Weekly Assignment #2

September 5, 2006 at 2:41 pm (Weekly Assignments)

The first part of the weekly assignment is to ask a question about the reading for this week — a real question; i.e., something you don’t know the answer to. ONE sentence only, please: questions of more than one sentence will not receive credit. I might give an extra point for great questions. Questions are due by midnight on Monday. Late questions will not be given credit.

The second part of the weekly assignment is to answer someone’s question (not your own). You must cite at least one authoritative source. (I will withhold credit for answers without a reference. If you make a sui generis argument, find an authority to support it, or else find an authority to testily contradict.) These answers can be as long as you like; I might give an extra point for great answers. Answers are due by midnight on Wednesday. Late answers will not be given credit.

Submit all questions and answers as comments to this post. Feel free to post other commentary in the comments, as well.

By the way, I adore that Billy Collins poem “Nightclub”; it’s one of my all-time favorite love poems. However, I don’t see even a smidgen of similitude between it and anything EBB wrote. Sorry. Perhaps a well-written essay would convince me.



  1. Eric Gerson said,

    What is the difference between the original “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” and Fitzgerald’s version, that is to say, what exactly did Fitzgerald adapt in his translation to make the story unique?

  2. Sarah Simpson said,

    Maybe I should know this, but why are so many words capitalized? (And I don’t mean those few that are all caps.)

  3. Lindsay S. said,

    What exactly IS the conversation between Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat and Browning’s Rabbi Ben Ezra?

  4. Chris Nelson said,

    What were Fitzgerald’s religious convictions, if any?

  5. Holly Ellern said,

    How does Edward FitzGerald’s Victorian understanding of astronomy influence his portrayal of the heavens and of humankind’s place in the universe: how would his assumptions about the nature of the heavens differ from the historical figure, Omar Khayyam’s studies and discoveries in astronomy?

  6. Daniela Newland said,

    Did the success of FitzGerald’s translation/adaptation spur other Persian-themed works, and if yes, which ones?

  7. Aaron M. Bobick said,

    Can anyone find a good site about Fitzgerald? I don’t know anything about him, but it seems he and Coleridge had the same nighttime hobby…

  8. Jake Burnett said,

    What was the relationship between Britain and the “Middle East” (more specifically the Ottoman Empire) at the time that Fitzgerald was writing?

  9. Susanna Branyon said,

    What sort of religion might Omar Khayyam have been practicing in eleventh century Persia, and what is the connection between that religion and the many obvious Christian references in FitzGerald’s version?
    Dibs on Holly’s question…

  10. Daniela Newland said,

    Calling Jake’s question.

  11. Sarah Simpson said,

    I’ll answer Chris’s question about religion…

  12. Chris Nelson said,

    Dibs on Suzanna’s question.

  13. Meredith Willis said,

    What is the significance of the repetition of the Rose imagery?

  14. Laura Robinson said,

    Question: Did Fitzgerald have a specific fascination with or training in Persian literature which inspired him to translate “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” in the first place?
    (I’ll take Lindsay’s question on Browning and Fitzgerald.)

  15. Matt Simmons said,

    Did FitzGerald know anything of Persian religions (Shii’a Islam, Zorastrianism) and does he manipulate the references to these religions in the poem to any specific purpose?

  16. Holly Ellern said,

    Dibs on Meredith’s question.

  17. josh gane said,

    Why does Fitzgerald refer to wine, and the drinking of wine so often in this poem?

  18. Kelly Mahaffey said,

    Why did Fitzgerald publish 5 editions of the poem?
    I’ll take Josh’s question.

  19. Jake Burnett said,

    Dibs on Matt’s question.

  20. Sarah Simpson said,

    According to Alfred McKinley Terhune, a FitzGerald biographer, the poet should be classified as agnostic. In a letter to his good friend John Allen, Fitz wrote, “I still vacillate like a fool between belief and disbelief, sometimes one, sometimes the other, for I have no strength of mind and very little perception” (qtd. in Terhune, p.55). After leaving Cambridge University, Fitz and many of his contemporaries struggled to accept the orthodox religion of preceding generations. This doubt was mainly due to the abounding scientific advances of the day, which provided “evidence that a reinterpretation of creation and the origin of life was imminent” (Terhune 55). Fitz questioned how he could believe in God without the same factual evidence of truth that science demanded. But he studied the Bible carefully and didn’t question religion’s value to humanity. He actually thought it was necessary. He was also a loyal member of the Church of England until well past middle life (58). Terhune writes: “Although he could not personally find satisfactory answers to the problems of the soul and man’s relations to his Creator, he respected others’ solutions of these enigmas” (64). FitzGerald was incredibly sensitive to beauty and kindness.
    Terhune, Alfred McKinley. The Life of Edward FitzGerald. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1947.

  21. Jake Burnett said,

    In rambling response to Matt’s question about Fitzgerald’s knowledge of Persian religions:
    According to Robert Graves, in his introduction to his translation of the poem (problematic, as seen below), Fitzgerald got Khaayam’s religion exactly backwards, crediting him with “a flat denial either that life has any ultimate sense or purpose, or that the Creator can be, in justice, allowed any of the mercy, wisdom, or perfection illogically attributed to Him; which is precisely the opposite view expressed in Khaayam’s original” (2-3). Graves argues that Khaayam, in the middle of his life, ?broke away from his academic colleagues at the College of Nishapur and returned to the Sufic way of thought? (3). This requires a brief digression on Sufism, and how Fitzgerald may have misunderstood it by casting it in a purely Orientalist mode, perhaps literalizing their metaphors in a patronizing way.
    Sufism is a form of Islamic mysticism. The origins of the name ?Sufi? are unclear. Neeru Misra says that ?the word ?suf? denotes wool? and that ?tasawwuf in the Sufi epistemology . . . refers to ?ascetic pietism?? (7). The Sufis, then, were ascetics and mystics. Sufism emphasizes unity with God and love of God??Hasan ibn Mansu al-Hallaj (d. AD 972) made the most daring pronouncement of Ana?al-Haq or I am the Truth . . . leading to his persecution by flogging and burning to death? (Misra 9). The Sufis seem to have been influenced by, or at least strongly resembled, those strains of Upanishadic and Gnostic philosophy which emphasized the identity of the self with Truth, with God, and the discovery of this identity through mystical disciplines.
    That said, Fitzgerald oversimplifies the Sufis to caricature them, having the ?Sufi pipkin? of stanza 87 ask ?Who is the Potter, and who the Pot?? This of course shows at least some familiarity with the monistic mysticism of that movement. It also irritates Graves no little bit, particularly since Fitzgerald concludes that the Sufi is silly and that the literal drinking of wine is Khaayam?s meaning. Graves argues, ?Khayaam treats wine in Sufic fashion as a metaphor of ecstasy excited by divine love? (4).
    There are, however, problems with Graves? conclusions. According to J.T.P de Bruijn, Graves? translations appear to be ?founded on forged material? and the interpretation of Khaayam?s quatrains as directly Sufi therefore on shaky ground (11). de Bruijn writes about the origins of the ?Khaayam? poet. Apparently, the textual history is muddled at best, and does not suggest a single poet?it was not until the ?end of the twelfth century [that] the theologian Fakhr ad-Din Razi (d. 1210) for the first time cited a single Persian quatrain under his [Khaayam?s] name? (10). The manuscript in the Bodleian Library , used by Fitzgerald, was compiled in 1460 and had 158 quatrains (not the 101 in his ?translation?). Then, in 1462, ?in the anthology Tarabkhana . . . 554 rubaiyat were brought together. This number increased even more in later collections of Khayyam?s quatrains? (10).
    Why does this matter? Well, as far as Sufism goes, it begs the question (asked by de Bruijn) ?whether or not the poetic persona of Khayyam is in any way connected with Sufi poetry? (11), as well as the questions of whether, from the text, we can gather what Fitzgerald knew of Sufism and what he did with it. de Bruijn answers his question in the negative, citing several Sufis who were critical of Khaayam (12). If we accept his word over Graves? (which I am inclined to do?Graves is not terribly reliable as a scholar), then we have to ask, ?What does this have to do with Fitzgerald? Well, Fitzgerald clearly knew enough of Sufism to dismiss the dervishes (Sufi mystics) as useless ascetics, and to belittle the mystical position in favor of material hedonism.
    The upshot of this long digressive comment is that I think that Fitzgerald, whatever he may have known about Persian religion, was not particularly interested in it for the purposes of this poem. In many ways, as we discussed in class, he constructs Islam at large, cherry-picking bits of Muslim belief and arranging them to suit the needs of his (decidedly European) poetic project.
    As to the question of what Fitzgerald knew about Zoroastrianism, I don?t find any references to it in the text of the poem?if they are there, I?d like to see them pointed out.
    de Bruijn, J.T.P. _Persian Sufi Poetry_. Curzon Press: Richmond, 1997.
    Graves, Robert. _Original Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayaam_. Doubleday & Company Inc: New York, 1968.
    _Sufis and Sufism: Some Reflections_, Neeru Misra, ed. Manohar Publishers & Distributors: New Delhi, 2004.

  22. Meredith Willis said,

    Going to try my best to answer Kelly’s question.

  23. Josh Gane said,

    In an article, “The Rubaiyat of Edward FitzOmar,” by Gary Sloan, we are told that Fizgerald was a member of the Anglican Church though he “preferred Lucretius, Montaigne, Voltaire, Diderot, and Hume to Augustine, Aquinas and Luther.” Sloan says that Fitzgerald was visited late in life by a rector determined to edify this lost sheep, and that Fitzgerald told him that he need not return because he had thought on these matters “as fully as yourself.”
    Fitzgerald had studied biblical criticism as well as science and history. Alfred Terhune wrote,”although he could not personally find satisfactory answers to the problems of the soul and man’s relation to the Creator, he respected others’ solutions to these enigmas.”

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