Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Rubaiyat, Second Edition: Quatrain LIX

This is another in a series of brief posts about quatrains that Edward FitzGerald added to the second edition of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and included, perhaps in a modified form, in the fifth edition.

Second Edition:  Quatrain LIX

Ah, but my Computations, People say,
Have squared the Year to human compass, eh?
     If so, by striking from the Calendar
Unborn To-morrow, and dead Yesterday.

 Fifth Edition:  Quatrain LVII
Ah, but my Computations, People say,
Reduced the Year to better reckoning?--Nay
      'Twas only striking from the Calendar
Unborn To-morrow, and  dead Yesterday.

FitzGerald made no changes to the first and fourth lines of this quatrain, but made several to the second and third lines that clarify his intentions.  "If so"  in the second edition suggests that the poet has doubts about what people say, but if they were right, then it was the result of removing
                .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   from the Calendar
                Unborn To-morrow, and dead Yesterday.

He changes that If so to 'Twas, which removes the doubt and replaces it with the dismissive 'Twas.  In other words, he did what people say, but it really wasn't that important or significant.

Not knowing Persian, I don't know if the pun? joke? in the second line of the second edition was Khayyam's or was introduced by FitzGerald, whom many critics have accused of taking considerable liberties in his rendering of the Rubaiyat, or simply another example of over-reading on my part.  "Compass" has several meanings:  one refers to a tool that makes circles while another refers to an area of human understanding,  The year is frequently referred to as cyclic, so he could be saying that the people say that he squared the  circle, an exceptional feat indeed. 

In the fifth edition, he changes that to simply stating that they claimed he had     Reduced the Year to better reckoning.  Regardless of his reaction, what had he to do with the calendar?  In  the Introduction to my copy of the Rubaiyat, we are told that Khayyam was a highly respected astronomer, so much so that "(w)hen the Malik Shah determined to reform the calendar, Omar was one of the eight learned men employed to do it. . ."

What I get from quatrain is that he manages to fit those changes in the calendar into one of the prevailing themes of the Rubaiyat: only the present exists, for yesterday is dead and to-morrow is yet unborn.  Longfellow would agree here,  for in his poem  " A Psalm of Life,"  he tells us    

                                 "Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
                                   Let the dead Past bury its  dead!
                                   Act,--act in the living Present!"

To be brief, this quatrain holds forth once again on the theme that living in the present is really all that we can do, for it is all that we actually have.  

Introduction to text
No editor listed
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: Rendered into English verse by Edward FitzGerald
Garden City Books, Garden City, NY              


  1. Well, yes, Fred, but the present is instantaneous and fleeting, never really apprehended and comprehended; nevertheless, I prefer the second version you've included, and I prefer the Longfellow.

    1. R.T.,

      That may be true, but it's all we have. Usually I prefer the original version, but this is an exception, for I also like the fifth edition version better.

  2. penetrating analysis, thanks; i wonder if any other translations of "the rubaiyat" exist? it might be interesting to find out...

    1. Benny Thomas has published a beautifully illustrated translation rather recently. For samples and to read about it:

    2. Mudpuddle,

      I have, though I haven't read it yet, a copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam as translated by Peter Avery and John Heath-Stubbs with numerous illustrations and 235 quatrains, twice as many as in the FitzGerald versions.

      This is an on-line link to a literal translation (or so it claims), probably only one among many.


  3. I'm another who prefers the one from the fifth edition. I couldn't tell you why, it just strikes my emotions better.

  4. madamevauquer,

    As do I also prefer the revision.