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Omar Khayyam

Ghiyathuddin Abulfath 'Omar
Ibn Ibrahim al-Khayyami of Nishapur,
Persia (Iran)

Omar Khayyam

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 strown

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 yesterday’s sev’n thousand years.


Perplexed no more with human or divine,

Tomorrow’s tangle to the winds resign,

And lose your fingers in the tresses of

The cypress-slender minister of wine.


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