Omar Khayyam (6)

When I die,
prepare my body in wine,
and in place of a eulogy
lift a glass!
On Resurrection Day
you’ll find my dust
stirring beneath
the threshold
of the bar.

translated by Juan Cole
From Whinfield 6

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For the life and thought of the Iranian humanist, Omar Khayyam, see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry.

8 Responses

  1. Good stuff. I’m having a little trouble with the image of “stirring beneath the threshold” and with the (unintentional, I’m sure, but unavoidable to the reader here) echo of Tennyson.

    • You are right to point out that there are echoes of Tennyson in Khayyam’s quatrain. This is because Tennyson was very much influenced by Persian literature. It is not often known that Tennyson spent a long time studying Persian with Professor Edward Byles Cowell who had also taught Fitzgerald Persian. Tennyson read the entire Divan of Hafiz in Persian, and imitated many of his poems. Compare the following lines from Maud which have a distinctly Persian flavor:

      She is coming, my own, my sweet;
      Were it ever so airy a tread,
      My heart would hear her and beat,
      Were it earth in an earthy bed;
      My dust would hear her and beat,
      Had I lain for a century dead,
      Would start and tremble under her feet,
      And blossom in purple and red.

      with the following lines from a beautiful ghazal of Hafiz as translated by Gertrude Bell:

      Where are the tidings of union? that I may arise -
      Forth from the dust I will rise up to welcome thee!
      When to my grave thou turnest thy blessed feet,
      Wine and the lute shalt thou bring in thy hand to me,
      Thy voice shall ring through the folds of my winding-sheet
      And I will arise and dance to thy minstrelsy.
      And another ghazal:

      When I am dead, open my grave and see
      The cloud of smoke that rises from thy feet!
      In my dead heart the fire still burns for thee;
      Yea, the smoke rises from my winding-sheet.

  2. Thanks! Must continue learning – even if for naught.

    Larry, 3 score plus 17

  3. It is good to be reminded that, in days when there were few people on earth, one person’s death might be a time for personal responses only: wine-drinking, sorrow, praise, religious sentiments, etc.

    Today, with catastrophes of many sorts entwined around us — aggressive wars fought to control the dollar-denomination of oil, Israel’s attempt to recapture ancient dreams, world population rising out of control while many “religious” folks praise the abundance of life as an unmixed “good”, global warming, the run-out of easy oil (leading to expenses) even as global warming warns us away from oil altogether — one man’s death pales in comparison.

    When I am gone, though, and before that, lift a glass!

  4. Juan, you are a lucky man to have such thoughtful and learned readers! Well, not lucky: your thoughtful and learned writing has gathered a seminar of similarly imaginative people. Thank you. d

  5. This is how I read the second part:

    If you come looking for me on Resurrection Day,
    Ask for me from the dust at the bar’s doorstep …

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