The Rubáiyát

We present this work in honor of the 890th anniversary of the poet’s death.

12-04 Khayyam
Omar Khayyam
Persian
1048 – 1131

 

I.

Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultán’s Turret in a Noose of Light.

II.

Dreaming when Dawn’s Left Hand was in the Sky,
I heard a Voice within the Tavern cry,
“Awake, my Little ones, and fill the cup
Before Life’s Liquor in its Cup be dry.”

III.

And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The Tavern shouted—”Open then the Door!
You know how little while we have to stay,
And, once departed, may return no more.”

IV.

Now the New Year reviving old Desires,
The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
Where the White Hand of Moses on the Bough
Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires.

V.

Irám indeed is gone with all its Rose,
And Jamshýd’s Sev’n-ring’d Cup where no one knows:
But still the Vine her ancient Ruby yields,
And still a Garden by the Water blows.

VI.

And David’s Lips are lockt; but in divine
High-piping Péhlevi, with “Wine! Wine! Wine!
Red Wine!”—the Nightingale cries to the Rose
That yellow Cheek of hers to incarnadine.

VII.

Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly—and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.

VIII.

And look—a thousand blossoms with the Day
Woke—and a thousand scatter’d into Clay:
And this first Summer Month that brings the Rose
Shall take Jamshýd and Kaikobád away.

IX.

But come with old Khayyám and leave the Lot
Of Kaikobád and Kaikhosrú forgot:
Let Rustum lay about him as he will,
Or Hátim Tai cry Supper—heed them not.

X.

With me along some Strip of Herbage strown
That just divides the desert from the sown,
Where name of Slave and Sultán scarce is known,
And pity Sultán Máhmúd on his Throne.

XI.

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.

XII.

“How sweet is mortal Sovranty”—think some:
Others—”How blest the Paradise to come!”
Ah, take the Cash in hand and waive the Rest;
Oh, the brave Music of a distant Drum!

XIII.

Look to the Rose that blows about us—”Lo,
Laughing,” she says, “into the World I blow:
At once the silken Tassel of my Purse
Tear, and its Treasure on the Garden throw.”

XIV.

The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns Ashes—or it prospers; and anon,
Like Snow upon the Desert’s dusty Face
Lighting a little Hour or two—is gone.

XV.

And those who husbanded the Golden Grain,
And those who flung it to the Winds like Rain,
Alike to no such aureate Earth are turn’d
As, buried once, Men want dug up again.

XVI.

Think, in this batter’d Caravanserai
Whose Doorways are alternate Night and Day,
How Sultán after Sultán with his Pomp
Abode his Hour or two and went his way.

XVII.

They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
The Courts where Jamshýd gloried and drank deep:
And Bahrám, that great Hunter—the Wild Ass
Stamps o’er his Head, and he lies fast asleep.

XVIII.

I sometimes think that never blows so red
The Rose as where some buried Cæsar bled;
That every Hyacinth the Garden wears
Dropt in its Lap from some once lovely Head.

XIX.

And this delightful Herb whose tender Green
Fledges the River’s Lip on which we lean—
Ah, lean upon it lightly! for who knows
From what once lovely Lip it springs unseen!

XX.

Ah, my Belovéd, fill the cup that clears
To-day of past Regrets and future Fears—
To-morrow?—Why, To-morrow I may be
Myself with Yesterday’s Sev’n Thousand Years.

XXI.

Lo! some we loved, the loveliest and the best
That Time and Fate of all their Vintage prest,
Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to Rest.

XXII.

And we, that now make merry in the Room
They left, and Summer dresses in new Bloom,
Ourselves must we beneath the Couch of Earth
Descend, ourselves to make a Couch—for whom?

XXIII.

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust, to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and—sans End!

XXIV.

Alike for those who for To-day prepare,
And those that after a To-morrow stare,
A Muezzín from the Tower of Darkness cries,
“Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There!”

XXV.

Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss’d
Of the Two Worlds so learnedly, are thrust
Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
Are scatter’d, and their Mouths are stopt with Dust.

XXVI.

Oh, come with old Khayyám, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

XXVII.

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same Door as in I went.

XXVIII.

With them the Seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with my own hand labour’d it to grow:
And this was all the Harvest that I reap’d—
“I came like Water, and like Wind I go.”

XXIX.

Into this Universe, and why not knowing,
Nor whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing:
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing.

XXX.

What, without asking, hither hurried whence?
And, without asking, whither hurried hence!
Another and another Cup to drown
The Memory of this Impertinence!

XXXI.

Up from Earth’s Centre through the Seventh Gate
I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate,
And many Knots unravel’d by the Road;
But not the Knot of Human Death and Fate.

XXXII.

There was a Door to which I found no Key:
There was a Veil past which I could not see:
Some little talk awhile of Me and Thee
There seemed—and then no more of Thee and Me.

XXXIII.

Then to the rolling Heav’n itself I cried,
Asking, “What Lamp had Destiny to guide
Her little Children stumbling in the Dark?”
And—”A blind Understanding!” Heav’n replied.

XXXIV.

Then to the earthen Bowl did I adjourn
My Lip the secret Well of Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmur’d—”While you live
Drink!—for once dead you never shall return.”

XXXV.

I think the Vessel, that with fugitive
Articulation answer’d, once did live,
And merry-make; and the cold Lip I kiss’d
How many kisses might it take—and give!

XXXVI.

For in the Market-place, one Dusk of Day,
I watch’d the Potter thumping his wet Clay:
And with its all obliterated Tongue
It murmur’d—”Gently, Brother, gently, pray!”

XXXVII.

Ah, fill the Cup:—what boots it to repeat
How Time is slipping underneath our Feet:
Unborn To-morrow and dead Yesterday,
Why fret about them if To-day be sweet!

XXXVIII.

One Moment in Annihilation’s Waste,
One Moment, of the Well of Life to taste—
The Stars are setting and the Caravan
Starts for the Dawn of Nothing—Oh, make haste!

XXXIX.

How long, how long, in definite Pursuit
Of This and That endeavour and dispute?
Better be merry with the fruitful Grape
Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.

XL.

You know, my Friends, how long since in my House
For a new Marriage I did make Carouse:
Divorced old barren Reason from my Bed,
And took the Daughter of the Vine to Spouse.

XLI.

For “Is” and “Is-not” though with Rule and Line,
And “Up-and-down” without, I could define,
I yet in all I only cared to know,
Was never deep in anything but—Wine.

XLII.

And lately by the Tavern Door agape,
Came stealing through the Dusk an Angel Shape
Bearing a Vessel on his Shoulder; and
He bid me taste of it; and ‘twas—the Grape!

XLIII.

The Grape that can with Logic absolute
The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects confute:
The subtle Alchemist that in a Trice
Life’s leaden Metal into Gold transmute.

XLIV.

The mighty Máhmúd, the victorious Lord
That all the misbelieving and black Horde
Of Fears and Sorrows that infest the Soul
Scatters and slays with his enchanted Sword.

XLV.

But leave the Wise to wrangle, and with me
The Quarrel of the Universe let be:
And, in some corner of the Hubbub coucht,
Make Game of that which makes as much of Thee.

XLVI.

For in and out, above, about, below,
‘Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
Play’d in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.

XLVII.

And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
End in the Nothing all Things end in—Yes—
Then fancy while Thou art, Thou art but what
Thou shalt be—Nothing—Thou shalt not be less.

XLVIII.

While the Rose blows along the River Brink,
With old Khayyám the Ruby Vintage drink;
And when the Angel with his darker Draught
Draws up to Thee—take that, and do not shrink.

XLIX.

‘Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days,
Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.

L.

The Ball no Question makes of Ayes and Noes,
But Right or Left as strikes the Player goes;
And He that toss’d Thee down into the Field,
He knows about it all—He knows—HE knows!

LI.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
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.

LII.

And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’t we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to It for help—for It
Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.

LIII.

With Earth’s first Clay They did the last Man’s knead,
And then of the Last Harvest sow’d the Seed:
Yea, the first Morning of Creation wrote
What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.

LIV.

I tell Thee this—When, starting from the Goal,
Over the shoulders of the flaming Foal
Of Heav’n Parwín and Mushtara they flung,
In my predestined Plot of Dust and Soul.

LV.

The Vine had struck a Fibre; which about
It clings my Being—let the Súfi flout;
Of my Base Metal may be filed a Key,
That shall unlock the Door he howls without.

LVI.

And this I know: whether the one True Light
Kindle to Love, or Wrath consume me quite,
One Glimpse of It within the Tavern caught
Better than in the Temple lost outright.

LVII.

Oh, Thou, who didst with Pitfall and with Gin
Beset the Road I was to wander in,
Thou wilt not with Predestination round
Enmesh me, and impute my Fall to Sin?

LVIII.

Oh, Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make
And who with Eden didst devise the Snake:
For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man
Is blacken’d, Man’s Forgiveness give—and take!

KÚZA—NÁMA.

LIX.

Listen again. One Evening at the Close
Of Ramazán, ere the better Moon arose,
In that old Potter’s Shop I stood alone
With the clay Population round in Rows.

LX.

And, strange to tell, among that Earthern Lot
Some could articulate, while others not:
And suddenly one more impatient cried—
“Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?”

LXI.

Then said another—”Surely not in vain
My substance from the common Earth was ta’en,
That He who subtly wrought me into Shape
Should stamp me back to common Earth again.”

LXII.

Another said—”Why ne’er a peevish Boy,
Would break the Bowl from which he drank in Joy;
Shall He that made the Vessel in pure Love
And Fancy, in an after Rage destroy!”

LXIII.

None answer’d this; but after Silence spake
A Vessel of a more ungainly Make:
“They sneer at me for leaning all awry;
What! did the Hand then of the Potter shake?”

LXIV.

Said one—”Folks of a surly Tapster tell,
And daub his Visage with the Smoke of Hell;
They talk of some strict Testing of us—Pish!
He’s a Good Fellow, and ‘twill all be well.”

LXV.

Then said another with a long-drawn Sigh,
“My Clay with long oblivion is gone dry:
But, fill me with the old familiar Juice,
Methinks I might recover by and bye.”

LXVI.

So while the Vessels one by one were speaking,
One spied the little Crescent all were seeking:
And then they jogg’d each other, “Brother! Brother!
Hark to the Porter’s Shoulder-knot a-creaking!”

LXVII.

Ah, with the Grape my fading Life provide,
And wash my Body whence the Life has died,
And in a Winding-sheet of Vine-leaf wrapt,
So bury me by some sweet Garden-side.

LXVIII.

That ev’n my buried Ashes such a Snare
Of Perfume shall fling up into the Air,
As not a True Believer passing by
But shall be overtaken unaware.

LXIX.

Indeed the Idols I have loved so long
Have done my Credit in Men’s Eye much wrong!
Have drown’d my Honour in a shallow Cup,
And sold my Reputation for a Song.

LXX.

Indeed, indeed, Repentance oft before
I swore—but was I sober when I swore?
And then and then came Spring, and Rose-in-hand
My thread-bare Penitence apieces tore.

LXXI.

And much as Wine has play’d the Infidel,
And robb’d me of my Robe of Honour—well,
I often wonder what the Vintners buy
One half so precious as the Goods they sell.

LXXII.

Alas, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth’s sweet-scented Manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the Branches sang,
Ah, whence, and whither flown again, who knows!

LXXIII.

Ah, Love! could you and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits—and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!

LXXIV.

Ah, Moon of my Delight who know’st no wane,
The Moon of Heav’n is rising once again:
How oft hereafter rising shall she look
Through this same Garden after me—in vain!

LXXV.

And when Thyself with shining Foot shalt pass
Among the Guests Star-scatter’d on the Grass,
And in thy joyous Errand reach the Spot
Where I made one—turn down an empty Glass!

Well, Once Upon a Time, in Dribs and Drabs

11-24 Zakani
Ubayd Zakani
Persian
1300 – 1371

 

Well, once upon a time, in dribs and drabs,
Income turned up for me, throughout the year;

I’d dry bread and fresh herbs to hand, in case
A friend should unexpectedly appear;

And sometimes there’d be wine to drink, for when
A pretty boy or sweet young girl came here.

But now I’m getting on in years, my life
Has suddenly become much more austere;

I’ve neither dry to eat, nor wet to drink,
And all that’s in my house is me, my dear.

What Did You Leave Behind

z 10-16-21
Solmaz Sharif
Persian
b. 1986

 

A pool
lined
with evergreens,

needles falling
into the water,
floor

painted a milky
jade. A car
in the driveway.

A mother.

Another mother.

A cockatiel
in the hallway
squawking

next to the plastic
slippers.
Glass

after beveled glass.
Secret
after beveled secret.

Letters from a
first crush
now dead.

Killed.
We wanted
to be asked

of these things.
We spent
much of our lives
imagining.

To tell of them
was to live
again.

We rathered
and rathered,

scraping the soft
moss
off

the gravestones
of our early
dead—

A Breeze from the Land of Peace

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 95th birthday.

09-21 Moshiri
Fereydoon Moshiri
Persian
1926 – 2000

 

Indeed, if someday, someone asks me,
“During your time on Earth, what did you do?”
I’ll open my book of verse before him,
I’ll hold my head up, laughing and crying,
I’ll say that this seed is “newly sown,”
It needs time to come to fruition and bloom.

Under this vast cerulean sky,
With all my might, in very song,
I evoked the revered name of love.
Perhaps, by this weary voice,
An oblivious someone was awakened,
Somewhere in the four corners of this world.

I praised kindness,
I battled against wickedness.

I suffered the “wilting of a single stem of flower,”
I grieved the “death of a caged canary,”
And, for people’s sorrows,
I died a hundred times a night.

I’m not ashamed if at times,
When one ought to have screamed from deep within,
With Jesus-like patience,
I kept my silence.

If I were to arm myself with a sword,
To fight against the ignorant,
Blame me not for taking the road to love.
A sword in hand implies,
A man may meet his demise.

We were passing through a bleak road,
Where the darkness of ignorance was devastating!
My belief in humanity was my torch!
The sword was in devil’s hand!
Words were my only weapon on this battlefield!

Even if my poetry could not kindle a fire in anyone’s mind,
My heart, like firewood, burned from both sides.
Read a page from my book of verse, and you may say:
Can anyone burn worse than him?!

Many endless nights, I did not sleep,
To retell humanity’s message from man to man,
In the thorny land of animosity,
My words were a breeze from the land of peace.
But, perhaps, they should’ve been a mighty windstorm,
To uproot all this wickedness.

Our elders had advised us in the past:
“It is too late… too late…
The soul of the Earth is so dark,
Our strength, multiplied by hundred,
Is no more than a lonely cry in a desert so vast!”

“Another Noah, there must be,
Another great storm, too.”

“The world must be built anew,
New humans within it, too”

Yet, this patient, solitary man,
Carrying his backpack full of fervor,
Still strides along,
To draw a glimmer of light from the heart of this darkness,
He places the candle of a poem here and there,
He still hopes for the miracle that is man.

Golden anything

09-04 Kalbasi
Sheema Kalbasa
Persian
b. 1972

 

My fragile nights bathed
in Wisteria
Freshened by Eucalyptus
Pools of anything but Sorrow

Thee my love, thee
Angels and wings of dreamy shadows
Kneeling

Waves of desire
Floating essences, flooding rivers

I am trembling, tremble
Oceans of passion, desire
My fragile nights.

Thundering anything
Waking from mirrors
In the corner of my eye
razors flooding to enter.

I ask my heart: Why?
And the pain becomes a rare visitor.

On Moderation in Our Pleasures

06-25 Tabataba
Abu Alcassim Ebn Tabataba
Persian
? – 1027

 

How oft does passion’s grasp destroy
The pleasure that it strives to gain!
How soon the thoughtless course of joy
Is doomed to terminate in pain!

When Prudence would thy steps delay,
She but restrains to make thee blest;
Whate’er from joy she lops away
But heightens and secures the rest.

Wouldst thou a trembling flame expand
That hastens in the lamp to die?
With careful touch, with sparing hand,
The feeding stream of life supply.

But if thy flask profusely sheds
A rushing torrent o’er the blaze,
Swift round the sinking flame it spreads,
And kills the fire it fain would raise.

Water

Sohrab Sepehri
Persian
1928 – 1980

 

Let’s not soil the water:
Perhaps a pigeon is drinking down there
Or a thrush dipping its wing by a far thicket
Or a pitcher being filled in a village.

Let’s not soil the water.
This stream is perhaps running to a white aspen
To sooth a lonely heart.
A dervish may have dipped his dry bread there.

A lovely lady has come to the stream.
Let’s not soil the water.
Beauty is doubled.

Sweet water!
Clear stream!
People are so affable there!
May their streams bubble!
And their cows produce abundant milk!
Never have I visited their village.
Their hedges must bear God’s footprints.
There, moonshine illuminates the expanse of speech.
No doubt, the fences are low in yonder village.
And its inhabitants know what peonies are.
No doubt, blue is blue there.

A bud blossoms! People know it.
What a glorious village it must be!
May its alleyways overflow with music!
The people living by the stream understand water.
They did not soil it
Nor should we.

An Honored and Sincere Friend

Qeysar Aminpour
Persian
1959 – 2007

 

Once I thought that God has
A home near the clouds, full of glory—
Like a king has a castle in a children’s story.
With diamond bricks and gold the castle was made,
The base of its towers, ivory and crystal laid.

I thought that You sit on Your throne with pride.
While the Moon, a tiny glimmer on Your robe, rides.
The pattern of Your robe, the moonbeams draw.
A small jewel in Your crown, every star I saw.
Our sun was no more than a button on Your vest.
The sky, a small part of Your coat, so I guessed.
But no one has seen where You live or rest.

I thought that You did not want us to know.
I was so sad for this image of God here below.
My thoughts in prayer were out of fear, it’s true—
Of what a very angry God might do.
Prayer was like memorizing a lesson in school,
Reviewing geometry or math, without any rules.
Prayer was the punishment of a principal, who
Wanted answers to questions no one knew,
Or told you to form tenses of verbs no one used.

Then one night with my father, hand in hand,
We walked down a village road in our land.
There we saw a welcoming home.
I asked without waiting, “Whose is it, do you know?”
“It is God’s noble house,” my father replied.
“We can stay here awhile and pray inside.
We can pray here in quiet, beyond the sight of men,
We can make ourselves fresh and clean again.
We will talk with our conscience and learn what to do.”
“But does that angry God have a home here too?!”
To my question my father replied,
“Yes, God’s home is in our hearts, it is inside.
God’s house is covered with carpet soft and bright.
God is a mirror in our hearts full of light.
God is forgiving and hatred does not know. . .”
And suddenly I knew my love for this God would grow.
This familiar and kind God is mine, and will be—
A friend closer than myself to me.
Close to me as my very own life.
A good and an honored Friend
In Whom I delight.