About the BookRubáiyát of Omar Khayyám is the title given by Edward FitzGerald to his translation of a selection of quatrains, originally written in Persian and numbering about a thousand, attributed to Omar Khayyám (1048-1131), a Persian poet, mathematician and astronomer.
The nature of a translation of the quatrains depends on what interpretation one gives to Khayyám’s philosophy. There have been different versions of the book according to the selection and arrangement to support one interpretation or the other. Some like Nicolas have viewed Khayyám as a Sufi, while others have seen signs of mysticism, even atheism, or conversely devout and orthodox Islam in him. FitzGerald has given the rubáiyát a distinct fatalistic spin. It is widely claimed that he softened the impact of Khayyám’s nihilism and his preoccupation with the mortality and transience of all things.
The translations by Edward FitzGerald became so popular that five editions came between 1859 and 1889. Of the five editions published, four were published under the authorial control of FitzGerald. The fifth edition, which contained only minor changes from the fourth, was edited after his death on the basis of manuscript revisions FitzGerald had left. As a work of English literature FitzGerald’s version has been greatly influential. The term ‘rubáiyát’ by itself has come to be used to describe the quatrain rhyme scheme that FitzGerald used in his translations, viz. AABA.
It has been stated that FitzGerald made many subtle changes to Khayyám’s quatrains. Many of the verses are paraphrased, and some of them cannot be confidently traced to any one of Khayyám’s quatrains at all. That is why some critics informally refer to the FitzGerald’s English versions as “The Rubáiyát of FitzOmar”, which recognizes the liberties FitzGerald inflicted on his purported source as well as credits FitzGerald for the considerable portion of the ‘translation’ that is deemed his own creation.
The form and content of the quatrains are so alluring that the book is read with great enthusiasm and interest.