Although I have a few editions, the other day I picked up a nice, used copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. It is one of my favorite books/poems of all time. I think it all started in the early 80s when we were living in London. My mom hired an Iranian English teacher to teach her English. I rarely saw her. I would come home from school and she would be in class with my mom. But one holiday she came to visit us in my parents’ country house outside Madrid. As a gift she brought a kilo of pistachios -which to this day I love, and a beautiful edition of the Rubaiyat.
I immediately fell in love with that book, it had an illustrated cardboard cover and beautiful illustrations. Every page had the verses in the original (more on that later) Persian or Farsi, English, and French. Right after college I purchased my first copy, and I would read it occasionally. For the last few years, I read it almost every Summer! This is not so strange, as there are several books I read and have read multiple times: Voltaire’s Candide and Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea are examples.
At any rate, the book is not without controversy: About the original text, about authorship, about religious interpretations, and about the translations. I have no academic interest in the text, I just enjoy the poetry. I love the flow of the verses, the circularity of the themes, the imagery. It is ancient Persian but feels totally modern. It is an appeal to stop and smell the roses, something that we so often forget to do. Take for example:
I sent my Soul through the Invisible
Some letter of that After-life to spell:
And by and by my Soul return’d to me,
And asnwer’d “I Myself am Heav’n and Hell”
While I do not consider myself an Epicurean or a Hedonist in the modern interpretation of the words, I do enjoy small pleasures in life – which is much closer to the original thought of Epicurean philosophy, to enjoy modest pleasures from tranquility. Thus, I love a good cup of coffee or glass of wine, a well-prepared meal, a well rolled cigar, a piece of music or any art. That, I believe is the message of the Rubaiyat: to enjoy the moment that is life.
Let me know what you think of the Rubaiyat in the comments section.