Parodies of Fitzgerald’s Omar Khayyam #1: A Disappointed Drinker

One measure of the popularity of what becomes an enduring work of literature is how much it is parodied. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, as translated by Edward Fitzgerald, is a good example. Though now the work is not that well-known to the current generation (at least a substantial cross-section of people I know), it is a good introduction to Omar Khayyam despite many new translations and the fact we now know that that Fitzgerald was quite free in his translation and more adapted the work than translating it faithfully. But, that is not germane to my topic here and I will not linger on it overlong.

The issue is that in the early 1900s, Fitzgerald’s “translation” was parodied in several innovative ways by many poets, amateur and professional. I do recall that sometime ago I furnished an example of Rudyard Kipling using it to portray the travails of the Member (Financial) of the Viceroy’s Council in India, during the heady days of the British Raj. (If you are interested in reading it, you can search for it here. Kipling titled it “The Rupaiyat of Omar Kalvin (Colvin)” ).

For some reason, some talented Americans were at the forefront of this activity. Let me lay out some samples for you.

I begin with “The Rubaiyat of Ohow Dryyam”, a brilliant and funny commentary on the spell of prohibition in America. By J.L Duff, who offered his apologies to Omar Khayyam, you can well gauge the poet’s forte by the title. (For those who haven’t caught on, repeat the parodied title slowly… quite very slowly and see what it conveys….. any more clues and I may as well tell you myself – which is forbidden by my rules).

Anyway, I guess that is enough introduction and I will begin. Ohh yes, and I will a provide some, lets say two, of the original quatrains. For the rest, I counsel that you find a copy of Fitzgerald’s translation and compare if are so inclined…..

Wail! For the Law has scattered into flight
Those Drinks that were our sometime dear delight;
And still the Morals-tinkers plot and plan
New, sterner, stricter Statues to indite.

Original:

WAKE! For the Sun, who scatter’d into flight
The Stars before him from the Field of Night,
Drives Night along with them from Heav’n and strikes
The Sultan’s Turret with a Shaft of Light.

After the phantom of our Freedom died
Methought a Voice within the Tavern cried:
“Drink coffee, Lads, for that is all that’s left
Since our Land of the Free is washed—and dried.”

Original:

Before the phantom of False morning died,
Methought a Voice within the Tavern cried,
“When all the Temple is prepared within,
“Why nods the drowsy Worshipper outside?”

And now we continue…

The Haigs indeed are gone, and on the Nose
That bourgeoned once with color of the rose
A deathly Pallor sits, while down the lane
Where once strode Johnny Walker—Water goes.

Come, fill the Cup, and in the Coffee-house
We’ll learn a new and temperate Carouse—
The Bird of Time flies with a steadier wing
But roosts with sleepless Eye—a Coffee Souse!

Each morn a thousand Recipes, you say—
Yes, but where match the beer of Yesterday?
And those Spring Months that used to bring the Bock
Seem very long ago and far away.

A Book of Blue Laws underneath the Bough,
A pot of Tea, a piece of Toast,—and Thou
Beside me sighing in the Wilderness—
Wilderness? It’s Desert, Sister, now.

Some for a Sunday without Taint, and Some
Sigh for Inebriate Paradise to come,
While Moonshine takes the Cash (no Credit goes)
And real old Stuff demands a Premium.

The Scanty Stock we set our hearts upon
Still dwindles and declines until anon,
Like Snow upon the Desert’s dusty Face,
It lights us for an hour and then—is gone.

To be continued…….

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