Home Page . News and Recent Additions
The Rubaiyat

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

Notes to the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

Including FitzGerald's Notes to the Second Version

False morning (Dawn's Left Hand)
[FitzGerald's note]

The ``False Dawn''; Subhi Kázib, a transient light on the Horizon about an hour before the Subhi sádik, or True Dawn; a well-known Phenomenon in the East.

New Year
[FitzGerald's note]

New Beginning with the Vernal Equinox, it must be remembered; and (howsoever the old Solar Year is practically superseded by the clumsy Lunar Year that dates from the Mohammedan Hijra) still commemorated by a Festival that is said to have been appointed by the very Jamshyd whom Omar so often talks of, and whose yearly Calendar he helped to rectify. ``The sudden approach and rapid advance of the Spring,'' says Mr. Binning, ``are very striking. Before the Snow is well off the Ground, the Trees burst into Blossom, and the Flowers start forth from the Soil. At Now Rooz [their New Year's Day] the Snow was lying in patches on the Hills and in the shaded Vallies, while the Fruit-trees in the Gardens were budding beautifully, and green Plants and Flowers springing up on the Plains on every side--

`And on old Hyem's Chin and icy Crown
`An odorous Chaplet of sweet Summer buds
`Is, as in mockery, set.'--
Among the Plants newly appeared I recognised some old Acquaintances I had not seen for many a Year: among these, two varieties of the Thistle--a coarse species of Daisy like the `Horse-gowan'--red and white Clover--the Dock--the blue Cornflower--and that vulgar Herb the Dandelion rearing its yellow crest on the Banks of the Water-course.'' The Nightingale was not yet heard, for the Rose was not yet blown: but an almost identical Blackbird and Woodpecker helped to make up something of a North-country Spring.
White Hand of Moses
[FitzGerald's note]

Exodus iv. 6; where Moses draws forth his Hand--not, according to the Persians, ``leprous as Snow,''-- but white, as our May-blossom in Spring perhaps. According to them also the Healing Power of Jesus resided in his breath.

Moses...Jesus from the Ground
This passage refers to plants named after the two prophets.
[FitzGerald's note]

[A garden] planted by King Shaddád, and now sunk somewhere in the Sands of Arabia.

[FitzGerald's note]

Jamshyd's Seven-ring'd Cup was typical of the 7 Heavens, 7 Planets, 7 Seas, &c. and was a Divining Cup.

[See also FitzGerald's later note on Persepolis.]

[FitzGerald'd note].

The old Heroic Sanskrit of Persia. Háfiz also speaks of the Nightingale's Pehlevi, which did not change with the People's.

The yellow Cheek...incarnadine
[FitzGerald's note]

I am not sure if the fourth line refers to the Red Rose looking sickly, or to the Yellow Rose that ought to be Red; Red, White, and Yellow Roses all common in Persia. I think that Southey, in his Common-Place Book, quotes from some Spanish author about the Rose being White till 10 o'clock; ``Rosa Perfecta'' at 2; and ``perfecta incarnada'' at 5.

Like Jamshyd, an historical Persian king.
A mythical king.
[FitzGerald's note]

The ``Hercules'' of Persia, and Zál his Father, whose exploits are among the most celebrated in the Sháhnáma.

Hatí Tai
[FitzGerald's note]

A well-known Type [example] of Oriental Generosity.

distant Drum
[FitzGerald's note]

A Drum--beaten outside a Palace.

An inn.
Courts where Jamshyd gloried
[FitzGerald's note]

Persepolis: call'd also Takht-i-Jamshyd--The Throne of Jamshyd, ``King Splendid,'' of the mythical Peshdá.dian Dynasty, and supposed (according to the Shánáma) to have been founded and built by him. Others refer it to the Work of the Genie King, Ján Ibn Ján--who also built the Pyramids--before the time of Adam.

King Bahrám went hunting a wild ass and never was seen again.

[FitzGerald's note]

Bahrám Gúr--Bahram of the Wild Ass--a Sassanian Sovereign--had also his Seven Castles (like the King of Bohemia!) each of a different Colour: each with a Royal Mistress within; each of whom tells him a Story, as told in one of the most famous Poems of Persia, written by Amír Khusraw: all these Seven also figuring (according to Eastern Mysticism) the Seven Heavens; and perhaps the Book itself that Eighth, into which the mystical Seven transcend, and within which they revolve. The Ruins of Three of those Towers are yet shown by the Peasantry; as also the Swamp in which Bahrám sunk, like the Master of Ravenswood, while pursuing his Gúr.

I sometimes think...lovely Head.
[FitzGerald's note]

Apropos of Omar's Red Roses...I am reminded of an old English Superstition, that our Anemone Pulsatilla, or purple ``Pasque Flower'' (which grows plentifully about the Fleam Dyke, near Cam bridge), grows only where Danish Blood has been spilt.

The office of the man who calls the faithful to prayer from the tower of a mosque.
[FitzGerald's note]

Lord of the Seventh Heaven.

Me and Thee
[FitzGerald's note]

some dividual Existence of Personality distinct from the Whole.

I think...and give!
[FitzGerald's note]

One of the Persian Poets--Attár, I think--has a pretty story about this. A thirsty Traveller dips his hand into a Spring of Water to drink from. By-and-by comes another who draws up and drinks from an earthen Bowl, and then departs, leaving his Bowl behind him. The first Traveller takes it up for another draught; but is surprised to find that the same Water which had tasted sweet from his own hand tastes bitter from the earthen Bowl. But a Voice--from Heaven, I think--tells him the clay from which the Bowl is made was once Man; and, into whatever shape renewed, can never lose the bitter flavour of Mortality.

with Rule...I define
[FitzGerald's note]

A Jest, of course, at his Studies. A curious mathematical Quatrain of Omar's has been pointed out to me; the more curious because almost exactly parallel'd by some Verses of Doctor Donne's, that are quoted in Izaak Walton's Lives! Here is Omar: ``You and I are the image of a pair of compasses; though we have two heads (sc. our feet) we have one body; when we have fixed the centire for our circle, we bring our heads (sc. feet) together at the end.'' Dr. Donne:

If we be two, we two are so
As stiff twin-compasses are two;
Thy Soul, the fixt foot, makes no show
To move, but does if the other do.

And though thine in the centre sit,
Yet when my other far does roam,
Thine leans and hearkens after it,
And grows erect as mine comes home.

Such thou must be to me, who must
Like the other foot obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And me to end where I begun.

A servant whose duties include pouring of the wine. Fitzgerald refers to this servant as "Cypress-slender minister of wine" in a stanza added for the third edition:
Perplext no more with Human or Divine,
Tomorrow's tangle to the winds resign,
        And lose your fingers in the tresses of
The Cypress-slender Minister of Wine.

Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects
[FitzGerald's note]

The Seventy-two Religions supposed to divide the World, including Islam as some think: but others not.

The sultan, often surnamed in English the Great, who extended the Persian empire into India. Although nothing is known about diction in the time of Omar, the modern pronounciation of the "h" in the name is like the "H" in "Hannukah".
A class of servant whose duties included management of the tents.
from Máh to Máhi
[FitzGerald's note]

From Fish to Moon.

mighty Mahmúd...black Horde
[FitzGerald's note]

Alluding to Sultan Mahmúd's Conquest of India and its dark people.

Magic Shadow-show (-shapes)
[FitzGerald's note]

Fánúsi khiyál, a Magic lantern still used in India; the cylindrical Interior being painted with various Figures, and so lightly poised and ventilated as to revolve round the lighted Candle within.

He knows...He knows!
[FitzGerald's note]

A very mysterious Line in the Original O dánad O dánad O dánad O---- breaking off something like our Wood-pigeon's Note, which she is said to take up just where she left off.

The Pleiades
The planet Jupiter.
Moslem mystics who developed an elaborate system of symbols and allegories.
A Moslem ascetic.
Book of Pots.
The month during which Moslems fast between dawn and dusk.

[FitzGerald's note]

At the Close of the Fasting Month, Ramazán (which makes the Musulman unhealthy and unamiable), the first Glimpse of the New Moon (who rules their division of the Year), is looked for with the utmost Anxiety, and hailed with Acclamation. Then it is that the Porter's Knot may be heard--toward the Cellar. Omar has elsewhere a pretty Quatrain about the same Moon--

``Be of Good Cheer--the sullen Month will die,
``And a young Moon requite us by and by:
``Look how the Old one meagre, bent, and wan
``With Age and Fast, is fainting from the Sky!''

The Potter and the Pots
[FitzGerald's note]

This Relation of Pot and Potter to Man and his Maker figures far and wide in the Literature of the World, from the time fo the Hebrew Prophets to the present; when it may finally take the name ``Pot theism,'' by which Mr. Carlyle ridiculed Sterling's 11Pantheism.'' My Sheikh, whose knowledge flows in from all quarters, writes to me--

Apropos of old Omar's Pots, did I ever tell you the sentence I found in `Bishop Pearson on the Creed'?
Thus are we wholly at the disposal of His will, and our present and future condition framed and ordered by His free, but wise and just, decrees. Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? (Rom.ix.21) And can that earth-artificer have a freer power over his brother potsherd (both being made of the same metal), than God hath over him, who, by the strange fecundity of His omnipotent power, first made the clay out of nothing, and then him out of that?
And again--from a very different quarter--
I had to refer the other day to Aristophanes, and came by chance on a curious Speaking0pot story in the Vespæ (The Wasps, lines 1435-40), which I had quite forgotten.

The Pot calls a bystander to be a witness to his bad treatment. The woman says, ``If, by Proserpine, instead of all this `testifying' (comp. Cuddie and his mother in `Old Morality'!) you would buy yourself a rivet, it would show more sense in you!'' The Scholiast explains echinus as any bowl from the potter.

One more illustration for the oddity's sake from the ``Autobiography of a Cornish Rector,'' by the late James Hamley Tregenna, 1871.
There was one old Fellow in our Company--he was so like a Figure in the `Pilgrim's Progress' that Richard always called him the `Allegory' with a long white beard--a rare Appendage in those days-- and a Face the colour of which seemed to have been baked in, like the Faces one used to see on Earthenware Jugs. In our Country-dialect Earthenware is called `Clome'; so the Boys of the Village used to shout out after him--`Go back to the Potter, old Clome-face, and get baked over again.' For the `Allegory,' though shrewd enough in most things, had the reputation of being `saift-baked,' i.e., of weak intellect.

Porter's shoulder-knot
A strap by which wine jars were carried.
"It is ended."

Poets' Corner - Home   |    The Other Pages

©1994-2020 Poets' Corner Editorial Staff, All Rights Reserved Worldwide