The Rubaiyat’s Cadaver
Jorge Luis Borges, within his essay “The Enigma of Edward Fitzgerald” (“Borges A Reader, Monegal and Reid, Dutton, 1981) informs us of how two men who lived eight hundred years apart, thousands of miles distant, and separated by several cultures, collaborated on a poem. Borges, in his own style, implies that this could be the result of both men being separate momentary faces of God. Just as quickly, Borges turns the reader around by suggesting “a beneficent chance” as being equal to “conjectures, of a supernatural sort.” He abandons both suggestions without supporting either. All while stating that the poetic collaboration of the Persian mathematician/astronomer and the English writer (neither of them well accepted by their own culture) could not have occurred without the discovery of a “[yellowing manuscript] with purple letters” at the Bodleian of Oxford University.
This writing by Borges is more of a short story than an essay. That is typical of him; writing a non-fiction and making it sound fictional, or, writing a fiction and making it seem to be non-fiction. Borges continually plays with our minds; in this case suggesting “universal histories”, “Platonic and Pythagorean Doctrine”, and even throwing in Avicenna and Alfarobi (World Eternal and Universal Form Beliefs respectively).
Another author (and editor) treats the same story quite differently. That man is Christopher Decker and he calls his book “Edward FitzGerald, Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, A Critical Edition”, University Press of Virginia, 1997. Decker approaches the story with the exactness required of a scholarly editor. The given reason for this book is the “careless editing” that has occurred over the years since Edward FitzGerald interpolated and translated Omar Khayyam’s original work. Adding to the confusion is the fact that FitzGerald ran across several manuscripts that may have been dubiously attributed to Khayyam. Also, FitzGerald could not stop re-writing his introductions and adding newly discovered and translated verse. These versions number seven and span the years 1859 to 1879.
Decker had his work cut out for him and approached it like a surgeon; or more exactly, like a coroner whose job it was to identify how the body (of Khayyam’s and FitzGerald’s work) reached the final state – the final edition of 1879.
And so Decker autopsied the Rubaiyat with exactness and laid the beautiful corpse on the cold stainless steel table of academia. Member by member and organ by organ he dissected the gorgeous body until it no longer resembled what it once was. He was, however, able to show us each era of her beautiful life; versions one through seven. He was even able to compare each version line by line, idea by idea, thought by thought, letter by letter (for those who enjoy such disjointed things).
After having read Borges’ story and Decker’s inquest there remains a doubt (in my own mind) whether I really understood the poem. I therefore, by my own set of rules, must re-interpret and re-record the Rubaiyat as I see it. This may or may not be the way that Khayyam intended it or FitzGerald interpolated it. It may or may not be the way that Borges and Decker understood it. Over the centuries I am sure it has been read a thousand different ways by a million different people. But this exercise I must do for myself.
The Rubaiyat was written in quatrains (four lines of poetry) with the first, second and fourth line rhyming. The third line was left free for the poet’s embellishment. Each quatrain is numbered.
I write it in prose for my own understanding and simplicity; sometimes one sentence, sometimes more. Miraculously the Rubaiyat became clearer with each sentence that I recorded. As the clarity grew so did my understanding of Omar Khayyam.
He had been living at his Vizier friend’s pleasure on a government payroll and at the expense of the province of Naishapur. Therefore he did not have the day to day worries as most of us have. He was not concerned with earning wages or saving for retirement. He had an advantage of living life to the fullest, day by day, and thinking about humanity. It was almost as if he were on permanent retirement (much like myself at this very moment).
And so, Omar Khayyam’s viewpoint of life was “Live for today, learn about new things, and do not take theology too seriously. Also, by the way, your life is slipping away bit-by-bit, day-by-day, and year-by-year.”
What follows is “The Rubaiyat” (rob-eye-yot) of Omar Khayyam of Naishapur, Persia (10?? AD) as interpolated by Edward Fitzgerald of England (1872) and finally simplified for my own simple mind (2011) in 101 verses of prose.
It is early morning and the stars have started to disappear. The Sultan’s tower is a shadow amongst shadows. I attempt to waken you.
I sit here before the sun shows itself and wonder why, when the Temple of Life calls for enjoyment, mediocre worshippers do not enter.
As the rooster awakens their early Life they wish to partake – but – realize the church will call them away.
A Spring festival renews the call to Life’s enjoyment but those who follow the popular ideology or theology think of Moses’ snowy hand and Jesus’ healing powers.
Theological beliefs are faint but the enjoyment of Life can be clearly seen in a vined flower and plants growing by a life-giving stream.
Languages of people change but not the song of the Nightingale. The red wine of Life awakens ones mind, ones ability to think.
Enjoy your renewed Life with new ideas, throw away your ideological and theological cloak. Your Life is flittering away like a bird on the wing.
No matter if your Life is large or small, glorious or bitter – it is disappearing drop-by-drop, like the leaves of fall.
Everyday Life grants you new experiences and new ideas. Embrace these; and discard the invalid ones as you wish.
Do we owe allegiance to the old ideas, the old gods, the superstitions? Why should we follow them?
Walk with me along the divide between theology and Living Life. Let us see who is remembered. Let them stay where they are.
We may find a nice shade tree, read a good book, and then discuss it. We will enter the “unknown” and exit a “paradise of ideas.”
Some live for human glory, some live to enter heaven; but enjoy what you have today and do not borrow from tomorrow.
Enter Life with glee, gain knowledge, sprinkle it on others; then leave life happy, knowing that you have contributed.
Those who once had great ideas are relived by the common man. Those great ideas may not apply today but we keep on digging them up.
Old hope is the kindling that will turn to ashes. It is an April snow that disappears with the sunlight of new ideas.
The caravan of Life, measured as each day goes by, brings new ideas and experiences; and the old fade into the twilight.
The reigns and territories of kings have turned to sand where animals roam. The hunter’s grave has turned to dust where the hunted remains to trample on it. But nothing has changed.
Glorious leaders reflect glorious ideas. These ideas may remain to have merit. They are the gardens where new ideas grow.
This garden grows delicately on the waters edge. Be careful not to trample on the new ideas that spring from it.
Clear my mind of regret and fear; for those culprits of the past and the future do not hold the potential of tomorrow in which I can be myself.
The most loved and best of humanity have had their drink of tomorrow and now they are gone.
Now we are the current holders of the earth and we too must, at some point, make room for the new holders of ideas.
So make good of all your potential before you descend into the earth as dust; without Song or Wine – for eternity.
Those who spend their time preparing for today and tomorrow shall be called fools.
Even the saints and sages are dead; their words stopped by the dust of time.
When I was young I studied under doctors and saints but my mind kept a place for my own thoughts as well.
I learned from them and on my own I expanded that growth. I gathered a flood of knowledge and created a whirlwind with it.
I became lost in my knowledge and it kept on flowing; but I knew not why I chased knowledge or what to do with it.
I did not ask when I would die. I did not even think of whether I would die. My conceit brought me to the insolence of not asking these questions.
I thought I had arrived at the seventh heaven, sitting on Saturn’s throne. My knowledge solved several puzzles of our solar system but not our Universe.
I saw that there existed a door (or veil) of Human Fate but could not unlock it. I thought of myself and some god. Or was it two forms of myself?
I knew He was there; somewhere in the seas or heavens. But as if being subjected to the magician’s tricks, all I could see was the night and morning.
I found You within me through a dim light. And the vision became fainter when you scolded me for my conceit.
Then You revealed the secret. Fill the cup of Life to the fullest and drink to the last drop; before you die.
At times I could not find the answer to Life (which of course, had to exist). I persisted and found Life would give and take; with a joy for both.
I have seen Life creating Life, forming it into shape, like clay. Pray, remember we all return to earth.
We came from earth and were given the name “Mankind.”
As we drink from the cup of Life we may toss a few drops on the earth; with a reverence to those who can taste it no more.
In the morning of your Life do you wonder about the cosmos as if it were the inverted cup? The cup of Life has the stars and the moon etched into its bowl.
Have you ceased to wonder about Man and God? Have you become disoriented in the hurricane of Life? Has all meaning slipped through your fingers?
Then say “Yes” to Life, learn and do what you can, see how you can exceed the self that you were yesterday and the manner of man you can be tomorrow.
Then, as Life comes to its end, you will not be sorry for what you have omitted.
Likewise, your soul will shake the dust and travel lightly, even if your body is held by the earth.
Death is a short stay for the soul. Those whose soul rises, leaves behind a simple body.
Do not worry, when we are forgotten, for the contributions of our lives are passed on to Mankind.
The world will exist far past the time of our death. The impressions we made are like a small pebble cast into the ocean.
We may like to believe we are somehow more than others; however, Life is only a temporary stop. Life’s caravan is circular and returns to where it started.
Life’s fortunes, the difference between truth and falseness, the separation between life and death, is as thin as a hair.
If these differences in life are so minute, how can we find the single Character that is the truth?
Every thought we have about these secrets torments our brain. We recognize that, from the fish to the moon, everything dies; yet the Universe goes on.
We get a glimpse of the Universe but its clarity is always poor; and then it disappears completely.
We scour, from heaven to earth, for these secrets. How are we to think of them once we are dead?
Maybe it would be better if we did not waste the precious time of Life chasing these answers down. Maybe we should just enjoy Life as Life gives it to us.
I gave up the logic and reasoning previously used in contemplating theology. Now I just enjoy Life.
I have erred in measuring Life with the tools of the surveyor and the heights of the stars; I now realize that I should have been Living Life.
People say my new calendar was invented for logical reasons. Not so! I was simply attempting to reconcile the falseness of yesterday and fear of tomorrow against the truth of today.
As I grow older I have a sense that someone (or something) is showing me a vision of a Carafe of Life; and encouraging me to drink in each and every day.
Why should I listen to seventy-two different religions when I see that the chemistry of Life can turn leaden existence into Golden enjoyment?
Mahmud, fierce defender and conqueror for Allah, has scattered the East Indian people before him.
Our theology has been changed into a weapon of will. Who has done this?
I reject this form of theology; my trust of it has turned to fear. Maybe there is a better way.
The promise of heaven and the fear of hell do not give me longer life. The only true thing remaining is that all existing things eventually die.
It is strange that none of the departed have returned to tell us what really lies beyond death.
After all the prophets died, the devout and educated told us interesting stories but then the stories were forgotten.
I thought this through and decided that I am responsible for (and make) my own heaven and hell.
My heaven is every fulfilled desire, my hell is when I have erred so pitifully that it haunts me. Why have I learned this so late in Life?
Life is like those balanced and painted lantern shades that spin on a pin. We are the painted figures that Life spins, day and night, for Life’s own show.
Or is Life simply a game of checkers, white for day – black for night, in which we are moved until slain; and then cast aside?
Or when the game of Life is played with a ball there are no questions allowed. He simply sends you down the field wherever He wants you. He knows clearly where He wants you to go.
And if Life is a writing, no matter whether you are witty or devout, what is written is written in stone. You can not go back and edit it.
Or if life is an inverted bowl and you are captured below the sky and above the earth, do not ask It for help. It is part of The Plan, just as you and I are.
What was first created already had a total plan. Man can not change what the Plan for Life is.
Drink up Life’s experiences, for you can not change them. We will never know how or why we exist; so just experience it and enjoy.
When Life started, even the most brilliant men were thrown aside. I know all that remains is the grave and the soul.
The spiraling vine and the whirling devil can capture my soul only if my basest instinct allows it to happen.
I would rather be consumed by Life’s love or wrath than to miss the truth of Life by believing in another’s theology.
Why should I allow anyone to set rules that threaten a perpetual hell? My rules of Life’s enjoyment are as valid as their rules of self-denial.
Why pay with the Gold of Life for something we never bargained for?
Although Life has strewn my path with evil, my will avoids precarious decisions. Life did not put me here to fail.
Even though some men are of a baser instinct (we all make errors) give forgiveness and accept it as well.
When I departed this earth I found myself surrounded by others who originated in the earth’s clay.
They were of all sorts. Short, tall, keen, dim, great and small, some talked incessantly, some spoke well, and some not at all.
One said “I hope that I was not created (in vain) from the earth’s clay simply to be crushed back into earth.”
A second one said “Even the peevish Boy of Life would not destroy us; those that He made and watched over.”
After a short silence a cripple spoke. “Why was I created? So that people would sneer at me?”
A talkative theologian then said “What is all of this talk about being made of clay? Who created us? Who sells us? Who buys us? Are we simply clay pots?”
Another spoke. “People say that we who are damaged will be thrown into hell. He who created us certainly would not do that!”
The last one spoke. “Whosoever makes or buys us will find that I am quite dried out. If they would only give me a little Life I could make a total recovery.”
As they all talked some saw the sign of a new beginning. They nudged each other and erroneously said – “Now we can get back to business.”
When I die please anoint by body and bury me near a busy place where people will come and go.
In such a place my reputation and soul will remind the Living of who I was.
Some of the things I believed in were held in error by others. This ruins my reputation and minimizes my Life.
Earlier in Life I sought repentance for breaking other people’s rules. When I started thinking for myself repentance was a thing of the past.
My enjoyment of Life has robbed my honor in other’s eyes. But if Life can be so full what is it that could possibly bring those others to joy?
When I die the book of my Life dies with me. But the eternal language of the Nightingale sings on. And Life continues somewhere else.
I hope that someone walking near my grave picks up my thought and brings it to Life, like the new Life that Spring brings to a herb.
May my ideas, through some miracle, live on. But let them live on in greatness (if not – then obliterate them in totality).
The future will search for us; off and on, seeking the meaning of Life. Maybe we can rid ourselves of our errors before they attempt these new meanings. And then let the seekers determine their own path.
A new era will occur. New seekers will appear. Some will look for me.
And when they find me please turn a bowl upside down so that I may contemplate the Universe and Life; once again.