Thursday, November 2, 2017

Carpe Diem #1297 White Hand of Moses

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

I hope you did like the first two episodes of our new CDHK month about "The Rubaiyat" by Omar Khayyam. Those were the first two quatrains of "The Rubaiyat", Today we skip to the 4th verse. The title of this episode "White Hand of Moses" is extracted from the 4th verse.

As I read "The Rubaiyat" I was amazed by the beauty of the quatrains, but what amazed me the most was that in "The Rubaiyat" the verses not only are about Islam, but also about Christianity. It gave me the idea that Khayyam wasn't sure about being a Moslim or a Christian. I don't know that of course, but it sounds like a nice hypothetical question.

In the verse of today he talks about Moses, but as I recall my (limited) knowledge about the Islam, Moses was also a prophet in Islam and in Christianity (or Judaism). So maybe Khayyam wasn't all that uncertain.

Mohammad leading Moses, Abraham and Jesus into prayer

Here is the verse for today, as used in the first edition by Edward FitzGerald:

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.

© Omar Khayyam (Tr. FitzGerald)


This is a puzzling verse at first. The “New Year reviving old Desires” is, as FitzGerald indicates in his notes, a symbolic reference to the renewal of Nature associated with the Spring Equinox, here associated with human thoughts and feelings. The spring revival is here illustrated with the twinned references to blossoms bursting forth on the trees (“the White Hand of Moses on the Bough puts out”) and flowers bursting forth from the ground (“Jesus from the Ground suspires”).

Another suggestion is that the White Hand of Moses and Jesus are both blossoming plants of spring named after the two prophets (in Islam, Jesus is regarded as just another prophet, like Moses). The name of the first, a white tree-blossom (“on the Bough”), relates to two verses in the Qur’an (Surahs 7.108 and 26.33), and to a similar verse in the Bible (Exodus 4.6), in which the hand of Moses is miraculously turned as white as snow (or leprous) by God. (In Persian poetry, hand and leaf are poetically interchangeable.) As for “Jesus from the ground suspires”, this means that the plant bursts forth in life from the ground – the word “suspires” = “breathes forth” is used because the life-giving power of the prophet Jesus was believed to reside in his breath.

Pear blossom (instead of White Hand of Moses)

However, a rather more likely suggestion is that though the White Hand of Moses may be the name of a particular tree-blossom, Jesus is not the name of any particular flower. Rather the reference is to spring flowers generally bursting forth from the ground, as if enlivened by the life-giving breath of Jesus.

winter's gone
tree blossoms bloom
breath again

© Chèvrefeuille

What a wonderful quatrain this was and what a joy to look inside to its background ... this will be a wonderful month as we are exploring the beauty of "The Rubaiyat" by Omar Khayyam.

This episode is open for your submissions tonight at 7:00 PM (CET) and will remain open until November 9th at noon (CET). I will try to publish our new episode, a new "weekend-meditation", later on.

1 comment:

  1. Mine is late.