author. This is reflected in the first mention of these verses under Khayyam’s name was ninety or so years after his death and then only to defame the author for his evil and corrupt mind. The reason for this and the direction of Khayyam’s poetry was the government’s tireless and dubious patronage of religion. A thinker like Khayyam would have found this control revolting and unjustifiable.

The form of the Rubaiyat is a Persian poem structure known for its conciseness. Each stanza or "ruba’i" contains four lines with the rhyme scheme AABA and is a self-contained unit of thought. The first and second lines of each "ruba’i" present a statement of some sort; the third brings the statement to its zenith before the fourth sums up the central thought. In this way the sequence of verses is disconnected but each one is complete in itself, pithy, beautiful and simple. The questions asked by Khayyam were not new even then. They are universal issues but presented in a uniquely lovely and precise way. He presents two contrasting visions in the Rubaiyat: on one side are the images of pleasure and life (light, wine, flower, nightingale, grass) and on the other death and total destruction (darkness, corpse, dust, veil). Khayyam presents no solution but instead the logical decision to live for the day.

The English version is that of Fitzgerald and is the classic, faithful and best-respected translation, published first in 1868.

Persian mathematican and poet Resource page with informative links Extensive resource and information site with a biography by FitzGerald and lots of related links Resource site which includes a biography, a bibliography, a picture gallery and further links

  By PanEris using Melati.

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