Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: Quatrain LXV

This is the seventh in a series of linked quatrains that take place in a potter's shop in which the pots attempt to discuss the nature of the Potter/Creator and their relationship to Him.  This one, though,  is a bit different from the others that have preceded it.

First Edition:  Quatrain LXV

Then said another with a long-drawn Sigh,
"My Clay with long oblivion is gone dry:
     But, fill me with the old familiar Juice,
Methinks I might recover by-and-by!"

 Second Edition:  Quatrain XCVI

"Well," said another, "Whoso will, let try,
My Clay with long oblivion is gone dry:
    But fill me with the old familiar Juice,
Methinks I might recover by-and-by!"

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain LXXXIX

"Well," murmur'd one, "Let whoso make or buy,
My Clay with long oblivion is gone dry:
    But fill me with the old familiar Juice,
Methinks I might recover by-and-by!"

The second, third, and fourth lines of the three editions are identical, except for a comma in the first version that was dropped in the second edition and does not reappear in the fifth edition.  "But" in the first edition is an interjection and the removal of the comma changes it into a conjunction, a change in usage that doesn't seriously affect the sense of the line.

The major changes occur in the first line when "another" is replaced by "one."   The "another" joins the speaker with the others for it is "another" in a series of speakers.  In the fifth edition, "one" separates it from the others to the extent that it is one that speaks and not necessarily one in a series.  In fact, while it is one in a series of speakers, it separates itself  from the others by what it says. While the others attempt to analyze their relationship to the Potter and their likely fates, this one is more concerned with the present.  It is dry and it needs wine, "the old familiar Juice," to help it recover.

This, of course, fits in perfectly with a previous theme brought out by the Poet/Narrator, that of the uselessness of the attempts to answer the universal questions:  How did I get here?  Where did I come from and where am I going?  What is the nature of the Universe?  Is there a Creator and what is the relationship between us?  Previously the Poet/Narrator had listened to saints and sages and wise men but had learned nothing and thereby decided that enjoyment of life was the only sensible course of action. 

In this linked series, various pots had attempted to answer the same questions with the same result: ignorance for they don't know the answers.  Now, one pot has decided that the only course was filling oneself up with wine, "the old familiar Juice."  The Poet/Narrator has used the pots to recreate once again his theme that we don't know and therefore should make the best of it.

This quatrain can also be seen somewhat differently if one favors a religious interpretation.  This pot may be speaking of a loss of faith and is praying to the Creator for that "old familiar Juice" which could be seen as God's grace to restore its faith.   However, that "by-and-by" at the end of the line suggests there's no real hurry.  This reminds me of the famous line from The Confessions of St. Augustine: "God, give me chastity and continence - but not just now."  

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