How can the meaning of the following excerpt from FitzGerald's The Rubái’yát of Omar Khayyám be explained?

Wake! For the Sun, who scattered into flight

The Stars before him from the Field of Night,

Drives Night along with them from Heav’n and strikes

The Sultán’s Turret with a Shaft of Light.

Expert Answers

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This stanza consists of four lines that describe the dawn in a very straightforward fashion. It begins with the command "Wake!". Since this is a verb in the imperative mood, we assume that the narrator is addressing one or more people and telling them that it is time to wake up from their slumbers.

The rest of the stanza describes sunrise. As the sun rises, the sky brightens so one can no longer see the stars. The poet describes this as if the Sun were chasing the stars from the skies. Next, the light of the sun is seen as banishing darkness, expressed as "Night."

Finally, a ray of light from the rising sun strikes a tall tower, the "Sultan's turret".

Normally, the "aubade" or morning song is an explicit love song addressed to an individual, but in this case, the poet is attempting a more generic "carpe diem" theme, focused on waking up and seizing the pleasures that the day will offer.

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This is simply a poetic description of dawn, probably in the desert. The speaker appears to be addressing the other members of a caravan in order to get them to move on. The top of the sun is just appearing on the distant horizon, and it is creating some daylight to replace the solid "field of night" which is filled with stars. As the sun rises higher, the daylight gradually replaces the darkness and seems to be chasing the stars off in front of it. The sunlight strikes the Sultan's Turret first because that is the tallest structure.

There is no special "meaning" to this opening stanza of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. It is just poetic description of dawn in the desert, establishing a setting and a mood. It might be compared with the opening lines of Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind," because of the way the West Wind seems to be driving the leaves in flight before it like fleeing ghosts, just as the sun seems to be chasing the stars in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Both are examples of personification.

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing...

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