Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Although Edward FitzGerald was a friend of such writers as Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Thomas Carlyle, FitzGerald himself published few works. His principal one was a translation of the rubáiyát (quatrains) of a twelfth century Persian mathematician-astronomer, Omar Khayyám. Barely noticed when it first appeared in 1859, the work became popular on both sides of the Atlantic soon after Dante Gabriel Rossetti found a copy of the book and urged his friends to read it. A second edition appeared nine years after the first, expanded from 75 quatrains to 110. FitzGerald continued to make changes in a third and fourth edition, finally reducing the work to 101 quatrains.
It is widely acknowledged that the poem is much more than a translation. FitzGerald freely adapted the original quatrains, adding many of his own images and giving disconnected stanzas a unity of theme, tone, and style. He stayed with the four-line stanza of the original Rubáiyát, rhyming on all but the third line, though in a few instances all four lines rhyme. The result, known as the Rubáiyát stanza, employs an iambic pentameter line (ten syllables, five of them accented) and is crafted so that the third line, FitzGerald explained, “seems to lift and suspend the Wave that falls over the last.” The final line usually gives the quatrain an epigrammatic force. FitzGerald also combined parts of some quatrains and arranged the whole collection into what he called “something of...
(The entire section is 1732 words.)
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