Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain VII

This is one of my favorite quatrains.


First Edition: Quatrain VII

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



Second Edition: Quatrain VII

Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of repentance fling:
The Bird of time has but a little way
To flutter--and the Bird is on the Wing.


Fifth Edition: Quatrain VII

Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter--and the Bird is on the Wing.



The changes are minimal in that they do not reflect a radical alteration in the meaning from the first to the later editions.

In the first line, the "Fire" is capitalized in the First Edition only. In subsequent editions, it is lower case. Perhaps that's to focus the reader's attention on Spring. It makes, however, no difference when hearing it, so the change is limited to one reading it.

In the second line, we read "The Winter Garment," in the First Edition only, while from the second Edition on, it is "Your Winter-garment." Substituting "Your" for "The" imparts a stronger feeling that the poet is talking directly to the reader. The change of "Winter-garment" from "Winter Garment" again is visual, for someone listening to a reading would not detect the difference. I would guess that the visual change would be to make "Winter-garment" more of one object or one thing, a closer joining of the two terms in the later versions.

The third line remains the same throughout.

The fourth line is the one that I felt he should have left alone. The revision is much weaker, to me anyway.

First Edition
"To fly--and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing."

Subsequent editions
"To flutter--and the Bird is on the Wing."

The most significant change is the substitution of "flutter" for "fly." Why this was done, I have no idea. "Fly" works much better than "flutter" in this context, or frankly in any context. One may see a butterfly flutter by, but a bird? A bird may fly or soar or glide or dive or dart or even hover, but flutter? When I think of a fluttering bird, I think it is sick or wounded.


After considering the changes FitzGerald made, I favor the first Edition version. "Flutter" doesn't work for me, and the other changes really add nothing substantial to the quatrain.


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


We see again the controversial reference to wine in the first line which goes back to previous quatrains and will appear again in quatrains following this one. The Cup, whether it be of wine or of God's grace, which some commentators prefer, should be filled, and that will fill the drinker with good cheer. Spring is here, and we should give up the winter dreariness of repentance.

This is followed by the warning in the third and fourth lines, again brought forward from earlier quatrains, that time is short and passes quickly--a further repetition of the medieval philosophy of Carpe diem or "Seize the Day." This stanza always reminds me of Andrew Marvel's "To His Coy Mistress,' especially the following lines:

"But at my back I always hear
Time's wing├Ęd chariot hurrying near;"

In both, time is short and associated with flight: "time's winged chariot" and "The Bird of Time has but a little way/ To fly--and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing."

Many years ago I had read a short story which had the last two lines of this quatrain for an epigraph. It wasn't identified so I thought it probably was written by the author. It was years later that I read The Rubaiyat and discovered its origin. I've always remembered those two lines, but the author, title, and plot details of that story are forgotten, perhaps rightfully so.

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