Wednesday, June 20, 2012

1859 and a Jug of Wine

1856-60 Blogging, Part 1 of 5
Bread, Wine, and Verse

Edmund J. Sullivan's illustration to Quatrain 11
of the first edition of FitzGerald's Rubaiyat.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons
In these long breaks between the signature 21 Essays series, I’m experimenting with a new feature focused on possibilities for future series.  I’ll spin the roulette wheel to pick a year (or set of years) and then brainstorm on some potential essay topics.  This time the wheel spins, gradually slows, then clicks to a stop, pointing at:  1856-1860. 

So here’s an 1859 series possibility:  15 essays on The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam, the 1859 first edition of Edward FitzGerald’s translation.  (15 essays would come to one essay for every five quatrains.)

I first read Fitzgerald’s Rubáiyát when in college—in retrospect, a pretty ideal time to enjoy a dream of fatalistic hedonism.

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse  – and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.

That’s the first edition version of Quatrain 11.  The fifth (and posthumous) edition of 1889 yielded the classic quote:

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread – and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

I’m not much on picnics, but this one continues to sound appealing.  A venture into the Rubáiyát could lead in many directions—to the Persian original, to FitzGerald’s free-wheeling translation style (often more FitzGerald than Khayyam), to the philosophies of Ecclesiastes and Epicurus that seem to echo through it.  It might make a nice series for lazy summer evenings—essays to be enjoyed with a glass of wine at sunset.

A Pre-Raphaelite illuminated manuscript
tribute to FitzGerald's Rubaiyat of
Omar Khayyam with calligraphy and
ornamentation by William Morris and an
illustration by Edward Burne-Jones.

Over the next four days, I’ll be proposing some more 1856-60 ideas (with no promises that I’ll necessarily be getting to any of them…).  But I’m wide open to other suggestions.  Any ideas for 1856-60 books, short stories, poems, songs, or other cultural artifacts that might inspire a good 21 Essays series?

© 2012 Lee Price

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