Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Selections from the Rubaiyat
Omar Khayyam was one of the finest poets of any age. I used to console myself with the thought that things could always be worse, and if they couldn't, then they could only get better. I used to believe with that to all things there is a reason and a season. But perhaps those were just illusions, and maybe Khayyam was right about everything. It sure feels that way sometimes. Here are what I think are the most resonant stanzas from his Rubaiyat:

Heaven’s wheel gained nothing from my coming
Nor did my going augment its dignity
Nor did my ears hear from anyone
Why I had to come and why I went

If my coming here were my will, I would not have come,
Also, if my departure were my will, how should I go?
Nothing could be better in this ruined lodging,
Than not to have come, not to be, not to go

Since all a man gets in this place of two doors
Is only a heart of sorrow and the giving up of life,
He who never lived a moment is happy
That man is at peace whose mother never bore him

As the stars have no increase but sorrow,
They restore nothing without taking away again;
If the unborn could know what we
Suffer from the universe, they would not come at all

Since all that is leaves us empty-handed
The only return from all that is, loss and ruin,
See what I’ve got from the world, nothing;
The fruit of my life’s work? Nothing:
I am the light of the party, but when I sit down, I am nothing

Suffering ennobles a man,
Enduring the oyster-shell’s prison makes a pearl of a water-drop
How long will you live, or run after Being or Non-Being?
A life so dogged by sorrow
Is best spent in sleep or drunkenness

My back is bent by time
All my affairs go awry
In this hole and corner of transience long you will seek
This borrowed moment, and never find it

Nobody has mastered the wheel of the universe
Life is never glutted feeding on men
You boast it has not eaten you
Don’t speak too soon, it’s early yet, it will

The skies’ vault brings flower out of the earth
Only to crush them and consign them to earth again;
If the clouds took up dust as they do water,
They would rain till Doomsday the blood of those who loved

I am not free one single day from bondage to the world
Get not one breath of joy from all my existence;
I have served a long apprenticeship to Time
Since in this halting-place there is no justice
And there will be nothing but empty air in the hand, I’m off!

Since a man’s gain in this salt marsh
Is nothing but misery till life’s uprooting
He who leaves this world soon is happy of heart
And he who never entered it at peace

Were I to find fruit on the branch of hope
I’d find the end of my life’s thread there
How much longer must I be in existence’s narrow straits?
If only I could find the door to oblivion.

I never would have come, had I been asked,
I would as life go, if I were asked,
And, to be short, I would annihilate
All coming, being, going, were I asked!