- This splendid edition of FitzGerald’s famous version of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám celebrates the poem as a work of Victorian literary art, which rose from obscurity to become the poem that contains some of the most quoted lines in English poetry.
- Reproduces the first 1859 edition of this much-revised poem and documents the changes made in subsequent editions as well as providing a table of corresponding stanzas.
- Daniel Karlin’s wide-ranging introduction discusses FitzGerald’s treatment of his Persian sources and theory of translation, his life and the circumstances of the poem’s composition and revisions, its relation to the Orientalist tradition, Victorian literature and the Victorian context.
- Explanatory notes include selective details of the relation between the English version and its Persian original, as well as information about literary and historical sources and allusions, and relevant biographical episodes.
- A selection of contemporary reviews offers an insight into the poem’s early reception, including the first attack on its status as a ‘translation’; a further appendix reprints Tennyson’s affectionate and moving poem ‘To E. FitzGerald’ – a poem begun as a dedication and ended as an elegy.
‘The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line
Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.’
In the ‘rubáiyát’ (short epigrammatic poems) of the medieval Persian poet, mathematician, and philosopher Omar Khayyám, Edward FitzGerald saw an unflinching challenge to the illusions and consolations of mankind in every age. His version of Omar is neither a translation nor an independent poem; sceptical of divine providence and insistent on the pleasure of the passing moment, its ‘Orientalism’ offers FitzGerald a powerful and distinctive voice, in whose accents a whole Victorian generation comes to life. Although the poem’s vision is bleak, it is conveyed in some of the most beautiful and haunting images in English poetry – and some of the sharpest- edged. The poem sold no copies at all on its first appearance in 1859, yet when it was ‘discovered’ two years later its first admirers included Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Swinburne, and Ruskin. Daniel Karlin’s richly annotated edition does justice to the scope and complexity of FitzGerald’s lyrical meditation on ‘human death and fate’.