New books

Two new titles have been published recently:

Rubá’iyát of Hakim ‘Umar Khayyám. Selected quatrains of Khayyám. Translated into simple Solati Cover 2015English with spiritual interpretation. Edited and translated by Bahman Solati. Boca Raton, Universal-publishers, 2015. 109 pp. ISBN: 978-1-62734-033-5.

In this edition 60 quatrains are literally translated and presented with a spiritual explanation and with the Persian text of the quatrains. The introduction (20 pages) highlights the most important facts, features and history of Khayyám’s rubáiyat. Solati published a number of studies on Hafez, as well as on the impact of Sufism on post-Islamic Persian literature.

The 108 quatrains of Omar Khayyam. Persian – English – Chinese. [Selection and translation] Sen Du 108 quatrainsDu. Litfire Publishing, 2015. 148 pp. ISBN: 978-1-942296-75-1.

This is a somewhat remarkble edition, as it not only presents the quatrains in English, Persian and Chinese, the verses are also classified by subject matter in ten sections. Each quatrain has a title and for each one a rhyme pattern is given for the Persian text. These patterns are collated in a table at the end of the book. The Introduction and the Notes are partially in English and Chinese, whereas the Notes are composed from ‘copy-pasted’ fragments from various older editions and studies, which results in a somewhat cluttered impression. To fully enjoy this edition the reader needs to understand the Chinese language.

Jack Kerouac’s Omar

USA On the roadMichael Skau, emeritus professor with the University of Nebraska at Omaha, recently published an article in the Journal of Popular Culture titled: “Jack Kerouac’s Rubáiyát: The Influence of Omar Khayyám” (vol. 48, No. 3, 2015).

Almost all of the Kerouac studies have ignored the influence of FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát in his life and work. The Rubáiyát provides significant similarities to Kerouac’s dualistic viewpoint: “the extremes of innocent indulgence of the beautiful variety of life and bitter, or even perverse, acceptance of the desolation of mortal existence”. The author, expert in ‘Beat poetry’ (Corso, Ferlinghetti, Burroughs, Ginsberg) points to numerous allusions to and echoes from Khayyám’s poetry, not only in On the road but in his other novels, essays and letters as well.

In a letter to Stella Sampas, his third wife, he writes: “When I’m an old man I’ll at least have my jug of wine and a loaf of bread too”. Another example of how Kerouac looks upon life is his lament on this world “which made us, but only imperfectly, that is to say unsuited to its every barb and to most of its insuitable commandments […] I never asked to be made, and so unsuited born”. To the reader this almost immediately brings to mind the book of pots . Skau’s conclusion:

For Kerouac and FitzGerald, the intertwining of delight and sadness, of happiness and dreariness, cannot be denied. Both writers find that the approach toward life is one of bright melancholy, a mournful smile, a reminder that the rose is both flower and thorns. They cannot deny the twin poles of human experience, a “triste Plaisir” that continues to resonate with their readers.

Skau’s nice and very well readable article is an almost inescapable invitation to get back On the Road again for a new experience.

Sufi masters of love

Sufi mastersThe Rosicrucian Foundation in The Netherlands will organize a symposium on the poetry and lyrics of Hafiz, Rumi and Khayyám. The meeting is part of a series to investigate the great oriental movements of wisdom and philosophy.

The delicate Persian lyrics still exert a specific attraction to us. Persian poetry, music and wisdom spread over the continents from China to the West when our ancestors still went at each other with prongs and forks.

Some of the subjects that will be discussed are stories and music about  Layla and Majnun, about Rumi, Shamsuddin of Tabriz, Mirabai, but also Krishna and Jesus. There will also be a small exhibition on Khayyám’s Rubáiyát, showing a number of mystical and sufi interpretations of his verses.

For more information (in Dutch) see: Soefi-meesters van de Liefde: Rumi en Hafez. Perzische bevrijdingslyriek voor het hart

The event will take place on June 13, 2016 in Bilthoven, The Netherlands.

Recent papers and articles

KhayyamwisdomA couple of recent articles show that there is still a living interest in Khayyám’s rubáiyát, and that there is wide range of subjects and aspects left to be studied.

Rebecca Mueller, graduate student at Indiana University, published a paper “Balkan Rubaiyat”, in which she presents two case studies of post-Ottoman translation. The studies concern the translations by Safvet-Beg Bašağić (1870-1934), Omer Chajjam. Rubaije published in 1920, and by Theofan Stylian Noli (1882-1965), a version in Albanian, in 1926. Mueller’s aim is to discuss how these translations can be seen in the context of Western as well as Eastern orientation of Bosnian or Albanian indentity-formation in that period.
Balkan Rubaiyat. The post-Ottoman polysystem between East and West. Rebecca Mueller.
Online available at:

D.P. May, from the Mathematics Department, Black Hills State University, Spearfish, takes a mathematical view on the Rubáiyát: how can graph theory be used to explore the connections between the various quatrains in FitzGerald’s translations.
Complete graphs in the Rubáiyát. D.P. May. Journal of Mathematics and the Arts, 8 (2014), nrs. 1-2, 59-67. DOI: 10.1080/17513472.2014.939526.

Rebecca Weston raised the question whether readers of Chinese and Persian poetry, notably by Li Bo, Khayyám or Hafez, should read between the lines when themes like ‘drunkenness’ or ‘drinking of wine’ occur. Drunkenness is not only a state of physical intoxication, but also refers to a state of spiritual enlightenment, and apart from the view that the reader takes in this discussion, Weston concludes that this unquestionably is an issue for “lengthy debate”.
Implications of Mystic Intoxication in Chinese and Iranian poetry. Rebecca Weston. The Undergraduate Historical Journal, 1 (2014), nr. 1.
Online available at:

The recent translation into Dutch by Paul Claes, Omar Chajjaam. Kwatrijnen (2010) is discussed by Benoît Crucifix, student at Université catholique de Louvain. In this article, the author looks at quatrain nr. XI, to demonstrate the principles and theoretical ideas in Claes’ translation.
Woestijn waar ik dit paradijs aan dank. Claes vertaalt FitzGerald vertaalt Chajjaam. Benoît Crucifix. Filter, 21 (2014), nr. 2.

And finally, Reza Taher-Kermani presents new insights into FitzGerald’s translation practice, to substantiate the claim that FitzGerald succeeded in transmitting an authentic Persian spirit in his Rubáiyát.
FitzGerald’s Anglo-Persian Rubáiyát. Reza Taher-Kermani. Translation and Literature, 23 (2014), 321-334. DOI:10.3366/tal.2014.0162


Kaviani Cover 2014In a recent volume Khodadad Kaviani, associate professor at Central Wahington University, defines Khayyaamism as “a particular worldview that (l) questions the legitimacy of religious practices and beliefs that are contrary to reason; (2) views death as part of life; (3) promotes the enjoyment of life here and now; (4) values camaraderie and friendship; and (5) expresses ideas in short poems.” As a young man, Kaviani left his country in 1979, and had to find his way in the USA. Reading Iranian poetry helped him to stay in touch with his cultural roots, and in Khayyaamism, he would find advice on “how to be a friend, what to do with money, why religion is not all that’s cracked up to be, and much more.”

Khayyám’s short poems may serve as a vehicle for readers to take a more critical view of issues and values that each new generation has to discover and to discuss. In order to do so, Kaviani provides a method to study the quatrains. Each verse is given in Persian, followed by a translation into English. Next, under the headings “Conversation starter” and “Dig deeper” a varying number of questions is posed for the reader to answer.

In this respect, it is irrelevant to dwell on the question whether Khayyám did really write these verses, “because his poetry represents a way of thinking about life (…), a worldview that opposes religious control over people’s lives and promotes living a full life here and now, in a simple  way that brings joy to the person and others.”

Although the methodical approach may seem a bit schoolmasterish (there is a chapter “Note to teachers” with rather strict instructions), it is a brave attempt to make our troubled world a better place to be.

Rethinking khayyaamism. His controversial poems and vision. Khodadad Kaviani. Lanham etc., Hamilton Books, 2014. xii, 131 p. ISBN: 9780761864066.

The illustrated Omar Khayyam

A new version of Khayyám’s quatrains was recently published by Benny Thomas, architect by profession and poet by temperament, in his own words. The work comprises 255 verses, some in rhymes, others only partially rhyming while the rest are blank verses.

Thomas’ argument for yet another version or interpretation is that the voice of Omar Khayyam still speaks to us, “because we see in the quatrains our own unexpressed thoughts elegantly phrased”. In his foreword, Aminrazavi describes the quatrains by Benny Thomas as the “silence that makes music of the soul coherent to each”.

Khayyám’s quatrains must not be viewed “as a case for his adherence to Sufi tradition”, nor does the translator’s (that is FitzGerald), skepticism in the quatrains follow from not being true to the original, as Thomas explains. As a mystic he reads something else in them, or to paraphrase his own words: both Khayyám and FitzGerald are representative geniuses of our cultural heritage, who gave expression to the voice of their souls, the voice of their Inner Worlds.

The book was issued (as prints on demand) in three states: an illustrated paperback edition, a cheaper version without illustrations and an illustrated e-book. The illustrations were done by the translator. Available at

Unfortunately, the work is not without errors. In the foreword (p. 7/9) we read: “Eight-hundred years after his death, the spirit and message of Omar Khayyám has once again celebrated in the exquisite quatrains …”. Many sentences are incomplete and for me, not being a mystic, some of the verses are almost impenetrable, for instance quatrain #158:

 The color that we swore upon with life
Is false hue drawn from lie engenders strife:
In death and all enfolding gloom our souls
Must reorient with what is true or life.

More about Benny Tomas’ translation can be found on his weblog: “The Rubaiyat“, which also shows a number of the artist’s illustrations.




Two recent volumes reviewed

Dulac illustrationIn the recent issue of ‘Iranian Studies’, Erik Nakjavani, (Professor Emeritus of Humanities, University of Pittsburgh, USA) reviews and discusses two recent volumes on the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. The first is Edward FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám: A Famous Poem and its Influence, by William H. Martin and Sandra Mason (Anthem Press, 2011).
The reviewer discusses this work in respect of contemporary views about reception and assessment of poetry, by enthusiasts and devotees as well as scholars and academics. Some quatrains are quoted to illustrate ontological and metaphysical dimensions in the Rubáiyát, which turns this part of the review into a more or less philosophical essay.
Next Nakjavani reviews a second volume: Edward FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám: Popularity and Neglect, edited by Adrian Poole, Christine van Ruymbeke, William H. Martin, and Sandra Mason (Anthem Press, 2011), in which he summarizes and discusses the separate essays. This volume contains the essays that were presented at a conference, held at the University of Cambridge, July 2009.
The reviewer judges the two volumes as “dual complementary works of scholarship, reflection, and academic research, in the strongest sense of the adjectives. Scholars, academics, literary critics, translators, and those who love poetry and share Khayyám’s and FitzGerald’s twofold concerns with the human lived experience of being and nonbeing will find these twin texts of much interest.”

Erick Nakjavani (2014) FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám: Critical
Celebrations of a Beloved Poem, Iranian Studies, 47:4, 627-648, DOI: 10.1080/00210862.2014.906184

Secular pleasures

Victorian Poetry published a very interesting essay in their latest issue, by Ayşe Çelīkkol, titled ‘Secular Pleasures and FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám‘. Pleasure
The author starts from the point of view that FitzGerald’s poem “imagines a secular experience that resists the reign of reason. Musing on transcendental matters cannot help the speaker to make sense of his own existence, but neither can rational inquiry. (…) he relates to the material world around him by seeking and embracing pleasure. Through the senses of wonder, connectedness, and enchantment inspired by the self’s engagement with the natural world, FitzGerald transfers some of the most fulfilling aspects of religion onto a secular experience.”
The essays then goes on to demonstrate how this idea is an “articulation of  some of the insights that have come to inform the critical study of the secular today”.

Secular Pleasures and FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. By Ayşe Çelīkkol.
Victorian poetry, vol. 51 (2013), nr. 4, (winter), pp. 511-522.
DOI: 10.1353/vp.2013.0029 (Abstract, project MUSE)

Omar and the Victorians

Juan Ricardo Cole (1952), who describes himself as a public intellectual, prominent Skull Sullivanblogger and essayist, and the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, recently translated a large number of quatrains from Whinfield (1883). Many of these were published in his weblog as separate posts, see:

In a recent article Rescuing Omar Khayyam from the Victorians  (Michigan Quarterly Review, vol 52, nr.2) (Abstract) Cole explains his translations by stating that “Fitzgerald’s verses are often lovely and memorable and are justly celebrated. But each generation deserves new translations of the classics. What would happen if we put the Persian instead into contemporary idiomatic English? What if we removed the distancing language and spoke of being in a bar instead of “frequenting a tavern”?”

Here is an example of what that looks like:

Since no one can trust
     in tomorrow,
        find a way to fill
this grieving heart
     with joy.
Drink up in the light of the moon –
     a moon that someday
            will look for us
and not find us.

In the parallel quatrain, FitzGerald, (1859, nr. 74) “neglects to mention the poet’s inconsolable broken heart or resort to wine to dull the pain”, as Cole notes, for not finding “the now-deceased revelers” in the light of the moon that keeps on shining when we all are gone.

In his article Cole gives a few more arguments for a new translation. One is that “the poems attributed to Khayyam are in a simple, direct, irreverent, and bawdy language”. That doesn’t imply, I trust, that we also need hiphop versions of  Alle Menschen werden Brüder or a comic version of the Nightwatch.

I feel that Cole has a point though, and of course, some of FitzGerald’s renderings are mysterious and hard to grasp, but that is part of the magic. Surely we can live on water and bread, but we want something on it.

“The many sided Omar”

That was the title of a reading by Johnson Brigham before the Prairie Club of Des Moines, VedderIowa in 1924. The author explaines that “Omar Khayyám’s nature was profoundly religious, and as a pagan preacher of “righteousness, moderation and judgement to come,” he has a message to millions of our western world who profess and call themselves Christian and yet do not take their profession seriously.”

The title quoted above, could also be applied for the phenomenom of the large number of so called translations and interpretations in which the author(s) is question argue(s) that we have no proper understanding of what Omar really had to say, or that FitzGerald’s translation desperately needs revision. The readers of Omar generally take all this for granted but in some circles these elucidative views had and still have prophets and apostles.

Here we can think of, for instance, Sir Jean (John) George Tollemache Sinclair (1825-1912), who commented extensively on FitzGerald’s translation and pointed to the many flaws and shortcomings therein, in his privately published book Larmes et sourire (1912). And to stay in our days there is the commentary by Abdullah Dougan (1918-1987), who explains in his posthumously published book Who is the potter (1991) that those who have criticized FitzGerald’s translation, all missed the point “that FitzGerald was only an instrument for what Allah wanted to happen”, and that the sultan’s turret, caught in a noose of light, basically “symbolizes the male sex organ”.

I wonder if Omarian studies can be complete without a proper exploration of this hitherto disregarded and undemarcated territory. In a number of articles Bob Forrest took a closer look at some of these works, notably by Paramhansa Yogananda (The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam explained), Louis C. Alexander (The testament of Omar Khayyam) and dr. Otoman Zar-Adust Ha’nish (Omar Khayyam in his Rubaiyat).
These articles, titled “Omariana Eccentrica” part 1-3, are published now on my website, and hopefully, there will be more to follow.