The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam

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Omar Khayyam (1048 – 1123) was a Persian mathematician, astronomer, and poet.

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam is the collection of quatrains—four-line stanzas which he wrote. They are largely known to the English-speaking world in the translations written by Edward FitzGerald, first published, anonymously, in 1859.

They are perhaps some of the most quoted poetry in the English language: of approximately a hundred stanzas, about forty of them are included in full in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

Undoubtedly the best-known stanza is:

  A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
  A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
    Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
  Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

Another famous poem, highlighting the futility of regret, is featured in the musical Kismet:

  The Moving Finger writes; and having writ,
  Moves on; nor all your Piety nor Wit
    Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
  Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.

FitzGerald's translation is not literal. FitzGerald believed he was being true to the spirit of the original.

Khayyam alludes to his professional work as mathematician and astronomer in the quatrain:

  Ah, but my Computations, People say,
  Reduced the Year to better reckoning?—Nay
    'Twas only striking from the Calendar
  Unborn To-morrow, and dead Yesterday.