Friday, October 5, 2012

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain LXIV

This is the sixth in a  series of linked quatrains, all playing with the theme of the Potter/Creator, in which the pots reassure themselves that the unpleasant tales they've heard about the Potter can't possibly be true.

First Edition: Quatrain LXIV

Said one--"Folks of a surly Tapster tell,
And daub his Visage with the Smoke of Hell;
     They talk of some strict Testing of us--Pish!
He's a Good Fellow, and 'twill all be well."

Second Edition:   Quatrain XCV

Said one--"Folks of a surly Master tell,
And daub his Visage with the Smoke of Hell;
     They talk of some sharp Trial of us--Pish!
He's a Good Fellow, and 'twill all be well."

Fifth Edition: Quatrain LXXXVIII

"Why," said another, "Some there are who tell
Of one who threatens he will toss to Hell
    The luckless Pots he marr'd in making--Pish!
He's a Good Fellow, and 'twill all be well."

It seems clear that they are speaking of the Creator as seen by Christians, Jews, and Moslems.  The references to hell and testing clearly suggest the teachings of those religions.  Our life here on Earth is a test, and those who fail the test are destined for eternal punishment.  All three quatrains agree on this point, and all three dismiss this possibility with the identical last line:  "He's a Good Fellow, and 'twill all be well."

However, there are some interesting, if not intriguing, differences among the three quatrains.  The Potter/Creator is called "a surly Tapster" in the first edition, which carries the hint of one who dispenses alcohol--a Tapster. This fits in well with the numerous references to wine in previous quatrains.   In the second version, the "surly Tapster" becomes a "surly Master,"  a distinctly different person here.  A Master is one who controls others while a Tapster simply provides drinks upon demand.  There's much more of a sense of control in the second edition. In the fifth edition, it is neither a Tapster nor a Master, but a more generic "one who threatens."

One more difference is that in the first and second editions, the Potter's face is daubed with "the Smoke of Hell,"  which suggests a strong physical connection to Hell.  One cannot be covered with smoke unless one comes in contact with it.  However, in the fifth edition, that connection disappears for the Potter now becomes one who will toss the "marr'd pots" into hell.

What is also significant is that the pot does not claim to be speaking from personal experience, but telling us of what others say.  This echoes earlier quatrains in which the Poet/Narrator tells us that many speak of what is to come after death, but none have ever come back to speak from their own experience.  And, the Poet/Narrator dismisses what they have to say in a number of quatrains wherein he tells us repeatedly that we know not where we came from and we know not our destination, if there is one.

In the first edition, the pot speaks of "Testing," a process designed to determine what qualities we posses, or lack, perhaps.  This "Testing" becomes "a sharp Trial" in the second version, which, in addition to a sense of testing, carries legal or judicial implications.  A "Trial" is reserved for those who are charged with some crime.  Just as all in the first edition will face a test, all in the second seemingly will be on trial for some misdeed.

The fifth edition, though, recalls an earlier quatrain, specifically LXIII of the first edition, XCIII of the second, and LXXXVI  of the fifth, in which a "pot of a more ungainly make" suggests that its flaws are the result of the potter's shaking hand and not the fault of the pot.   If the pot is not perfect, then who is at fault?  Could the Potter be responsible for the pot's flaws and if so, is it fair that the pot, therefore,  be punished?   In one sense, the pot is a victim of a less than perfect Potter.  Moreover, in the fifth edition, the sense of  a test or a trial conducted by "a surly Tapster" or "Master" disappears completely and is replaced by "one who threatens he will toss to Hell/ The luckless Pots he marr'd in making."  These are not pots who have failed a test, but "luckless Pots he marr'd in making."

In the fourth line of the quatrain, the pot reassures the others in all three versions by dismissing those threats of hell by insisting "He's a Good Fellow, and 'twill all be well."  This is not the angry, vengeful Creator of the Old Testament, but a more congenial Creator, "a Good Fellow"  and therefore, " 'twill all be well."

Of course, this more reassuring and comforting view of the Potter/Creator has no more substance or supporting evidence than do the claims that are being dismissed.   The "surly Tapster" and the "Good Fellow"  are simply speculations about the unknown, with a tinge of wishful thinking attached to the latter view. 

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