Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: Quatrain XIV, Second Edition

This quatrain provides warning about planning for the future when we really don't know what might happen from one minute to the next.

Second Edition:  Quatrain XIV

Were it not Folly, Spider-like to spin
The Thread of  present Life away to win--
    What? for ourselves, who know not if we shall
Breathe out the very Breath we now breathe in!

Apparently,  FitzGerald was dissatisfied with this quatrain for it appears only in the Second Edition and was dropped from all succeeding editions.

FitzGerald employs an interesting analogy here, that of the spider.  The spider spins the strands of its web from its own body, and FitzGerald suggests that our efforts to gain glory or wealth or even life in paradise consume our life in the same way.  He then asks why we should spend our lives doing this for some future gain when we don't know whether we will live long enough to expel the breath we just took in.

Enjoy the Now seems to be his point here, as it is in so many of the other quatrains.


  1. Amen! Planning for the future? Forget about it! I have recently had my eyes reopened to something I learned a long, long time ago: take life one day at a time. Today I am alive. That is sufficient. Tomorrow will be whatever it will be. Breathing now is sufficient. So, thank you for the posting. I need this at this moment. Thanks.

    1. I agree. It's OK to look forward, but don't think your plans aren't subject to change. Don't forget to really enjoy today.

      I remember reading about Robin Williams' daughter getting grief from people on Twitter because she wasn't posting enough pictures of her dad after he died. She responded that she didn't have a ton of pictures of him. When they were together, she concentrated on enjoying being with him - instead of taking a million pictures of the event. I think that's a good attitude to have. Be in the moment, don't waste all your time documenting the moment. Because then the moment's over and you didn't fully get to experience it.

    2. Cheryl,

      Yes, I wouldn't go so far as the speaker in the quatrain as we do need to do some planning if we are to be able to enjoy the NOW.

      I stopped taking pictures for the same reason. I would go to the Grand Canyon and spend my time looking through the lens finder and then later remembered very little about actually being there.

  2. RT,

    I, also, need to be reminded regularly of this.

  3. Thanks, Fred. I like this one. I continue to be amazed, even though I know better, at translators taking such liberties because they personally don't care for something.

  4. madamevauquer,

    I think FitzGerald's version can only be called translations in a very loose sense. He was more interested, from what I can gather, in getting the poetry and the ideas across and less of an attempt at a literal translation. I have read some literal translations, and I prefer FitzGerald's impressionistic renderings.