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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry

Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

Omar Khayyám
(Trans.: Edward FitzGerald)

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To purchase Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

Title: Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám
Author: Omar Khayyam
Genre: Poetry
Written: ca. 1100 (this translation 1859/1879)
Length: 316 pages
Original in: Persian
Availability: Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám - US
Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám - UK
Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám - Canada

  • Translated by Edward FitzGerald
  • Note that this review refers specifically to the Critical Edition, edited by Christopher Decker. The Critical Edition includes:
    • An introduction by Christopher Decker
    • Critical Texts of all four editions of FitzGerald's English translations
    • Comparative Texts of all of FitzGerald's translations (very useful !)
    • FitzGerald's Latin translation

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Our Assessment:

A : not necessarily true to the original, but an English classic

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Edward FitzGerald's famous translation of the Rubáiyát is a complex beast. Great poetry it is indeed, simple quatrains where East seems to meet West in a conjoining of Eastern mysticism and poetry and nineteenth century Western language and expression.
       There is little need to criticize or comment on FitzGerald's accomplishment itself, as the poems are among the best known in the English language. A few points are to be noted, however, first and foremost that FitzGerald's version is not eminently true to Khayyam's original. (For a somewhat more faithful rendering see our review of the Avery/Heath-Stubbs version.) Another important note is that FitzGerald worked on these translations over several decades, publishing four quite different editions. Modern editions are often a pieced together from these by modern editors, not always to best advantage. It is for this reason we review (and recommend) the Critical Edition, edited by Christopher Decker.
       In this Critical Edition a useful introduction by Decker provides a decent background for the work. More importantly, all four editions are included in their entirety, first individually and then, in an appendix, by quatrain, allowing for comparison between the texts. A table with the sequence of the quatrains is also provided, as is a pronunciation guide, and a small glossary. An added bonus, though perhaps only of interest to a few devotees, is the inclusion of FitzGerald's Latin translation of the Rubáiyát.
       We found this edition eminently useful, an exemplary textual presentation. We would have preferred more background information (and especially an evaluation of the many, many editions of the Rubáiyát that have been published over the past century), but this served our purposes quite well. Any fan of the Rubáiyát should want access to this collection. It may not be as attractive as some of the other editions, but is certainly the most comprehensive.

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Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám: Omar Khayyám: Edward FitzGerald: Other translations of the Rubáiyát under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       The Persian poet Omar Khayyám was born in Nishapur 18 May 1048 (according to this book) and died in 1131. Renowned in his times as a mathematician and philosopher he is now best known for his collection of Ruba'i verses.

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About the Translator:

       English poet and translator Edward FitzGerald (1809-1883) is best known for his translation of Omar Khayyám's Rubáiyát.

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