Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám
Containing 75 quatrains in the first edition, some 100 in later editions, Fitzgerald’s collection imposes an organization, both philosophical and artistic, on the otherwise random ordering of Khayyam’s poetry. Such an arrangement stresses the materialistic side of Khayyam’s thought by eliminating the more spiritual of the rub’ai, and it earned for Fitzgerald’s Omar the reputation as a hedonist and religious skeptic, explaining somewhat his place as a cult figure of Victorian England.
Fitzgerald’s Khayyam advocates that humankind make the most of life through intense sensual living within a world of moral ambiguity and religious doubt. Allied with such heretical beliefs is Khayyam’s constant use of the image of wine as a symbol linked with themes of escape and celebration--hence the reputation of the RUBAIYAT for wine, women, and song.
The extent of Fitzgerald’s knowledge of Persian culture, especially the history and conventions of its poetry, is questionable. He did not aspire to produce a scholarly or literal translation but rather to achieve literary excellence--which he did, even in places outstripping the lyricism of the Persian. Moreover, he produced a volume of poetry which exerted a powerful influence on artistic circles of the late 19th century and helped to reinforce the vogue for Orientalism in both English and American society of the period.
Avery, Peter, and John...
(The entire section is 532 words.)