Saturday, 17 April 2010

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Awake! For morning in the bowl of light has flung the stone that puts the stars to flight…

So begins the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a famous poem the Muse finds interesting because its author was a mathematician, just like Katherine. Omar Khayyam was a bit cleverer than my author, though. He lived in twelfth century Persia and was a famous astronomer who accurately calculated the length of a year, before he gave it all up to become a poet. You humans would probably call this a midlife crisis, but the Muse thinks Omar was doing just fine because his Rubaiyat (which means Testament) celebrates the joy of living in the moment.

How time slips beneath our feet:
Unborn Tomorrow and dead Yesterday…
Why fret about them if Today be sweet?


When the Rubaiyat was published in Persia, however, nobody wanted to buy a copy. The bookseller tried to shift copies by putting them outside his shop at a bargain price – like the 10p books you sometimes see in boxes outside secondhand bookshops today. Still nobody wanted to buy it! Then an Englishman, passing by, picked up a copy and liked what he read. He took it home and showed it to an editor friend called Edward Fitzgerald, who translated it into English and published it in 1859 to great acclaim. Since then there have been several other translations, and today you can find the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in many beautifully illustrated editions all over the world.

This proves that:
1. Mathematicians can write poetry.
2. Just because a book does not sell when it is first published does not mean it will never be a bestseller.
3. Poets are rarely famous in their own town.
4. Knowing an editor helps.

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