Monday, August 15, 2011

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain XLV

Quatrain XLV is one of those rare quatrains that disappear after the first edition. So far, I think only one other quatrain was dropped completely and never returned.

First Edition: Quatrain XLV

"But leave the Wise to wrangle, and with me
The Quarrel of the Universe let be:
And, in some corner of the Hubbub coucht,
Make Game of that which makes as much of Thee."

The first two lines of this quatrain echoes two earlier quatrains, IX and XXVI, in which the poet/narrator invites the reader to leave all this behind:

Quatrain IX:
"But come with old Khayyam, and leave the Lot
Of Kaikobad and Kaikhosru forgot:"

Quatrain XXVI:
"Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To Talk; . . ."

I don't remember whether this pattern shows up in later quatrains, but I wouldn't be surprised. It has been used by other poets for one can find it among English Renaissance poetry and contemporary poetry as well. T. S. Eliot begins "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" with Let us go then, you and I. It's meant to draw the reader into the poem and to the way of the narrator's thinking.

The narrator wants the reader to leave this unpleasant place where the Wise wrangle and to let be the quarrel of the Universe, and although he refers to the quarrel of the universe, I suspect he really means the wrangling of the Wise and their quarrel about the nature of the universe.

The last two lines are rather strange, and I wonder if these lines are the cause of this quatrain's disappearance in later editions.

And, in some corner of the Hubbub coucht,
Make Game of that which makes as much of Thee."

"Hubbub" refers back to "wrangle" and "quarrel." "Coucht" is an archaic term, one of whose meanings is "to lie in ambush or concealment: lurk," and this seems to fit the idea of hiding away from the fuss in a corner, unnoticed, one could hope.

The last line, however, suggests something more than a simple attempting to avoid notice or to escape the wrangling--"Make Game of that which makes as much of Thee." To me, this implies striking back in some way at those who are making a game of thee--playing with thee for amusement or entertainment-- or perhaps making light of what happens or being amused by it. We should not take what happens to us too seriously--it is all a game. Perhaps Shakespeare is saying the same thing here:
"All the world's a stage
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts."
This monologue, from As You Like It--Act II, scene 7, ends with "Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything." And, we see this echoed in the last line of Quatrain XXIII, "Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and--sans End!"

We are actors playing many roles--with many entrances and many exits--and even though we may die, there will be more plays and more roles and more games.

The question is, of course, is just who is making a Game of thee. Is it God? And, if so, the last line certainly doesn't encourage us to take God's plan seriously, if it makes a Game of thee, a work of entertainment.

Another meaning of game is an activity with specified rules and regulations and a way of determining a winner. Are we involved in this sort of Game?

Or should we simply take another cup of wine and leave all this wrangling behind us.

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