So last week while I was out of the office my roaming vagabond one man theatre, vexatious litigant mate rocked up with another inside out shopping bag full of offerings... (I never know what he's going to bring, sometimes a flattened dead cane toad and some water damaged books, sometimes discarded electronic devices, leaves, some wire maybe some seeds?)
Well this time some very interesting books, He's well read, my mate and he usually knows what I like, through his hands I have received the better part of my education in classic literature! Including, Grapes of wrath, How to make Gravy, Concordance to the Bible, books on community organising and the odd poetry book. This time he brought to me a copy of :
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam(Translated by Edward FitzGerald)
The book had been given to someone as a gift in 1977, It is old, a little bit moldy and the pages are the thick rough kind, which had turned yellow and become fairly brittle. I have no idea when it was published, as I had learned in library studies, sometimes publishers left out all the important details like that...
I dived into the book reading the forward and then onto the oddly shapen four lined poems.
I'm not big on reading poetry. I love and respect it and think in terms of poetic reason but I don't always like reading other peoples ramblings... I read several pages and found it awkward. Apparently a Rubaiyat will have the first two lines rhyming followed by a line which doesn't rhyme and ending with a line whose last word rhymes with the first two... Whatever! So I read a bunch of them and got used to the style but still felt a bit lost in the message of some of the poems, It felt a bit schitzoid, like there were two different messages or the poems held a shadow... then, Thick as a brick, it dawned on me. How can these be the poems of Omar Khayyam? He was Persian and wrote in Farsi (or the Persian Language) I am reading these poems in English!
So I did a google search basically asking "How the F-ck can a poem be translated into another language and still Rhyme?" As the spheres often collide in my world I was thrilled but not too shocked that the very first hit I got for my question turned directly to the very translation I am holding in my hand! RUB'AIY'AT OF OMAR KHAYY'AM. Wow.
After discovering that there's a lot of the 'Translator' embedded in any translation and to convey all that makes a poem great in a single translation quite a bit of liberty must be take with the original text... I realized what I'm reading can't strictly be called the writing of Omar Khayyam.
I remember finding a copy of 'The Arabian Nights' in the street shortly after having read a reference to it in a book written by a guy I know. I felt sure that finding the book was some kind of message... When I told my friend about the amazing find, he laughed and asked if it was the Richard Burton translation. "I don't flipping know! Who cares it's the same story right?"
"NO!" (Fool) "It's not the same story! They are not the same stories!"
What did I know, I thought having that title I had the same product, but I did not. Apparently there are numerous tales bound together into books called 'The Arabian Nights', they are not all the same, not the same stories, not the same quality of translation, not in or of the same Order. Oh well at least my find availed me of an education in the fine art of divining quality from crud. Of course having found a dud copy with that title, lying auspiciously in a gutter, I can't help equating it's mediocrity to the quality of my very self..
Which brings me to one of my favorite poems credited to Khayyam under pen of Fitzgerald
"The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ,Khayyam must be in there somewhere, maybe a nihilistic fatalist drunk but this poem I get.
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it."