Jacqueline Oud - Culture

Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam

Omar Khayyam

Omar Khayyam lived in Persia in Nishapour (1048 - 1131) and is still nowadays considered as a major scientific in the Arabian history. His notoriety reached more precisely in Mathematics, Astronomy and in the calendar science. Less known however are his poetic gifts: his Rubaiyat.

The Rubaiyat

The Rubaiyat are persian poems in the style of quatrains. Omar Khayyam depicted the Persian life, love and alcohol but also religious points of view. Especially in the era of the Arabian pressure in the Persian world, the Rubaiyat were not always the type of literature that was appreciated by the Arabian rulers.
You are invited to read these selected rubaiyat in the original English translation from Fitzerald. Let them take you to the Persia of the 11th century [1].

Some exemples

Whether at Naishapur or Babylon,
Whether the cup with sweet or bitter run,
The wine of life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The leaves of life keep falling one by one.

Iram indeed is gone with all his rose,
And Jamshyd’s sev’n-ring cup where no one knows
But still a ruby kindless in the vine,
And many a garden by the water blows

Some for the glories of this world; and some
Sigh of the Prohet’s Paradise to come;
Ah, take the cash and let the credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant drum!

There was the door to which I found no key,
There was the veil through wich I might not see:
Some little talk awhile of Me and Thee
There was - and then no more of Thee and Me.

Khayyam, if thou art drunk with wine, be happy,
If thou reposest with one tulip-cheeked, be happy,
Since the end of all things is that thou will be naught;
Whilst thou art, imagine that thou are not - be happy!

If the heart understood the secret of existence as it is,
In death it would know all the secrets of God:
If to-day thou knowest nothing, being with thyself,
What wilt thou know to-morrow when thou abandoniest thyself?


The Western world would never have been able to take knowledge of these beautifull poems would they not have been translated in English. It was Edward Fitzgerald that first published the translations of the Rubaiyat in 1857. It was not he who found them, nor he who was the first to translate them and on top, he didn’t achieve the hoped for success right away. Former translations from Persian are known in French too but the sources have become unclear.
Fact is that there is a lot of mystery around the Rubaiyat and the ones that are really made by Omar Khayyam.


The Rubaiyat may come back in fashion, though in a rather selective way. The current relation with the Arabian countries make people also become more aware of the past. Arabian literature has never been of a large common interest but it is worth to have a closer look and appreciate the other side of the Middle East.

[1It would be a real honour if it would be possible to publish the original persian version. Anyone who can provide them is invited to send a mail to the website.

[3 May 2004]

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