Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain III

Quatrain III, from the First Version:

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."

FitzGerald was obviously satisfied with this quatrain, or at least he couldn't come up with a version he liked better, for this one remained unrevised throughout all five versions.

I think the most interesting point to be made is the shift of the speaker from inside the Tavern/Temple to outside. Whereas in Quatrain II, the speaker was inside exhorting those outside to come, here we see the speaker to be among those waiting outside and demanding to be let in. The speakers, however, in both quatrains, inside and outside, concentrate on the issue of time passing.

There appears to be a difference of opinion as to why the worshipers remain outside. Those inside wonder at the delay of those outside, but those outside argue that the door is closed. It's almost as if something appears to be blocking the entrance, but that the inside speaker does not see it. Perhaps a later quatrain will explain.

The speaker in QIII also added further reason for hurry:

"You know how little while we have to stay,
And, once departed, may return no more."

Life is short and there's no second chance. This appears to be an expression of the philosophy of carpe diem, or "seize the day, sometimes expressed as "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die."

One of my favorite examples is found in Andrew Marvel's "To His Coy Mistress," when the speaker tells his coy mistress that she deserves a long courtship--

But at my back I always hear
Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song:

The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

A bit of trivia: Peter Beagle wrote a fine short story about two ghosts who fall in love in a graveyard; the title is, of course, "A Fine and Private Place."

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