Monday, 23 March 2009

"The Hunter of the East has caught........."


In The Times this morning (what would I do without that supplier of ideas!) Libby Purves talks about Professor Tony Briggs, who is editing a new edition of "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam" for publication. At the same time apparently, there is an exhibition about it in Austin, Texas. This eleventh century poem has woven its way throgh my life in all kinds of circumstances, which I would like to share with you.

My father was a great poetry reader and had a quotation to fit more or less any occasion, so it is no surprise to find that he often got me out of bed in the morning with "Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight." Two other quotations from it that he used at every opportunity - and two which almost everyone knows:-

"ajug of wine, a loaf of bread and Thou........."

"the moving finger writes and having writ,moves on......."

A very dear old Aunt of mine, Aiunt Nell, who died in the late 1950's, had a disastrous love affair during the 1914-1918 war. The family knew little about it until after she died when, amongst her most treasured and carefully wrapped possessions was found the Rubaiyat pictured above. You can see the inscription - it was a gift from her lover and she had kept it to her for the whole of her life (she never married).Years later I became a lover of all the works of the author, Ronald Blythe. In one of his books he speaks of Edward Fitzgerald, the original translator of this 11th century poem. Apparently, a friend sent Fitzgerald a beautiful 15th century manuscript copy of the Rubaiyat. Fitzgerald, who was a bit of an eccentric and a lonely man - had taught himself Persian and so made it his life's work to translate this into English. It was published in a small edition and it almost sank without trace.Then the Pre-Raphaelites found it and it became a cornerstone of their movement - crossing the Atlantic to America, where it also became popular. Libby Purves says that one of the rarest editions lies in the Titanic on the seabed off the coast of Halifax.Blythe tells the lovely story of Fitzgerald's grave in a quiet Suffolk churchyard. The then Shah of Persia decided to send roses from what is now Iran, to be planted on Fitzgerald's grave. A group gathered round the grave to await the arrival of the Shah's Ambassador in London, who was going to plant them all. After waiting for two hours they decided he wasn't coming and the Sexton heeled them all in. Shortly after this he arrived, having stopped for an "excellent lunch" on the way. Blythe says he remarked "You English - you are always so punctual!"Years ago I taught with a Science teacher who had no religious faith. He died very suddenly of pneumonia and at his funeral Rubaiyat was read in its entirety. A fitting poem for George, who had always lived life to the full - for that is what the poem is about.So now there is a new edition coming out. I have just sat here this morning and re-read my Aunt's edition. It is as fresh and new as though it were written yesterday, and I love it. I may well be tempted to buy the new edition when it comes out. In the meantime:"The bird of time has but a little way to fly........" so enjoy your day!

16 comments:

Leilani Lee said...

What an amazing story. Its the stuff of novels. Reminds me of the scene in Shell Seakers where the kids discover the love affair after the mom dies. Will have to visit the library tomorrow when it opens and find the poem.

Leilani Lee said...

Whoops.... Shell Seekers. Seekers. Must get fingers in gear....

Leilani Lee said...

Sorry (this is embarrassing). My dad likes poetry too, only his was more... uh... on the order of "rise and shiney with your hiney..." He wants the poem "Gunga Din" recited at his funeral. Can't imagine how that's going to go over...

Mary said...

"Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling... '

LOVE that image! I haven't read the Rubaiyat in years. I'll have to sit down and re-read it soon! What a terrific story about your aunt!

Heather said...

I wonder how man of us had elderly maiden aunts whose lovers died in the First World War. My grandfather had two sisters who never married for that reason, and when the war was over there were just not enough young men to go round. I have never read the Rubaiyat, but recognised your quotations. Perhaps I should give myself a treat?

The Weaver of Grass said...

I don't mind the odd spelling mistake Leilani Lee - my fingers hit the wrong keys too! Not too sure about Gunga Din though, can't you persuade him to change his mind?

The Weaver of Grass said...

Glad you enjoy the poem too Mary. Am just going to visit you now.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Heather - do give it a try - I am sure you would enjoy it.
Re my aunt - my father had four sisters none of whom married - it happened to so many families at that time.

Heather said...

I should proof read before I post my comment! That should be 'how many of us ...' In reply to your comment on my blog, gardening and embroidery with silk don't go together in my experience. I can't bear working in gloves, and then my fingers get rough and catch on the silk threads. I shall have to come to a compromise somewhere or work on something else until the gardening eases off.

elizabethm said...

I have probably remembered this wrong but I think it is from there that the quote "let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of heaven dance between you" comes. If it is not, it should be! I have taken this as the precept for my very happy, and entirely unclaustrophobic, second marriage, now of long standing. Lovely blog and lovely photo of the bood too.

Janice Thomson said...

One of my favorite poets and now I'll have to read the Rubaiyat again - it has been a few years though often I dip into "The Prophet"
Such a wonderful post about your Aunt.

Janice Thomson said...

Gosh can't believe I got that wrong : The Prophet is of course by Kahlil Gibran. :)

Rowan said...

What an interesting post, I've never read the Rubaiyat and I think I must do something about that soon. I love the lines that your father quoted when he woke you up. How sad about your aunt - there were many stories like hers in WW1.

jinksy said...

This post took for ever to reach me, goodness knows why. Love that book of your Aunt's - older the better, a book...

Cloudia said...

Ah! Your post has reminded me of the role this poem played in my own magical youth. Thanks for that.
Aloha-

Bdogs said...

I just saw this post and found it fascinating. Last month, going through boxes of books that had been in storage, I found three copies of the poem among others that belonged to my mother (and had belonged to her father before her). But I hadn't been encouraged to read it until I saw your post. Now I shall.