Friday, June 2, 2017

The Rubaiyat: Second Edition, Quatrain CV

Second Edition:  Quatrain CV

Would but the Desert of the Fountain yield
One glimpse --if dimly, yet indeed reveal'd,
     Toward which the fainting Traveller might spring,
As springs the trampled herbage of the field! 

Fifth Edition: Quatrain  XCVII
Would but the Desert of the Fountain yield
One glimpse --if dimly, yet indeed, reveal'd,
     To which the fainting Traveller might spring,
As springs the trampled herbage of the field! 

FitzGerald made only minimal changes to this quatrain over the next three editions.  He added a comma in the fifth edition after "indeed," but that might have simply been adding one that had been left out in the second edition.  The other change was the substitution  of  "To" for "Toward" in the third line.  I think "To" makes it more specific as "Toward" suggests only moving in that direction, but not necessarily that being the destination.

Again, this quatrain brings up the theme that we don't know where we are going and laments that we can't even get a glimpse.  Robert Frost expresses the same idea in his poem "For Once, Then, Something." 

For Once, Then, Something

Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
Me myself in the summer heaven, godlike,
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.
Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths--and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.

The mystery of existence has tormented and bedeviled the human race for thousands of years. This has brought about the various religious traditions, each with their own unique answer.  Each of these answers have their own adherents, but no answer to date has been shown to be satisfactory to the human race as a whole, except, of course, to its followers.

 Do I have an answer?  No.  But, like Khayyam and Frost, I keep looking and hoping.


  1. fifty years ago i remember sitting under a tree with a jug of wine, watching the grass grow... gone forever, the days of yore...
    "to" seems to describe one jump; "toward" more than one...
    Frost had that ability to "see the universe in a grain of sand"(Blake) and communicate the feeling in a short verse.... admirable...

  2. Mudpuddle,

    Interesting: I've never looked at to and toward that way. It always seemed to indicated direction rather than amount of movement accomplished. I shall have to think about this. Thanks for the comment.

    Ah yes, Blake. That grain of sand--that would fit in here very well, wouldn't it. I hadn't considered that. Again, thanks.

  3. Existence is such an enigma. Maybe Beckett got it figured out in Waiting for Godot. We can look forward but can only wait until . . . Thanks for your thought provoking posting and the poetry, Fred. Mudpuddle, thanks for reminding me of Blake, a mad genius of magnificent vision whom I much admire.

    1. Tim,

      I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

      Is Godot another name for Death?

    2. Godot is whomever or whatever dominates your concerns about and interests in the future. Someone asked Beckett if Godot was God. He answered by saying he knew how to spell.

    3. Tim,

      Chuckle. . .

      So, Godot is actually my next blog post and Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for it? I hope they stop by and comment.

      I think the heat's getting to me and it's time to turn on the cooler.

    4. Tim: i hadn't heard that one... pretty good....

  4. Great post.

    Though I am not sure that a definitive answer exist, artists like Khayyam and Frost's explorations on the subject are so very pleasing.

    In this Quatrain, Khayyam seems to be longing for answers.

    1. Brian,

      Frankly, I also doubt if one exists.

      Yes, it's a recurrent theme in The Rubaiyat, that there really is no answer. That it comes up several times suggests that he wishes there really were answers.