The Rubáiyát in Afrikaans

Hugo RoebaijatA new translation of the Rubáiyát into Afrikaans was recently published in Pretoria, South Africa, by Proteia Boekhuis. Daniel Hugo, poet and critic, selected fifty quatrains from FitzGerald’s version, which he declares essential, the rest being reiterations. Long ago Hugo was struck by the translation of the Dutch poet J.H. Leopold, when he was a student. Now, forty years later, this resulted in a new publication called Die roebaijat van Omar Khajjam. 50 kwatryne vertaal deur Daniel Hugo.

Today we know of six translations in Afrikaans:

  • Die Rubáiyát van Omar Khayyám. Volgens die Engelse bewerking van Edward FitzGerald in Afrikaans oorgesit deur C.J. Langenhoven. [Kaapstad, Nasionale Pers Beperk, 1923]. (Also in: Die pad van Suid-Afrika, 1933).
  • Rubaijat van Omar Khajjam. Charles Herman Bosman. Kaapstad, Colin Reed-McDonald, 1948.
  • ‘Verse van die tentmaker, Omar, die Persiese digter’. C. Louis Leipoldt. In: Geseënde skaduwees. Johannesburg, Afrikaanse Pers-boekhandel, 1949.
  • Die onherwinbare hede. Ruba’ijat van Omar Chajjam. Verwerk door A. H. Jonker. Kaapstad, Juta & Kie., 1950.
  • Antwoord aan Omar Khayyám, met Vertaling van die Rubaiyat deur D.B. van Soelen. Pretoria, Unie-Boekhandel, 1965.
  • Rubáiyát van Omar Khayyám. Sebastiaan Basson. Rayton, Woordewinkel, 1994. ISBN 0620208589.

Listen to the interview with Daniel Hugo on the weekly RSG programme Vers en Klank  
The introduction (in Afrikaans) is also available at Neder-L, elektronisch tijdschrift voor de Nederlandistiek.

Die roebaijat van Omar Khajjam. 50 kwatryne vertaal deur Daniel Hugo, Protea Boekhuis, Pretoria, 2014, 80 pp., ISBN (gedrukte boek): 978-1-4853-0086-1, ISBN (e-boek): 978-1-4853-123-3.

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

The Rubáiyát for students of Persian literature

AmouzgarCoverKuros Amouzgar, educated as an engineer and living in the USA, translated the Persian text of Furughi and Ghani’s edition of the Rubáiyát, to help his children’s generation enjoy their Persian literary heritage. These children of Iranians living outside their homeland, often lack knowledge and understanding of the Persian language and literature. Khayyám is one of the most famous and well known Persian poets and his verses are easier to comprehend and to translate than other Persian poets.
This edition has the Persian text as well as a transliteration into Latin, a literal translation and a selection of 39 quatrains from FitzGerald’s version. Also included are notes on the verses and a glossary of Persian words in the text.

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam for students of Persian literature. 178 quatrains rendered phonetically in the original Persian and a literal English translation by Kuros Amouzgar. Bethesda, Ibex Publishers, 2012. 233 p. ISBN 978-1-58814-083-8.

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.