Excursions Of A Bibliophile

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The Chimera of Time and Fate – The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on July 31, 2012

Khyyam’s rubaiyat are full of splendid resignation, wry chastisement and sometimes an aggrieved sense of righteousness. The wonderful serenity with which the fleeting nature of the world is commented upon at times also becomes a quarrel with God resulting into a brilliant quatrain of questioning, challenging and sulking.

In most of the Eastern philosophies, time is attributed an illusory quality, a deceptive construct of mind and a tenacious figment of our senses. It is these qualities that are believed to endow time with characteristics of movement, progress, passage, transformation and decay

Swami Govinda Teertha in his “The Nectar of Grace” – the brilliant translation of Omar Khayyam’s rubaiyat classified around 90 odd rubais as ones dealing with Omar Khayyam’s thoughts around time and fate. Here are ten of them which I enjoyed reading and re-reading. The imagery, insight and inference in these rubais is truly outstanding

Methinks this Wheel at which we gape and stare,
Is Chinese lantern like we buy at fair;
The lamp is Sun, and paper-shade the world,
And we the pictures whirling unaware

Ye mount on steeds and brandish steels in fight,
With all your boasts, in trenches soon alight;
The tyrant Time will never spare a life,
He breaks the Dukes by day and Knights by night.

This cycle wherein thus we come and go
Has neither beginning, nor an end I trow,
And whence we came and where we next repair,
None tells it straight. You tell me yes or no.

We come and go, but bring in no return,
When thread of life may break we can’t discern;
How many saintly hearts have melted here
And turned for us to ashes who would learn?

The Skies rotate; I cannot guess the cause;
And all I feel is grief, which in me gnaws;
Surveying all my life, I find myself
The same unknowing dunce that once I was!

Thus countless men were stabbed and cast in tomb,
And many a rose unsmelt has met this doom;
Pride not, my son! on beauty of thy youth
More buds are blighted even ere they bloom

Had I but choice, I had not come at call,
Had I a voice why would I go at all?
I would have lived in peace and never cared
To enter, stay, or quit this filthy stall

So in this snare, as sparrows we are pent,
We feel so snappish and ever lament;
Perplexed we flutter round, but find no door,
We reach no peace, but chirrup discontent

Khayyam! the World abhors that wasting wight,
Who in her days would cram his heart with fright ;
With crystal heart sing anthems of delight,
Before it dashes on the rock of plight.

Khayyam who pitched his Tent on top of Spheres,
And closed the doors for speech, his lips and ears,
A bubble of wine was he in Being’s cup,
Countless Khayyams Eternal Saqi clears !

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