Omar Khayyam (3)

This world
that was our home
for a brief spell
never brought us anything
but pain and grief;
its a shame that not one of our problems
was ever solved.
We depart
with a thousand regrets
in our hearts.

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

Translated by Juan Cole
from Whinfield 3

11 Responses

  1. Nothing profound to add or critique but to say he’s one of my favorite Persian poets. Thanks.

  2. buddhists say, life is suffering

    christians say, my kingdom is not of this world

    sufis say, beyond the three worlds

    yogis say, the Self is separate from activity

    and yet we try to fix the world


    • Khayyam is something of a fatalist, for whom the world is fixed from the beginning—at least as he comes through in the Rubaiyyat. “By the first day all futures were decided,” he says (in the Ali-Shah/Graves translation). His verse is beautiful but his view of things tends toward paralysis. It’s odd, then, that his interests were so various and went so deep….

    • “and yet we try to fix the world”

      Well, what else is there to do? I think most people inherently possess a sense of justice, and that a major component of civilization is to try to correct the injustices of life. It’s not easy, as the poet reports, and is unlikely to ever be completely successful, either.

      Yet we keep making the attempt, and with every little success, some persons may endure a little less of the needless suffering that the world likes to impose. I can’t write this off as “futile.”

  3. I really enjoy these translations, though this one stings a little. Please continue. I would add a collection of these to my library should you choose to publish one.

  4. Thanks for the translation. The second quartet, not translated, at the bottom of the page is very important in light of your Latin America post. Please translate and post.

  5. Persian poets are at the forefront of modern poetry, with their “white-poetry” style (sher-e-sepid).

    Farzaneh Khojandi (Tajikistan)

    Where is the real bazaar?

    I want to buy an eyeful of kindness.
    I want to dress my soul in hyperbole.
    There’s a merchant who brings me
    a whole spectrum of leaping colour
    from the city of desires.
    But here at the bazaar at Khojand,
    faces are sour, talk is hot
    and I long for the cool sweets of Tabriz.

    Where is the real bazaar?

    The flute-player tells me:
    come with your ears used to insults,
    and listen to the light recite a prayer to the dark.
    Open your eyes used to pale shame
    and see the beauty of Truth.

    Where is the real bazaar?

    The flute-player is there
    calling my heart towards his hat
    full of old change, but not a single pearl,
    and since I am the jewel in the teardrop
    I must go.

  6. art like this makes me think that sadness and desolation can be more beautiful and satisfying than joyous celebration.

  7. “its a shame that not one of our problems
    was ever solved.”
    As any wise man could have foreseen: we never ended slavery, never conquered the fascists, never drove any tyrants from power, never saw the end of any Latin American Dictators, never made it through the Cold War without nuclear war, never made any progress towards a world free from crippling hunger and poverty for the vast majority.
    Oh wait, we did.
    Perhaps Patrick Pearse had it right: “And would you have us be wise?”

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