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The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

translated by Edward Fitzgerald

Imagine: Omar Khayyam lived almost a thousand years ago. And Edward Fitzgerald was born just over two centuries ago. And yet these verses spring into a modern ear as if they were written yesterday.

Wake! 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!

So what is a "rubaiyat," anyway? Well, we should actually ask, "what are rubaiyat, anyway?" for the word is the plural of "ruba'i," which means "quatrain" in Arabic. And that's what this work is--a collection of quatrains written by old Omar, selected and translated by Fitzgerald, and recorded here for your listening pleasure.

Ftizgerald's work is better called a transcreation than a translation. If he were alive today, he would probably call his work a mash-up, for he "mashed together" Omar's lines to create his own. It's an old, old issue in translation--do we hang on to the original for dear life, even if we cannot make it truly live in the new language, or do we recreate the original in the new language so that it will truly live? Fitzgerald took the latter view.

And he took it more than once. He released five editions of his Rubaiyat over a span of forty years, and over that time he made many, many changes in every aspect of the work, from the selection of quatrains to their order to their wording. So what should we think he would do today if he were alive to supervise an audiobook of his work? It seems pretty clear that he would have changed things up all over again.

For that reason, this audiobook draws freely on the texts found in all five editions. Almost all of the quatrains from all five editions are included. Where variant texts of a particular quatrain exist, we use the one that seems to be the best as spoken poetry. In some cases, to get better spoken poetry, we have "mashed together" individual lines and phrases from different versions. In other words, this is a version of "FitzOmar's" work that carries on in the true tradition of that work, seeking the greatest poetic life for our own time and language.

The main thing is to enjoy it. Omar did not write for scholarly research and analysis, nor did Fitzgerald work to please critics. Both men wanted these verses to sing in the ear and give pleasure to the mind and spirit. And that is the goal of this recording as well.

A book of verses underneath the bough
A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou
Beside me, singing in the wilderness--
Ah! Wilderness were paradise enow!

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