Omar Khayyam


The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Volume 2

Translated by Juan Cole from the Persian edn of E. H. Whinfield

Numbering according to the Whinfield edition.

These are quatrains (Rubaiyat) attributed to the astronomer Omar Khayyam (d. circa 1126 CE) that do not appear in the earliest book collecting such poems with attribution, the Bodleian MS from Shiraz dated 1460 CE. The ones below are taken from the edition of E.H. Whinfield in the late 19th century, which is somewhat indiscriminate and probably admits many late poems ascribed to Khayyam as a frame author. The verses remain, however, interesting in their own right, revealing a skeptical, sometimes unbelieving and libertine dimension of Persian-speaking Muslim societies in medieval Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia and India.

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


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.

(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.


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.


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.


A lover all his life is
frantic and intoxicated–
crazy, distracted and disgraced.
When we’re sober, everything annoys us;
but when we’re drunk,
whatever will be,
will be


Translations copyright 2013-2014

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