"The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam" (1859), translated by Edward Fitzgerald

by Edward Fitzgerald

In early 1859 the English erudite Edward Fitzgerald (1809-1883), a retired Cambridge graduate with independent means, published anonymously his translation of selected stanzas of the 12-Century Persian poem “The Rubaiyat” by Omar Khayyam, who ”was born at Naishapur in Khorassan in the latter half of our Eleventh, and died within the First Quarter of our Twelfth Century.” [1]

The work gained little notice at first, even among Fitzgerald’s close circle of literary friends that included William Thackeray and Alfred Tennyson, but by 1861 it had gained the attention of many of the leading poets of the time, notably Swinburne and Rossetti, and the work rapidly acquired quite universal fame in the English-speaking world.

Loosely translated from the original Persian verses, Fitzgerald’s inspired text became one of the best-known English-language poems of the century, and fully merits inclusion in English poetry anthologies on its own merits, we do believe [2].

Fitzgerald published a second very revised edition in 1868, and others followed (a fifth edition was published posthumously after his death in 1883). But his First Edition of 1859, based on the oldest known Persian edition of the work, contained almost all of the most celebrated phrases that have become so well known that they have entered the language and are recognized generally by one and all, and that is the version of the text shown below, with Fitzgerald’s later comments on these stanzas.

e-book versions of the text, with Fitzgerald’s notes, are available for downloading below.

THE RUBIAYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM, translated by Edward Fitzgerald


Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light.


Dreaming when Dawn’s Left Hand was in the Sky
I heard a Voice within the Tavern cry,
"Awake, my Little ones, and fill the Cup
Before Life’s Liquor in its Cup be dry."


And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The Tavern shouted—"Open then the Door.
You know how little while we have to stay,
And, once departed, may return no more."


Now the New Year reviving old Desires,
The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
Where the WHITE HAND OF MOSES on the Bough
Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires.


And David’s Lips are lock’t; but in divine
High piping Pelevi, with "Wine! Wine! Wine!
Red Wine!"—the Nightingale cries to the Rose
That yellow Cheek of hers to’incarnadine
. [6]


Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly—and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.


And look—a thousand Blossoms with the Day
Woke—and a thousand scatter’d into Clay:
And this first Summer Month that brings the Rose
Shall take Jamshyd and Kaikobad away.


But come with old Khayyam, and leave the Lot
Of Kaikobad and Kaikhosru forgot:
Let Rustum lay about him as he will,
Or Hatim Tai cry Supper—heed them not.


With me along some Strip of Herbage strown
That just divides the desert from the sown,
Where name of Slave and Sultan scarce is known,
And pity Sultan Mahmud on his Throne.


Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.


"How sweet is mortal Sovranty!"—think some:
Others—"How blest the Paradise to come!"
Ah, take the Cash in hand and waive the Rest;
Oh, the brave Music of a distant Drum!


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."


The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns Ashes—or it prospers; and anon,
Like Snow upon the Desert’s dusty Face
Lighting a little Hour or two—is gone.


And those who husbanded the Golden Grain,
And those who flung it to the Winds like Rain,
Alike to no such aureate Earth are turn’d
As, buried once, Men want dug up again.


Think, in this batter’d Caravanserai
Whose Doorways are alternate Night and Day,
How Sultan after Sultan with his Pomp
Abode his Hour or two, and went his way.


They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
The Courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep:
And Bahram, that great Hunter—the Wild Ass
Stamps o’er his Head, and he lies fast asleep.


I sometimes think that never blows so red
The Rose as where some buried Caesar bled;
That every Hyacinth the Garden wears
Dropt in its Lap from some once lovely Head.


And this delightful Herb whose tender Green
Fledges the River’s Lip on which we lean—
Ah, lean upon it lightly! for who knows
From what once lovely Lip it springs unseen!


Ah! my Beloved, fill the Cup that clears
TO-DAY of past Regrets and future Fears-
To-morrow?—Why, To-morrow I may be
Myself with Yesterday’s Sev’n Thousand Years.


Lo! some we loved, the loveliest and the best
That Time and Fate of all their Vintage prest,
Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to Rest.


And we, that now make merry in the Room
They left, and Summer dresses in new Bloom,
Ourselves must we beneath the Couch of Earth
Descend, ourselves to make a Couch—for whom?


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


Alike for those who for TO-DAY prepare,
And those that after a TO-MORROW stare,
A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries
"Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There."


Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss’d
Of the Two Worlds so learnedly, are thrust
Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
Are scatter’d, and their Mouths are stopt with Dust.


Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.


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 as in I went.


With them the Seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with my own hand labour’d it to grow:
And this was all the Harvest that I reap’d—
"I came like Water, and like Wind I go."


Into this Universe, and why not knowing,
Nor whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing:
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing.


What, without asking, hither hurried whence?
And, without asking, whither hurried hence!
Another and another Cup to drown
The Memory of this Impertinence!


Up from Earth’s Centre through the seventh Gate
I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate,
And many Knots unravel’d by the Road;
But not the Knot of Human Death and Fate.


There was a Door to which I found no Key:
There was a Veil past which I could not see:
Some little Talk awhile of ME and THEE
There seemed—and then no more of THEE and ME.


Then to the rolling Heav’n itself I cried,
Asking, "What Lamp had Destiny to guide
Her little Children stumbling in the Dark?"
And—"A blind understanding!" Heav’n replied.


Then to this earthen Bowl did I adjourn
My Lip the secret Well of Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmur’d—"While you live,
Drink!—for once dead you never shall return."


I think the Vessel, that with fugitive
Articulation answer’d, once did live,
And merry-make; and the cold Lip I kiss’d
How many Kisses might it take—and give.


For in the Market-place, one Dusk of Day,
I watch’d the Potter thumping his wet Clay:
And with its all obliterated Tongue
It murmur’d—"Gently, Brother, gently, pray!"


Ah, fill the Cup:—what boots it to repeat
How Time is slipping underneath our Feet:
Unborn TO-MORROW and dead YESTERDAY,
Why fret about them if TO-DAY be sweet!


One Moment in Annihilation’s Waste,
One moment, of the Well of Life to taste—
The Stars are setting, and the Caravan
Starts for the dawn of Nothing—Oh, make haste!


How long, how long, in infinite Pursuit
Of This and That endeavour and dispute?
Better be merry with the fruitful Grape
Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.


You know, my Friends, how long since in my House
For a new Marriage I did make Carouse:
Divorced old barren Reason from my Bed,
And took the Daughter of the Vine to Spouse.


For "IS" and "IS-NOT" though with Rule and Line,
And, "UP-AND-DOWN" without, I could define,
I yet in all I only cared to know,
Was never deep in anything but—Wine.


And lately, by the Tavern Door agape,
Came stealing through the Dusk an Angel Shape,
Bearing a vessel on his Shoulder; and
He bid me taste of it; and ’twas—the Grape!


The Grape that can with Logic absolute
The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects confute:
The subtle Alchemist that in a Trice
Life’s leaden Metal into Gold transmute.


The mighty Mahmud, the victorious Lord,
That all the misbelieving and black Horde
Of Fears and Sorrows that infest the Soul
Scatters and slays with his enchanted Sword.


But leave the Wise to wrangle, and with me
The Quarrel of the Universe let be:
And, in some corner of the Hubbub coucht,
Make Game of that which makes as much of Thee.


For in and out, above, about, below,
’Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
Play’d in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.


And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
End in the Nothing all Things end in—Yes-
Then fancy while Thou art, Thou art but what
Thou shalt be—Nothing—Thou shalt not be less.


While the Rose blows along the River Brink,
With old Khayyam the Ruby Vintage drink:
And when the Angel with his darker Draught
Draws up to thee—take that, and do not shrink.


’Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.


The Ball no Question makes of Ayes and Noes,
But Right or Left as strikes the Player goes;
And He that toss’d Thee down into the Field,
He knows about it all—HE knows—HE knows!


The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.


And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’t we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to IT for help—for It
Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.


With Earth’s first Clay They did the Last Man’s knead,
And then of the Last Harvest sow’d the Seed:
Yea, the first Morning of Creation wrote
What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.


I tell Thee this—When, starting from the Goal,
Over the shoulders of the flaming Foal
Of Heav’n Parwin and Mushtari they flung,
In my predestin’d Plot of Dust and Soul.


The Vine had struck a Fibre; which about
It clings my Being—let the Sufi flout;
Of my Base Metal may be filed a Key,
That shall unlock the Door he howls without.


And this I know: whether the one True Light,
Kindle to Love, or Wrath consume me quite,
One Glimpse of It within the Tavern caught
Better than in the Temple lost outright.


Oh Thou who didst with Pitfall and with Gin
Beset the Road I was to wander in,
Thou wilt not with Predestination round
Enmesh me, and impute my Fall to Sin?


Oh Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make,
And who with Eden didst devise the Snake;
For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man
Is blacken’d, Man’s Forgiveness give—and take!


Listen again. One Evening at the Close
Of Ramazan, ere the better Moon arose,
In that old Potter’s Shop I stood alone
With the clay Population round in Rows.


And strange to tell, among that Earthen Lot
Some could articulate, while others not:
And suddenly one more impatient cried—
"Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?"


Then said another—"Surely not in vain
My substance from the common Earth was ta’en,
That He who subtly wrought me into Shape
Should stamp me back to common Earth again."


Another said—"Why, ne’er a peevish Boy
Would break the Bowl from which he drank in Joy;
Shall He that made the Vessel in pure Love
And Fansy, in an after Rage destroy!"


None answer’d this; but after Silence spake
A Vessel of a more ungainly Make:
"They sneer at me for leaning all awry;
What? did the Hand then of the Potter shake?"


Said one—"Folks of a surly Tapster tell,
And daub his Visage with the Smoke of Hell;
They talk of some strict Testing of us—Pish!
He’s a Good Fellow, and ’twill all be well."


Then said another with a long-drawn Sigh,
"My Clay with long oblivion is gone dry:
But, fill me with the old familiar Juice,
Methinks I might recover by-and-bye!"


So, while the Vessels one by one were speaking,
One spied the little Crescent all were seeking:
And then they jogg’d each other, "Brother! Brother!
Hark to the Porter’s Shoulder-knot a-creaking!"


Ah, with the Grape my fading Life provide,
And wash my Body whence the life has died,
And in a Winding sheet of Vineleaf wrapt,
So bury me by some sweet Gardenside.


That ev’n my buried Ashes such a Snare
Of Perfume shall fling up into the Air,
As not a True Believer passing by
But shall be overtaken unaware.


Indeed, the Idols I have loved so long
Have done my Credit in Men’s Eye much wrong:
Have drown’d my Honour in a shallow Cup,
And sold my Reputation for a Song.


Indeed, indeed, Repentance 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 a-pieces tore.


And much as Wine has play’d the Infidel,
And robb’d me of my Robe of Honour—well,
I often wonder what the Vintners buy
One half so precious as the Goods they sell.


Alas, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth’s sweet-scented Manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the Branches sang,
Ah, whence, and whither flown again, who knows!


Ah, Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits—and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!


Ah, Moon of my Delight who know’st no wane,
The Moon of Heav’n is rising once again:
How oft hereafter rising shall she look
Through this same Garden after me—in vain!


And when Thyself with shining Foot shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scatter’d on The Grass,
And in Thy joyous Errand reach the Spot
Where I made one—turn down an empty Glass!


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click on a note number to return to the text.


[1from Fitzgerald’s Introduction.

[2see our article on the subject elsewhere on this site.

[3Flinging a Stone into the Cup was the signal for "To Horse!" in the Desert.

[4The "False Dawn"; Subhi Kazib, a transient Light on the Horizon about an hour before the Subhi sadik or True Dawn; a well-known Phenomenon in the East.

[5New Year. Beginning with the Vernal Equinox, it must be remembered; and (howsoever the old Solar Year is practically superseded by the clumsy Lunar Year that dates from the Mohammedan Hijra) still commemorated by a Festival that is said to have been appointed by the very Jamshyd whom Omar so often talks of, and whose yearly Calendar he helped to rectify.]


Iram indeed is gone with all its Rose,
And Jamshyd’s Sev’n-ring’d Cup where no one knows;
But still the Vine her ancient Ruby yields,
And still a Garden by the Water blows.
[[Iram, planted by King Shaddad, and now sunk somewhere in the Sands of Arabia. Jamshyd’s Seven-ring’d Cup was typical of the 7 Heavens, 7 Planets, 7 Seas, &c., and was a Divining Cup.

[6Pehlevi, the old Heroic Sanskrit of Persia. Hafiz also speaks of the Nightingale’s Pehlevi, which did not change with the People’s.

I am not sure if the fourth line refers to the Red Rose looking sickly, or to the Yellow Rose that ought to be Red; Red, White, and Yellow Roses all common in Persia. I think that Southey in his Common- Place Book, quotes from some Spanish author about the Rose being White till 10 o’clock; "Rosa Perfecta" at 2; and "perfecta incarnada" at 5.

[7Rustum, the "Hercules" of Persia, and Zal his Father, whose exploits are among the most celebrated in the Shahnama. Hatim Tai, a well-known type of Oriental Generosity.

[8A Drum—beaten outside a Palace.

[9That is, the Rose’s Golden Centre.

[10Persepolis: call’d also Takht-i-Jam-shyd—THE THRONE OF JAMSHYD, "King Splendid," of the mythical Peshdadian Dynasty, and supposed (according to the Shah-nama) to have been founded and built by him. Others refer it to the Work of the Genie King, Jan Ibn Jan—who also built the Pyramids—before the time of Adam.

BAHRAM GUR.—Bahram of the Wild Ass—a Sassanian Sovereign—had also his Seven Castles (like the King of Bohemia!) each of a different Colour: each with a Royal Mistress within; each of whom tells him a Story, as told in one of the most famous Poems of Persia, written by Amir Khusraw: all these Sevens also figuring (according to Eastern Mysticism) the Seven Heavens; and perhaps the Book itself that Eighth, into which the mystical Seven transcend, and within which they revolve.

[11A thousand years to each Planet.

[12ME-AND-THEE: some individual Existence or Personality distinct from the Whole.

[13One of the Persian Poets—Attar, I think—has a pretty story about this. A thirsty Traveller dips his hand into a Spring of Water to drink from. By-and-by comes another who draws up and drinks from an earthen bowl, and then departs, leaving his Bowl behind him. The first Traveller takes it up for another draught; but is surprised to find that the same Water which had tasted sweet from his own hand tastes bitter from the earthen Bowl. But a Voice—from Heaven, I think—tells him the clay from which the Bowl is made was once Man; and, into whatever shape renew’d, can never lose the bitter flavour of Mortality.

[14A Jest, of course, at his Studies. A curious mathematical Quatrain of Omar’s has been pointed out to me; the more curious because almost exactly parallel’d by some Verses of Doctor Donne’s, that are quoted in Izaak Walton’s Lives! Here is Omar: "You and I are the image of a pair of compasses; though we have two heads (sc. our feet) we have one body; when we have fixed the centre for our circle, we bring our heads (sc. feet) together at the end." Dr. Donne:

If we be two, we two are so
As stiff twin-compasses are two;
Thy Soul, the fixt foot, makes no show
To move, but does if the other do.

And though thine in the centre sit,
Yet when my other far does roam,
Thine leans and hearkens after it,
And rows erect as mine comes home.

Such thou must be to me, who must
Like the other foot obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And me to end where I begun.

[15The Seventy-two Religions supposed to divide the World, including Islamism, as some think: but others not.

[16Alluding to Sultan Mahmud’s Conquest of India and its dark people.

[17Fanusi khiyal, a Magic-lanthorn still used in India; the cylindrical Interior being painted with various Figures, and so lightly poised and ventilated as to revolve round the lighted Candle within.

[18According to one beautiful Oriental Legend, Azrael accomplishes his mission by holding to the nostril an Apple from the Tree of Life.

[19A very mysterious Line in the Original:
O danad O danad O danad O—
breaking off something like our Wood-pigeon’s Note, which she is said to take up just where she left off.

[20Parwin and Mushtari—The Pleiads and Jupiter.

[21This Relation of Pot and Potter to Man and his Maker figures far and wide in the Literature of the World, from the time of the Hebrew Prophets to the present; when it may finally take the name of "Pot theism," by which Mr. Carlyle ridiculed Sterling’s "Pantheism." . . .My Sheikh, whose knowledge flows in from all quarters, writes to me—

"Apropos of old Omar’s Pots, did I ever tell you the sentence I found in ’Bishop Pearson on the Creed’? ’Thus are we wholly at the disposal of His will, and our present and future condition framed and ordered by His free, but wise and just, decrees. Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? (Rom. ix. 21.) And can that earth-artificer have a freer power over his brother potsherd (both being made of the same metal), than God hath over him, who, by the strange fecundity of His omnipotent power, first made the clay out of nothing, and then him out of that?’"

[22At the Close of the Fasting Month, Ramazan (which makes the Mussulman unhealthy and unamiable), the first Glimpse of the New Moon (who rules their division of the Year) is looked for with the utmost Anxiety, and hailed with Acclamation. Then it is that the Porter’s Knot maybe heard—toward the Cellar. Omar has elsewhere a pretty Quatrain about the same Moon—

"Be of Good Cheer—the sullen Month will die,
And a young Moon requite us by and by:
Look how the Old one meagre, bent, and wan
With Age and Fast, is fainting from the Sky!"

[23“ended” or “finished” in Persian - editor’s note.