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The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám Jr.

Translated from the Original Bornese into English Verse by
Wallace Irwin
author of "The Love Sonnets of a Hoodlum,"

with eight illustrations and cover design by
Gelett Burgess

Paul Elder and Company
San Francisco and New York

Copyright 1902
by Wallace Irwin
Entered at Stationer's Hall, London

The Tomoyé Press


Since the publication of Edward Fitzgerald's classic translation of the Rubaiyat in 1851 - or rather since its general popularity several years later - poets minor and major have been rendering the sincerest form of flattery to the genius of the Irishman who brought Persia into the best regulated families. Unfortunately there was only one Omar and there were scores of imitators who, in order to make the Astronomer go round, were obliged to draw him out to the thinness of Balzac's Magic Skin. While all this was going on, the present Editor was forced to conclude that the burning literary need was not for more translators, but for more Omars to translate; and what was his surprise to note that the work of a later and superior Omar Khayyam was lying undiscovered in the wilds of Borneo! Here, indeed, was a sensation in the world of letters - a revelation as thrilling as the disinterment of Ossian's forgotten songs - the discovery of an unsubmerged Atlantis. While some stout Cortez more worthy than the Editor might have stood on this new Darien and gazed over the sleeping demesne of Omar Khayyam, Jr., he had, so to speak, the advantage of being first on the ground, and to him fell the duty, nolens volens, of lifting the rare philosophy out of the Erebus that had so long cloaked it in obscurity.

It is still a matter of surprise to the Editor that the discovery of these Rubaiyat should have been left to this late date, when in sentiment and philosophy they have points of superiority over the quatrains of the first Omar of Naishapur. The genius of the East has, indeed, ever been slow to reveal itself in the West. It took a Crusade to bring to our knowledge anything of the schöner Geist of the Orient; and it was not until the day of Matthew Arnold that the Epic of Persia[1] was brought into the proper realm of English poesy. What wonder, then, that not until the first Omaric madness had passed away were the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Jr., lifted into the light after an infinity of sudor et labor spent in excavating under the 9,000 irregular verbs, 80 declensions, and 41 exceptions to every rule which go to make the ancient Mango-Bornese dialect in which the poem was originally written, foremost among the dead languages!

Although little is known of the life of Omar Khayyam the elder, the details of his private career are far more complete than those of his son, Omar Khayyam, Jr. In fact, many historians have been so careless as to have entirely omitted mention of the existence of such a person as the younger Omar. Comparative records of the two languages, however, show plainly how the mantle was handed from the Father to the Son, and how it became the commendable duty of the second generation to correct and improve upon the first.

Omar Khayyam died in the early part of the eleventh century, having sold his poems profitably, with the proceeds of which he established taverns throughout the length and breadth of Persia. Omar died in the height of his popularity, but shortly after his death the city of Naishapur became a temperance town. Even yet the younger Omar might have lived and sung at Naishapur had not a fanatical sect of Sufi women, taking advantage of the increasing respectability of the once jovial city, risen in a body against the house of Omar and literally razed it to the ground with the aid of hatchets, which were at that time the peculiar weapon of the sex and sect. It is said that the younger Omar, who was then a youth, was obliged to flee from the wrath of the Good Government Propagandists and to take abode in a distant city. For some time he wandered about Persia in a destitute condition, plying the hereditary trade of tent-maker, but at length poverty compelled him to quit his native country for good and to try his fortunes in a land so remote that the dissolute record of his parent could no longer hound him. Borneo was the island to which the poet fled, and here the historian finds him some years later prospering in the world's goods and greatly reverenced by the inhabitants. Although Omar, Jr., was undoubtedly the greatest man that Borneo has yet produced, he must not be confused in the mind of the reader with the Wild Man of Borneo, who, although himself a poet, was a man of far less culture than the author of the present Rubaiyat.

While not a Good Templar, the younger Omar showed a commendable tendency toward reform. The sensitive Soul of the poet was ever cankered with the thought that his father's jovial habits had put him in a false position, and that it was his filial duty to retrieve the family reputation. It was his life work to inculcate into the semi-barbaric minds of the people with whom he had taken abode the thought that the alcoholic pleasures of his father were false joys, and that (as sung in number VI), -

"There's Comfort only in the Smoking Car."

In Tobacco the son found a lasting and comparatively harmless substitute for the Wine, which, none can doubt, caused the elder Omar to complain so bitterly, -

"Indeed, the Idols I have loved so long
Have done my credit in Men's eyes much wrong.''

Note the cheerfulness with which the Son answers the Father in a stanza which may be taken as a key to his Reformatory Philosophy,

"O foozied Poetasters, fogged with Wine,
Who to your Orgies bid the Muses Nine,
Go bid them then, but leave to me, the Tenth
Whose name is Nicotine, for she is mine!''

Quite in accordance with his policy of improving on his father's rakish Muse was the frequent endorsement of the beautiful and harmless practice of kissing. The kiss is mentioned some forty-eight times in the present work, and in the nine hundred untranslated Rubaiyat, two hundred and ten more kisses occur, making a grand total of two hundred and fifty-eight Omaric kisses -

"Enough! - of Kisses can there be Enough?"

It may be truly said that the Father left the discovery of Woman to his Son, for nowhere in the Rubaiyat of Naishapur's poet is full justice done to the charms of the fair. Even in his most ardent passages old Omar uttered no more than a eulogy to Friendship.

Where the philosophy of the elder Omar was bacchanalian and epicurean, that of the Son was tobacchanalian and eclectic, allowing excess only in moderation, as it were, and countenancing nothing more violent than poetic license. However, we are led to believe that the tastes of his time called for a certain mild sensuality as the gustatio to a feast of reason, and had Omar Khayyam lived in our own day he would doubtless have agreed with a reverend Erlington and Bosworth Professor in the University of Cambridge who boldly asserts that the literature redolent of nothing but the glories of asceticism "deserves the credit due to goodness of intention, and nothing else."

Due doubtless to the preservative influence of smoke Omar Khayyam, Jr., was enabled to live to the hale age of one hundred and seven, and to go to an apotheosis fully worthy his greatness. Among the native chroniclers the quatrain (number XCVIII) -

"Then let the balmed Tobacco be my Sheath,
The ardent Weed above me and beneath,
And let me like a living Incense rise,
A Fifty-Cent Cigar between my Teeth,"

has been the source of much relentless debate. By some it is held that this stanza is prophetic in its nature, foreseeing the transcendent miracle of the poet's death; by others it is as stoutly maintained that the poet in the above lines decreed that his work should be preserved and handed down to posterity in a wrapping of tobacco. The Editor is inclined to the belief that there is much truth in both opinions, for the parchment, when it came to hand, was stained and scented from its wrappings of Virginia and Perique; and the manner of the poet's death marks Number XCI as another remarkable instance of the clairvoyance of the Muse. To quote from the quaint words of the native chronicler: -

"For while the Volcanic Singer was seated one day in the shade of a banyan tree, fresh cigars and abandoned stumps surrounding him like the little hills that climb the mountain, he nodded and fell asleep, still puffing lustily at a panatella, sweet and black. Now the poet's beard was long and his sleep deep, and as the weed grew shorter with each ecstatic puff, the little brand of fire drew closer and closer to the beautiful hairy mantle that fell from the poet's chin. That day the Island was wrapped in a light gauze of blue mist, an exotic smoke that was a blessing to the nostrils. It suffused the whole Island from end to end, and reminded the happy inhabitants of the Cigars of Nirvana, grown in some Plantation of the Blessed. When the smoke had passed and our heads were cleared of the narcotic fumes, we hastened to the spot where our good master had loved to sit; but there naught remained but a great heap of white ashes, sitting among the pipes and cigars that had inspired his song. Thus he died as he lived, an ardent smoker." W. I.

[1] "Sohrab and Rustam'' being a fragment of the Persian epic.

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