Omar Khayyám

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We are no other than a moving row
Of Magic Shadow-shapes that come and go
Round with the Sun-illumined Lantern held
In Midnight by the Master of the Show…

Omar Khayyám [ عمر خیام Persian] (18 May 10484 December 1131) was a Persian mathematician, astronomer, and writer; originally named Ghiyath al-Din Abu'l-Fath Omar ibn Ibrahim Al-Nisaburi Khayyámi (غیاث الدین ابو الفتح عمر بن ابراهیم خیام نیشابوری) Edward FitzGerald's translations of his poetic Rubaiyat (Quatrains) were immensely popular, and remain influential.

Quotes[edit]

Now the New Year reviving old Desires
The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires...
  • By the help of God and with His precious assistance, I say that Algebra is a scientific art. The objects with which it deals are absolute numbers and measurable quantities which, though themselves unknown, are related to "things" which are known, whereby the determination of the unknown quantities is possible. Such a thing is either a quantity or a unique relation, which is only determined by careful examination. What one searches for in the algebraic art are the relations which lead from the known to the unknown, to discover which is the object of Algebra as stated above. The perfection of this art consists in knowledge of the scientific method by which one determines numerical and geometric unknowns.
    • Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra (1070).
  • I was unable to devote myself to the learning of this algebra and the continued concentration upon it, because of obstacles in the vagaries of time which hindered me; for we have been deprived of all the people of knowledge save for a group, small in number, with many troubles, whose concern in life is to snatch the opportunity, when time is asleep, to devote themselves meanwhile to the investigation and perfection of a science; for the majority of people who imitate philosophers confuse the true with the false, and they do nothing but deceive and pretend knowledge, and they do not use what they know of the sciences except for base and material purposes; and if they see a certain person seeking for the right and preferring the truth, doing his best to refute the false and untrue and leaving aside hypocrisy and deceit, they make a fool of him and mock him.
    • Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra (1070).
  • Whoever thinks algebra is a trick in obtaining unknowns has thought it in vain. No attention should be paid to the fact that algebra and geometry are different in appearance. Algebras (jabbre and maqabeleh) are geometric facts which are proved by propositions five and six of Book two of Elements.
    • As quoted in "A Paper of Omar Khayyam" by A.R. Amir-Moez in Scripta Mathematica 26 (1963). This quotation has often been abridged in various ways, usually ending with "Algebras are geometric facts which are proved", thus altering the context significantly.
Wake! For the Sun, who scatter'd into flight
The Stars before him from the Field of Night,
Drives Night along with them from Heav'n, and strikes
The Sultan's Turret with a Shaft of Light.

The Rubaiyat (1120)[edit]

Quotations from the quatrains of Khayyám, as translated in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Fifth edition (1889) by Edward FitzGerald (unless otherwise noted).

I

  • Wake! For the Sun, who scatter'd into flight
    The Stars before him from the Field of Night,
    Drives Night along with them from Heav'n, and strikes
    The Sultan's Turret with a Shaft of Light.
    • 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.
      • FitzGerald's first edition (1859).

II

  • Before the phantom of False morning died,
    Methought a Voice within the Tavern cried,
    "When all the Temple is prepared within,
    Why nods the drowsy Worshipper outside?"
    • 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's Liquor in its Cup be dry."
      • FitzGerald's first edition (1859).

III

  • And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
    The Tavern shouted — "Open then the Door!
    You know how little while we have to stay,
    And, once departed, may return no more".

IV

  • 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.

V

  • Iram indeed is gone with all his Rose,
    And Jamshyd's Sev'n-ring'd Cup where no one knows;
    But still a Ruby kindles in the Vine,
    And many a Garden by the Water blows,

VII

  • Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
    Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
    The Bird of Time bas but a little way
    To flutter — and the Bird is on the Wing.

VIII

  • Whether at Naishapur or Babylon,
    Whether the Cup with sweet or bitter run,
    The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
    The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.

IX

  • Each Morn a thousand Roses brings, you say;
    Yes, but where leaves the Rose of Yesterday?
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 enow!

XII

  • 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 enow!
    • Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
      A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse — and Thou
      Beside me singing in the Wilderness —
      And Wilderness is Paradise enow.
      • FitzGerald's first edition (1859)
    • A book, a woman, and a flask of wine:
      The three make heaven for me; it may be thine
      Is some sour place of singing cold and bare —
      But then, I never said thy heaven was mine.
      • As translated by Richard Le Gallienne (1897)
    • Give me a flagon of red wine, a book of verses, a loaf of bread, and a little idleness. If with such store I might sit by thy dear side in some lonely place, I should deem myself happier than a king in his kingdom.
      • As translated by Justin McCarthy (1888).

XIII

  • Some for the Glories of This World; and some
    Sigh for the Prophet's Paradise to come;
    Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go,
    Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!

XVI

  • The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
    Turns Ashes — or it prospers; and anon,
    Like Snow upon the Desert's dusty Face,
    Lighting a little hour or two — is gone.

XIX

  • I sometimes think that never blows so red
    The Rose as where some buried Caesar bled;
    That every Hyacinth the Garden wears
    Dropt in her Lap from some once lovely Head.

X

  • And this reviving Herb whose tender Green
    Fledges the River-Lip on which we lean —
    Ah, lean upon it lightly! for who knows
    From what once lovely Lip it springs unseen!

XXI

  • Ah, my Belov'ed fill the Cup that clears
    To-day Past Regrets and Future Fears:
    To-morrow! — Why, To-morrow I may be
    Myself with Yesterday's Sev'n Thousand Years.

XXII

  • For some we loved, the loveliest and the best
    That from his Vintage rolling Time hath prest,
    Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,
    And one by one crept silently to rest.

XXIV

  • Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
    Before we too into the Dust descend
    ;
    Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie
    Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and — sans End!

XXV

  • Alike for those who for To-day prepare,
    And those that after some To-morrow stare,
    A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries
    "Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There".

XXVI

  • Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss'd
    Of the Two Worlds so wisely — they are thrust
    Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
    Are scatter'd, and their Mouths are stopt with Dust.

XXVII

  • Myself when young did eagerly frequent
    Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
    About it and about: but evermore
    Came out by the same door where in I went.

XXVIII

  • With them the seed of Wisdom did I sow,
    And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow;
    And this was all the Harvest that I reap'd —
    "I came like Water, and like Wind I go".

XXIX

  • Into this Universe, and Why not knowing
    Nor Whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing;
    And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
    I know not Whither, willy-nilly blowing.

XXX

  • What, without asking, hither hurried Whence?
    And, without asking, Whither hurried hence!
    Oh, many a Cup of this forbidden Wine
    Must drown the memory of that insolence!

XXXI

  • Up from Earth's Centre through the Seventh Gate
    rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate;
    And many a Knot unravel'd by the Road;
    But not the Master-knot of Human Fate.

XXXII

  • There was the Door to which I found no Key;
    There was the Veil through which I might not see:
    Some little talk awhile of Me and Thee
    There was — and then no more of Thee and Me.

XXXIV

  • Then of the Thee in Me works behind
    The Veil, I lifted up my hands to find
    A Lamp amid the Darkness; and I heard,
    As from Without — "The Me Within Thee Blind!"

XXXV

  • Then to the lip of this poor earthen Urn
    I lean'd, the Secret of my Life to learn:
    And Lip to Lip it murmur'd — "While you live
    Drink! — for, once dead, you never shall return".

XLI

  • Perplext no more with Human or Divine,
    To-morrow's tangle to the winds resign,
    And lose your fingers in the tresses of
    The Cypress — slender Minister of Wine.

XLII

  • And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press
    End in what All begins and ends in — Yes;
    Think then you are To-day what Yesterday
    You were — To-morrow You shall not be less.

XLIV

  • Why, if the Soul can fling the Dust aside,
    And naked on the Air of Heaven ride,
    Were't not a Shame — were't not a Shame for him
    In this clay carcase crippled to abide?

XLV

  • 'Tis but a Tent where takes his one day's rest
    A Sultan to the realm of Death addrest;
    The Sultan rises, and the dark Ferrash
    Strikes, and prepares it for another Guest.

XLVI

  • And fear not lest Existence closing your
    Account, and mine, should know the like no more;
    The Eternal Saki from that Bowl has pour'd
    Millions of Bubbles like us, and will pour.

XLVII

  • When You and I behind the Veil are past,
    Oh, but the long, long while the World shall last,
    Which of our Coming and Departure heeds
    As the Sea's self should heed a pebble-cast.

XLVIII

  • A Moment's Halt — a momentary taste
    Of Being from the Well amid the Waste —
    And Lo! — the phantom Caravan has reach'd
    The Nothing it set out from — Oh, make haste!

XLIX

  • Would you that spangle of Existence spend
    About the Secret — Quick about it, Friend!
    A Hair perhaps divides the False and True —
    And upon what, prithee, may life depend?

L

  • A Hair perhaps divides the False and True;
    Yes; and a single Alif were the clue —
    Could you but find it — to the Treasure-house,
    And peradventure to The Master too;

LI

  • Whose secret Presence, through Creation's veins
    Running Quicksilver-like eludes your pains;
    Taking all shapes from Mah to Mahi; and
    They change and perish all — but He remains;

LII

  • A moment guess'd — then back behind the Fold
    Immerst of Darkness round the Drama roll'd
    Which, for the Pastime of Eternity,
    He doth Himself contrive, enact, behold.

LIII

  • But if in vain, down on the stubborn floor
    Of Earth, and up to Heav'n's unopening Door
    You gaze To-day, while You are You — how then
    To-morrow, You when shall be You no more?

LIV

  • Waste not your Hour, nor in the vain pursuit
    Of This and That endeavour and dispute;
    Better be jocund with the fruitful Grape
    Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.

LV

  • You know, my Friends, with what a brave Carouse
    I made a Second Marriage in my house;
    Divorced old barren Reason from my Bed
    And took the Daughter of the Vine to Spouse.

LVI

  • For "Is" and "Is-not" though with Rule and Line
    And "Up" and "Down" by Logic I define,
    Of all that one should care to fathom,
    Was never deep in anything but — Wine.

LVII

  • Ah, but my Computations, People say,
    Reduced the Year to better reckoning? — Nay
    'Twas only striking from the Calendar
    Unborn To-morrow, and dead Yesterday.
    • Khayyám measured the length of the year as 365.24219858156 days;
see Quotes about Khayyám below.

LVIII

  • And lately, by the Tavern Door agape,
    Came shining through the Dusk an Angel Shape
    Bearing a Vessel on his Shoulder; and
    He bid me taste of it; and 'twas — the Grape!

LIX

  • The Grape that can with Logic absolute
    The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects confute:
    The sovereign Alchemist that in a trice
    Life's leaden metal into Gold transmute:

LX

  • The mighty Mahmud, Allah-breathing Lord
    That all the misbelieving and black Horde
    Of Fears and Sorrows that infest the Soul
    Scatters before him with his whirlwind Sword.
The mighty Mahmud, Allah-breathing Lord
That all the misbelieving and black Horde
Of Fears and Sorrows that infest the Soul
Scatters before him with his whirlwind Sword.

LXI

  • Why, be this Juice the growth of God, who dare
    Blaspheme the twisted tendril as a Snare?
    A Blessing, we should use it, should we not?
    And if a Curse — why, then, Who set it there?

LXII

  • I must abjure the Balm of Life, I must,
    Scared by some After-reckoning ta'en on trust,
    Or lured with Hope of some Diviner Drink,
    To fill the Cup — when crumbled into Dust!

LXIII

  • Oh, threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
    One thing at least is certain — This Life flies;
    One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
    The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.
    • Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
      To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
      One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
      The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.
      • FitzGerald's first edition (1859).

LXIV

  • Strange, is it not? that of the myriads who
    Before us pass'd the door of Darkness through,
    Not one returns to tell us of the Road,
    Which to discover we must travel too.

LXV

  • The Revelations of Devout and Learn'd
    Who rose before us, and as Prophets burn'd,
    Are all but Stories, which, awoke from Sleep,
    They told their comrades, and to Sleep return'd.

LXVI

  • I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
    Some letter of that After-life to spell:
    And by and by my Soul return'd to me,
    And answer'd "I Myself am Heav'n and Hell:"

LXVII

  • Heav'n but the Vision of fulfill'd Desire,
    And Hell the Shadow from a Soul on fire,
    Cast on the Darkness into which Ourselves,
    So late emerged from, shall so soon expire.

LXVIII

  • We are no other than a moving row
    Of Magic Shadow-shapes that come and go

    Round with the Sun-illumined Lantern held
    In Midnight by the Master of the Show;

LXIX

  • But helpless Pieces of the Game He plays
    Upon this Chequer-board of Nights and Days;
    Hither and thither moves, and checks, and slays,
    And one by one back in the Closet lays.

LX

  • The Ball no question makes of Ayes and Noes,
    But Here or There as strikes the Player goes;
    And He that toss'd you down into the Field,
    He knows about it all — He knows — HE knows!
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

LXXI

  • The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
    Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
    Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
    Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

LXXII

  • 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.

LXXIII

  • With Earth's first Clay They did the Last Man knead,
    And there of the Last Harvest sow'd the Seed:
    And the first Morning of Creation wrote
    What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.

LXXIV

  • Yesterday This Day's Madness did prepare;
    To-morrow's Silence, Triumph, or Despair:
    Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why:
    Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where.

LXXVI

  • The Vine had struck a fibre: which about
    If clings my being — let the Dervish flout;
    Of my Base metal may be filed a Key,
    That shall unlock the Door he howls without.

LXXVII

  • And this I know: whether the one True Light
    Kindle to Love, or Wrath-consume me quite,
    One Flash of It within the Tavern caught
    Better than in the Temple lost outright.

LXXVIII

  • What! out of senseless Nothing to provoke
    A conscious Something to resent the yoke
    Of unpermitted Pleasure, under pain
    Of Everlasting Penalties, if broke!

LXXIX

  • What! from his helpless Creature be repaid
    Pure Gold for what he lent him dross-allay'd —
    Sue for a Debt he never did contract,
    And cannot answer — Oh, the sorry trade!

LXXX

  • Oh, Thou, who didst with pitfall and with gin
    Beset the Road I was to wander in,
    Thou wilt not with Predestined Evil round
    Enmesh, and then impute my Fall to Sin!

LXXXI

  • Oh, Thou who Man of baser Earth didst make,
    And ev'n with Paradise devise the Snake:
    For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man
    Is blacken'd — Man's forgiveness give — and take!

LXXXII

  • As under cover of departing Day
    Slunk hunger-stricken Ramazan away,
    Once more within the Potter's house alone
    I stood, surrounded by the Shapes of Clay.

LXXXIII

  • Shapes of all Sorts and Sizes, great and small,
    That stood along the floor and by the wall;
    And some loquacious Vessels were; and some
    Listen'd perhaps, but never talk'd at all.

LXXXIV

  • Said one among them — "Surely not in vain
    My substance of the common Earth was ta'en
    And to this Figure moulded, to be broke,
    Or trampled back to shapeless Earth again".

LXXXV

  • Then said a Second — "Ne'er a peevish Boy
    Would break the Bowl from which he drank in joy,
    And He that with his hand the Vessel made
    Will surely not in after Wrath destroy".
After a momentary silence spake
Some Vessel of a more ungainly Make;
"They sneer at me for leaning all awry:
What! did the Hand then of the Potter shake?"

LXXXVI

  • After a momentary silence spake
    Some Vessel of a more ungainly Make;
    "They sneer at me for leaning all awry:
    What! did the Hand then of the Potter shake?"

LXXXVII

  • Whereat some one of the loquacious Lot —
    I think a Sufi pipkin-waxing hot —
    "All this of Pot and Potter — Tell me then,
    Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?"

LXXXVIII

  • "Why," said another, "Some there are who tell
    Of one who threatens he will toss to Hell
    The luckless Pots he marr'd in making — Pish!
    He's a Good Fellow, and 'twill all be well".

LXXXIX

  • "Well," Murmur'd one, "Let whoso make or buy,
    My Clay with long Oblivion is gone dry:
    But fill me with the old familiar juice,
    Methinks I might recover by and by".

XCI

  • Ah, with the Grape my fading Life provide,
    And wash the Body whence the Life has died,
    And lay me, shrouded in the living Leaf,
    By some not unfrequented Garden-side.

XCII

  • That ev'n my buried Ashes such a snare
    Of Vintage shall fling up into the Air
    As not a True-believer passing by
    But shall be overtaken unaware.

XCIII

  • Indeed the Idols I have loved so long
    Have done my credit in this World much wrong:
    Have drown'd my Glory in a shallow Cup
    And sold my Reputation for a Song.

XCIV

  • Indeed, indeed, Repentance oft before
    I swore — but was I sober when I swore?

    And then and then came Spring, and Rose-in-hand
    My thread-bare Penitence apieces tore.

XCV

  • And much as Wine has play'd the Infidel,
    And robb'd me of my Robe of Honour — Well,
    I wonder often what the Vintners buy
    One half so precious as the stuff they sell.
The Revelations of Devout and Learn’d
Who rose before us, and as Prophets burn’d,
Are all but Stories, which, awoke from Sleep
They told their comrades, and to Sleep return’d.

XCVI

  • Yet Ah, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
    That Youth's sweet-scented manuscript should close!
    The Nightingale that in the branches sang,
    Ah, whence, and whither flown again, who knows!

XCVIII

  • Would but some wing'ed Angel ere too late
    Arrest the yet unfolded Roll of Fate,
    And make the stern Recorder otherwise
    Enregister, or quite obliterate!

XCIX

  • Ah, Love! could you and I with Him 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!

C

  • Yon rising Moon that looks for us again —
    How oft hereafter will she wax and wane;
    How oft hereafter rising look for us
    Through this same Garden — and for one in vain!

CI

  • And when like her, oh, Saki, you shall pass
    Among the Guests Star-scatter'd on the Grass,
    And in your joyous errand reach the spot
    Where I made One — turn down an empty Glass!

Quotes about Khayyám[edit]

  • Khayyam measured the length of the year as 365.24219858156 days. Two comments on this result. Firstly it shows an incredible confidence to attempt to give the result to this degree of accuracy. We know now that the length of the year is changing in the sixth decimal place over a person's lifetime. Secondly it is outstandingly accurate. For comparison the length of the year at the end of the 19th century was 365.242196 days, while today it is 365.242190 days.

External links[edit]

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