Friday, March 08, 2013

Arty Farty Friday~ Illustrating Omar's Rubaiyat

Last week in an antique store I picked up a boxed volume of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (Edward Fitzgerald translation) - a longtime favourite of yours truly. It was in fine condition, though box a bit bent and battered. The edition was one illustrated by Willy Pogány's lovely, and rather erotic black and white illustrations. Priced at $50 it was outside my budget for used books. I decided I'd do a little research online to discover whether it's over-priced. Peculiar thing - the book didn't have any publishing date or leaf carrying publisher details. Perhaps there had been a leaflet with it in the presentation box - but it seemed odd, even so. A knock-off, I wondered?
(Hat-tip to THIS blog for illustration, left)

Anyway, in the course of my searches I came across illustrations of the Rubaiyat by many illustrators and began to good would it be to have a collection, one volume of each? Maybe tattered and torn volumes past their best might be affordable, I shall keep an eagle eye out from now on. I noticed Amazon lists a book (out of stock at present) The Art of Omar Khayyam: Illustrating FitzGerald's Rubaiyat by William Mason and Sandra Mason, on this very topic it costs the princely sum of $85. That'd be outside my budget also.

As for the man himself, ol' Omar - I wrote a post on him and his natal chart in 2007 - LINK to it. Just last evening we watched an old tape of a movie about him - it was fun, but I seriously doubt he looked anything like Cornel Wilde, and most of the plot had to be pure fiction.!

So....the illustrators: 10 of the best, in no particular order with examples of their work:

Willy Pogány 1882-1955
Edmund Dulac 1882-1953
Edmund J Sullivan 1869-1933
Charles Ricketts 1866-1931
John Buckland Wright 1897-1954
Adelaide Hanscom 1875-1931
Elihu Vedder 1836-1923
Gilbert James 1886-1926
Arthur Szyk 1894-1951
David Stone Martin 1913-1992

Willy Pogány

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

Edmund Dulac

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.

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.

Edmund J. Sullivan

'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.

Charles Ricketts

John Buckland Wright

A BOOK of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
O, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

Elihu Vedder

Gilbert James

Ah, Love! could thou 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!

Arthur Szyk

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!”

Adelaide Hanscom

David Stone Martin

Cannot find any David Stone Martin's illustrations from this version online - shall have to buy the book, I guess!


mike said...

I had one of Fitzgerald's translations of "Rubaiyat" decades ago...lost it in one of my many moves around the US. A number of scholars criticize Fitzgerald's translation, because Fitzgerald incorporated rhythm and rhyme to maintain a poetic style...more adaptation rather than translation. Apparently, if I comprehended old Persian, I would delve into the intended spiritual Sufism of his quatrains.

I certainly enjoyed the Fitzgerald translation and never felt omission, but I would like to read an accurate translation to see what I'm missing!

David Macadam said...

Wonderful. Thank you made my day. Off to the second hand book shops I think!

Twilight said...

mike ~~ I understand how you feel, and realise that Ed FitzGerald needed to appeal to 19th century European sensibilities and a readership who likely wouldn't have appreciated a straight translation. It'd have died a death long since. We really have Ed FitzG. to thank for giving us, a version that has survived the centuries, something so grand, and something to love.

There's an interesting conversation, by the way, at Goodreads on the topic of translations of The Rubaiyat -

Twilight said...

David MacAdam ~~Hi! Oh good - another fan of Omar! :-)

mike (again) said...

Thanks for the link, Twilight...I didn't realize that there are five different translation editions by Fitzgerald:
1st edition – 1859
2nd edition – 1868
3rd edition – 1872
4th edition – 1879
5th edition – 1889

Commenter "Mona" wrote, "My version came with an intro by FitzGerald in which he explains some of the changes he made to his translations..."

So, I guess Fitzgerald actually updated his translations and these editions are not just reprints with different illustrators. I have no idea which edition I read!

Twilight said...

mike ~~ I lost my two leather-bound editions in a fire, and have replaced with just a cheapo paperback version (pubd.1993). I don't know which of the translation versions it carries, but I suspect it's the first - 1859.
No mention of other translation versions in the notes by Alexander Hutchinson, at beginning and end of the slim volume.

PaulE said...

Mike - I shared your interest in finding the original (or at least literal translation) of the Rhubaiyat - and I did in a Penguin book translation. The verses were much darker and less optimistic than the Fitzgerald translation - I now realize what I love is the combined work or Khayyam and Fitzgerald!

mike (again) 8-14-13 said...

Thanks, PaulE! Penguin's website isn't currently available, so I went to Amazon:

I looked at several reviewers' comments that give examples of FitzGerald vs Avery-Heath-Stubbs. Vastly different! I don't read Persian, so I will never know the original transcript, but it's as if FitzGerald "re-invented" the "Rubaiyat" and he could have called it his own and not a translation! I'm basing this on the few translation comparisons that I've found on various sites.

A reviewer on, "Boris Bangemann "boyse" states:

"For example, while the Victorian gentleman Edward FitzGerald chose to translate Omar Khayyam's praise of simple joys and poetry in his famous "A Book of Verses underneath the Bough, / A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread - and Thou / Beside me singing in the Wilderness - / Oh, Wilderness were Paradise now!", Peter Avery gives us not only a more literal translation (#98) but also a much more worldly (and spicy) version of the same theme:

If chance supplied a loaf of white bread,
Two casks of wine and a leg of mutton,
In the corner of a garden with a tulip-cheeked girl
There'd be enjoyment no Sultan could outdo. (#234)

...FitzGerald captured this redeeming poetic beauty of Omar Khayyam's work so well that his rendition of the Rubaiyat remains a benchmark true to the spirit if not the letter of the Persian poet:

And that inverted Bowl they call the Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop'd we live and die,
Lift not your hands to It for help - for It
As impotently moves as you or I.

(while Avery translates with the intention "to give as literal an English version of the Persian originals as readability and intelligibility permit":)

The good and evil that are in man's heart,
The joy and sorrow that are our fortune and destiny,
Do not impute them to the wheel of heaven because, in the light of reason,
The wheel is a thousand times more helpless than you. (#34)

...And lest anyone should think Omar Khayyam was only a frivolous, inebriated hedonist, here are two of my favorite quatrains from Peter Avery's and John Heath-Stubbs's book:

If the heart could grasp the meaning of life,
In death it would know the mystery of God;
Today when you are in possession of yourself, you know nothing.
Tomorrow when you leave yourself behind, what will you know? (#5)

It is we who are the source of our own happiness, the mine of our own sorrow,
The repository of justice and foundation of iniquity;
We who are cast down and exalted, perfect and defective,
At once the rusted mirror and Jamshid's all-seeing cup. (#211)

(Avery explains that to the Persian culture hero Jamshid or Jam was attributed a magic cup in which he could see time past, present and future and all the world, and by which like Joseph with his silver cup, he could divine (Genesis xliv, 4-5).)"

Twilight said...

I hope PaulE returns to read your comment, mike. Interesting comparison of translation.

As well as the word for word problem in translating this there's the translation of century by century time-lapse, and even more importantly culture-difference.

Time-lapse-wise, even Edward Fitzgerald's gem is old now - but I'd not like to see what a modern poet would come up with. Edward F's version will remain definitive for me. :-)

mike (again) 8-15-13 said...

Again, I don't read old Persian, so I'm forever lost on this one. I would enjoy discussing this with someone that does read old Persian to get the take on the translations.

I'm intrigued by this, because I (used to) know two other languages and much can be lost in translation. I've had several friends over the years from different nations that spoke English as their second or third language. In our discussions, they invariably would indicate the many faults of translating verbatim...many nuances and-or direct meanings can be lost or misconstrued.

I may purchase the Avery translation, because it has me curious. Yes, I'm with you and PaulE in that I am so familiar with FitzGerald's beautiful translation that I can't imagine much else. However, I suspect that Omar Khayyam's true writing is somewhat different than either translation...possibly more magnificent than either translation.