Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Carpe Diem #1295 Bowl of Night

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

Welcome at the first (delayed) post of our new CDHK month. This month is titled "Rubaiyat, Another Way" and it is all about "The Rubaiyat" by Omar Khayyam, a Persian (nowdays Iranian) poet and  scholar. However this month it's mostly about his "The Rubaiyat", a compilation of quatrains. By the way "rubaiyat" means quatrain. Let me first introduce Khayyam to you in a brief biography.

Omar Khayyam (1048 – 1131) was a Persian mathematician, astronomer, and poet. As a scholar, he is most notable for his work on cubic equations and his calendar reform. Omar was born in Nishapur, in northeastern Iran. He moved to Samarkand at a young age and obtained his education there. Afterwards he moved to Bukhara and became established as one of the major mathematicians and astronomers of the Islamic Golden Age. His treatise on algebra (Maqāla fi l-jabr wa l-muqābala) includes a geometric method for solving cubic equations by intersecting a hyperbola with a circle. There is a tradition of attributing poetry to Omar Khayyam, written in the form of quatrains (rubāʿiyāt رباعیات). This poetry became widely known due to the English translation by Edward FitzGerald (Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, 1859), which enjoyed great success in the Orientalism of the fin de siècle.

Omar Khayyam
The authenticity of the poetry attributed to Omar Khayyam is highly uncertain. Omar was famous during his lifetime not as a poet but as an astrologer and mathematician. A reference to his having written poetry is found in his biography by Al-Qifti, written about a century after his death, but the oldest securely dated manuscripts containing poetry attributed to him date to the 15th century.
The number of quatrains attributed to him varies from about 1,200 to more than 2,000. Skeptic scholars point out that the entire tradition may be pseudepigraphic. The extant manuscripts containing collections attributed to Omar are much too late to enable a reconstruction of a body of authentic verses. Iranian scholars, notably Mohammad-Ali Foroughi, in the 1930s attempted to reconstruct a core of authentic verses from scattered quotes by authors of the 13th and 14th centuries, ignoring the younger manuscript tradition. After World War II, reconstruction efforts were significantly delayed by two clever forgeries. De Blois (2004) is pessimistic, suggesting that contemporary scholarship has not advanced beyond the situation of the 1930s, when Hans Heinrich Schaeder commented that the name of Omar Khayyam "is to be struck out from the history of Persian literature".

Cover of the first edition of "The Rubaiyat" published in America (1879)

I hadn't heard from Khayyam until recently as I was reading the prompt suggestion section. I ran into a suggestion made by Bjorn Rudberg and that was my first "contact" with "The Rubaiyat" by Omar Khayyam. I don't know a lot about him, so I decided to use other sources as for example 'wikipedia' to create the posts for this month.

The quatrains which will be used this month are extracted from the translation by Edward FitzGerald. I will try to tell you something about the background of the quatrains and the possible deeper meaning.

Okay ... let's go to the first verse of "The Rubaiyat" which I have titled "Bowl of Night". In our last episode of October I presented that first verse already ... just to give you the possibility to relate to the form and the choice of words. 
A quatrain is a verse containing of four lines, the first, second and fourth line are rhyming. That will be new for you maybe, because in Japanese poetry like haiku and tanka, we use rhyme not very often. To me this makes it more difficult to create haiku or tanka inspired on the quatrains this month, but we will see how this month will evolve.

Here is the first quatrain of "The Rubaiyat":

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 Sultan's Turret in a Noose of Light. 

© Omar Khayyam (Tr. Fitzgerald)

As I read this verse I was immediately caught by that first word in capital, AWAKE! What does it mean? It occurred to me as a strong call to listen ... and that's maybe what it is ... so AWAKE! and explore "The Rubaiyat" with me.

The Sleeve of Night, Edmund Dulac

Sunrise. The Sun (the Stone), when it rises (is flung) into the Sky (the Bowl of Night), causes the Stars to become invisible (it puts them to flight). According to FitzGerald’s note on this verse, “Flinging a Stone into the Cup was the Signal for ‘To Horse!’ in the Desert.” The image thus likens the start of the day to the start of a journey. The Hunter of the East is, again, the rising Sun, the Noose of Light being the hunter’s lasso.

This verse is a prime example of the assertion that the freshness and originality of the first edition of The Rubaiyat was rather spoiled by the revisions made in subsequent editions. The flinging of the stone into the bowl was particularly problematic, and may even have arisen from a scribal misreading of the original Persian, but the image was, as FitzGerald put it: “so pretty and so smacks of the Desert Life….that it is worth risking it.” 

In another edition of "The Rubaiyat" in a translation by Edward FitzGerald the verse reads as follows:

Wake! For the Sun, who scattered into flight
The Stars before him from the Field of Night,
Drives Night along with them from Heaven, and strikes
The Sultan’s Turret with a Shaft of Light.

I think this translation is more common and gives us a better opportunity to understand this verse. It describes the scene of a new day, the sun rises, the stars disappear, that's the sign to awake and go on your way again, to your work for example.

Sunrise Yosemite

It will not be easy to create a haiku inspired on this verse, this quatrain, but here it is, my attempt to create a haiku inspired on this verse:

at sunrise
stars disappear
alive again

© Chèvrefeuille (experimental haiku)

Sorry for this long episode, but I had to tell you something more about Omar Khayyam and "The Rubaiyat". 

This episode is NOW OPEN for your submissions and will remain open until November 8th at noon (CET). I will try to publish our new episode later on.

PS.: The prompt-list for this month is not ready, so the upcoming days I hope to surprise you.

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