Friday, May 14, 2010

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain XXVI

As usual, I'm using the first edition as the base for the discussion.

First Edition: Quatrain XXVI

Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies:
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

Second Edition: Quatrain XXVIII

Another Voice, when I am sleeping, cries,
"The Flower should open with the Morning skies."
And a retreating Whisper, as I wake--
"The flower that once has blown for ever dies."

Fifth Edition: LXIII

Oh, threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain--This Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

The different editions, I think, vary more than any other I've seen so far. Only the last line --"The Flower that once has blown for ever dies"-- is the same for all three editions.

In the first edition, old Khayyam tells us what he thinks. We should ignore "the Wise" and remember that the only certain truth is that there is only one short life. Beyond that, all we get are lies, or, at best, speculations or theories passed off as absolute truth. I wonder what the reaction of the hundreds? or thousands? of commentators on the numerous holy books in various religions would have to say here.

The opening line echoes Quatrain IX when he says "But come with old Khayyam and leave the Lot." Here, he asks us to leave the past and strike out with him to enjoy the present, another hint that life is short and we should enjoy it while we are here.

The second edition is considerably different, not only in the words used but also in the attribution of the ideas that are expressed. In the first edition, it is old Khayyam who tells us, but now the narrator is not the one who utters the ideas but is the passive receiver instead. Because FitzGerald rearranged the sequence as well as introduced new quatrains in the later editions, the references to previous quatrains vary from edition to edition. In the first edition, "the Wise" refers back to the "Saints and Sages" and "the foolish Prophets" of Quatrain XXV, whereas that "Another Voice" in the second edition links us back to the Muezzin in Quatrain XXVII who tells us that our "Reward is neither Here nor There." The point is the same, though: there is only one short life.

The fifth edition, to me anyway, seems somewhat closer to the first edition than does the second. While Khayyam's name has been dropped, the ideas expressed are the narrator's and not some other Voice's. The reference to "threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise" in the first line of the fifth edition mutes the attack on "Saints and Sages" and focuses instead on what is being said, rather than on who says it. Perhaps Khayyam or FitzGerald himself was criticized for dismissing the wise words of "Saints and Sages." It's just a guess, for I have no information regarding this, except for a vague reference once that Khayyam was almost considered heretical.

Moreover, the second line in the fifth edition is very similar to the second line of the first edition with a significant substitution of "this life" in the fifth edition for "that life" in the first version. The "this" suggests perhaps another life which may or may not be equally short. The third and fourth lines are almost identical in the first and fifth editions. Again, the overall theme is that we know for certain only that we have one short life.

My preference? I would go with the first edition and then the fifth, with the second edition coming in a distant third. Since FitzGerald's final version almost restores the first version, it seems that he also was dissatisfied with the second.


I missed the actual revision of  the First Edition's Quatrain XXVI in the Second Edition.  It is not Quatrain XXVIII but Quatrain LXVI, and it is identical to Quatrain LXIII in the Fifth Edition. Whatever I had to say about the quatrain in the Fifth Edition applies also to the quatrain in the Second Edition.  (I hope I haven't confused everybody here-- if so, please leave a question.)

Comments, anyone?

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