Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Rubaiyat: Second Edition, Quatrain LXXI

And yet another quatrain that FitzGerald introduced in the Second Edition.

Second Edition: Quatrain LXXI

I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that After-life to spell:
     And after many days my Soul return'd
And said, "Behold, Myself am Heav'n and Hell:"

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain LXVI
I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that After-life to spell:
     And by and by my Soul return'd to me,
And answered, "I Myself am Heav'n and Hell:"

Note the colon that ends each version of the quatrain.  That signifies that the quatrain that follows will provide a further elaboration to that last line. 

FitzGerald has modified the last two lines of the quatrain.  He has substituted "by and by" for "after many days" in the third line.  The first version suggests that the Soul returned a long time later (many days) while the second is far more indeterminate (by and by).  That could be many days or hours or weeks or . . .?
Perhaps he felt that after many days was too prosaic and that by and by flowed more smoothly.

The second change, from  Behold, Myself am  to I Myself am,  seems, to me anyway, to eliminate the awkwardness of  Myself am and replacing it with the much more standard I Myself am.

The Poet/Narrator does not say how he sent his Soul searching for information about the Afterlife.  Perhaps he uses some form of meditation or maybe even wine.  He does not say.  But, his Soul does return with an answer, a rather disconcerting one at that: "I Myself am Heav'n and Hell:".

This reminds me of Milton's Paradise Lost in which Satan says, "Which way I fly is Hell:  myself am Hell."   This is the wording of the last line in the Second Edition, only FitzGerald has added "Heav'n" to the equation.  Actually, it now seems to me that the entire quatrain seems to echo that line in Milton or perhaps is FitzGerald's incorporation of that line from Milton into the Rubaiyat..

But, the addition of  Heav'n changes radically Satan's realization.   Satan is doomed to Hell with no escape, but humans, some anyway, have another possibility.   Yet, the operative verb is am which signifies identity in both FitzGerald's and Milton's poems.  It is not that they are destined for Hell but that they are Hell itself, or possibly Heaven also for FitzGerald. 

Is there a suggestion here that the nature of the Afterlife is not determined by the Creator but by ourselves?  Since we are Heaven and Hell, does that mean that Afterlife will be as we are, both Heaven and Hell?  Or perhaps, the Afterlife for the Good will be as they are, Heaven, and for the Evil, it is Hell?


  1. interesting association with Milton... i've read part of Paradise Lost, but am not very familiar with any of it except the science fiction part, where that one demon leaves the demon planet and flies off through outer space to look for something, i forget what... anyway my take on the poem is: "I've meditated and searched for a long time and have come to the conclusion that heaven and hell are me; what is here in the present is all there is..." this sort of fits with the earlier recommendations to absorb a lot of wine...

  2. Mudpuddle,

    And perhaps all there is in the future?

  3. I'm reminded of William Blake and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Quite a paradox in such a marriage. The presumption of an Afterlife is also intriguing. I wonder why we insist upon the possibility. Thanks for the provocative posting. You have me wondering.

    1. RT; i wonder about that also; how did such a bizarre idea ever originate? i suppose, not knowing, it had something to do with trying to interpret natural events, and the political manipulation thereof for social power by tribal leaders or chiefs... no?

  4. R.T.,

    An afterlife? Wishful thinking by those who are frightened by the concept that we really are insignificant and that we can end without the universe caring, just the same as a fly or a beetle or a paramecium.

  5. Mudpuddle,

    Any religion or social or political theory that insists on prescribed and approved behaviora is an attempt at establishing social control.