Sunday, May 10, 2015

Book: The Ruba'iyat of Omar Khayyam (Penguin Classics)

"There was a water-drop, it joined the sea.
A speck of dust, it fused with the earth;
What of your entering and leaving this world?
A fly appeared, and disappeared."

The Ruba'iyat was written by the multi-faceted Persian genius, Omar Khayyam, who died way back when in the year 1131. The poetry is deep and wise, touching on eternal truths about knowledge and existence, and living in the present moment. It's all there, captured in tight little verses. There's also a heavy emphasis on drinking wine and finding joy in drunkeness, which adds a bit of lightness to the mix.

I read the the Penguin Classics translation of the Rubai'yat, which tries to be as close to the original as possible. As is typical with many classics, the scholarly introduction takes up almost half of the book and is best skipped and perhaps returned to at the end, if the fancy takes.



He began my creation with constraint,
By giving me life he added only confusion;
We depart reluctantly still not knowing
The aim of birth, existence, departure.

Neither you nor I know the mysteries of eternity,
Neither you nor I read this enigma;
You and I only talk this side of the veil;
When the veil falls, neither you nor I will be here.

This ocean of being has come from the Obscure,
No one has pierced this jewel of reality;
Each has spoken according to his humour,
No one can define the face of things.

Oh heart, since the world's reality is an illusion
How long will you complain about this torment?
Resign your body to fate and put up with pain,
Because what the Pen has written for you it will not unwrite.

There was a water-drop, it joined the sea.
A speck of dust, it fused with the earth;
What of your entering and leaving this world?
A fly appeared, and disappeared.

...For a time we acted on this stage,
We went back one by one into the box of oblivion.

Nobody, heart, has seen heaven or hell,
Tell me, dear who has returned from there?
Our hopes and fears are on something of which,
My dear, there is no indication but the name.

I need a jug of wine and a book of poetry,
Half a loaf for a bite to ear,
Then you and I, seated in a deserted spot,
Will have more wealth than a Sultan's realm.

...Take comfort, in the place of being and decay
We are creatures of a single moment - also nothing.

You have seen the world and all you saw was nothing,
All you have said and heard, that too was nothing:
Running from pole to pole, there was nothing,
And when you lurked at home, there was also nothing.

...Be happy and do not talk of yesterday, today is good.

...If the heart is awake, do not waste this moment -
There is no proof of life's continuance.

The more I look at the world's condition,
To be convivial is the answer, the rest is nothing.

Anybody who in this world has half a load
And a home in which to live
Is no man's master and no man's slave.

I have meditated for seventy-two years night and day,
To learn that nothing has been learned at all.

The beginning of the matter was not arranged with you in mind.

How long boy will you chatter about the five sense and the four elements?
What matter if the puzzles be one or a hundred thousand?
We are dust, strum the harp boy.
We are air, boy, bring the wine.

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