Monday, March 16, 2009

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain VI

From the first edition of Edward FitzGerald's rendering of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:

And David's Lips are lock't; but in divine
High piping Pehlevi, with "Wine! Wine! Wine!
Red Wine!"--the Nightingale cries to the Rose
That yellow cheek of hers to incarnadine.

This quatrain remains the same for all succeeding editions.

This quatrain carries through the theme that began in Quatrain V, that of the disappearance of past glories while nature remains untouched. "David" refers to King David of the Hebrews, while "pehlevi" suggests either the language of ancient Zoroastrian works or a way writing used during the 3rd through the 6th century AD in Persia, or Iran as it is now known. In any case, it was no longer in use during Omar Khayyam's time, which began in the late 11th century and lasted through to the first quarter of the 12th century. David, having died centuries ago, as have others mentioned in earlier quatrains, can no longer can speak or perhaps sing, since he was known as a singer. This suggests that the glories of Israel are gone, while the garden, as represented by the Nightingale and the Rose, are still present, still singing their ancient songs.

The last line is ambiguous, and scholars have debated the meaning of it, especially whose "sallow cheek" is being referred to--the Nightingale's or the Rose's. Nor is it clear as to the meaning of "cries...That sallow cheek of hers to incarnadine." Perhaps the calling suggests excitement which would give color to that sallow cheek, or possibly the wine might bring a reddish hue to one's sallow cheeks.

I mentioned earlier that this quatrain remained the same for all editions. Frankly, considering the ambiguity of the last two lines, I wish that he had revised this quatrain.

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