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Published in 1859, the same year as Darwin's Origin of Species, the Rubaiyat, in addition to being great poetry,  is a key signpost on the road to the abandonment of God by Western Civilization.  After meager initial sales, the poems were passed around by such figures as Richard Burton, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Robert Browning, William Morris & Swinburne and the praise from these men lead to it's becoming a bestseller.

FitzGerald, was born on March 31, 1809 in Suffolk.   He married unhappily  and escaped from his marriage by devoting himself to translating Omar Kayyam's poetry.  Kayyam was a Persian mathematician and astronomer, born in Persia on May 18, 1048.  The rubaiyat are sort of like haiku in that they were not really the product of poets, they were mostly written by Persian intellectuals..  They are two line stanzas, split in two again.  The first, second and last lines rhyme; the third is unrhymed. FitzGerald was captivated by Kayyam's work, but in translating them, he made them very much his own, rather than slavishly reproducing them word for word:


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


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


                       89   Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
                        90   Before we too into the Dust descend;
                        91       Dust into Dust, and under Dust, to lie,
                        92   Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and--sans End!


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


                        133 Then to this earthen Bowl did I adjourn
                        134 My Lip the secret Well of Life to learn:
                        135     And Lip to Lip it murmur'd--"While you live
                        136 Drink!--for once dead you never shall return."


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


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


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


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

These resulting poems reflect the atheism of the two men and are pretty much nihilist, existential and decadent. But they struck an immediate chord with the dissipated intellectuals of FitzGerald's time and have naturally retained their appeal in our Godless age.  Moreover, as A.S. Byatt writes, "FitzGerald's verse is insidiously memorable.  It sings in the mind, controlled by its steady rapid rhythm and its strong, emphatic, reiterated rhyme, which in turn is made mysteriously open by the one unrhymed line in each verse."  The end product is some of the most memorable poetry of all time.  And the final one reproduced above, "The Moving Finger writes", is one of the most quoted poems in the English language.

This is a work worth knowing, both for its beauty and because of the influence of the malignant message it conveys, which sadly has become the ethos of the age--Carpe Diem!


Grade: (C)


See also:

Book-related and General Links:
    -Selected Poetry of Edward FitzGerald (1809-1883)(includes the Rubaiyat)
    -Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by Edward Fitzgerald  (Richard Brodie)

Epitaphs to Remember : Remarkable Inscriptions from New England Gravestones (1962)(Janet Greene, Thomas C. Mann, George Daly (Illustrator), Castle Freeman (Designer) )

One of the most disconcerting experiences we New Hampshire residents face is to be walking along a densely wooded trail and come upon a dilapidated stone wall or a crumbling cemetery.  You really get an appreciation for the accomplishment of our farming ancestors when you see the restored wilderness where their old homesteads and farms were and how thick was the woodland that they had to clear.  And you can't help but be struck by the fact that their epic efforts lie forgotten, as do they.  But they aren't totally forgotten, it is not an uncommon hobby up here to go around collecting epitaphs and sketchings from the old graveyards and this book consists of a selection of memorable epitaphs from some 200 cemeteries in six New England states.  They range from the humorous to the poignant, from simple to eloquent.  They testify to changing attitudes towards death and evolving causes of death and, in so doing, provide a unique and interesting cultural history of the Northeast.

Many of the earliest were basically admonitions to the living on the inevitability of death, like this popular paraphrase of the epitaph of Edward the Black Prince:

                            Josiah Lyndon
                            Died Augt 8  1709

                            Behovld and See
                            For as I am Soe shalt Thov Bee
                            Bvt as Thov Art
                            Soe Once Was I
                            Bee Svre Of This
                            That Thov Mvst Dye.


                            Jonathan Kilborn
                            Died Oct. 14, 1785  AEt. 79

                            He was a man of invention great
                            Above all that lived nigh
                            But he could not invent to live
                            When God called him to die.

Later they seem more intended to vindicate the life memorialized:

                            William Pelsue
                            Died Aug. 2, 1851, aged 42 yrs.

                            He was killed at Bellows Falls, Vt.,
                            While raising a bridge across
                            The Connecticut River.


                            I began the preserving
                            of cow's milk with white
                            sugar for the use of steamers
                            crossing the Atlantic Ocean.


                           Justin Morgan
                            1747  1798

                            This man brought to
                            Vermont the colt from
                            which all Morgan Horses
                                are descended.

Some seem almost cruel:

                            Molly tho' pleasant in her day
                            Was suddenly seized and went away
                            How soon she's ripe, how soon she's rotten
                            Laid in her grave and soon forgotten.


                             Here lies our darling baby boy
                            He never crys nor hollers.
                            He lived for one and twenty days
                            And cost us forty dollars

Others pique our curiosity:

                            In Memory of
                            Mr. Nath. Parks,
                            AEt 19, who on
                            21st March 1794
                            Being out a hunt-
                            ing and conceal'd
                            in a Ditch was
                            casually shot by
                            Mr. Luther

 or this from a Guilford, VT farmer's 1877 tombstone:

                             The first man in this country
                            to promulgate the idea of
                            female medical schools.

and, of course, some are merely humorous:

                            O fatal gun, why was it he
                            That you should kill so dead?
                            Why didn't you go off just a little high
                            And fire above his head.

All in all, they make for a morbidly entertaining glimpse of death and dying American-style.


    -Inscriptions from Vermont Gravestones
    -tombstone epitaphs Online Memorials, Epitaphs and Obituaries
    -Favorite Epitaphs
    -The Epitaph Browser
    -Websters Death Dying and Grief Guide
    -Actual Epitaphs
    -Last Words: a collection of Famous Last Words, Epitaphs, etc.
    -Life in the Stones: Gravestones of Geauga county, Ohio, 1800-1825
    -Immortality Now! DEATH: THE FINAL FRONTIER
    - Death Clock: The Internet's friendly reminder that life is slipping away...
    -Find a Grave: Where everybody who was anybody is buried…