13 Mar Omar Khayyam: Sufi Poet
Omar Khayyam is a name that evokes different thoughts in different people, and like all Sufi thinkers, allows you to believe what you want to. Sometimes called a hedonist, for others a mathematical genius, and for some a wistful poet enamored by the pleasures of life and its finite nature, Omar Khayyam and his rubaiyat have led many an inebriated to ponder the wonders of wine and women, and others to contemplate the Sufi’s allegory, parable and metaphor in his words and imagery.
Omar was born at Nishapur in 1048, a city in present North Eastern Iran and the then capital of the Seljuk Turk Empire that was the predominant power of that time. He spent his childhood in Balkh, now in north Afghanistan, and studied under well known teachers of the time, the most prominent being Imam Mowaffaq Nishapuri. Although an astronomer, mathematician, philosopher and maker of a calendar in use till this day, Omar Khayyam is remembered by his Rubaiyat (quatrain) and more specifically, the Rubaiyat as translated by Edward Fitzgerald.
Being a poet of the Persian language, Omar’s work presented difficulties that are common in all translated works i.e. if the translator is correctly interpreting what the author sought to convey, or is he misunderstanding the original text? This difficulty, coupled with the fact that the author is a Sufi (who are notorious in misleading the unwary) of a different era, race and religion, compounds the translator’s task. Despite all, Fitzerald’s translation has survived doubts and cautions to become a celebrated work since its debut in 1859. So much so that Bill Clinton, before a House Judiciary Committee was to impeach him, quoted one of Omar’s most famous verse in the Rose Garden of the White House:
“The moving finger writes and having writ, moves on. Nor all your piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line. Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.”
Few would have thought in 11th century Iran and Afghanistan that their esteemed mathematician poet would be quoted centuries later in a garden not too dissimilar from the gardens of the Rubaiyat.
The Rubaiyat emphasizes the futility of conventional piety, the impermanent nature of man’s existence, and the need to relish the beauty and joy of the present. A constant theme is one of drunkenness and female beauty that can be easily misinterpreted as such is often described in Sufi poetry as drunk in ecstasy and joy in the presence of the encompassing Divine. Saqi (cupbearer), wine, intoxication and ecstasy are representations of the Dionysian spirit in the presence of Divine love, and frequently dispersed in the quatrains of the Rubaiyat. As all metaphors and allegory used in parables and verse, the danger of literal meanings taken out of context is a constant one for the reader of the Rubaiyat. Nonetheless, the Rubaiyat takes us to another time and era far removed from our own, and lets us ponder over the things that are so often relegated to the unvisited corners of our lives.
The Psychological Article on Rubaiyat is part of Boomer Yearbook’s continuing series of psychological articles on World Religions, Spirtuality, and Solutions to Types of Discrimination. We believe knowledge is power. We’d love to hear what you think.
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