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  1. Medieval Quatrains Are Attributed to Omar Khayyam
  2. Edward FitzGerald's Labours


The following pages contain many referenced example of how the swami Yogananda (1893-1952) dealt with "Omar Khayyam", and the pages about the flawed guru matters conform to the general design here - what is in boldface functions as links:
  1. Medieval verse attributed to Omar Khayyam. There are 1,200 to over 2,000 such poems (quatrains). Moreover, the Rubaiyat of Edward FitzGerald made use of just a fraction of them for his own concoction.

  2. Edward FitzGerald wrote his liberal Rubaiyat adaptation through five editions.

  3. Procedure-flawed Yogananda commentaries. The swami Yogananda thought he could capture Omar's soul through FitzGerald's first version; that FitzGerald knew better how to "express Omar" than Omar (some verses attributed to Omar may in fact be by him); and that he himself knew better than the later FitzGerald after FitzGerald had worked on the verse through five editions.

  4. Not sane interpretations: Yogananda anchored his commentary of set phrases and a world view in FitzGerald's first edition, not FitzGerald's preferred edition. Nor did Yogananda anchor his commentary to any fair translation either. Many interpretation-revelations by Yogananda were most likely made up by him.

  5. Complications: There are different Yogananda versions: There are three different versions of Yogananda's commentary on Omar through FitzGeralds imagery. No one seems to know exactly what Yogananda had communicated when he dictated his commentaries, and in the two book versions from 1994, the editors have amplified and paraphrased the guru's dictated vagaries so much that it has been too confusing to a reviewer (f.

  6. Getting an Award, "Using What Isn't There" - with pearls of reviews added. One of the 1994 editions won "the 1995 Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Book in the Field of Religion", for it had nice illustrations and glossy paper. Contentwise - that is a different matter. What about "Don't award a book by its cover, illustrations and paper alone. Look deeper, under the cover. Look deeper than the trivial for content." It could be content of quality.

  7. Wisdom Talk. Yogananda reads wisdom into many things, and interprets this and that FitzGerald imagery as "Khayyam's wisdom" too, as it suits him.

  8. Recap followed by ten stanzas reviewed. Yogananda's first stanzas are examined and compared with Rubaiyat translations. "Much cry and little wool" may well be a summary of the detailed verse findings. Yogananda and his publishers are free with guru claims on a loose or absent foundation. You can see for yourself.

Good Company

Ye'll no mak made wood. (Scots)

On The Wine of the Mystic 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.

Rubaiyat, Persian book illustration, detail
Many who read form wrong opinions. The forlorn ones seem to hail sayings and works that lack much credibility.

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1. Medieval Quatrains Are 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]

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2. Edward FitzGerald's Labours

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:

  • The best-known English version (in five editions) was made by Edward FitzGerald (1809-83). Four editions were published by him while he was alive, and the fifth edition was edited after his death on the basis of manuscript revisions he had left behind. Fitzgerald's versions are noted more for freedom than for fidelity to the original. Fitzgerald did not strive for any literal translation at all, and his work is of only some hundred four-lined verses.

    FitzGerald used or fused only a fraction of the many quatrains ascribed to Omar Khayyam. FitzGerald also gave himself a wide licence to paraphrase, omit and add to verses as he felt for it.

    Some have looked in vain for the original of several of FitzGerald's lines. He imposed his own structure of thought on the verses he used, merged and shuffled.

  • Edward Henry Whinfield published his second edition of a literal translation of 500 verses in 1883.

  • Arthur Talbot published his translation of 158 verses in 1908, from the prose translation of Edward Heron-Allen.

  • Robert Graves and Omar Ali-Shah published their alleged translation of the Rubaiyat in 1967. The work purported to be a translation of a twelfth-century manuscript in Afghanistan, "where it was allegedly used as a Sufi teaching document. However, it proved impossible to produce the manuscript, and British experts in Persian literature had no difficulty in proving that the translation was based on a study of the possible sources of FitzGerald's work by Edward Heron Allen." (Wikipedia, s.v. "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam")

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.


Yogananda Rubaiyat Commentary, Wine of the Mystic, Literature  

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

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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