Book Section: CHAPTER IV—Omar Khayyam’s Arabic and Persian Poems Other than His Robaiyat: Translated into Persian (from Arabic) and English and Textually Analyzed — by Mohammad H. Tamdgidi

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This essay titled “Omar Khayyam’s Arabic and Persian Poems Other than His Robaiyat: Translated into Persian (from Arabic) and English and Textually Analyzed” is the fourth chapter of the book Khayyami Art: The Art of Poetic Secrecy for a Lasting Existence: Tracing the Robaiyat in Nowrooznameh, Isfahan’s North Dome, and Other Poems of Omar Khayyam, and Solving the Riddle of His Robaiyat Attributability, which is the seventh volume of the twelve-book series Omar Khayyam’s Secret: Hermeneutics of the Robaiyat in Quantum Sociological Imagination, authored by Mohammad H. Tamdgidi.

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This essay titled “Omar Khayyam’s Arabic and Persian Poems Other than His Robaiyat: Translated into Persian (from Arabic) and English and Textually Analyzed,” is the fourth chapter of the book Khayyami Art: The Art of Poetic Secrecy for a Lasting Existence: Tracing the Robaiyat in Nowrooznameh, Isfahan’s North Dome, and Other Poems of Omar Khayyam, and Solving the Riddle of His Robaiyat Attributability, which is the seventh volume of the twelve-book series Omar Khayyam’s Secret: Hermeneutics of the Robaiyat in Quantum Sociological Imagination, authored by Mohammad H. Tamdgidi.

In this chapter, Tamdgidi offers new English translations of extant Persian and Arabic poems attributed to Omar Khayyam other than the Robaiyat, for the Arabic poems also providing new Persian prose or verse translations to the extent possible. Given their contents, he classified these poems into three categories: 1-Expressing doubt, 2-Expressing hope, and 3-Expressing joy. For two of these categories (first two) we can include the Persian poems as well as one or another Arabic pieces. For the third category, we have four Arabic poems.

In considering these poems, we need to keep in mind the following. We do not have any dates for when any of these poems were composed. Therefore, the sentiments expressed should be regarded at least for the time he was writing them and the immediate period preceding it. An interpretive error that can befall the interpretation of not only Khayyam’s prose but also his poetry, including his attributed Robaiyat and these other poems, is to associate their expressed sentiments with its author’s entire life, as if Khayyam felt that way all the time, all his life. That would be a wrong assumption, in Tamdgidi’s view, and quite a stretch of the imagination, for it is rather obvious that when one is writing an isolated poem that stands on its own, it is most likely expressing the feelings and thoughts one is feeling around that time. It is more plausible and reasonable, therefore, to consider each writing, whether prose or poetry, in its biographical and historical context, to the extent possible, and even if the date of writing is not known for any writing, we should keep in mind such an interpretive principle in general.

So, let us say, if Khayyam expresses doubt about trusting anyone in his life in a poem, if we regard the poem to have been written early in life, there is no reason to think that the situation remained the same later in life, or at least to the same extent as it was before. Or, if he expresses a depressed mood in one poem, but one of joyful self-reevaluation in another, we should also keep in mind that depending on when these poems were written, one can think of different periodizations for his life—unless we find clues in the poems themselves that one phase of his life preceded or followed another.

A benefit of studying Khayyam’s other poems here is that they provide further insight into the personal and private side of his life and sentiments, more so than what we would expect to find in a more public address he makes to one or another person or group. Even in the more public texts, we have found glimpses into his personal life as well, but in the poems the personal and the private, the flavor of his inner life is different and more directly shared.

Another benefit for studying these undisputed Persian and Arabic poems of Khayyam is that they can offer us clues about his writing and poetic style of expression, the way he went about using metaphors and tropes, and the images and topics he found significant personally to talk about and express his feelings about in a poetic way. If we consider these poems with these questions in mind, we may be able to find significant clues offered in them regarding the Robaiyat, clues that we have missed in the past simply because we ourselves did not pay sufficient attention to these other poem undisputedly attributed to Omar Khayyam.

To the author’s knowledge there are 2 Persian and 11 Arabic poems extant from Omar Khayyam other than his Robaiyat. As noted earlier, in some sources some Arabic poems may be found grouped with one another, but he treats them separately, letting the reader decide whether some are parts of the same poem or not (in Tamdgidi’s reading, they are separate poems). He has tentatively grouped them into three categories, as also noted earlier: A) poems expressing doubt; B) poems expressing hope; and C) poems expressing joy.

A. Poems expressing doubt:

1) Persian Ghazal Poem: “A Talk with the Intellect”

2) Arabic Poem: “Plea for Brotherhood” 

3) Arabic Poem: “Intellect’s Astonishment” 

4) Arabic Poem: “The Near Distant” 

5) Arabic Poem: “Malefic Fortunes” 

6) Arabic Poem: “Complaints to Unjust Spheres”

B. Poems expressing hope:

1) Persian Qasideh Poem: “Conversing with a Philosopher-Judge” 

2) Arabic Poem: “How I Worship” 

3) Arabic Poem: “No Fear of the Times”

C. Poems expressing joy:

1) Arabic Poem: “Light Over Darkness” 

2) Arabic Poem: “Flood of Droplets”

3) Arabic Poem: “Secretive Sense” 

4) Arabic Poem: “Freedom”

The study of the extant other Arabic and Persian poems undisputedly attributed to Omar Khayyam offers the following glimpses into his Robaiyat and any collection thereof that he may have written.

The very fact that Khayyam’s Arabic and Persian poems other than his Robaiyat are extant and are indisputably attributed to him demonstrates that he was indeed poetically inclined, and aside from all of his other philosophical, theological, scientific, and literary writings, he also engaged in writing poetry.

These other poems also do not offer an entirely singular sentiment on the part of Khayyam, but show that he wrote them, as any human being would, at different times and moments of his life, being sad and depressed at times, hopeful at others, and yet in others highly motivated, joyful, and proud of his own state of mind and what he had achieved. So, similarly, it would be quite unrealistic and even foolish to think that if he had written a collection of Robaiyat, all its quatrains would be sharing basically the same sentiment throughout, rather than reflecting the evolution of a mind and heart and sensibilities of a human being undergoing change and transformation throughout his life.

In these other poems, we have some that point to the futility of trying, since the fate of historical and posthumous forgetfulness will equally befall those who try and those who sit idly. And we also have others in which Khayyam joyfully reflects on having achieved refined states of mind and solutions to problems, having also helped others by building bridges over valleys of ignorance and darkness, whether acknowledged by them or not. And we also have poems falling in between, showing how he moved from the former doubtful to the later joyful states of mind, having hope that he can achieve a lasting spiritual life. This suggests that if we encounter in the Robaiyat also any that speak to the puzzles of existence facing humankind, we should beware of when and at what time in his life he asserts such views and feelings, being open to the possibility that he may have found solutions and expressed such answers in other quatrains.

In his other Arabic and especially Persian poems, Khayyam adopts a dialogical style of conversing with those he refers to as “Intellect” or “philosopher-judge,” amid which he further refines the subjects to issues dealing with the mind, the body, and the heart, and so on. Whether these “others” he is conversing with are actual others or represent one or another of his own selves, may not be apparent from one poem to another. But, whichever the interpretation, it is clear that Khayyam finds such dialogical structures in his poetry helpful and aesthetically effective in conveying thoughts, feelings, and sensibilities that he would not be able to do otherwise, especially in a poetic context that serves him the function of using writing and inner conversation as a healing mechanism for any personal troubles or public issues he faced.

We have a case among these other poems where Khayyam actually uses his own name in the poem he is composing. Although in Persian poetry’s ghazal form it is common and in fact expected that the poet address himself in the last couplet of the poem, given that Khayyam was not, and was not expected to be, a traditional poet, it would be conceivable for him to do the same in his other poetic forms he tried to express himself, including his Robaiyat. In fact, being an innovative spirit, he may experiment with new ways of conducting such conversations to structure his poetry collection dialogically, a vivid example of it being the conversations he could have with the Saqi, the Active Intellect. In some quatrains it is evident that he addresses the Saqi explicitly, so it is clear that they are dialogically situated. But what may have escaped our attention is that some of the quatrains may be his telling of what the Saqi told him in return. In other words, the same way we find in his Persian poems studied in this chapter a dialogue in which he asks a question from the Intellect or the philosopher-judge, and receives a reply from them as well, being expressed still by Khayyam, the poet, in the attributed Robaiyat also we should be open to the consideration that some of the quatrains may be the replies Khayyam reports having received from the Saqi, poetically speaking,, and both of the sides back and forth remaining a self-conversation in Khayyam’s inner life. In Persian poetry it is very common for such self-addressing, given the poem serves as a way of maintaining an inner conversation about one’s own troubles or those of others in a wider public context.

In these other extant Persian or Arabic poems, we do not have even one example where Khayyam is found to be composing a poem for a known historical figure, such as a king or a vizier, praising him for one or another reason expecting any compensation in return. The reason this observation is important is that, it was common for other traditional poets to write poems for courtly compensation, and even Khayyam himself refers to such possibilities in his Nowrooznameh where he praises kings for offering rewards and compensation to poets for composing poetry. But, none of these other poems we have examined in this chapter suggest their being written to that end. Obviously, Khayyam is known to have received regular compensation and endowment as a scientists from the court of Soltan Malekshah, but this is a different matter that is the equivalent of being employed to produce scientific work, including the work he did for nearly two decades in Isfahan in building an observatory and leading solar calendar reform.

In some of Khayyam’s other poems examined in this chapter, we find him making explicit remarks about the politics of his time. While he realistically acknowledges the rise of Turkic Seljuk leaders to power in Iran, the very fact that he addresses them as such and associates their rise with the troubles befallen to his homeland, shows that he was critical of the Seljuks. This suggests that despite having been, or being known as, politically uninvolved, he held strong political views of his own such that even when in the employment of the court of Soltan Malekshah he was maintaining a distant and independent attitude in being identified with the ebb and flow of its politics. This may actually explain his political and even physical survival through the tumultuous especially last years and the following years of Soltan Malekshah’s rule.

Khayyam’s other poems examined in this chapter show his deep concern with existential matters and meanings of life and death, as one would expect given the continuity of his dealing with similar topics in his other treatises. However, he maintains a dialogue between his inner life and what goes on in the heavens, so to speak, as a common and continuing thread, often times using explicit terminologies borrowed from the astrological imagination. This not only parallels and confirms his treatment of similar themes in the astrological imagination in Nowrooznameh and more systematically in his last Persian keepsake treatise on the universals of existence, but further confirms that engaging with the astrological imagination was not just a passing episode or marginal theme in his life and works, but was central to them, albeit critically. Even when he critically engages with astrological themes, he is not doing so to dismiss their influence; he takes them for granted as a cultural belief system, but finds himself questioning their rationality, soundness, and even their extent of pursuing justice and fairness. Therefore, even in these other poems we find Khayyam employing and engaging with the astrological imagination as if they are parts and parcel of his work as an astronomer. 

The very fact that Khayyam composed these extant other poems, ones that are undisputedly attributed to him, should logically and evidently challenge and refute any claims made by scholars over the decades, drawing on modern circulated editions of Nezami Arouzi’s Chahar Maqaleh (Four Discourses), that Khayyam did not write poetry. Previously, Tamdgidi has in this series shown that Nezami Arouzi’s claims in his book are self-contradictory (as are his sharing of many erroneous dates of events, as pointed out by Mohammad Qazvini in his detailed introduction to his work), in that his inclusion of Khayyam in the astrologers’ section of his four-part book and the tales he narrates about his life suggest that Khayyam indeed dealt with astrological themes and was known to be an authority in such matters during his time. Besides, the lack of tales or reference to Khayyam as a poet in Nezami Arouzi’s book cannot at all serve as evidence for Khayyam as not having written poems, since Nezami Arouzi’ account deals with the services intellectuals of his time offered in the courts, and Khayyam was not a court poet. 

So, we do not have to even use the Robaiyat as a basis for evaluating and challenging Nezami Arouzi’s silence on Khayyam’s poetry writing, since we already have these other Persian and Arabic poems that serve undisputably as evidence that Khayyam indeed wrote poetry. In fact, in reverse, we may use these poems as evidence that Nezami Arouzi, despite his reverential treatment of Khayyam as his teacher, may not have been close enough to know important details about his life. 

The above considerations, however, is based on the assumption that the edition of Chahar Maqaleh (Four Discourses) circulating in recent times is a valid edition to be used for making the above observations. As Tamdgidi showed in Books 2 and 3 of this series, Yar Ahmad Rashidi Tabrizi reports in his Tarabkhaneh (House of Joy), as quoted from a copy used by Swāmi Govinda Tīrtha in his Nectar of Grace (1941), that he had read a manuscript of Chahar Maqaleh (Four Discourses) authored by the hand of Nezami Arouzi himself, in which the story of his meeting Khayyam and visiting his grave is quite differently told, including a part where he acknowledges Khayyam as having written quatrains. In any case, the existence of Khayyam’s other Persian and Arabic poems should serve Khayyami scholars as a solid evidence that the absence of treatment of Khayyam as a poet in Nezami Arouzi’s Chahar Maqaleh (Four Discourses) does not mean at all that Khayyam did not write poetry.

In particularly his other Persian poems as shared and studied in this chapter, we have further evidence about how Khayyam treated matters having to do with the afterlife, with the day of judgment, and with prayers and fasting, and with Hajj, as forms of worship. Khayyam was clearly and evidently concerned with and challenged not worship per se, but the superficial and habitual treatments of them. Through the words of those he has conversations with poetically, he conveys the notion that it is the spirit of such acts that matters, not their superficial form. One can perform Hajj wherever by touching people’s hearts or seeking the knowledge of God through self-knowledge. He expresses his view that the judgment day is not in an afterlife but in this very life, where we are in our heres and nows sitting on the scales of judgment. At the same time, in his Arabic poems he makes it clear how seriously he takes matters of meditation, and its associated acts of fasting and praying, as practices intended as self-purification. He takes seriously such tasks as worship and as prerequisites for seeking truths about God and existence, a sentiment that we find expressed in the ending clauses of his Persian keepsake treatise on the universals of existence.

In his other poems, Khayyam is highly sensitive to matters of social justice, even using swear words to refer to oppressors as wolf-dogs and jackals. This parallels his broader sentiments expressed about the troubles of times, where he reports having found no one trustworthy as a friend or brother. So, the treatment of the topics of friends and foes was important to him, and he shares very strong sentiments regarding not having been able to trust others in his life. Such sentiments support the view that he could have adopted a secretive attitude toward others, obviously. If you decide not to trust anyone for the rest of your life as a brother or friend suggests, of course, that you will maintain a clear boundary between those you would share your private works with and the others you consider to be outsiders. 

But, this also tells us, more subtly, that perhaps there was a period before such a secretive stage of his life, where he did share things, and found negative or ridiculing reactions from them, as we hear him tell us about it in his introduction to his treatise in algebra. In fact some of the earliest quatrains cited critically by others may have been a result of such early exposure, when they were misunderstood out of context and thus misjudged, leading him to decide to keep the rest to himself and to a very limited circle of friends. On his last day, his brother-in-law Muhammad al-Baghdadi reports Khayyam, as his first request as soon as he realized he was about to die, to call those trusted to share his last will. It would be plausible to consider that one of the items on his last will may have been the secretive collection of his Robaiyat.

Most interesting for the study of his Robaiyat is the hint Khayyam offers about being busy writing them as a matter of telling his life’s tale in one of his Persian poems. Being asked, or asking himself rather at the end of his ghazal, Khayyam says, using the symbolic language of “pruning” also used for “editing,” that he is telling the story of his life events. Of course, the reference is not explicitly made to his Robaiyat, and he may have been referring to the poem and ghazal he was ending the thought with. But the notion that he is engaged in writing (poems) about his life offers us a valid basis to consider that he may have been engaged throughout his life in writing a Robaiyat collection that aimed at telling in a synoptic and pruned/edited way about his life and his search for knowledge about himself, existence, and God.

Although the trope of Wine is not used explicitly in Khayyam’s other Persian and Arabic poems, we find hints of it in a spiritual sense in the poems. Where he discusses how he has helped others bridge over the valley of ignorance, he uses the expression “flood of droplets,” having elsewhere used the trope of elixir, in the very first lines of his Persian poem conversing with a philosopher-judge in Rey. In the Robaiyat, Khayyam clearly and often associates the spiritual wine with the elixir of life. He also uses the trope of “boiling” to convey a state of mind that is so high and powerful in him that allows him to bring the earth and all the spheres to their highest horizons together when understanding of them.

Tamdgidi believes such a metaphor is highly expressive of the state of Drunkenness that is so central to many of his Robaiyat. In fact, the boiling metaphor is also significantly present in the Robaiyat when conveying the trope Wine. He thinks the notion of “boiling” is metaphorically evocative of a state of mind in which the unitary state of all things are considered while not losing sight of the detailed “bubbles” of the same amid boiling. After all, one may consider the imagery of fragmented and separable grapes on one hand, and the state of such a calm state that all distinctions between things and parts are lost or missed. In between the two states, however, there is a state of “boiling” where the same unitary wine is also conceived also as its organic and transposed bubbles. In his Arabic poem studied in this chapter, Khayyam explicitly uses the term “boiling” (جاش that in Persian is used a جوش) to convey that state of mind where the universal and the particular, the whole and the part are both understood and experienced at once. It is for this reason that in the poem Khayyam offers such an expansive, yet detailed, range of domains he finds accessible to him for understanding and realization when his mind is in a “boiling” state, ranging from the earth to the seven skies to their highest horizons. Khayyam is in effect describing the state of Drunkenness in the Arabic poem, without using even once the word or trope of Wine. This itself may be considered as a way Khayyam conveys meanings even in his Robaiyat in the guise of other tropes, secretively.

As one would expect, in these other Persian and Arabic poems Khayyam is consistently concerned with matters of rhyme and expression. In his Persian poems especially they are clearly evident, but he tries the same in his Arabic poems as well. Using rhymes in classical Persian poetry is of course expected, so it is not anything unique to Khayyam’s composition of poetry. But, the fact that he spent time writing poetry itself and in constructing the rhymes and the lines’ meters can also be interpreted as his paying attention to matters of proportionality and number even when writing poetry.

Recommended Citation

Tamdgidi, Mohammad H. 2024. “CHAPTER IV—Omar Khayyam’s Arabic and Persian Poems Other than His Robaiyat: Translated into Persian (from Arabic) and English and Textually Analyzed.” Pp. 497-572 in in Omar Khayyam’s Secret: Hermeneutics of the Robaiyat in Quantum Sociological Imagination: Book 7: Khayyami Art: The Art of Poetic Secrecy for a Lasting Existence: Tracing the Robaiyat in Nowrooznameh, Isfahan’s North Dome, and Other Poems of Omar Khayyam, and Solving the Riddle of His Robaiyat Attributability. (Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge: Vol. XX, 2024. Tayyebeh Series in East-West Research and Translation.) Belmont, MA: Okcir Press.

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