Glossary entry for
Khayyam, Omar

Omar Khayyam was a twelfth-century mathematician, astronomer and teacher from Nishapur in Persia. He was also a poet, the author of numerous rhymed quatrains or four line poems, a verse form called in Persian "rubai". These four-lines epigrams were brought together in collections called Rubaiyat.

Over 700 years later, in 1857, one such Omar manuscript came into the hands of Edward FitzGerald, who made from it one of the most popular poems in the English language. Experts have argued at great length whether FitzGerald's adaptation of Omar's poem is a faithful translation, but no one argues its beauty.

The themes are earthy, yet infused with speculations on man's spiritual destiny. Perhaps the strong feeling of "Carpe Diem" or "seize the day"-motifs explains Van Morrison's attraction to these poems. After all he writes elsewhere:

These are the days now that we must savour
And we must enjoy as we can
These are the days that will last forever
You've got to hold them in your heart

This echoes some of the sentiments in The Rubaiyat, as in these stanzas:

AWAKE! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan's Turret in a Noose of Light.

Dreaming when Dawn's Left Hand was in the Sky
I heard a voice within the Tavern cry,
"Awake, my Little ones, and fill the Cup
Before Life's Liquor in its Cup be dry."

And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The Tavern shouted -- "Open then the Door!
You know how little while we have to stay,
And, once departed, may return no more."

Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly -- and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.

Contributed by Bent Sorensen

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