The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam

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The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam is the collection of quatrains—four-line stanzas—written by the Persian astronomer Omar Khayyam (1048 – 1123). 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.