Philosopher-poet Omar Khayyam:
Blazing the trail with the Ruba'iyat
Wilderness that is paradox to Omar
‘Wine is liquid ruby, the flask the mine,
The cup is the body, its wine the soul;
That crystal goblet laughing with wine,
Is a tear, the heart's blood hidden inside it. (Stanza 164)
These four lines sum up the legend, poet-philosopher, Omar Khayyam.
Throughout the Ruba'iyat he emphasises the importance of being ‘drunk’
with wine. He finds happiness in it. His fulfilment lay in the aroma of
red wine, his liberated mind and soul, and a place in the wilderness. If
this is philosophy as he profess, why study it?
He has revealed in no uncertain terms what philosophy means and he is
right. He was a free man both in body and soul with a mind strong enough
to celebrate God given wealth that is the lush wilderness. To him, it
was paradise, heaven on earth with a loaf of bread, a flask of wine and
thou beside me'.
The Ryba'iyat contains 235 magical stanzas, lyrical, sumptuously
overflowing with wine in reckless romanticism. Honest to goodness, one
could sit under a sprawling tree in the wilderness and digest every line
the poet has written. He has achieved the spirit of liberation that
often binds man to frustration. There is joy, there is the freedom to
fly without wings and the desire to seek God in the solitude of
wilderness. It affords the opportunity to communicate with Him and give
praise to His creation.
Hidden within his lines is his adoration for the creator if one is
able to read between the lines. Many have discarded him as an atheist
but he has written above all these theories. He hints at the Genesis in
the Holy Bible before time began;
‘How long will you talk of the mosque lamp and fire temple smoke?
How long of hell's loss and heaven's gain?
Go, see on the tablet, how the Master of Fate
Has written what will be, before time began’ (Stanza 31)
Kyayyam moves on to the realities of life, inspired by eternity. It
is a glint from Revelation what directs, we as Christians, look at.
‘No body, heart, has seen heaven or hell
Tell me, dear, who has returned from there?
Our hopes and fears are on something of which
My dear, there is no indication but the name (stanza 90)
He manages to extricate himself from any religious bond. In fact he
ridicules faith in preference to pleasure that he achieves from a sip of
wine. This eleventh century mistic writer wrote for the twenty first
century. If not for his wine, his brain would have exploded. He was
reckless even in his academics and should have lived to face Darwin's
theory of evolution or for that matter, man in orbit.
But who was he? A Persian astronomer scholar from the day he picked
his pen. He was also a mathematician and philosopher but his philosophy
is way out in today's society. We cannot even recapture and dwell in his
treatment of philosophy. It only allowed him to collaborate his
unorthodox attitude to life which we today might think of him as an
He displays fatalism to life's end but the Ruba'iyat is highly
charged with emotion and continues to grip the spirit of the modern
reader. But he condones to the fact that learning is a never ending
‘My mind has never lacked learning
Few mysteries remain unconned.
I have meditated for seventy-two years night and day,
To learn that nothing has been learned at all’ (Stanza 191)
He wrote the Ruba'iyat at a disturbing time especially three
religions in his domain, mainly Judaism, Christianity and Zorroastrians
were flourishing. It was the contemporary phenomena wrangling of Muslims
of different schools of thought and practice. One could term them as
arising from pre-Islamic Persia. They also had the effect of pre Arab
So, it was in such a complex scenario that Khayyam chose to write.
Perhaps that may be the reason he abandoned God, faith in humanity and
opted for his paradise in wilderness. But he needed inspiration that
came from his thirst for wine.
As of today, Persia was a crossroad between East and West which
availed the teachers to study Greek and also be influenced by the Orient
as found in Ruba'iyat.
Strangely and unquestionably the fierce Khurasan’ frontier position
inspired his epoch and later justified 90 years after his death, whereas
another intelligent man who experienced the memories, would have shunned
the prevailing society and recoiled.
His name means tent-maker which was his father's occupation. So, it
is apparent that Khayyam had the benefits of middle manufacturing class.
He may have been brought up on stories of suffering and conflict in
Khurasan, the scene of battles tirelessly fought to push back the
invaders and frustrated his patriotic feelings.
Many scholars down the centuries, authors and poets alike, have given
many a different interpretation including the famous version by Edward
Fitzgerald. He gave the Ruba'iyat a Victorian aura, full of sentiment.
Unfortunately, the name of Omar Khayyam still lags behind Wordsworth,
Dryden, Shelly, Milton, Keats and even Shakespere who was not a
brilliant poet as against his playwriting. One scholar, A. J. Arberry
has written a fascinating bibliography. It is titled, The Romance of the
Ruba'iyat and if you are a Khayyam addict, do not miss it.
Another, Sadiq Hedayat has placed his selections in groups
overlooking stanzas 104 to 235.
The Mystery of Creation 1-15
Life's Agony 16-25
Destinee's Decree 26-34
The Revolutions of Time 35-56
Revolving Atoms 57-73
What will be, will be 74-100
There is Nothing 101-107
Let us seize the Moment 108-143
‘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’ Liquor in its Cup be dry’. ....