Omar Khayyam (2) [Whinfield 1]

At dawn a shout
    awoke us in
     that watering hole…
you crazed
Get up and grab that bottle
   let’s finish what we started
            before fate starts to finish us.

Trans Juan Cole
from Whinfield 1

(Khayyam uses a lot of bawdy language, which embarrassed the Victorians. I think it sounds contemporary, like a raw rock song, and don’t think it should be covered up with elevated diction. Wine is a central metaphor for Khayyam. It probably means imbibing the meaning of life. Some have interpreted him as a libertine, and there is no doubt he was a humanist who advised people to enjoy life. Others make him a Sufi mystic and see wine as a symbol of intoxication with God. If wine just meant literally either the good life or divine intoxication, however, then why suggest his drinking companions wake up from their stupor just to drink more? They are missing out on something more than being drunk, whatever “drunk” means.)

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

10 Responses

  1. As Khayyam wrote:

    “The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on.

    Nor all your piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line.

    Nor all your tears wash out a word of it”

  2. Am I totally out of it? I thought Islam forbade the drinking of alcohol. … I just checked out Wikipedia, and it says that the Q’uran singles out alcohol consumption of one of five punishable crimes: “unlawful intercourse, false accusation of unlawful intercourse, consumption of alcohol, theft, and highway robbery.”

  3. At dawn came a shout from this tavern of ours,
    “O raving dive-dwelling derelict of ours,
    Wake up and we’ll fill the cup up with wine,
    Before they come kick this bucket of ours.”

    PS I wake up to Informed Comment every morning.

  4. Thank you for these lovely translations. I believe that, unlike some mystical poets, to Khayyam, who was a philosopher and one of the greatest freethinkers of all times, wine is the symbol of intellectual emancipation and the rejection of religious hypocrisy and dogmatism. He has a number of poems in the form of “guyand…” (it is said) and “man miguyam…” (but I say) in which he clearly rejects the idea of pure wine in heaven in favor of the juice of the grape. In my feeble translation of the first two lines (and I hope Juan will translate it into good English), one of the quatrains reads:

    “It is said heaven with wine and houris is pleasant,
    But I say the juice of the grape is pleasant
    Ah, take the cash in hand and wave the rest;
    Oh, the brave music of a distant drum!”


    “It is said there will be a paradise with beautiful Houris
    There will flow pure wine and honey;
    If we have chosen the wine and the beloved, why blame us,
    For this is going to be our lot at the end!”

    There are quite a few quatrains like this, which make it clear that by wine he means the juice of the grape.

    In another quatrain translated by Fitzgerald he again refers to wine as “tearing the garment of repentance”

    Come, Fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
    The Winter Garment of Repentance fling;
    The Bird of Time has but a little way
    To fly – and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing

  5. I believe he is speaking metaphorically of divine intoxication — to imbibe of the infinite, to drink from the well of Beauty inside.

    To indulge in the ultimate pleasure, this union with the immortal — from which there is no hangover, only a thirst for more.

    A celebration which can happen only while a person is in mortal body. The union of our mortal awareness with the endless love powering each breath. This is the wine, and the art of drunkenness.

  6. I am familiar with the Fitzgerald translations, but i always like to see others. Thanks, Prof. Cole.

    “Indeed,indeed, repentance oft before
    I swore, but was I sober when I swore?
    And, then, and then, came Spring, and rose in hand,
    My threadbare penitence apieces tore”

    Some of my favorites:

    “O Thou who did with pitfall, and with gin,
    Beset the road I was to wander in,
    Thou wilt not with predestination round
    Enmesh me, and impute my fall to sin ?”

    “What, without asking, hither hurried whence?
    And, without asking whither hurried hence!
    Another and another Cup to drown
    The Memory of this Impertinence!”


  7. The Persian miniatures are representations of people, etc., not the mere (Islamic) decorative calligraphy of the Al-Hamra.

    Did Islam vary (over time, over place) as to the strictures about wine-drinking and picture-making, or were these things pre-Islamic?

    • Varies over time and place. Nowadays liquor stores open in Jordan even on Fridays.

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