Jan 15: "The moving finger writes"

I like to think that the person tasked with selecting these readings was some unnamed graduate student, some poor churl who was given like a week to pick out 365 readings from 50 volumes. Or maybe it was someone from P.F. Colllier and Son, perhaps a Harvard graduate himself -- think John Held meets “Mad Men” -- who was roped into it.

Anyway, he (actually, the work of choosing this stuff might have been sufficiently unpleasant to have been given to a woman) has outdone himself with the description today:

“Omar Khayyam laughed and enjoyed the good things of life. His “Rubaiyat,” the most popular philosophic poem, is the best of all books to dip into for an alluring thought.”

The most popular philosophic poem. The best of all books. It’s like reading character descriptions in a screenplay – everything is the most whatever-it-is it can possibly be. Well, the best of all books is there, volume 41 (“English Poetry 2: Collins to Fitzgerald”), time to dip:

First of all, note that it’s actually put under Edward Fitzgerald, which is probably appropriate, since to get it into these quatrains probably took some wrestling. Also, not knowing anything about the Middle East, I am always skeptical when I see “The Sultan’s Turret with a Shaft of Light” – even the idea of a “Sultan” makes me think of Aladdin. It’s like the Tiki Room or something (although I actually love the Tiki Room).

Here’s stanza XVII:

The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns Ashes—or it prospers; and anon,
Like Snow upon the Desert’s dusty Face,
Lighting a little hour or two—was gone.
Did this rather commonplace (though true) sentiment have added force from its exotic framing? In other words, are we present at the creation of New Age wisdom? One is almost tempted to think so:
Up from Earth’s Centre through the Seventh Gate
I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate;
And many Knots unravel’d by the Road;
But not the Master-knot of Human Fate.
On the other hand:
Then to the Lip of this poor earthen Urn
I lean’d, the secret Well of Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmur’d—“While you live,
Drink!—for, once dead, you never shall return.
(Vague memories of high school English are returning; I think we might have remarked with pleasure on the wisdom of this ancient-seeming pro-drinking stance. )

Or, to synthesize, maybe this is New Age for drunks:
And if the Cup you drink, the Lip you press,
End in what All begins and ends in—Yes;
Imagine then you are what heretofore
You were —hereafter you shall not be less.

So when at last the Angel of the Drink
Of Darkness finds you by the river-brink,
And, proffering his Cup, invites your Soul
Forth to your Lips to quaff it—do not shrink.
I also like the “Cypress-slender Minister of Wine.” We could not have read that part in high school, or we would have appointed someone to that office.
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
Good night, honey! Sweet dreams!

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