Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain IV

Now the New Year reviving old Desires,
The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
Where the White Hand of Moses on the Bough
Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires.

This was the version as it appeared in the first edition, and FitzGerald kept it the same throughout the following four editions.

Quatrain IV appears to introduce a shift from the first three quatrains which occur at dawn to a season of the year. In Persia, the New Year begins with the vernal equinox, which we call the first day of spring. The "White Hand of Moses" and "Jesus from Ground" are spring flowers, according to what I've been able to find out. In Exodus iv, 6, Moses' hand is turned white as if leprous and then healed. This would suggest that Moses could perform miracles of healing. It was also believed that even Jesus' breath could cure the sick and ailing.

Spring is the season for rebirth, and those cured of illness or a disability could be said, in some sense, to be reborn. Spring, of course, is the season traditionally associated with renewal, with new beginnings, which could connect it to the previous quatrains which took place in the morning of a new day, which is also considered a time of beginnings. As the quatrain tells us, the New Year or Spring is the time for "reviving old desires." We have come full circle here, because it is "old desires" that are being revived and not the emergence of new ones.

The second line puzzles me though; it almost hints that this may not be an unqualified blessing--

"The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires".

Could this rebirth or renewal be something to flee? I am reminded of a haiku by Issa that also seems to suggest an idea that is contrary to the usual portrayal of spring, the time of new beginnings and hope:

Spring begins again;
Upon folly,
Folly returns.
- Issa -

On the other hand, it might also be telling us that the beginning of the New Year is the time for reflecting back upon the past year, upon our successes and failures: What went right--and why? What went wrong--and why? In this context, Issa seems to be rather pessimistic about the possibilities of improvement.

This quatrain suggests the cyclic nature of the world; the wheel has turned. It is time for rebirth and renewal, but some of those "old desires," as Issa tells us, may be folly; therefore, a thoughtful soul will draw back and consider past successes and follies, as a guide for the future.

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