Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain LXVIII

This is the second of three linked quatrains that are related by his prophecy of his death and its aftermath.  The previous quatrain told of his grave while this one speaks of its effects on others.

First Edition:  Quatrain LXVIII

That ev'n my buried Ashes such a Snare
Of Perfume shall fling up into the Air,
   As not a True Believer passing by
But shall be overtaken unaware.

Second Edition:  Quatrain  C

Then ev'n my buried Ashes such a snare
Of Vintage shall fling up into the Air,
   As not a True-believer passing by
But shall be overtaken unaware.

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain XCII

That ev'n my buried Ashes such a snare
Of Vintage shall fling up into the Air
   As not a True-believer passing by
But shall be overtaken unaware.

Edward FitzGerald made only minor changes over the five editions.  One surprising one is that he reversed a change he had made in the second edition and restored the term he had used in the first edition--something he rarely does.  The first word of the first edition is "That" which he changed to "Then" in the second version.  By the fifth edition, he had changed his mind and brought back the "That."  I have no idea why he changed it  initially, nor why he went back to his initial wording.

The most noticeable change occurs in the second line.  In the first edition, the snare is of "Perfume" while the second and fifth versions have it as a snare of "Vintage."   I think the reason for the change is clear:  "Perfume" is far more obscure and it could be the odor of flowers in the Garden in which he is buried, while "Vintage" strongly suggests wine, a very common theme in the Rubaiyat.  It is the aroma of wine, which of course is forbidden to True Believers, that he thinks will enter their consciousness surreptitiously and perhaps tempt them.

I don't know whether this is true also of Moslems, but there is a tradition among some Christians that an especially saintly individual will receive a special sign of God's approval  after death.  Instead of the smell of the corruption of the body shortly after death, the body will have either no odor or the sweet odor of flowers or some sweet smell, a sign of that person's saintliness.  Dostoyevsky gives a dramatic example of this in Brothers Karamazov at the death of the revered Elder, Father Zossima.  The monks and townspeople at his funeral are shocked to discover that this tradition did not hold true, at least in the case of Father Zossima.

I wonder if the Poet/Narrator is being ironic here, substituting the odor of wine for that of saintliness.  In any case, it is appropriate that the quatrains now introduce the idea of death for we are coming close to the end of the First Edition of FitzGerald's treatment of the Rubaiyat.

A bit of trivia:  the inside cover of my text informs the reader that The Rubaiyat has been "rendered into verse" by Edward FitzGerald, not "translated,"  obviously taking into account that there is much here that is from FitzGerald and not necessarily from Omar Khayyam.

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