17 – Think

empty desert

Think, in this battered Caravanserai
Whose Portals alternate Night and Day,
How Sultan after Sultan in his Pomp
Abode his destined Hour, and went his way.

Pense, dans ce Caravansérail battu
Dont les portails alternent nuit et jour,
Comment Sultan après Sultan dans sa Pompe
Attend l’heure de destinée et a son chemin continué.

desert evening

Denken Sie nur, in dieser geschlagenen Karawanserei
Wessen Portale zwischen Nacht und Tag abwechselnd,
Wie Sultan nach Sultan in seinem Pomp
Wartet seine bestimmte Stunde und ging seinen Weg.

Je suis, je pense, je pense donc je suis, on croit, mais on ne comprends pas.


Worldly hope – 16

‘Tis Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
That turns Ash – or prosper, and anon,
Like Snow upon the Desert Sand
Lighting an hour or two – is gone


French translation

L’espoir de Monde que nous mettons nos cœurs sur
Tourne Cendre – ou prospère, et alors,
Comme la neige sur le Sable du Desert
Puis passé dans une heure ou deux

German translation

Weltschätze Männer hoffen auf ihre Herzen
Dies wird zu Asche – oder gedeihen, und dann,
Wie Schnee auf der Wüstensand
eine Stunde oder zwei – und dann nicht mehr

This quatrain reminds me of Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 1:

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.

Some for earthly glories come – 13


Some for earthly glories come

For the earthly Glories, some,
Sigh for the Paradise to come;
Ah, grab the Cash, let the Credit go,
Heed not the rumble of the distant Drum!

Certaines, pour les gloires mondaines,
Suspirant pour que le Paradis vienne;
Ah, prenez le cash, laissez le crédit aller,
N’entendez pas le grondement du tambour éloigné!

Einige, für die weltlichen Ruhm,
Seufzen für das Paradies zu kommen;
Ah, packen Sie den Geld, lassen Sie den Kredit gehen,
Hörte nicht das Rumpeln der fernen Trommel!

Quatrain 13

Dear reader, we have come to the 13th quatrain of Fitzgerald’s, The Rubaiyat, by Omar Khayyam, (1120 A.C.E.) and I sit here wondering if Omar thought this particular verse unlucky because of its number.

The 13th day of the New Year

Clerics in today’s Iran have tried hard to stamp out the superstitious belief that 13 is an unlucky number.

In particular, Iranians believe that it is unlucky to stay inside your house on the 13th day of the Persian New Year. The belief is a mark of the Zoroasteran past that dates to 1000 BCE and possibly before. Today across the country, Iranian families spread rugs and set up tents in parks to mark the holiday and tie or weave blades of grass together as a sign of good luck.

Fitzgerald’s original quatrain goes like this:

Some for the Glories of This World; and some
Sigh for the Prophet’s Paradise to come;
Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!



A jug of wine, a loaf of bread


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!

Un Livre de Versets dans le bois,
Un vase de vin, du pain – et toi
A côté de moi, chantant dans la forêt sauvage…
Oh, la forêt était un Paradis suffi!

Ein Buch der Verse unter den Bäumen
ein wenig Wein, einige Brot – und du
Neben mir in dem wilden Wald singen …
Oh, der Wald war ein Paradies genug!

Omar the tent maker

Call him Omar the tent maker, or the tent maker’s son, for that is the translation of Khayyam.

Despite this humble origin, Omar was quite serious about astronomical observations and mathematical questions. And yet, Omar well understood the insoluble complexity of the universe and balanced his mathematical obsession with verse, wine, bread, and women.

La vie n’est jamais facile, mes amis, mais du vin et les versets le font plus.

In 1073, Malik-Shah, ruler of the Seljuq dynasty and his vizier Nizam al-Mulk, invited Omar Khayyam to Esfahan, the capital, to set up an astronomical observatory. For 18 years Khayyam worked in relative peace. In 1092, Malik-Shah died and his vizier was murdered. Khayyam came under attack from the orthodox Muslims who felt that his curiosity did not conform to the faith. Nevertheless, he remained at court and tried to curry favor with Sanjar, Malik-Shah’s third son, who became the ruler of the empire in 1118.

Death entered Omar’s tent in Nishapur on 4 December 1131.

Along the strip of herbage strewn


With me along the strip of Herbage strewn
That just divides the desert from the sown,
Where name of Slave and Sultan is forgot–
And Peace to Mahmud on his golden Throne!

French translation of Quatrain 11

Venez avec moi dans l’espace du vert parsemé
Qui divise la terre inconnue de cet homme a semé,
Où le nom de l’esclave et du sultan ne compte pas …
Alayhi as-salām, dit Mahmud sur son trône!

What have we to do?

Oh, Let them take them! What have we to do
With Kaikobad the Great or Kaikhosru?
While Zal and Rustum bluster, as they will,
Call Hatim to Supper – and heed not you

French translation

Ô, laissez-les les prendre! Que faut-il faire
Avec Kaikobad the Grande ou Kaikhosru?
Tandis que Zal et Rostam tempêtent, comme ils le feront,
Appelez Hatim à la dîner – n’ignore pas vous

German translation

Oh, lass sie sie nehmen! Was haben wir zu tun
Mit Kaikobad der Große oder Kaikhosru?
Während Zal und Rustum tosen, wie sie wollen,
Rufen Sie Hatim zum Abendmahl an – beachten Sie nicht Sie

Spanish translation

Oh, ¡Que se los lleven! ¿Qué tenemos que hacer?
¿Con Kaikobad el Grande o Kaikhosru?
Mientras que Zal y Rustum fanfarronean, como ellos,
Llama a Hatim a la cena – no te hagas caso

Notes on translation and explanation of Quatrain 10.

A few minor changes to Fitzgerald’s wording and the spelling of Rostam.

The gods of war cares not for human life and life is short. Oh, what have we to do?

Kaikobad the Great and his grandson (possibly great grandson) Kaikhosru were mighty kings who battled enemies far and wide. They are named in the epic poem Shahnameh, “The Book of Kings”, written by Persian poet Hakim Abol Qasem Ferdowsi Tousi and completed in the year 1010. Redowsi also names Zal and his son Rostam, legendary figures in Persian mythology. Rostam is the mightiest of Persian paladins, famous for courage and fighting.

One story from the Shahmanan, is that at the age of two, Rostam while in his bed heard a mighty elephant let loose and storming about the palace. While others stood by in fear of the raging beast, Rostam beat the elephant with his fists, killing him, and then went back to bed.

Generous Hatim of the Tribe of Tai, represents hospitality. The last line “heed not” is a kind of “worry not” or “que sera, sera”.

While the poet asks, what can be done and has no answer, others (the attribution is unclear) say, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.” – Hamlet’s dilemma?

Paladin Rostam

But Where is the Rose of Yesterday?


Quatrain 9

“You say, each day a thousand roses brings
Yes, but where is the Rose of Yesterday?
And the Summer month that first brings forth the Rose
Shall also take Jamshyd and Kaikobad away.”

French translation

Vous dites, chaque jour, mille roses apporte
Oui, mais où est-ce que Rose de hier
Et le mois d’été qui provoque la rose
Doit au loin prendre Jamshyd et Kaikobad

German translation

Du sagst, jeden Tag tausend Rosen bringt
Ja, aber wo ist die Rose von gestern
Und der Sommermonat, der zuerst die Rose hervorbringt
Nehmen auch Jamshyd und Kaikobad weg

Spanish translation

Usted dice, cada día miles de rosas trae
Sí, pero ¿dónde está la rosa de ayer?
Y el mes de verano que primero trae la Rose
También tendrá Jamshyd y Kaikobad lejos


Explanation of Quatrain 9

Fitzgerald’s wording is modified slightly in this version.

Fitzgerald references kings Jamshyd (Jamshid) and Kaikobad in the last line.

King Jamshyd was the fourth and greatest king of the first Persian Dynasty. King Kaikobad was the founder of the 13th century Kayanian dynasty. By one account, he was a reclusive holy man, who had to be persuaded to sit on the vacant Aryan throne. By another account, the 18-year-old Kaikobad of Dehli was appointed king by the Turkish emirs. His early reign was marked by cruelty and depravity, and he was murdered and replaced by his son.


Where is yesterday’s rose?

The theme of the quatrain is the impermanence of all things – roses, power, and life itself. Many poets have writen about life’s significance and impermanence including Percy Bysshe Shelley in his well known poem, Ozymandias.

“I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”


What was that about?


Omar Khayyam speaks:
Myself, when young did eagerly frequent lawyer and saint, and heard argument about the value of this or the worth of that: but evermore came out by the same door as I went in, wondering what in heaven and on earth was that about.


Pendant moi jeunesse, je fréquente anxieusement les avocats et les saints, et entendu des arguments sur la mérite de cette et la valeur de cela: mais toujours, je suis sorti de la même porte que je suis entré, me demandé ce que c’était sur le ciel et sur la terre.


Für mich, als jung war ich eifrig häufiger Anwalt und Heiliger war, und hörte Argumentation über dies und das, aber immer mehr von der gleichen Tür kam als ich ging und fragte, was im Himmel und auf der Erde, hat man gesagt.


Quatrain 8, at Naishapur or Babylon



Sweet or bitter runs the cup

Sweet or bitter runs the cup, as we stop to take a sip. From the lips the wine of life oozes drop by drop, and all about the leaves of life fall one by one, until my friend we’re done.

Whether at Naishapur or Babylon,
Whether the Cup, sweet or bitter runs,
The Wine of Life oozes drop by drop,
The Leaves of Life fall one by one.

French translation

Si à Naishapur ou en Babylone,
Si la coupe douces ou amères court
Le vin de la vie goutte à goutte grimpe
Les feuilles de vie un par un tombent

German translation

Ob bei Naishapur oder Babylon
Ob der Cup süß oder bitter läuft,
Der Wein des Lebens Tropfen für Tropfen sickert,
Die Blätter des Lebens fallen Stück für Stück

Spanish translation

Ya sea en el Naishapur o Babilonia,
Si la copa dulce o amargo está
El vino de la vida gota a gota rezuma
Las hojas de vida uno por uno cayendo

Explanation of Quatrain 8

Babylon is a well known Biblical reference to the Tower of Babylon requiring no explanation. Naishapur is its Persian equivalent, a rich city on the Silk Road to China, repeatedly destroyed by invasion and earthquake. It is uncoincidentally, the birthplace and burial place of Omar Khayyam.

I made a few changes to Fitzgerald wording, changing the verb tense in the line 2 to the singular form, and in the last two lines of the quatrain, not keeping the helping verb “keep”.

In the French, German, and Spanish versions the translation of “whether” can be questioned. The rhyme is mostly lost, replaced with alliteration.


Life as a cup of wine

Our days may be sweet or bitter, they pass one by one, and so too, humankind dies one by one.


approach to Naishapur, from the book, painting by I. R. Herbert

Quatrain 7, Come fill a cup


Come fill your cup, and in the fire of spring

Come fill a Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-cloak of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has little time to sing
To flutter – and once again is on the Wing.

French translation

Viens remplir une coupe, et au feu du printemps
Votre manteau de douleur jeter:
L’oiseau du temps a peu de temps pour chanter
Pour flotter – et encore une fois sur l’aile.

German translation

Kommst! Auffüllen Sie ein weinglas, und im Feuer des Frühlings
Dein Wintermantel der Bedauern wegschmeißen:
Der Vogel der Zeit hat wenig Zeit zum Singen
Zu flattern – und noch einmal fliegt weg

Spanish translation

Ven a llenar una copa, y en el fuego de la primavera
Su Invierno-capa del arrepentimiento tirar a la basura:
Ay, el pájaro del tiempo, pero un poco de tiempo canta
Para volar – y una vez más está en sus alas.

Notes. Ah, a quatrain that is straight forward – Time is fleeting as the sparrow.

A few minor changes to Fitzgerald’s language include: delete the first comma in the first line, substitute “cloak” for “garment” in the second line, in the third line add “sing” to complete the rhyme, and in the fourth line, add “once again” to refer to the cycle of life.

I would have switched to grief or regret for repentance, but give the author a break.

In the French translation, the “winter” coat is implied for sake of brevity. Sadness sounds so much better than repentance.

In the German version, “Kommst!” is a familiar command. Wegschmeißen is a mouthful, but it contains “weg” which repeats as the last word of the quatrain.

What do you think of the Spanish?

Really now, sometimes I feel like the little red hen who found some seeds of wheat on the ground and had an idea. She would find some help and plant them. Not me, said the cat, the dog, and the goose; and the little red hen did it herself, but when it was time to eat the cake made from the wheat, everyone wished to join in.