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Interior of front cover of Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, the astronomer-poet of Persia. Translated into English verse. Edward Fitzgerald, trans. London: Bernard Quaritch, 1859. EL3.F553r859
|Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, the astronomer-poet of Persia. Translated into English verse. Edward Fitzgerald, trans. London: Bernard Quaritch, 1859. EL3.F553r859|
To define The Rubaiyat as a translation is not altogether accurate; in fact, the original work may not even be entirely authored by Omar Khayyam. The Rubaiyat is actually a collection of four-lined verses called rubai, often referred to as quatrains in English verse. The rhyme scheme of these Persian verses follows an aaxa pattern, though some verses stray from this scheme. The English translation by Fitzgerald focuses on one complete day in which Omar Khayyam wakes up, contemplates life and death, drinks, and describes the experience of being alive. (This concept may seem familiar to Rosenbach fans, as we have another famous, influential work in our collection along these same lines…)
Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, rendered into English verse. Edward Fitzgerald, trans. London: Bernard Quaritch, 1872. EL3.F553r 872
Fitzgerald probably first encountered a “complete” rubaiyat attributed to Khayyam in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. His translation of the Persian rests in the Victorian traditions of revision and interpretation. Victorian authors and translators often concerned themselves more with their interpretations of literature written in other languages rather than accuracy, and Fitzgerald is no exception. He sometimes described his rubaiyat not as a translation but as a “rendering” of the original work. He also revised his own work continually.
|Front cover of Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, the astronomer-poet of Persia. Translated into English verse. Edward Fitzgerald, trans. London: Bernard Quaritch, 1859. EL3.F553r859|
In fact, Fitzgerald produced four editions of The Rubaiyat in his lifetime, and a fifth was published posthumously. You can compare the text of these different editions at therubaiyat.com. We have several editions at the Rosenbach: a first edition from 1859, a third edition from 1872, and a fourth edition from 1879, all published by Bernard Quaritch. We also have two autographed prints of stanzas from The Rubaiyat signed by Fitzgerald, which exemplify the popularity of the poem during Fitzgerald’s lifetime. Along with these are two notes: one with a suggested translation for Fitzgerald and one from Fitzgerald declining a different suggestion, with the admissions that he was both “painfully aware of [his] limitation” in the translation while still battling “the inclination to adjust and amend." It's no wonder Fitzgerald produced so many editions of this text!
Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, and the Salman and Absal of Jami. Edward Fitzgerald. trans. London: Bernard Quaritch, 1879.EL3.F553 879
Ivy McDaniels is a member of the Docent Training class 2012 and currently a docent apprentice. Her love of English Literature drew her to the Rosenbach’s collections