Sunday, July 03, 2011


A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread, and Thou

Omar Khayyám (1048–1131), Rubaiyat, tr. Edward FitzGerald:
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!
FitzGerald admitted that his translation was not a literal one. In a letter to E.B. Cowell (December 8, 1857), he stated, "But it is in truth no Translation: but only the Paraphrase of a Syllabus of the Poem: quite unlike the original in Style too."

Here is what is supposed to be a more literal translation, from The Ruba'iyat of Omar Khayyām: Being a Facsimile of the MS in the Bodleian Library, translated and edited by Edward Heron-Allen (Boston: L.C. Page & Company, 1898), p. 27:
If a loaf of wheaten-bread be forthcoming,
a gourd of wine, and a thigh-bone of mutton,
and then, if thou and I be sitting in the wilderness,—
that would be a joy to which no sultan can set bounds.
See also the remarks of Arthur J. Arberry, Omar Khayyám: A New Version Based upon Recent Discoveries (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952), p. 23:
Now going back to FitzGerald, it is to be remarked that Omar says nothing about a Book of Verses underneath the Bough, although a later copyist credits him with having done so. And indeed the idea would never have occurred to him; first because an educated Persian of his time would scarcely dream of taking a manuscript with him on a picnic in the desert having by heart enough poetry to suffice him for many picnics, and secondly for the simple reason that in a Persian wilderness there are not apt to be any trees, and in any case the mention of green shady boughs will chime ill with the austere note struck by the reference to deserted ruins. Nevertheless this was FitzGerald's compensation for omitting the third item in Omar's pannier, the thigh of mutton, which naturally appeared to the English poet as a most unromantic object, totally alien to his Victorian theory of literary proprieties; and it is hard to condemn his fastidiousness, when one considers how faithful Whinfield, the painstaking but scholarly versifier, rendered the phrase as "mutton chine" for no other ostensible reason than that he needed a rhyme for wine.

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