Thursday, 30 September 2010

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

In 1859 Edward FitzGerald paid the London publisher Bernard Quaritch to publish two hundred and fifty copies of his paraphrase translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a Persian mathematician, astronomer and poet, who lived between 1048 and 1131. Quaritch priced the book at five shillings but it did not sell and after a while he put the books in a discount box at a penny a copy. The legend goes that the great English poet A. C. Swinburne bought a copy and lent it to the Rossettis. Christina was much taken with it and put the word about.

One hundred and eleven years later it is one of the most translated and printed poems of all time and in any language. Dozens of other translations exist (including more literal ones) but FitzGerald's five editions of his translation remain matchless. Only fifty copies of the first edition are known to have survived and, unsurprisingly, change hands for enormous sums:

Quatrain XIII
Look to the Rose that blows about us -"Lo,
Laughing, she says, into the World I blow:
At once the silken Tassel of my Purse
Tear, and its Treasure on the Garden throw."

No comments:

Post a Comment