Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Rubaiyat: Second Edition, Quatrain LXIV

Another in a series of posts regarding quatrains that Edward FitzGerald added when he published the Second Edition of The Rubaiyat.

Second Edition:  Quatrain LXIV

I must abjure the Balm of Life, I must,
Scared by some After-reckoning ta'en on trust,
     Or lured with Hope of some Diviner Drink,
When the frail Cup is crumbled into Dust! 

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain LXII
I must abjure the Balm of Life, I must,
Scared by some After-reckoning ta'en on trust,
     Or lured with Hope of some Diviner Drink,
To fill the Cup--when crumbled into Dust! 

The first three lines of the two are identical, and the only modification appears in the last line where we read

Second Edition:  "When the frail Cup is crumbled into Dust!"
Fifth Edition:      "To fill the Cup--when crumbled into Dust!"

The "Cup" and its fate is a reference to other quatrains in which the Potter is seen fashioning cups out of clay, much as the Creator created humans out of dust or clay and at the end will return to their original state.  In yet another quatrain, a cup remarks that if filled with wine, it might return to life again.

Is there a difference, perhaps even a subtle difference, between the two versions?
It seems to me that in the Second Edition, there is the hope that after death, there might be "some Diviner Drink," with no reference to the body.  The last line in the Fifth Edition suggests something quite different, or so it seems to me:

". . .some Diviner Drink,
To fill the Cup--when crumbled into Dust!"

This seems to say that the "Diviner Drink" will fill the "Cup" after death, possibly a reference to the resurrection of the body after death, a belief that Moslems hold, as do Christians, and Jews, as far as I can tell. 

This quatrain is linked to the previous quatrain in which the Poet defends drinking wine by arguing that it's God's creation, which cannot, therefore, be evil.  In this quatrain, he points out that the ban against alcohol is really based on "trust," or faith that either one might be punished or rewarded in an after-life.  Of course, the Poet has already made the point in previous quatrains that nobody really knows what happens after death, that nobody has ever returned to tell us, and that all such theories are just guesses based on nothing substantial.

The Poet's attitude about the virtues of drinking wine are expressed quite clearly and openly, once again, when he refers to it as "the Balm of Life," something which is comforting.


  1. Fred, let me ask a simple-minded question: What is Fitzgerald's motivation for the changes that so often happen and you spotlight in his translations?

    Your series of postings reminds me of why I have been so ill-at-ease about translations of poetry; prose translations are difficult enough, but poetry translations are very problematic since meters and sounds often cannot be translated from one language to another. For example, the beautiful sounds of Dante in Italian never make it into English translations.

  2. R.T.,

    I'm not sure why in many cases. Sometimes it seems to clarify the originial version, while in others, the original idea is modified, perhaps because he has rethought it or perhaps he thinks the change more closely represents the poet's thought. Sometimes it just may be that he thought it was a better or more poetic way of expressing it, although a number of changes appeared to be more literal and less poetic.

    I have been unable to locate any information regarding why he made the changes that he did, so I have to guess.

    Frost was asked the usual question poets get: what is poetry? Frost once responded that poetry is what gets lost in translation.

    Frost appears here to agree with you, but what am I to do? A translation is still better than nothing--and several different translations may be a little bit better.

  3. chinese and japanese poetry, what we know of it, is mostly translated into english; taoist ideas still seem to me to come across in spite of the translations even though alternate versions may differ quite a bit. ezra pound made some well known efforts which were denounced by some of the more interested parties, but they still can offer a sense of the original. i like Waley and Burton, but there are many other translators...
    these are thoughts off the top of my head, hence no referential material; i could look some up if it's required...

  4. Mudpuddle,

    I find it interesting and helpful to read several translations of the same work.

    I've read and liked a number of poems translated by Red Pine (Bill Porter). The poems by Cold Mountain that I've posted on have all been translated by Red Pine.

    1. he's got a pretty good reputation, from the little i've read about him. i have to say i like arthur waley's translations. he studied the chinese culture so intensely and i feel like i'm reading poems in the original when i read his efforts; not to say there aren't lots of interesting versions out there. burton watson is good, also, i think... donald keene worked mostly with japanese literature, but i've enjoyed some of his work...

    2. Mudpuddle,

      I've read translations by both Burton and Waley (Waley was the first one I read when I first got interested in Asian literature and philosophy) and enjoyed them.

      I'm slightly familiar with Keene's work. I read a book by him on Japanese literature (title escapes me), and my posts on Kenko's _Essays in Idleness_ come from his translation of Kenko's book.

  5. I like the second version better. The partial line "to fill the cup" is emphatic and active. "When the frail Cup is crumbled into Dust" is passive and lacks immediacy. That's what I came away with.

    1. Shadow Flutter,

      Perhaps that's why FitzGerald made the change: it is more direct and a clearer expression of the hope of a bodily resurrection at The End of All Days.