Thursday, June 7, 2007

First Poetic Response: Omar Khayyam

The road to Khayyam started with Forough Farokhzad. She was an Iranian poet writing in the sixties, who changed the face of Persian poetry by adding the one aspect that had been missing for 2500 years: the female voice. Unfortunately, she died rather young but her works still echoes its peace-seeking refrains through all of the Middle East.
Looking at her influences, I saw that of Omar Khayyam, a mathematician/poet of the late 11th century. He died in 1123 AD. According to Paramhansa Yogananda, from a relatively young age he was allotted a pension from Sultan Malik Shah that allowed him to devote himself to scientific and literary pursuits.
He was a Sufi mystic. "His ‘theology’ was no reasoned system, but encompassed all religions as well as no religion – that is to say, though he loved God, he embraced no formal religion.
The book I have is translated by Edward Fitzgerald, English poet and translator, born 1809, died 1883. The first translation was not well received until the poet Dante Gabriel Rosetti and Swinburne touted it. "Omar offers a delightful alternative: the nectar of divine ecstasy, which leads to diving enlightenment, thereby obliterating human woe permanently."
His greatest work was "The Rubaiyat" or The Quatrains. Of these, I will relate a few of my favorites:
{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.
Commentary: This quatrain directly questions the nature of reality. The everyday we take for granted is but a shadow aspect of the true nature of the universe. The delicacy of style renders the reader wholly incapable of feigning disdain.
{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 make as much of Thee
Commentary: Awesome!! The "Wise" are but those that think themselves so. No one should take things seriously because not only is life but a "Hubbub", we are the game-players, too.
These translations are easily read for they rhyme as did the originals, but they also take a lifetime to unravel. These are but two of my very favorites, and ones that I believe everyone should be aware of. The others include many more metaphorical references as to the nature of creation. The sixty-plus quatrains each shed light on some aspect of the human condition. For this, Omar Khayyam must be commended.

No comments: