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!