Ye'll no mak made wood. (Scots)
It is possible to get badly battered by oft-repeated thoughts that cause some melting in the mind, muddles it too, or bury better purpose, says Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952). Health of mind and successful competing and living also depend on sane thoughts and actions and good company. And whereas some books are called good company, many books are sordid. (Yogananda 2007:45; 1982:35].
A work that fails to be up snuff, up to many otherwise reasonable standards, should not to be hailed: it could backfire. But to some of those who give in to a low piece of writing, the handed-over meaning of the Scottish proverb may apply: "You're considered too old to reform" (in Walker 2000:312). Hence, the proverb addresses closed and made-up mentalities. If what is stiffened is not bad, it is not so bad -
With this in mind, we look into Yogananda's commentary of Edward FitzGerald's Rubaiyyat, a work that is more or less faultily attributed to Omar Khayyam.
The Rubaiyat is a collection of Medieval Persian quatrains (verses of four lines). Somewhere between 1,200 to over 2,000 of these quatrains (poems) are attributed to the Persian mathematician and astronomer Omar Khayyam (1048-1123). In most places in the following, 'Omar' stands for verses that may loosely be ascribed to him, correctly or not, as the case may be.
The reason: Not all verses that Omar is credited with, are original verses by him. Yet the poetic verses that are loosely attributed to Omar are known as Rubaiyat. The ruba'i (quatrain) was the favourite verse form among intellectuals in eleventh- and twelfth-century Persia. Some of the Rubaiyat quatrains are said to be by Omar, and others not.
The verse form used in the "Omar" quatrains, was popular as a means of expressing mystical concepts. The latest research has established that some of the verses can be traced back to the scientist Omar, who condensed in them his feelings, scepticism and love – maybe drunkard love. "The imagery he uses, however, is entirely inherited; none of it is original" (Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v. "Roba'iyat: Omar Khayyam". Emphasis added).
Some Rubaiyat verses appeal to many still, although translations of Rubaiyat verses differ. Some are appealing to many, in part due to a translator's or r interpretation of Khayyam's stand as to life. Some find him to be a nihilist, others a materialist, an anarchist, and still others a Sufi (Islamic mystic). Others say he was undevout and had no sympathy with popular religion.
It stands out that Omar's personal beliefs are not known with certainty. He lived in times where hedonists - or compulsive wine-drinkers - could be accused and punished for it. And Omar was accused of kufr, blasphemy.
Poets in Persia used imagery like wine, tavern, cup-bearer, lovely maiden and so on to bring across figurative or higher meanings, but figurative meanings are hardly always implied. Interpreters therefore do not agree whether Omar was for or against alcohol. Hence, the Rubaiyat can be ambiguous and taken to mean different things.
(Wikipedia, s.v. "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam")
Some say the verses of FitzGerald "reveal a man of deep thought, troubled by the questions of the nature of reality and the eternal, the impermanence and uncertainty of life, and man's relationship to God." [Encyclopedia Britannica, sv. "Omar Khayyam"]. Further:
The writer doubts the existence of divine providence and the afterlife, derides religious certainty, and feels keenly man's frailty and ignorance. Finding no acceptable answers to his perplexities, he chooses to put his faith instead in a joyful appreciation of the fleeting and sensuous beauties of the material world. The idyllic nature of the modest pleasures he celebrates, however, cannot dispel his honest and straightforward brooding over fundamental metaphysical questions [Ibid].
The idea that the intoxication Omar writes of in his poetry is a Sufi metaphor for the Divine Beloved, is not supported by all translators and writers on him, for he supported the view that laws of nature explained all phenomena of observed life. He also had disdain for divine revelation and denied the idea of resurrection and eternal life. [Wikipedia, sv. "Omar Khayyam". Emphasis added]
The number of quatrains attributed to Omar Khayyam varies from about 1,200 to over 2,000. Many scholars believe that not all the attributed quatrains are authentic. There are many more English translations of selected verses than the texts used here. (Wikipedia, s.v. "Rubaiyat")
Four English versions:
A simple method: Compare and see what is common. In the following we will compare a few verses of the first Fitzgerald version with his fifth edition, and also with translations, mostly by Whinfield and Graves-Shah, and in at least one case also with the work of Talbot.
The verses show how Yogananda (1893-1952) based his "spiritual commentary" of loose talk and stock phrases on a version that was in part invented by FitzGerald, not Omar Khayyam. Also, Yogananda used the first edition of Fitzgerald's rather free creation of liberal, fused verses. The fifth and last edition is supposed to be an improved edition. But Fitzgerald was not good at Persian (Farsi).
Fitzgerald did not exactly translate Rubaiyat verses; he created verses rather freely from it. Words and phrases that he uses in his first pamphlet edition, were superseded in later editions, and many are not found in translations (by others).
FitzGerald (1809–1883), was a member of one of the wealthiest families in England, and became a poet and writer. Beginning in 1859, he authorized four editions and also had a fifth posthumous edition of his Rubaiyat "of Omar Khayyam". They are free translations. The first, second, and fifth edition differ significantly. The first and fifth editions are both in use today.
So FitzGerald did not actually translate the poem, he wrote a much liberal adaptation. A considerable portion of the very unliteral "translation" is FitzGerald's own creation. "Many quatrains are mashed together [in his verses]," he informs. Many of the FitzGerald verses are paraphrased, and some of them cannot be confidently traced to any one of Khayyam's quatrains at all.
Also, the content and phrasing of FitzGerald's translations change with his evolving editions.
Arnot, Robert Page, ed. The Sufistic Quatrains of Omar Khayyam in Definitive Form: Including the Translations of Edward Fitzgerald (with Edward Heron-Allen's Analysis) E. H. Whinfield [and] J. B. Nicolas. London: M. Walter Dunne, 1903. ⍽▢⍽ Good for some comparison work. Online at archive.org.
Encyclopaedia Britannica: See Britannica Online.
Graves, Robert and Ali-Shah, Omar: The Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam. Cassell. London, 1967. ⍽▢⍽ May be closer to original Persian than the version produced by Edward Fitzgerald. However, the source of Omar Ali-Shah's version was most likely a study by Edward Heron-Allen, a Victorian amateur scholar. Since Ali-Shah did not inform about it, but briskly claimed that the manuscript used had been in his family for 800 years, the reputation of the poet Graves and the credibility of Ali-Shah got severe blows.
Gross, Ronald. Peak Learning: A Master Course in Learning How to Learn. Rev. ed. New York: J. Tarcher/Putnam, 1999. ⍽▢⍽ Ronald Gross stands for lifelong learning. I recommend his book.
Inner Culture (Mag.): See Self-Realization Magazine.
Khayyam, Omar. The Ruba'iyat. Trs. Peter Avery and John Heath Stubbs. Reprint paperback ed. London: Penguin Books, 1989. ⍽▢⍽ One of the better translations, with no effort to rhyme the poem. Here are 235 quatrains, more than twice as many as in FitzGerald's. Materialism comes to the fore.
Khayyam, Omar. Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: Rendered into English Verse by Edward Fitzgerald. Online Etext: Urbana, IL: The Gutenberg Project, 2008. ⍽▢⍽ The first and fifth editions, with notes. Some notes explain figures or imagery factually, and largely different from Yogananda.
Self-Realization Magazine. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship. ⍽▢⍽ The Yogananda magazine was first called East-West, next Inner Culture, and finally Self-Realization (Magazine). The first, edited version of Yogananda's Rubaiyat commentary, seemingly closest to Yogananda's own words, was published in Inner Culture as a series of instalments from 1937 and into 1944.
Talbot, Arthur B. Quatrains of Omar Khayyáám. London, Elkin Mathews, 1909. ⍽▢⍽ Talbot cast Heron-Allen's literal prose translation into a metric form. His aim was to give as literal a metric rendering as possible. Heron-Allen made many valuable suggestions to him. It may be compared with the work by Graves and Shah, which seems similarly based, and that of Fitzgerald, who used the same source manuscript as Heron-Allen.
Walker, Colin S. K. Scottish Proverbs. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 1996. ⍽▢⍽ Over 4 000 proverbs, and some of them are useful. There are explanations of several of them.
Wikipedia, s.v. "Omar Khayyam"; "Edward FitzGerald (poet)"; "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam"
Whinfield, Edward H., tr. The Quatrains of Omar Khayyam. 2nd, corrected and enl. ed. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1901. ⍽▢⍽ 500 stanzas of fine quality.
Yogananda, Paramahansa. Autobiography of a Yogi. 13th ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), 1998.
⸻. Man's Eternal Quest. New ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1982.
⸻. The Wine of the Mystic. Paperback ed. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1996 (1994).
⸻. The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita: An Introduction to India's Universal Science of God-realization. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 2007.
Yogananda, Paramhansa. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. 2nd ed. Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity Publishers, 2008.
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