Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Carpe Diem #1311 Moving Finger

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

Welcome at a new episode of our Haiku Kai were we are exploring Omar Khayyam's "The Rubaiyat" an anthology of quatrains he wrote during his life time. It's incredible that these beauties became known 100 years after his death. Until than no one knew about this artistic background of this great scholar.

Here at CDHK we are gathered all through that same art ... we are all poets, writers, photographers, painters, sculptors and haijin. In the quatrain for today it's all about "writing" and I will try to explain the background of this quatrain together with Bob Forrest, a connoisseur of Omar Khayyam. He wrote a verse to verse essay about "The Rubaiyat", a great source of knowledge which I have used this month. Next to his ideas I also have my own ideas about the meaning of the quatrains.

Let me give you the verse for today:

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.

© Omar Khayyam (Tr. FitzGerald)

This is my idea about this quatrain's meaning: In this quatrain Omar praises the beauty of writing, but also the "dark side" of writing, because what is written can not be changed and can be explained in several ways. Isn't that what we are seeking for with our haiku? Writing it and hoping it will be great and don't needs revisions?

Goose feather pen

As you know I write my haiku mostly "impromptu", but I also have revised several haiku that I created, not because of tears that washed out the lines, but because I tried to make them better, maybe more complex, maybe to challenge myself to make the haiku more pure, more transparent, more satisfying. Recently I started to create haiku, the experimental way, to paint with a minimum of words. Sometimes I succeeded in that goal, but it isn't easy to "experiment" with haiku.

Let me go back to the idea of revision, as you maybe can remember Basho revised several of his haiku. There are several haiku by Basho known with the same scene in several versions. Maybe you can remember our CDHK month in which we followed in his footsteps ... We walked his "Narrow Road" with joy and the beauty of his haiku. "Narrow Road" however took Basho five years of revision before he was satisfied with it. So ... revising your haiku, tanka or other poem isn't a bad thing. It shows you as the poet who loves to create his / her poems. The poet cherishes the scene he / she loves to share, the poet becomes one with it. Finally the poem is ready ... your poem will whisper that to your heart.

Okay ... back to the background of this quatrain.

Background: (source: bob forrest web)

The meaning is perfectly clear, and powerful in its expression, but why “the Moving Finger” as opposed to the moving Pen? Perhaps the intention is to portray something like a finger tracing out letters in the (shifting) Sands of Time? Or compare the famous Biblical episode of Belshazzar’s Feast in Daniel 5.5, in which “the fingers of a man’s hand” trace out the words MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN (Daniel 5.25) on the wall. At any rate, a Pen does feature in the original Persian verses on which this verse is based. Heron Allen translated one original verse thus:

From the beginning was written what shall be;
Unhaltingly the Pen (writes) and is heedless of good and bad;
On the First Day He appointed everything that must be –
Our grief and our efforts are vain.

A.J.Arberry translated a similar original verse thus:

Nothing becomes different from what the Pen has once written,
and only a broken heart results from nursing grief;
though all your life through you swallow tears of blood
not one drop will be added to the existing score.

This verse is an excellent example of how FitzGerald takes ideas from Omar Khayyam, and then creates something new and powerful from them which at the same time preserves the essence of the original.

This quatrain, incidentally, became the subject of a sermon delivered by a Reverend E.F. Dinsmore, later published in the form of a booklet, The Moving Finger of Omar Khayyam (1909). Rev. Dinsmore approached the verse from a moralistic point of view, arguing that though one could not wash out the errors of the past, by leading a good Christian life one could minimise the errors of the future, and thus to some extent control the Moving Finger.

Dinsmore made a small booklet of his sermon and used the following illustration by Vedder for its cover.

The Moving Finger (by Rev. Dinsmore; cover)
Writing ... is the most beautiful kind of art (in my opinion). I love writing ...

flow like a river
pen moves

© Chèvrefeuille (experimental haiku)

Let your inspiration flow like the ink of a pen, like a finger writing in the sand ... be inspired.

This episode is NOW OPEN for your submissions and will remain open until November 29th at noon (CET). I will try to publish our new episode later on. For now ... have fun!

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