Thursday, February 24, 2005

Some Wisdom from Edward Fitzgerald

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about; but evermore
Came out by the same door wherein I went.

With them the seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow;
And this was all the Harvest that I reap'd--
I came like Water, and like Wind I go." ...

Indeed, indeed, Repentence oft before
I swore--but was I sober when I swore?
And then and then came Spring, and Rose-in-hand
My thread-bare Penitence apieces tore. ...

What! out of senseless Nothing to provoke
A conscious Something to resent the yoke
Of unpermitted Pleasure, under pain
Of Everlasting Penalties, if broke!

What! from his helpless Creature be repaid
Pure Gold for what he lent him dross-allayed--
Sue for a Debt we never did contract,
And cannot answer--Oh the sorry trade!

Oh Thou, who didst with pitfall and with gin
Beset the Road I was to wander in,
Thou wilt not with Predestined Evil round
Enmesh, and then impute my Fall to Sin! ...

O threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain,--THIS Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies. ...

"Why," said another, "some there are who tell
Of one who threatens he will toss to Hell
The luckless Pots he marr'd in making--Pish!
He's a Good Fellow, and 'twill all be well." ...

We are no other than a moving row
Of magic Shadow-shapes that come and go
Round with this Sun-illumined Lantern held
In Midnight by the Master of the show;

But helpless Pieces of the Game He plays
Upon this Chequer-board of Nights and Days;
Hither and thither moves, and checks, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays. ...

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust unto Dust, and under Dust, to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and--sans End!

YESTERDAY This Day's Madness did prepare;
TO-MORROW'S Silence, Triumph, or Despair:
Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why:
Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where. ...

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough;
A Loaf of Bread, a Jug of Wine, and Thou
Beside me, Singing in the Wilderness--
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow! ...

Ah, Love--could you and I with Him conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of things entire--
Would we not shatter it to bits, and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's desire?

Stanzas from "The Ruba'iyat of Omar Khayyam" of Naishapur (Persia),
translated by Edward Fitzgerald (1809-1883), and first published in English in 1859.


Sometimes, when thinking of the above poem (and its ideas, with which I heartily agree), I twist and reshape certain of the lines, to make them more particularly applicable to my own personal predilections. I realize that by mentioning this fact, and by displaying my altered version to the general public, I may seem to be making light of the very serious intent (and ideas) of the original. This is not the case. I think one can show both seriousness and a sense of humour simultaneously. Many writers and thinkers before myself have (legitimately) said that it is often a sense of humour which prevents this sad world of ours from becoming unbearable (Lincoln--normally a very somber, serious man--is reported to have said, "I laugh [or tell jokes] because I must not weep ...").

Here are my light-hearted versions of two of the above stanzas (and please forgive them if they happen to offend; they are only meant to be humourous):

Indeed, indeed, repentence oft before
I swore--but was I sober when I swore?
And then and then came Nick, and Cock-in-hand
My thread-bare penitence apieces tore. ...

Oh Thou, who didst with pitfall and young men
Beset the road I was to wander in,
Thou wilt not with predestined evil round
Enmesh, and then impute my fall to sin ...

Well, I will leave this alone for now.