These quatrains were translated
by Edward FitzGerald at the end of the 19th century. The amorous
ones were taken by the public to be paeans to a female companion.
That however is unlikely. They belong to a category of Persian
poetry known as khamriyya,
what we would call bacchic (or wine poetry). As such they
were traditionally addressed to beardless wine boys, objects
of desire and contemplation in the Islamic tradition. Though
the original Persian text is ambiguous (the language uses
the same pronoun for both genders), the cultural context is not.
The following selection
is taken from the 5th edition of the Rubaiyat.
With me along the strip of herbage
That just divides the desert from the sown,
Where name of slave and sultan is forgot
And peace to Mahmud, on his golden throne.
A book of verses underneath the bough,
A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou
Besides me singing in the wilderness
Oh, wilderness were Paradise enow.
Ah, my beloved, fill the cup that clears
Today of past regrets and future fears:
Tomorrow! Why, tomorrow I may be myself
With yesterdays sevn thousand years.
Perplexed no more with human or divine,
Tomorrows tangle to the winds resign,
And lose your fingers in the tresses of
The cypress-slender minister of wine.