Glossary entry for
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
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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