18 – The Lion and the Lizard

omar khyyam rubyiat stanzas 17 and 18

The Lion and Lizard do keep
In Courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep:
And Bahram, great hunter – the Wild Ass
Stamps above his Head, but cannot break his Sleep


Original (Edward FitzGerald‘s translation, 1859

They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
The Courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep:
And Bahram, that great Hunter–the Wild Ass
Stamps o’er his Head, but cannot break his Sleep

French translation

Le lion et le lézard gardent
Dans les cours où Jamshyd a glorifié et a bu profond:
Et Bahram, grand chasseur – l’âne sauvage
Timbres au-dessus sa tête, mais ne peut pas déranger son sommeil

German translation

Der Löwe und die Eidechse behalten
In Palästen, wo Jamshyd glorifizierte und tief trank:
Und Bahram, großer Jäger – der Wilde Esel
Stempelt seine Füße über seinen Kopf, aber seinen Schlaf nicht brechen kann



Jamshyd, legendary king (shah) of the earliest dynasty ruling ancient Persia, residing in his court at Persepolis, is said to have inspired the arts of civilization.  Because of his arrogance he was deposed.

Bahram Gur is another legendary figure and lived much later, the fifteenth shah of the Sasanian Empire, ruling from 420 to 438, whose nickname “Gur” means “wild ass”. Legend says that Bahram gained the throne after withstanding a trial involving two lions. Bahram suggested to the nobles that the royal crown and attire be placed between two lions. The one who retrieved them by killing the lions then recognized as the shah. Bahram was victorius. Fitzgerald in a footnote to these lines says that Bahram sank in a swamp and died while pursuing his gur (wild ass).

Lion and lizard symbolize the opposing qualities of strength and deception, or courage and trickery.

Jamshyd, long gone, slumbers on and cannot be brought back to life.

omar khyyam rubyiat stanzas 17 and 18
Two lions

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.

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.

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.”


Quatrain 5, Iram is gone as its rose

The Hand of God

“See how the Hand of God dealt with the people of Ad and the city of Iram, with its lofty pillars, the like of which did not exist in all the land.” From the Koran, Surah (Chapter and verse) 89.6 – 89.8:


Quatrain 5,

En fait, Iram est parti comme la Rose
Et la coupe Sev’n-ring’ de Jamshyd, où personne ne le sait;
Mais encore le Ruby deviens sur la Vigne,
Et beaucoup d’un jardin par l’eau souffle.


Sicher, Iram ist als den Rose weg
Und Jamshyd des Sev’n-ring’d Tasse Wo niemand weiß;
Aber immer noch die Ruby auf der Weinstock werden,
Und viele ein Garten am Wasser weht.


Iram indeed is gone with all his Rose,
And Jamshyd’s Sev’n-ring’d Cup where no one knows;
But still a Ruby kindles in the Vine,
And many a Garden by the Water blows.

Explanation of the quatrain

I have made slight changes to FitzGerald’s English verse.

Like the ancient Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Iram with its “lofty pillars” (Surah 89.7 of the Qur’an) was a wealthy city in the Arabian peninsula adorned with fruit trees and  and flowers, destroyed by God for its wickedness and lost in the desert sands.


King Jamshid, from a tile in the British Museum

The mythical King Jamshyd reigned over a Golden Age in Persia, during which pain and suffering did not exist. He is credited with many wondrous inventions and discoveries including the cultivation of the grape and making of wine. His seven ring cup enabled one to see the seven corners of the glove and divine the future. Like the Cup of the Holy Grail, Jamshyd’s cup is lost, a reminder that all things perish.