Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain XV

Quatrain XV

First Edition

And those who husbanded the Golden Grain,
And those who flung it to the Winds like Rain,
Alike to no such aureate Earth are turn'd
As, buried once, Men want dug up again.

Second Edition

For those who husbanded the Golden grain,
And those who flung it to the winds like Rain,
Alike to no such aureate Earth are turn'd
As, buried once, Men want dug up again.

Fifth Edition

And those who husbanded the Golden grain,
And those who flung it to the winds like Rain,
Alike to no such aureate Earth are turn'd
As, buried once, Men want dug up again.

There seems to be only a single word changed in the 2nd edition and that was changed back to the original word by the fifth edition. FitzGerald changed the first word "And" to "For" in the 2nd edition and then changed it back to "And" in the fifth edition. Just what the change added, I haven't the slightest idea, but whatever the reason, FitzGerald seems to have thought it over and decided to stay with the original word.

And again, the number of capitalized nouns drops, this time from 8 in the first quatrain to 4 in quatrains 2 and 5.

"Aureate" means "golden colored" or "gilded." In this case, I think "golden colored" as in "golden colored Earth" seems to be more fitting than "gilded Earth."

"Husband" means "to spend or use economically, to budget, to conserve."

"Husbandry" relates to farming or careful use of resources.

The quatrain suggests that regardless of whether one uses one's resources carefully and wisely

"And those who husbanded the Golden Grain"

or whether one is a spendthrift

"And those who flung it to the Winds like Rain,"

the end result is the same.

"Alike to no such aureate Earth are turn'd
As, buried once, Men want dug up again."

There is no difference after one dies, for neither is buried in golden earth and no one would want to dug them up again. The dissolution is the grave in the same for the poor and the rich. Perhaps the grave is the only place where all are equal. I wonder whether this comes more from FitzGerald than from Khayyam, especially when one considers the oft-quoted meditation in Ecclesiastes, "All is vanity" when the Preacher asks:

"What profit hath a man of all his labour
which he taketh under the sun.
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh:
but the earth abideth for ever."

What we did when alive makes no difference, once we are in the grave, or does it?


  1. Fred,

    I see how you could link this to Ecclesiastes. I especially see it when looking at the previous quatrain, which talks about "the Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon". I think quatrain XV is a continuation on that line of thinking. To me, if you're putting your Worldly Hope - your worth, value, and meaning in life - on your work, ultimately you'll be disappointed. It's not that it made ( or didn't make) a difference, but that in light of eternity that difference is miniscule. I look at it from the perspective talked about in the gospel of Mark: " What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?" This may or may not be what the poet is trying to get across, but IN MY OPINION ONLY, that's my take on it.


    My intention wasn't to offend anyone when I quoted the Bible. You started it, Fred! ;)

  2. You are absolutely correct. It's my fault. I started it. [g]

    Offend anyone? I wouldn't worry about that. I'm not, and I don't see any indication that anyone else is either.

    At the most basic level, I think the author's theme is "Carpe Diem" or "seize the day," a very popular motif during the middle ages. Another way of expressing this would be "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die."

    Does the author go further than that and suggest that this refers to behavior that is focused solely on earthly concerns?

    I can see that if one ties this to the previous quatrain with its reference to "Worldly Hope,"
    then one could make the argument that one should concentrate on doing that which leads to salvation instead, and that seldom includes wealth and power.

    Does the author tell us what course of action we should follow? At present, I don't see that he has recommended anything other than "Carpe Diem," which comes up several times. That, however, does not seem to be a path that would lead to salvation.

    Of course, we have only reached Quatrain XV, and there are another sixty to go.

  3. Fred,

    Yes, I see what you mean about the "Carpe Diem" theme. I'm not quite sure how the poet wants us to understand this quatrain. I guess the entire poem needs to be read to understand this part better.
    By the way, thank you for treating me with respect when I post from a religious perspective. I'm very careful not to offend because I was once mercilessly flamed on an online SF reading group just because I asked a person if they were a Christian. ( Their post contained a religious reference, and I was simply curious.) That person was ok with my asking, but the group owner thought I was being offensive. So once bitten, twice shy.

  4. Cheryl,

    Yes, it's too early to see where the narrator is going with this theme. Will he simply stop here at "Carpe Diem" or will he take it further?

    I have had my own problems as a teacher with treating religion. In one course I received complaints that I was forcing religion on people, that I was anti-Semitic (because I ignored Judaism in a discussion of Father Zosimov, the Russian Orthodox monk, in Dostoyevsky's _Brothers Karamazov), and that I was belittling religion.