Prairie Rubaiyat-Part IV- Chapter III
From my early youth when I first read the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, I have been enthralled by the verses of that world- renowned Persian poet and his type of poetry. Of course, it was not the poet himself but rather Edward Fitzgerald who first translated his stanzas into English thus making this mathematician-astronomer poet a famous literary figure in the English-speaking world. Although Fitzgerald added to and altered- many of Omar Khayyam’s lines, he nevertheless brought to this world a taste for the philosophy of the exotic and mysterious lands where Islam held sway.
The Rubaiyat, an Arabic word meaning four, is a form of verse which follows an Arabic form of poetry. In this type of poetry each verse is a separate entity and carries its own message. Arabic, in Omar Khayyam’s day, was the universal language of the Muslim world which in that era was the civilized and pace-setting portion of mankind.
In my youth, I read and enjoyed the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, but as time passed and I became proficient in Arabic, the language of my ancestors, I found a larger world of enjoyable rubaiyat. In later years when I would reminisce about the harsh depression era in southern Saskatchewan, I would think of these poets from long ago and relate their verses to these years of despair. Perhaps, it was my Arab background that made me think of the Rubaiyat with its messages at the times that I would remember the harshness of my youthful years. There is no doubt the flowery poetry of the Arabs, especially the rubaiyat form, had a great influence on my literary thinking.
In the ‘The Secrets of Life,’ I question life and its purpose. The established religions of mankind are not to me all sacred. Fate has an all-important place in my verses and I do not reject the idea that God manipulates our lives on earth. Pessimism about life, glory and the afterlife permeates my lines and I am undecided as to the truth. I conclude that since we do not know the truth we should enjoy this life and worry not about the other.
The Secrets of Life
Come! Talk not to me of life and its rewards,
Or of the trials and tribulations it records,
But enjoy its pleasures before the Invisible One,
Our slotted place in that other world awards.
He who watches the matador and shouts Olé
Is as one who in war will his brother slay,
For man on earth since the dawn of time,
A hunter, making both man and beast his prey.
In my youth, I roamed far around the world,
And many ignorant abuses at others hurled.
I thought I knew all and was the honest sage
Till I aged, then the book of knowledge unfurled.
Some say give us back our past yesteryears,
Others wait for the future with its joys and tears.
Man’s life is strewn with indecisions and sorrows,
But he must live it, before he disappears.
Our Guardian, is he pulling the strings above
Which sets our lives on the path to hate or love?
If He is the Puppeteer making his puppets move,
Then why are we not all happy as a cooing dove?
T’is said, all knowledge comes from Him who knows,
And all bounties in our world, He bestows,
Then why am I on this earth in tattered robes,
When His generosity on others flows and flows?
The caravan of our allotted time rolls on and on.
Halt it awhile and the robe of merriment don.
Enjoy its moments and from their pleasure sup,
Pour out the wine, our lives are almost gone.
Many times the men of Christ say they know all,
And everyone must to their ways bow and crawl.
They think they are the knowledgeable ones, but
Have they not heard the Arabian Prophet call? (9)
A voice within me cries, why am I on this earth?
Where are the loves and joys promised us at birth?
Has our Controller his favourites? He must, for Some
He disinherits, some He gives a life of mirth.
Once, the sun on the vast British Empire never set.
They said, this domain was built by British sweat.
Today, gone is this Empire with its boastful pride.
The One above has called from his lofty minaret. (10)
Habeeb, a charming synonym to please the Lord, (11)
Or was I named love because wars were abhorred?
Worry not, fate knows our tomorrows and yesterdays,
It matters not if men live by love or sword.
Alike, for we who harvest the ripened fields,
And they who prepare the soil for tomorrow’s yields.
The One who manipulates our lives decrees: Fools!
You are only puppets on my battlefields.
In this world, do you want to leave your stamp,
And like many others, want to be a shining lamp?
Hold a moment, your ambition is commendable,
But be aware of what happens to a boxing champ.
Those dupes who live and dream of the Holy Land,
Why is it different? Could it not be Samarkand? (12)
What man has been taught he always worships
Whether he lives in Persia or along the Rio Grande.
Where are our wealth and happiness? Say some.
Others say beware! Misery and oppression will come.
Man with the music of life is never satisfied,
He is always searching for that hidden drum.
Ah, if only the alleyways of life we move along
Were free of our inner fears and full of song.
Then, would not this world be our paradise?
Why wait for the promise of heaven’s gong?
Where are the Pharaohs and their cherished gods?
Where are the Conquistadors and their killer squads? (13)
The wheels of history turn and grind. Today them,
Tomorrow unknown others will get the nods.
Of them, who sailed across the oceans wide,
And lifted their countries’ flags in boastful pride.
Now no one hears the sound of their dust which blows,
As the voices of their many victims, once cried.
Sandy Mexican beaches with sun adoring fans,
Filled in ancient years by sun worshipping clans.
Today for the body, yesterday for the soul,
T’is the same, whatever God or Montezuma plans.
A monk who prays inside his fortress walls,
And a gambler who walks the glittering halls,
Both are searching for the ultimate in life,
Before they stand in front of Him who calls.
Thundering waves whose sound rends the air
Is an awesome spectre leading one to prayer.
The world is full of ghosts and many fears,
0h! How peaceful and gentle is the lion’s lair.
For life’s merits t’is said there is a plaque
Kept by the One above on a heavenly rack.
Why does He not unveil it for us to see?
Perhaps then, we will keep to the narrow tract.
Rome with its vast dominions had its Caligula, (14)
And t’is said there was even evil in Shangrila. (15)
Take care, with virtue the Devil is also calling
Whether you live in the coldest north or Panama.
From western lands to the borders of Punjab (16)
Men about their history constantly blab.
They are the only ones, chosen and the best,
The others with pen and word they always stab.
In this world I struggled to leave my mark,
As great men have done from Caesar to Bismark,
But I found all my heros were, as we will be,
Specks of dirt in a forgotten tree-filled park.
Ah, for me the warm summer of life has passed,
And the cold wintery snow has come at last.
0h! How my youthful years have hurried by,
The warm air is now a cold windy blast.
Is there anything more loathsome than a rat?
How about women draped in the fur of a muskrat?
Twins, yet man hates one and the other glorifies.
Did not Noah preserve the two on Mount Ararat?
How many, how many were the days and nights,
I dreamed of a future filled with delights?
But the predestined wheel of time ground away,
And I found, dreams were only words a poet recites.
In a ceramic workshop, I heard a labourer laugh.
Was he thinking to mould anew the world’s riffraff?
Did he know of the Other who tried this game,
Produced only failure written on man’s epitaph?
Our leaders I honoured and thought free of graft,
At my simple mind must have smiled and laughed,
For all politicians controlling the minds of men
Are the same as witches practising their witchcraft.
As I aged, the many men I held in awe,
Disillusioned me, for in each I found a flaw.
Why is it so? Was there no one who is perfect,
In the billions from Socrates to Bernard Shaw?
Alas, the hero who raised high his nation’s flag,
And about whose brave deeds many poets brag.
Where is he now? Who knows his resting place?
The flag he raised, over his victims is now a rag.
Indeed the teachers I once believed sage,
Have destroyed my illusions as I came of age,
Have made me lose hope that men are wise,
Thus like others, I play on the human stage.
You lived your life hoping to go on a pilgrimage,
Yet, how many were your acts of sacrilege.
It is the same since men walked the earth,
They enjoy evil yet want heaven’s anchorage.
Yesterday a man like me or you, today a saint,
Yesterday mortal, today burdened with complaint.
How has he crossed the portals, for at present,
No one with sin or evil will his name acquaint?
He who gives us life gives also the earthquake.
His bounties flow yet He bestows on us the snake.
Is it justice to give evil an equal chance?
Perhaps, His plans are to test and keep us awake?
My beer parlour buddies are the railway gang
Who have hammered spikes from America to Penang. (17)
Look not down on them from your ivory tower,
For from their toil all civilizations sprang.
How can we mortals our allotted lives rearrange,
Or another world for this world exchange?
When our lives have been plotted in that book,
Kept by Him who knows there can be no change.
Think of that stream from which you drank.
How many living creatures in its waters sank?
It gives life to many while others it destroys.
Hark! Hear the moaning voices from its banks.
I thought, ‘A glorious day or a hidden trap’
As our bus moved out of the Zihuatanejo gap. (l8)
Why did I hear fate’s voice whisper in my ear
Ere our bus broke beyond that dot on the map?
Smell the aroma of the spices from Zanzibar (19)
Which fill a western market or an eastern bazaar.
Breath deeply, for them wars have been fought,
By the English navy and the conquering Czar.
Loud are your curses when your luck is gone.
Terrible is your anger which gnaws on and on.
You want your life perfect, tranquil and calm.
Think! These are illusions we all live upon.
See him riding majestically over yonder dune,
Stringing his rabab under the brilliant moon. (20)
Look! You might be happy with endless wealth,
But I want his freedom and his desert tune.
I revive my soul with coffee in a demitasse,
Others desire to drink hard liquor from a glass.
What one should drink, man makes his laws,
Then with these laws, his fellow men harass.
They say, ‘Be sober lest in hell you burn to ash.’
I say, ‘Drink the cup and take in hand the cash.’
Who knows what is today? Tomorrow who can tell?
Live,! For our lives are only a disappearing flash.
Enjoy yourself! Be merry in this life I say.
Heed not, the ones who always want you to pray.
The knife you grind and sharpen in excess,
Little by little you will see it fade away.
Beware! The rough road of life has many drops
And for its travellers, awaits the bandit who robs.
Dismiss them who say there must be another path.
We must travel ours with its burdens and sobs.
The poor have offspring, the rich have maids,
Each one in their way has someone who aids.
The structure of our world is balanced they say,
Allows the rich servants while the poor degrades.
My heart complained, ‘I long for sorrows to halt,
I long for happiness, for the oceans soothing salt.’
A voice from the unknown answered, ‘Be happy.
Complain not. You cannot your Creator fault.’
Listen! Loud crows the cock in the heat of Baghdad
While another answers in the cold of Leningrad.
The world is so much apart and yet the same,
The sound is clear, I hear him even in Trinidad.
When I die pour on my grave a little alcohol,
And on my tombstone these few words scrawl,
‘With the vine he lived, so pour out the wine,’
Then remember me and my wine-soaked days recall.
He ploughs his ancient field, a toiling Greek,
And he trains himself for war, a turbaned Sikh.
Our fate is set. It does not matter if you are
A Canadian industrialist or an Arabian sheik.
What matters it, if men storm the Bastille
Or to their Creator, they bow and kneel?
They must live the joys and tortures of life
Whether by worldly actions or religious zeal.
I have beliefs but not the beliefs of yore.
My tears flow but not as they flowed before.
How strange! Was I led by that hand of fate
Which changes at the orders of the Commodore?
Men talk of the heavenly joys they will receive,
But when they die, why do others for them grieve?
Oh my dear friends! Do not listen to men preach
Enjoy the moments before this earth we leave.
Speak you grave, give us news, oh rotted bone.
Is there another world or forever we are alone?
Tell us. Is it true that for a million years,
All the dead have turned to dust or stone?
Honourable was Abd al-Kareem, lion of the Riff,(21)
Victories he won from many a mountain cliff,
But can honour or bravery fight planes and guns?
If only he had the power. 0h! If he only, if.
No king at his command can find a faithful wife,
And no sultan can order a world free of strife.
Earthly men cannot manipulate the turning world,
But it is otherwise for the One who gave us life.
A noble steed I owned, one who was proud and swift,
With lineage from where the sands blow and drift.
They said, ‘On him you spent your wealth.’ I said,
‘Money is well spent if it gives my soul a lift.’
Some say, ‘Do not drink the spirit of the fig.’
Others curse the ones who eat the unclean pig.
Man lives in fear of what others will do or say.
As for me, from that red juice, give me a swig.
Be gracious, be gentle, ere talking of foreign men.
Think of Saladin the honourable, a great Saracen,(22)
And think of how graceful and how cultured
Are the millions who follow in the ways of Zen.(23)
They say Araby was once rich in myrrh and incense,
Then came poverty and deserts which were immense.
For centuries men starved, roaming its waste, but
Why did He keep that ocean of oil in suspense?
You who strut in pride boasting of your descent.
Why attack others whom your haughtiness resent?
Oh friend! Wait awhile. Walk the earth gently.
Take heed! Life is harsh for one who is insolent.
Does it matter if you are a fanatic Bolshevik (24)
Or a reborn Christian or a faithful Catholic?
Time rushes by, man changes and forgets.
Where is he now that zealot Menshevik? (25)
Avoid greed, and harm on others do not inflict.
Our earthly time is short and we must restrict,
Our envy and hatred of other men. 0h my friend!
Hold back the jealousy which our souls afflict.
Spaniards boast about the patriotism of El-Cid, (26)
On many battlefields, from Valencia to Madrid.
But never about the wars fought for justice
By him who to the Moors was the noble Al-Sayyid. (27)
In ancient Damascus, a dignified Damascene,
Stands proud of Zenobia, the desert Queen. (28)
If like him you are proud of your pedigree, think!
It is what you are now, not what they had been.
If death is only slumber and for the soul release,
Then why the terror that our life will cease?
It can only be, we do not believe the promises
That life is eternal in that high abode of peace.
Drenched in history are the banks of the Nile
Which for centuries gave life to man and crocodile.
Upon them many conquerors built, then faded away.
You can tell by their ruins, pile after pile.
Behold! The splendid buildings of Seville, which
Were copied, from the U.S.A. to the shores of Brazil.
They are a rich legacy left by the noble Moors,(29)
Long ago destroyed but yet, not forgotten still.
Yet, if the things we hear and read in print
Are but the production of that heavenly mint,
Then why do we become angry and hurl abuse
When our destiny, we cannot change or dint?
You swagger in conceit and other people scorn,
And in priceless jewels your body you adorn.
Be modest, walk the earth humbly, others would be
Your equal, if to endless wealth they are born.
Let them roll on, the chariot wheels of doom,
Through your spring of life to its fall of gloom,
For none can stop these rolling wheels, from the
Hour of birth until the day they close your tomb.
Many are the conquerors who the world swept,
Leaving orphaned children and mothers who wept.
By victories, conquerors were made heros, but
Their victims as heros, no one will accept.
Who suffers, when to fellow men you are rude
Or when you remember some long forgotten feud?
Your years on earth are numbered, enjoy them.
Be gentle to others and on trifles do not brood.
I say, ‘Be gracious to him who wears the crown,
And at his trite jokes, always laugh and clown.’
Of them who say, ‘Do not be a hypocrite, beware!’
They will disappear when you are trodden down.
Dark is the morn in an all encompassing smog
Which ere man-made smoke was only nature’s fog.
Little by little man whittles away at his world
For he is eager to inscribe his own epilogue.
No longer will I fear that invisible jinn, (30)
Whom I blamed for all the troubles I was in.
As others, I felt the dread of the unknown,
Enlightenment came in that wine-flowing inn.
Ah! How sweet are grapes fresh from the vine!
Some say, ‘Enjoy them before they turn to wine.’
Others yearn for their juice which intoxicates.
Come pal, the tavern is serving a wine divine.
How strange, we should fear the romantic Moor.
Are we jealous of his power to faire l’amour? (31)
Man brags that he controls his womenfolk,
But does he hold sway when he is so insecure?
Why glorify the priest or a saintly monk,
And curse the derelict, the wandering drunk?
Each fits into the wordily scheme of God,
The one who makes it and the one who flunks.
In remote times, Rome had its Attila the Hun. (32)
In a later age, Genghis Khan had murderous fun. (33)
Did you say, ‘We have become more civilized?’
Ask the victims in the land of the Rising Sun. (34)
You who enjoy the melody of the ancient lute,
Yet sneer at the music from far away Beirut.
Stop and reflect awhile; do you not know,
From the Arabian oud comes the melodic lute.
Indeed, indeed the one who prayed to Thor,
Then spent his days in pillage and in war,
Left our world naught from his bloody life.
If only he had wandered, a singing troubadour.
See how each one bows before his worldly king,
And how others, rich offerings to him bring.
Is this an earthly drill for our other life?
Why worry, the bell of eternity will ring.
Why are you arrogant and others ridicule,
And boast that men must walk beneath your rule?
Come! Let us enjoy the nectar from that cup
For you should know that kullu shay’in yazul.(35)