Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain XIII

As usual, I'm using the first edition as the base and then turning to the 2nd and 5th editions to see what changes FitzGerald made.


First Edition:
Quatrain XIII

Look to the Rose that blows about us--"Lo,
Laughing," she says, "into the World I blow:
At once the silken Tassel of my Purse
Tear, and its Treasure on the Garden throw."



Second Edition:
Quatrain XV

Look to the blowing Rose about us--"Lo,
Laughing," she says, "into the world I blow:
At once the silken tassel of my Purse
Tear, and its Treasure on the Garden throw."



Fifth Edition:
Quatrain XIV

Look to the blowing Rose about us--"Lo,
Laughing, " she says, "into the world I blow,
At once the silken tassel of my Purse
Tear, and its Treasure on the Garden throw."


I think there's a sense of the brevity of life here. The Rose comes into the world and "at once" her "Treasure," pollen I assume, is spread about the garden.


FitzGerald changed this quatrain less than any other so far. I can see only one minor word change and several punctuation changes, along with reducing the number of nouns that are capitalized, something which has been consistent so far.

In the first edition, he writes "Look to the Rose that blows about us..." This, in the second and fifth editions, becomes "Look to the blowing Rose about us..." I think the revision flows more smoothly. There's almost a break, a caesura, in the first edition between "Rose" and "that," while the line flows uninterruptedly with "Look to the blowing Rose about us." Perhaps he opted for the more continuous flow.

This stanza gave me, and to some extent, still gives me some problems. The first has been resolved, but the second still raises a question each time I read it.

The first problem was the word "blow" and "blowing" in the first and second lines of the three versions.

"Look to the blowing Rose about us--"Lo,
Laughing," she says, "into the world I blow:"

I was reading the word as related to the wind in some way--"the Rose that blows about us" and also describing apparently the way the Rose came into the world, blowing like the wind. Somehow it just didn't fit. I checked the dictionary and found my problem. An old, almost archaic meaning of "to blow" is "to bloom." So, substituting bloom and blooming into the first stanza, it would read

Look to the blooming Rose about us--"Lo,
Laughing," she says, "into the world I bloom:"

I think this makes better sense than seeing "blow" and "blowing" as related to the behavior of the wind.


The second, and so far unresolved problem, relates to the word "tear" in the last line of the quatrain. The problem is not that it doesn't make sense in the context, but that there is a sense of violence here that doesn't go with either the earlier reference to "Laughing" or to anything else in The Rubaiyat.

"At once the silken tassel of my Purse
Tear, and its Treasure on the Garden throw."

Right now, I can't think of any reference to violence in the poem. Death is brought up a number of times, but I never got the sense of violence in any of the quatrains. It stands out. I checked the dictionary for variant or archaic meanings for tear and could find nothing but a suggestion of "haste," as in "tear along a country road."

When I read this stanza, another poem comes to mind, which again seems to convey the sense of violence in a sexual context that seems inappropriate. The poem is Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress," and the reference is to the last lines of the poem. The narrator is urging his love to remember that they will not always be young and should make haste for "...at my back I always hear/ Time's wing├Ęd chariot hurrying near" and "The grave's a fine and private place,/ But none, I think, do there embrace."


Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

In this poem, I guess an argument could be made that "tear" is being used in the sense of "making haste." And the "Rose," well, a rose lives only one season, so it has to hurry and spread its pollen quickly before summer is over.

So, I'm leaning toward a sense of "haste" in both poems, tentatively anyway.


Any comments?

2 comments:

  1. I am not sure how the ancients would know about pollen, since they didn't have microscopes. Perhaps the treasure just means the rose's beauty?

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  2. Joe,

    Omar Khayyam lived during the last half of the 11th century and died in 1131. Agriculture had been around for thousands of years by then. In addtion, pollen is visible to the naked eye. Brush your finger against the stamen of a flower and you will see powder on your finger. That is pollen.

    The flower's beauty is present without us having to do anything. And what would be the purse that's referred to that must be torn to shed the "beauty" of the blossom.

    It's an interesting idea, though.

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