Friday, July 20, 2012

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain LX

Quatrain LX continues the themes of the Creator or Potter, pottery, and earth.  In his later editions FitzGerald does something quite different to Quatrain LX.

First Edition:  Quatrain LX

And, strange to tell, among the Earthen Lot
Some could articulate, while others not:
     And suddenly one quite impatient cried--
"Who is the Potter, pray, and who is the Pot?"

I'm going to change my usual format of providing the three versions and then discussing the differences among them. FitzGerald has not just simply revised the quatrain as he has done in the past by changing the wording, but he has also taken the two points he made in the first edition and split them into two separate quatrains.  This is true for both the second and the fifth editions.

The first point is that some of the pots could talk while others couldn't, a relatively simple distinction..

The second point is that one impatient pot wasn't sure who was the Potter (Creator) and who the Pot (created).  I find this strange (just as strange as he finds it in the telling) for seemingly there should be a vast difference between the Creator and Its creations.  Perhaps this might be an indication of the confusion that exists among those created as to their place in the universe, which certainly isn't something new introduced at this point by the Poet for one of the recurring themes of the Rubaiyat in previous quatrains has been the lack of  this knowledge: where did we come from?  why are we here?  where are we going?

In the first line the Poet also states that he found it "strange," but I'm not exactly certain as to what he found strange.  Was it strange that some pots could talk or was it strange that only some could talk while others couldn't?  I also puzzled a bit over those silent pots who didn't speak.  I wondered whether it was that they couldn't speak or simply had chosen to remain silent.  Eventually, because of the language of the second line, I decided that they couldn't speak.

"Some could articulate, while others not:"

I think that "could" is implied in the second part of the line so the line fully expressed would read

"Some could articulate, while others [could]  not:"

The First Point:  that some pots talked while other did not

Second Edition:  Quatrain  XC

And once again there gathered a scarce heard 
Whisper among them; as it were, the stirr'd
     Ashes of some all but extinguished Tongue,
Which mine ear kindled into living Word.

This echoes back to earlier quatrains in this edition (XXXVIII---XL) where the ability of the pots to speak was modified from some could while others couldn not speak to their speech was hard to distinguish.  In this quatrain, their speech is a whisper, such the sound produced by ashes being stirred about--almost impossible to hear.  These pots seem to be ancient for the Poet uses terms such as "Ashes" and "extinguished Tongue,"  Death is also suggested by the term Ashes--"Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust. . . ."

T . S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men" comes to mind here:

"We are the hollow men

.   .   .   .   .   .

Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar"

Their speech is as meaningless as the wind in dry grass, air moving among the dead .  In the last line of the quatrain, the Poet says the he himself had to kindle those whispers into living Word.  Did those whispers have meaning or was the meaning given to them by the Poet?

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain LXXXIII

Shapes of all Sorts and Sizes, great and small,
That stood along the floor and by the wall,
    And some loquacious Vessels were; and some
Listen'd perhaps, but never talk'd at all.

The quatrain in the fifth edition is very different from that of the second, but, like the first edition, the point here is that some talked and some didn't.   But, that being said, it is still rather different than both the first and second editions, which is unique, for up to this point, the fifth has been very close to the second edition.  First, the pots are described in more detail than in previous quatrains and editions.  They are not just around the place, but they are along the floor and by the wall.  While that really isn't very specific, it gives us a better sense of the place with its pots scattered almost everywhere.  Secondly, we now see pots that of all sizes an shapes, from great to small.  So, they are not uniform pots, but a wide variety of them, just as humans come in all sizes and shapes.

While the point here is that some talked while others did not, the Poet introduces ambiguity here for now we don't know whether the silent vessels could talk but chose not to or that they possibly were able to listen but could not speak.  

The Second Point: the pot who asked who is the Potter and who the Pot.

Second Edition:  Quatrain XCIV

Thus with the Dead as with the Living, What?
And Why? so ready, but the Wherefore not,
    One on a sudden peevishly exclaim'd,
"Which is the Potter, pray, and which the Pot?"

In the first line we can see a reference to the Dead and the Living, which is not present in either the first or fifth editions, but the sense is ambiguous, if not perplexing.  Among the living and the dead,  two questions "What?" and "Why?" are promptly asked but "Wherefor" is not.  Yet "wherefor" means for what reason or for what purpose, which to me seems the same as why.  Perhaps the previous quatrains in this edition might provide a clue.  Unfortunately, given the format I've adopted, I can't do that now.  Perhaps in future posts, we may see an answer to the problem of the first two lines.

The last two lines, though, pose no problem for they clearly are related to the last lines of the quatrain in the first edition.   Two changes are evident.  One is that the pot is no longer impatient as it was in the first edition, but it is now peevish, which has a different meaning.  Peevish suggests easily irritated or annoyed while an impatient person might be peevish but that would be related to a delay, something not suggested by peevish.

The second difference is the change of "Who" in the first edition  to "Which"  in the second.  There seems to me to be a very subtle distinction between the two, more of an impression than something specific to point at. To say "who" implies, to me anyway, that the pot simply wants to know the identity of the Potter and the identify of the Pot.  To say "which," again to me, suggests that there are two entities here and the Pot cannot distinguish between them sufficiently to be able to say which is the Potter and which the Pot.  "Who" is simply asking for an identification while "which" implies making a distinction between the Potter and the Pot.

Fifth Edition:  LXXXVII

Whereat some one of the loquacious Lot--
I think a Sufi pipkin--waxing hot--
    "All this of Pot and Potter--Tell me then,
Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?"

The fifth edition quatrain also differs somewhat from the first and the second editions.   The Poet has dropped the description of the pots in the second edition and now focuses on the pot that asked the question.  It is not impatient or peevish, but it is now "waxing hot."  That could mean getting excited or perhaps emotional, but impatience or peevishness could also be included here.  We don't know for certain. But while the Poet dropped description of the setting, we are given instead to know that the one asking the question might be a "Sufi pipkin."  A Sufi is a mystic who is a follower of  Islam, while a pipkin is a small pot with a horizontal rather than a vertical handle.  This could be subtle verbal jab at the Sufis.

The last two lines in this version appear to be more of a challenge than a request for information. The pipkin is irritated by the previous discussion and demands in exasperation to know   "Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?"  The Poet has now restored the Who from the first edition.  It is rare that the fifth edition follows the first rather than the second edition, but this is a rather unique treatment of the first edition quatrain.

The quatrain and its revisions poses several problems. One is the initial question as to the identity of the Potter and the Pot.  Could the significance of this be the Poet's concern that humans too often confuse the Creator with its creatures, that humans focus too much on the creations and ignore the Creator?  Or, could it be that humans don't know their place and begin criticizing  or critiquing the Creator's actions, such as when a student or perhaps students begin to disagree with a teacher's lesson plan and the teacher exasperatedly asks, "Who is the teacher here?"

Or, it could be an oblique way of asking whether God created humanity in Its own image or whether humanity created God in its own image.

There still are six more quatrains linked by the theme of the Potter and the Pot, so we may find some answers in subsequent quatrains.

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