Oh Come With Old Khayyam

My new 375 gram tent, the Siligloo:

Oh, come with old Khayyám, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies…

Khayyam too was a tentmaker from Naishapur Iran in the C12th. I doubt he made a tent like the one above however, but I am proud to follow in his footsteps still. I have sewn all the Xenon Sil panels together and it weighs 377 grams. I doubt it will weigh any more than that when complete, as though I have still to sew the two edges together to make a circle, add two reinforcing patches to the top and add a lot of tie-outs, I also have to cut off the catenary curves along the bottom. Then, when erected it will make an igloo shaped tipi around 9′ wide, and with standing room in the centre for folks of our stature anyway. This is the nearly completed version of my ‘Honey I Shrank’ tent  http://www.theultralighthiker.com/honey-i-shrank-the-tent/ which cries out for a name really. Della has rejected ‘Siligloo’. Perhaps you can come up with a better?

My Pocket Poncho tent http://www.theultralighthiker.com/the-pocket-poncho-tent/ will make an adequate floor for it (at 185 grams). To that I will have to add about a dozen shepherd’s crook titanium stakes and a couple of guys with line locks, say 75 grams together, making the vast quantity of 635 grams in toto. There is nothing quite like it anywhere. I simply do not know what today’s tentmakers are doing, any more than Khayyam would have done.

Perhaps (sadly) you do not know Khayyam or this magnificent poem (ie ‘The Rubaiyat’) at all? My favourite really. The ‘Bible of Scepticism’ folks used to call it, but there is nothing at all wrong with scepticism (the converse is the case).

He goes on:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it…

And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’t we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to It for help—for It
Rolls impotently on as Thou or I….

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.

You like that taste, I hope? Here is the complete first 1859 edition of Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat, (in my opinion the best – footnotes at bottom). Enjoy:

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Translated into English in 1859 by Edward FitzGerald

[page 1]



AWAKE! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:{1}
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultán’s Turret in a Noose of Light.

Dreaming when Dawn’s Left Hand was in the Sky{2}
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.”

[page 2]

Now the New Year{3} reviving old Desires,
The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
Where the WHITE HAND OF MOSES on the Bough
Puts out,{4} and Jesus from the Ground suspires.

Irám indeed is gone with all its Rose,{5}
And Jamshýd’s Sev’n-ring’d Cup where no one knows;
But still the Vine her ancient Ruby yields,
And still a Garden by the Water blows.

And David’s Lips are lock’t; but in divine
High piping Péhlevi,{6} with “Wine! Wine! Wine!
Red Wine!”—the Nightingale cries to the Rose
That yellow Cheek{7} of her’s to’incarnadine.

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.

And look—a thousand Blossoms with the Day
Woke—and a thousand scatter’d into Clay:
And this first Summer Month that brings the Rose
Shall take Jamshýd and Kaikobád away.

[page 3]

But come with old Khayyám, and leave the Lot
Of Kaikobád and Kaikhosrú forgot:
Let Rustum lay about him as he will,{8}
Or Hátim Tai cry Supper—heed them not.

With me along some Strip of Herbage strown
That just divides the desert from the sown,
Where name of Slave and Sultán scarce is known,
And pity Sultán Mahmúd on his Throne.

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.

“How sweet is mortal Sovranty!”—think some:
Others—”How blest the Paradise to come!”
Ah, take the Cash in hand and wave the Rest;
Oh, the brave Music of a distant Drum!{9}

Look to the Rose that blows about us—”Lo,
“Laughing,” she says, “into the World I blow:
“At once the silken Tassel of my Purse
“Tear, and its Treasure{10} on the Garden throw.”

[page 4]

The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns Ashes—or it prospers; and anon,
Like Snow upon the Desert’s dusty Face
Lighting a little Hour or two—is gone.

And those who husbanded the Golden Grain,
And those who flung it to the Winds like Rain,
Alike to no such aureate Earth are turn’d
As, buried once, Men want dug up again.

Think, in this batter’d Caravanserai
Whose Doorways are alternate Night and Day,
How Sultán after Sultán with his Pomp
Abode his Hour or two, and went his way.

They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
The Courts where Jamshýd gloried and drank deep:{11}
And Bahrám, that great Hunter—the Wild Ass
Stamps o’er his Head, and he lies fast asleep.

I sometimes think that never blows so red
The Rose as where some buried Cæsar bled;
That every Hyacinth the Garden wears
Dropt in its Lap from some once lovely Head.

[page 5]

And this delightful Herb whose tender Green
Fledges the River’s Lip on which we lean—
Ah, lean upon it lightly! for who knows
From what once lovely Lip it springs unseen!

Ah! my Belovéd, fill the Cup that clears
TO-DAY of past Regrets and future Fears—
To-morrow?—Why, To-morrow I may be
Myself with Yesterday’s Sev’n Thousand Years.{12}

Lo! some we loved, the loveliest and the best
That Time and Fate of all their Vintage prest,
Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to Rest.

And we, that now make merry in the Room
They left, and Summer dresses in new Bloom,
Ourselves must we beneath the Couch of Earth
Descend, ourselves to make a Couch—for whom?

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust Descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust, to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer and—sans End!

[page 6]

Alike for those who for TO-DAY prepare,
And those that after a TO-MORROW stare,
A Muezzín from the Tower of Darkness cries
“Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There.”

Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss’d
Of the Two Worlds so learnedly, are thrust
Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
Are scatter’d, and their Mouths are stopt with Dust.

Oh, come with old Khayyám, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same Door as in I went.

With them the Seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with my own hand labour’d it to grow:
And this was all the Harvest that I reap’d—
“I came like Water, and like Wind I go.”

[page 7]

Into this Universe, and why not knowing,
Nor whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing:
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing.

What, without asking, hither hurried whence?
And, without asking, whither hurried hence!
Another and another Cup to drown
The Memory of this Impertinence!

Up from Earth’s Centre through the Seventh Gate
I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate,{13}
And many Knots unravel’d by the Road;
But not the Knot of Human Death and Fate.

There was a Door to which I found no Key:
There was a Veil past which I could not see:
Some little Talk awhile of ME and THEE
There seemed—and then no more of THEE and ME.{15}

Then to the rolling Heav’n itself I cried,
Asking, “What Lamp had Destiny to guide
“Her little Children stumbling in the Dark?”
And—”A blind understanding!” Heav’n replied.

[page 8]

Then to this earthen Bowl did I adjourn
My Lip the secret Well of Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmur’d—”While you live,
“Drink!—for once dead you never shall return.”

I think the Vessel, that with fugitive
Articulation answer’d, once did live,
And merry-make; and the cold Lip I kiss’d
How many Kisses might it take—and give.

For in the Market-place, one Dusk of Day,
I watch’d the Potter thumping his wet Clay:
And with its all obliterated Tongue
It murmur’d—”Gently, Brother, gently, pray!”

Ah, fill the Cup:—what boots it to repeat
How Time is slipping underneath our Feet:
Unborn TO-MORROW and dead YESTERDAY,
Why fret about them if TO-DAY be sweet!

One Moment in Annihilation’s Waste,
One moment, of the Well of Life to taste—
The Stars are setting, and the Caravan
Starts for the dawn of Nothing{16}—Oh, make haste!

[page 9]

How long, how long, in infinite Pursuit
Of This and That endeavour and dispute?
Better be merry with the fruitful Grape
Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.

You know, my Friends, how long since in my House
For a new Marriage I did make Carouse:
Divorced old barren Reason from my Bed,
And took the Daughter of the Vine to Spouse.

For “IS” and “IS-NOT” though with Rule and Line,
And, “UP-AND-DOWN” without, I could define,{14}
I yet in all I only cared to know,
Was never deep in anything but—Wine.

And lately, by the Tavern Door agape,
Came stealing through the Dusk an Angel Shape,
Bearing a vessel on his Shoulder; and
He bid me taste of it; and ’twas—the Grape!

The Grape that can with Logic absolute
The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects{17} confute:
The subtle Alchemist that in a Trice
Life’s leaden Metal into Gold transmute.

[page 10]

The mighty Mahmúd, the victorious Lord,
That all the misbelieving and black Horde{18}
Of Fears and Sorrows that infest the Soul
Scatters and slays with his enchanted Sword.

But leave the Wise to wrangle, and with me
The Quarrel of the Universe let be:
And, in some corner of the Hubbub coucht,
Make Game of that which makes as much of Thee.

For in and out, above, about, below,
‘Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
Play’d in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.{19}

And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
End in the Nothing all Things end in—Yes—
Then fancy while Thou art, Thou art but what
Thou shalt be—Nothing—Thou shalt not be less.

While the Rose blows along the River Brink,
With old Khayyám the Ruby Vintage drink:
And when the Angel with his darker Draught
Draws up to thee—take that, and do not shrink.

[page 11]

‘Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.

The Ball no Question makes of Ayes and Noes,
But Right or Left as strikes the Player goes;
And He that toss’d Thee down into the Field,
He knows about it all—HE knows—HE knows!{20}

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’t we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to It for help—for It
Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.

With Earth’s first Clay They did the Last Man’s knead,
And then of the Last Harvest sow’d the Seed:
Yea, the first Morning of Creation wrote
What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.

[page 12]

I tell Thee this—When, starting from the Goal,
Over the shoulders of the flaming Foal
Of Heav’n Parwín and Mushtara they flung,{21}
In my predestin’d Plot of Dust and Soul

The Vine had struck a Fibre; which about
If clings my Being—let the Súfi flout;
Of my Base Metal may be filed a Key,
That shall unlock the Door he howls without.

And this I know: whether the one True Light,
Kindle to Love, or Wrathconsume me quite,
One Glimpse of It within the Tavern caught
Better than in the Temple lost outright.

Oh Thou who didst with Pitfall and with Gin
Beset the Road I was to wander in,
Thou wilt not with Predestination round
Enmesh me, and impute my Fall to Sin?

Oh Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make,
And who with Eden didst devise the Snake;
For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man
Is blacken’d, Man’s Forgiveness give—and take!
* * * * * * * * *

[page 13]


Listen again. One Evening at the Close
Of Ramazán, ere the better Moon arose,
In that old Potter’s Shop I stood alone
With the clay Population round in Rows.

And strange to tell, among that Earthen Lot
Some could articulate, while others not:
And suddenly one more impatient cried—
“Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?”

Then said another—”Surely not in vain
“My substance from the common Earth was ta’en,
“That He who subtly wrought me into Shape
“Should stamp me back to common Earth again.”

Another said—”Why, ne’er a peevish Boy
“Would break the Bowl from which he drank in Joy;
“Shall He that made the Vessel in pure Love
“And Fansy, in an after Rage destroy!”

[page 14]

None answer’d this; but after Silence spake
A Vessel of a more ungainly Make:
“They sneer at me for leaning all awry;
“What? did the Hand then of the Potter shake?”

Said one—”Folks of a surly Tapster tell,
“And daub his Visage with the Smoke of Hell;
“They talk of some strict Testing of us—Pish!
“He’s a Good Fellow, and ’twill all be well.”

Then said another with a long-drawn Sigh,
“My Clay with long oblivion is gone dry:
“But, fill me with the old familiar Juice,
“Methinks I might recover by-and-bye!”

So, while the Vessels one by one were speaking,
One spied the little Crescent all were seeking:
And then they jogg’d each other, “Brother! Brother!
“Hark to the Porter’s Shoulder-knot a-creaking!”

* * * * * * * * *

[page 15]

Ah, with the Grape my fading Life provide,
And wash my Body whence the life has died,
And in a Windingsheet of Vine-leaf wrapt,
So bury me by some sweet Gardenside.

That ev’n my buried Ashes such a Snare
Of Perfume shall fling up into the Air,
As not a True Believer passing by
But shall be overtaken unaware.

Indeed the Idols I have loved so long
Have done my Credit in Men’s Eye much wrong:
Have drown’d my Honour in a shallow Cup,
And sold my Reputation for a Song.

Indeed, indeed, Repentance oft before
I swore—but was I sober when I swore?
And then and then came Spring, and Rose-in-hand
My thread-bare Penitence a-pieces tore.

And much as Wine has play’d the Infidel,
And robb’d me of my Robe of Honour—well,
I often wonder what the Vintners buy
One half so precious as the Goods they sell.

[page 16]

Alas, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth’s sweet-scented Manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the Branches sang,
Ah, whence, and whither flown again, who knows!

Ah, Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits—and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!

Ah, Moon of my Delight who know’st no wane,
The Moon of Heav’n is rising once again:
How oft hereafter rising shall she look
Through this same Garden after me—in vain!

And when Thyself with shining Foot shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scatter’d on The Grass,
And in Thy joyous Errand reach the Spot
Where I made one—turn down an empty Glass!


[page 17]


{1} Flinging a Stone into the Cup was the Signal for “To
Horse!” in the Desert.
{2} The “False Dawn;Subhi Kházib, a transient Light
on the Horizon about an hour before the Subhi sâdhik, or
True Dawn; a well known Phenomenon in the East. The
Persians call the Morning Gray, or Dusk, “Wolf-and-Sheep-
While.” “Almost at odds with, which is which.”
{3} New Year. Beginning with the Vernal Equinox, it
must be remembered; and (howsoever the old Solar Year is
practically superseded by the clumsy Lunar Year that dates
from the Mohammedan Hijra) still commemorated by a
Festival that is said to have been appointed by the very
Jamshyd whom Omar so often talks of, and whose yearly
Calendar he helped to rectify.
“The sudden approach and rapid advance of the Spring,”
(says a late Traveller in Persia) “are very striking. Before
the Snow is well off the Ground, the Trees burst into Blos-
som, and the Flowers start from the Soil. At Now Rooz
(their New Year’s Day) the Snow was lying in patches on
the Hills and in the shaded Vallies, while the Fruit-trees in
the Garden were budding beautifully, and green Plants and
Flowers springing upon the Plains on every side—
‘And on old Hyem’s Chin and icy Crown
‘An odorous Chaplet of sweet Summer buds
‘Is, as in mockery, set — ‘ —
[page 18]
Among the Plants newly appear’d I recognized some old
Acquaintances I had not seen for many a Year: among these,
two varieties of the Thistle; a coarse species of the Daisy,
like the Horse-gowan; red and white Clover; the Dock; the
blue Corn-flower; and that vulgar Herb the Dandelion rear-
ing its yellow crest on the Banks of the Watercourses.” The
Nightingale was not yet heard, for the Rose was not
yet blown: but an almost identical Blackbird and Wood-
pecker helped to make up something of a North-country
{4} Exodus iv. 6; where Moses draws forth his Hand—not,
according to the Persians, “leprous as Snow,”—but white as
our May-Blossom in Spring perhaps! According to them
also the Healing Power of Jesus resided in his Breath.
{5} Irám, planted by King Schedad, and now sunk some-
where in the Sands of Arabia. Jamshyd’s Seven-ring’d Cup
was typical of the Seven Heavens, 7 Planets, 7 Seas, &c.
and was a Divining Cup.
{6} Péhlevi, the old Heroic Sanskrit of Persia. Háfiz also
speaks of the Nightingale’s Pehlevi, which did not change
with the People’s.
{7} I am not sure if this refers to the Red Rose looking
sickly, or the Yellow Rose that ought to be Red; Red,
White, and Yellow Roses all common in Persia.
{8} Rustum, the “Hercules” of Persia, whose exploits are
among the most celebrated in the Shah-náma. Hátim Tai,
a well-known Type of Oriental Generosity.
{9} A Drum—beaten outside a Palace.
{10} That is, the Rose’s Golden Centre.
[page 19]
{11} Persepolis: call’d also Takht’i Jamshyd—THE THRONE
OF JAMSHYD, “King-Splendid,” of the mythical Peeshdádian
Dynasty, and supposed (with Shah-náma Authority) to
have been founded and built by him, though others refer it
to the Work of the Genie King, Ján Ibn Jann, who also
built the Pyramids before the time of Adam. It is also
called Chehl-minar— Forty-column; which is Persian, pro-
bably, for Column-countless; the Hall they adorned or
supported with their Lotus Base and taurine Capital
indicating double that Number, though now counted down
to less than half by Earthquake and other Inroad. By
whomsoever built, unquestionably the Monument of a long
extinguished Dynasty and Mythology; its Halls, Chambers
and Galleries, inscribed with Arrow-head Characters, and
sculptured with colossal, wing’d, half human Figures like
those of Nimroud; Processions of Priests and Warriors
—(doubtful if any where a Woman)—and Kings sitting on
Thrones or in Chariots, Staff or Lotus-flower in hand, and the
Ferooher—Symbol of Existence—with his wing’d Globe,
common also to Assyria and Ægypt—over their heads. All
this, together with Aqueduct and Cistern, and other Appur-
tenance of a Royal Palace, upon a Terrace-platform, ascended
by a double Flight of Stairs that may be gallop’d up, and
cut out of and into the Rock-side of the Koh’i Ráhmet,
Mountain of Mercy, where the old Fire-worshiping Sove-
reigns are buried, and overlooking the Plain of Merdasht.
Persians, like some other People, it seems, love to
write their own Names, with sometimes a Verse or two, on
their Country’s Monuments. Mr. Binning (from whose
sensible Travels the foregoing Account is mainly condens’t)
[page 20]
found several such in Persepolis; in one Place a fine Line
of Háfiz: in another “an original, no doubt,” he says, “by
no great Poet,” however “right in his Sentiment.” The
Words somehow looked to us, and the “halting metre”
sounded, familiar; and on looking back at last among the
500 Rubáiyát of the Calcutta Omar MS.—there it is: old
Omar quoted by one of his Countrymen, and here turned
into hasty Rhyme, at any rate—

“This Palace that its Top to Heaven threw,
And Kings their Forehead on its Threshold drew—
I saw a Ring-dove sitting there alone.
And ‘Coo, Coo, Coo,’ she cried, and ‘ Coo, Coo, Coo.’ ”

So as it seems the Persian speaks the English Ring-dove’s
Péhlevi, which is also articulate Persian for “Where?”
BAHRÁM GÚR— Bahrám of the Wild Ass, from his Fame
in hunting it— a Sassanian Sovereign, had also his Seven
Castles (like the King of Bohemia!) each of a different Colour;
each with a Royal Mistress within side; each of whom
recounts to Bahrám a Romance, according to one of the
most famous Poems of Persia, written by Amír Khusraw:
these Sevens also figuring (according to Eastern Mysticism)
the Seven Heavens, and perhaps the Book itself that
Eighth, into which the mystical Seven transcend, and
within which they revolve. The Ruins of Three of these
Towers are yet shown by the Peasantry; as also the Swamp
in which Bahrám sunk, like the Master of Ravenswood,
while pursuing his Gúr.
{12} A Thousand Years to each Planet.
{13} Saturn, Lord of the Seventh Heaven.
{14} A Laugh at his Mathematics perhaps.
[page 21]
{15} ME AND THEE; that is, some Dividual Existence or
Personality apart from the Whole.
{16} The Caravan travelling by Night (after their New
Year’s Day of the Vernal Equinox) by command of Mo-
hammed, I believe.
{17} The 72 Sects into which Islamism so soon split.
{18} This alludes to Mahmúd’s Conquest of India and its
swarthy Idolaters.
{19} Fanúsi khiyál, a Magic-lanthorn still used in India;
the cylindrical Interior being painted with various Figures,
and so lightly poised and ventilated as to revolve round the
Candle lighted within.
{20} A very mysterious Line in the original;
U dánad u dánad u dánad u —
breaking off something like our Wood-pigeon’s Note, which
she is said to take up just where she left off.
{21} Parwín and Mushtara—The Pleiads and Jupiter.
{22} At the Close of the Fasting Month, Ramazán (which
makes the Musulman unhealthy and unamiable), the first
Glimpse of the New Moon (who rules their Division of the
Year) is looked for with the utmost Anxiety, and hailed
with all Acclamation. Then it is that the Porter’s Knot
may be heard toward the Cellar, perhaps. Old Omar has
elsewhere a pretty Quatrain about this same Moon—

“Be of Good Cheer—the sullen Month will die,
“And a young Moon requite us by and bye:
“Look how the Old one meagre, bent, and wan
“With Age and Fast, is fainting from the Sky!”


OMAR KHAYYÁM was born at Naishápúr in Khorassán
in the latter half of our Eleventh, and died within the First
Quarter of our Twelfth, Century. The slender Story of his
Life is curiously twined about that of two others very consi-
derable Figures in their Time and Country: one of them,
Hasan al Sabbáh, whose very Name has lengthen’d down to
us a terrible Synonym for Murder: and the other (who
also tells the Story of all Three) Nizám al Mulk, Vizyr to
Alp the Lion and Malik Shah, Son and Grandson of Tog-
hrul Beg the Tartar, who had wrested Persia from the fee-
ble Successor of Mahmúd the Great, and founded that Sel-
jukian Dynasty which finally roused Europe into the Cru-
sades. This Nizám al Mulk, in his Wasýat—or Testament
—which he wrote and left as a Memorial for future States-
men—relates the following, as quoted in the Calcutta Review,
No. 59, from Mirkhond’s History of the Assassins.
[page iv]
” ‘One of the greatest of the wise men of Khorassan was
‘the Imám Mowaffak of Naishápur, a man highly honoured
‘and reverenced,—may God rejoice his soul; his illustrious
‘years exceeded eighty-five, and it was the universal belief
‘that every boy who read the Koran or studied the tradi-
‘tions in his presence, would assuredly attain to honour
‘and happiness. For this cause did my father send me from
‘Tús to Naishápur with Abd-u-samad, the doctor of law,
‘that I might employ myself in study and learning under
‘the guidance of that illustrious teacher. Towards me he
‘ever turned an eye of favour and kindness, and as his pupil
‘I felt for him extreme affection and devotion, so that I
‘passed four years in his service. When I first came there,
‘I found two other pupils of mine own age newly arrived,
‘Hakim Omar Khayyám, and the ill- fated Ben Sabbáh.
‘Both were endowed with sharpness of wit and the highest
‘natural powers; and we three formed a close friendship
‘together. When the Imám rose from his lectures, they
‘used to join me, and we repeated to each other the lessons
‘we had heard. Now Omar was a native of Naishápur,
‘while Hasan Ben Sabbah’s father was one Ali, a man of
‘austere life and practise, but heretical in his creed and
‘doctrine. One day Hasan said to me and to Khayyám, ‘It
‘is a universal belief that the pupils of the Imám Mowaffak
‘will attain to fortune. Now, even if we all do not attain
‘thereto, without doubt one of us will; what then shall be
‘our mutual pledge and bond?’ We answered ‘Be it
‘what you please.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘let us make a vow,
‘that to whomsoever this fortune falls, he shall share it
‘equally with the rest, and reserve no pre-eminence for him-
[page v]
‘self.’ ‘Be it so,’ we both replied, and on those terms we
‘mutually pledged our words. Years rolled on, and I went
‘from Khorassan to Transoxiana, and wandered to Ghazni
‘and Cabul; and when I returned, I was invested with
‘office, and rose to be administrator of affairs during the
‘Sultanate of Sultan Alp Arslan.’ ”
“He goes on to state, that years passed by, and both his
old school- friends found him out, and came and claimed a
share in his good fortune, according to the school-day vow.
The Vizier was generous and kept his word. Hasan de-
manded a place in the government, which the Sultan granted
at the Vizier’s request; but discontented with a gradual
rise, he plunged into the maze of intrigue of an oriental
court, and, failing in a base attempt to supplant his bene-
factor, he was disgraced and fell. After many mishaps and
wanderings, Hasan became the head of the Persian sect of
the Ismailians,—a party of fanatics who had long murmured
in obscurity, but rose to an evil eminence under the guidance
of his strong and evil will. In A.B. 1090, he seized the
castle of Alamút, in the province of Rúdbar, which lies in
the mountainous tract, south of the Caspian Sea; and it was
from this mountain home he obtained that evil celebrity
among the Crusaders as the OLD MAN OF THE MOUN-
TAINS, and spread terror through the Mohammedan world;
and it is yet disputed where the word Assassin, which
they have left in the language of modern Europe as their
dark memorial, is derived from the hashish, or opiate of
hemp-leaves (the Indian bhang,) with which they maddened
themselves to the sullen pitch of oriental desperation, or from
the name of the founder of the dynasty, whom we have seen
[page vi]
in his quiet collegiate days, at Naishápur. One of the count-
less victims of the Assassin’s dagger was Nizám-ul-Mulk
himself, the old school-boy friend.”
“Omar Khayyám also came to the Vizier to claim his
share; but not to ask for title or office. ‘The greatest boon
‘you can confer on me,’ he said, ‘is to let me live in a
‘corner under the shadow of your fortune, to spread wide
‘the advantages of Science, and pray for your long life and
‘prosperity.’ The Vizier tells us, that, when he found
Omar was really sincere in his refusal, he pressed him no
further, but granted him a yearly pension of 1,200 mithkals
of gold, from the treasury of Naishápur.”
“At Naishápur thus lived and died Omar Khayyám,
‘busied,’ adds the Vizier, ‘in winning knowledge of every
‘kind, and especially in Astronomy, wherein he attained to a
‘very high pre-eminence. Under the Sultanate of Malik
‘Shah, he came to Merv, and obtained great praise for his
‘proficiency in science, and the Sultan showered favours
‘upon him.’ ”
“When the Malik Shah determined to reform the calendar,
Omar was one of the eight learned men employed to do it;
the result was the Jaláli era, (so called from Jalal-ul-din,
one of the king’s names,)—’a computation of time,’ says
Gibbon, ‘which surpasses the Julian, and approaches the
accuracy of the Gregorian style.’ He is also the author
of some astronomical tables, entitled Ziji-Malikshahi,” and
the French have lately republished and translated an Arabic
Treatise of his on Algebra.
These severer Studies, and his Verses, which, though hap-
pily fewer than any Persian Poet’s, and, though perhaps
[page vii]
fugitively composed, the Result of no fugitive Emotion or
Thought, are probably the Work and Event of his Life,
leaving little else to record. Perhaps he liked a little Farm-
ing too, so often as he speaks of the “Edge of the Tilth”
on which he loved to rest with his Diwán of Verse, his Loaf
—and his wine.
“His Takhallus or poetical name (Khayyám) signifies a
Tent-maker, and he is said to have at one time exercised
that trade, perhaps before Nizám-ul-Mulk’s generosity raised
him to independence. Many Persian poets similarly derive
their names from their occupations; thus we have Attár, “a
druggist,” Assar, “an oil presser,” &c. (Though all these,
like our Smiths, Archers, Millers, Fletchers, &c. may simply
retain the Sirname of an hereditary calling.) “Omar him-
self alludes to his name in the following whimsical lines:—

‘Khayyám, who stitched the tents of science,
has fallen in grief’s furnace and been suddenly burned;
The shears of Fate have cut the tent ropes of his life,
And the broker of Hope has sold him for nothing!’

“We have only one more anecdote to give of his Life, and
that relates to the close; it is told in the anonymous preface
which is sometimes prefixed to his poems; it has been printed
in the Persian in the appendix to Hyde’s Veterum Persarum
Religio, p. 499; and D’Herbelot alludes to it in his Biblio-
théque, under Khiam:— *

* Though he attributes the story to a Khiam, “Philosophe Musulman
qui a vecu en Odeur de Sainteté dans la Fin du premier et le Commence-
ment du second Siècle,” no part of which, except the “Philosophe,” can
apply to our Khayyám, who, however, may claim the story as his, on the
[footnote continues on p. viii, bottom:]
Score of Rubáiyát, 77 and 78 of the present Version. The Rashness
of the Words, according to D’Herbelot, consisted in being so op-
posed to those in the Koran: “No Man knows where he shall
[page viii]
‘It is written in the chronicles of the ancients that this
‘King of the Wise, Omar Khayyám, died at Naishápur in
‘the year of the Hegira, 517 (A.D. 1123); in science he was
‘unrivaled,—the very paragon of his age. Khwájah Nizámi
‘of Samarcand, who was one of his pupils, relates the follow-
‘ing story: ‘I often used to hold conversations with my
‘teacher, Omar Khayyám, in a garden; and one day he said
‘to me, ‘my tomb shall be in a spot, where the north wind
‘may scatter roses over it.’ I wondered at the words he
‘spake, but I knew that his were no idle words. Years after,
‘when I chanced to revisit Naishápur, I went to his final
‘resting-place, and lo! it was just outside a garden, and trees
‘laden with fruit stretched their boughs over the garden
‘wall, and dropped their flowers upon his tomb, so that the
‘stone was hidden under them.’ ”
Thus far—without fear of Trespass—from the Calcutta
Though the Sultan “shower’d Favours upon him,” Omar’s
Epicurean Audacity of Thought and Speech caused him to
be regarded askance in his own Time and Country. He is
said to have been especially hated and dreaded by the Súfis,
whose Practise he ridiculed, and whose Faith amounts to
little more than his own when stript of the Mysticism aud
formal Compliment to Islamism which Omar would not
hide under. Their Poets, including Hafiz, who are (with
[page ix]
the exception of Firdúsi) the most considerable in Persia,
borrowed largely, indeed, of Omar’s material, but turning
it to a mystical Use more convenient to Themselves
and the People they address’d; a People quite as quick
of Doubt as of Belief; quite as keen of Bodily Senses as
of the Intellectual; and delighting in a cloudy Element com-
pounded of all, in which they could float luxuriously between
Heaven and Earth, and this World and the Next, on the wings
of a poetical expression, that could be recited indifferently
whether at the Mosque or the Tavern. Omar was too honest
of Heart as well of Head for this. Having failed
(however mistakenly) of finding any Providence but Destiny,
and any World but This, he set about making the most of it;
preferring rather to soothe the Soul through the Senses into
Acquiescence with Things as they were, than to perplex it
with vain mortification after what they might be. It has
been seen that his Worldly Desires, however, were not exor-
bitant; and he very likely takes a humorous pleasure in
exaggerating them above that Intellect in whose exercise he
must have found great pleasure, though not in a Theological
direction. However this may be, his Worldly Pleasures are
what they profess to be without any Pretence at divine Alle-
gory: his Wine is the veritable Juice of the Grape: his
Tavern, where it was to be had: his Sáki, the Flesh and
Blood that poured it out for him: all which, and where the
Roses were in Bloom, was all he profess’d to want of this
World or to expect of Paradise.
The Mathematic Faculty, too, which regulated his Fansy,
and condensed his Verse to a Quality and Quantity un-
known in Persian, perhaps in Oriental, Poetry, help’d
[page x]
by its very virtue perhaps to render him less popular with
his countrymen. If the Greeks were Children in Gossip,
what does Persian Literature imply by a Second Childishness
of Garrulity? And certainly if no ungeometric Greek was
to enter Plato’s School of Philosophy, no so unchastised a
Persian should enter on the Race of Persian Verse, with its
“fatal Facility” of running on long after Thought is winded!
But Omar was not only the single Mathematician of his
Country’s Poets; he was also of that older Time and stouter
Temper, before the native Soul of Persia was quite broke by
a foreign Creed as well as foreign Conquest. Like his great
Predecessor Firdúsi, who was as little of a Mystic; who
scorned to use even a Word of the very language in which the
New Faith came clothed; and who was suspected, not of
Omar’s Irreligion indeed, but of secretly clinging to the
ancient Fire-Religion of Zerdusht, of which so many of the
Kings he sang were worshippers.
For whatever Reason, however, Omar, as before said, has
never been popular in his own Country, and therefore has
been but scantily transmitted abroad. The MSS. of his
Poems, mutilated beyond the average Casualties of Oriental
Transcription, are so rare in the East as scarce to have
reacht Westward at all, in spite of all that Arms and Science
have brought us. There is none at the India House, none
at the Bibliothêque Imperiále of Paris. We know but of one
in England: No. 140 of the Ouseley MSS. at the Bodleian,
written at Shiraz, A.D. 1460. This contains but 158 Ra-
báiyát. One in the Asiatic Society’s Library at Calcutta,
(of which we have a Copy) contains (and yet incomplete)
516, though swelled to that by all kinds of Repetition and
[page xi]
Corruption. So Von Hammer speaks of his Copy as contain-
ing about 200, while Dr. Sprenger catalogues the Lucknow
MS. at double that Number. The Scribes, too, of the Oxford
and Calcutta MSS. seem to do their Work under a sort of
Protest; each beginning with a Tetrastich (whether genuine
or not) taken out of its alphabetic order; the Oxford with
one of Apology; the Calcutta with one of Execration too
stupid for Omar’s, even had Omar been stupid enough to
execrate himself. *
The Reviewer, to whom I owe the foregoing Particulars of
Omar’s Life, and some of his Verse into Prose, concludes
by comparing him with Lucretius, both in natural Temper and
Genius, and as acted upon by the Circumstances in which he
lived. Both indeed were men of subtle Intellect and high Imagi-
nation, instructed in Learning beyond their day, and of Hearts
passionate for Truth and Justice; who justly revolted from
their Country’s false Religion, and false, or foolish, Devotion
to it; but who yet fell short of replacing what they subverted
by any such better Hope as others, with no better Faith
had dawned, had yet made a Law to themselves. Lucretius,
indeed, with such material as Epicurus furnished, consoled
himself with the construction of a Machine that needed no
Constructor, and acting by a Law that implied no Lawgiver;
and so composing himself into a Stoical rather than Epicu-
rean severity of Attitude, sat down to contemplate the me-
chanical Drama of the Universe of which he was part Actor;

* “Since this Paper was written” (adds the Reviewer in a note), “we
have met with a Copy of a very rare Edition, printed at Calcutta in 1836.
This contains 438 Tetrastichs, with an Appendix containing 54 others
not found in some MSS.”
[page xii]
himself and all about him, (as in his own sublime Description
of the Roman Theater,) coloured with the lurid reflex of the
Curtain that was suspended between them and the outer
Sun. Omar, more desperate, or more careless, of any such
laborious System as resulted in nothing more than hopeless
Necessity, flung his own Genius and Learning with a bitter
jest into the general Ruin which their insufficient glimpses
only served to reveal; and, yielding his Senses to the actual
Rose and Vine, only diverted his thoughts by balancing ideal
possibilities of Fate, Freewill, Existence and Annihilation;
with an oscillation that so generally inclined to the negative
and lower side, as to make such Stanzas as the following ex-
ceptions to his general Philosophy—

Oh, if my Soul can fling his Dust aside,
And naked on the Air of Heaven ride,
It’s not a Shame, it’s not a Shame for Him
So long in this Clay Suburb to abide!

Or is that but a Tent, where rests anon
A Sultán to his Kingdom passing on,
And which the swarthy Chamberlain shall strike
Then when the Sultán rises to be gone?

With regard to the present Translation. The original
Rubáiyát (as, missing an Arabic Guttural, these Tetrastichs
are more musically called), are independent Stanzas, con-
sisting each of four Lines of equal, though varied, Prosody.
sometimes all rhyming, but oftener (as here attampted)
the third line suspending the Cadence by which the last
atones with the former Two. Something as in the Greek
Alcaic, where the third line seems to lift and suspend the
[page xiii]
Wave that falls over in the last. As usual with such kind of
Oriental Verse, the Rubáiyát follow one another according
to Alphabetic Rhyme—a strange Farrago of Grave and Gay.
Those here selected are strung into something of an Eclogue,
with perhaps a less than equal proportion of the “Drink and
make-merry,” which (genuine or not) recurs over-frequently
in the Original. For Lucretian as Omar’s Genius might be,
he cross’d that darker Mood with much of Oliver de Basselin
Humour. Any way, the Result is sad enough: saddest per-
haps when most ostentatiously merry: any way, fitter to
move Sorrow than Anger toward the old Tentmaker, who,
after vainly endeavoring to unshackle his Steps from Des-
tiny, and to catch some authentic Glimpse of TO-MORROW,
fell back upon TO-DAY (which has outlasted so many To-
morrows!) as the only Ground he had got to stand upon, how-
ever momentarily slipping from under his Feet.




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2 thoughts on “Oh Come With Old Khayyam”

  1. Hello just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know a few of the
    pictures aren’t loading correctly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue.
    I’ve tried it in two different browsers and both show the same results.

    1. Thanks Juliane for letting me know. They are opening for me. Perhaps it happened in the middle of a major update so the problem is cured now. If you could be a bit more specific and if the problem persists please get back to me. Cheers, Steve.

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