The Rubaiyat and Foreign Literature



The Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam is one of the greatest accomplishments of Islamic
literature. The elaborate use of metaphors and similes make this literature a work of art,
envying strong emotions and giving insights to the nature of life and time. It is possible to
say these poems contain the greatest wisdom of the Islamic world.

The theme these poems express is that life valuable, time is short, and knowledge
makes life and time complement each other. An example of this is in poem 17. The poem
states: “Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by same door where I went.”

This shows how in the foolishness of youth, it is possible to listen to great men and
teachers, but to leave the room without changing or being enlightened. This poem it
stresses how different times in your life have different affects on you. When you are
young and carefree, knowledge and wisdom is something you don’t care about. Yet as
you progress, you realize that your immortality is in the memory of things you have done,
and that knowledge is the greatest prizes a man can possess. An example of how life is
short is seen in poem seven where it says:
“The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.”

This metaphor show how life is constantly ending, and is valuable, as leaves are valuable
to a tree and wine to a merchant. The value of individual life is great, yet on a cosmic
scale, it is nothing. A drop of wine from a barrel or a single leaf from a tree is nothing, as
a single human is virtually worthless is a world with billions of others. Poem 47 states this
when it says: “as the sea should not heed the pebble-cast” showing that a single wave
caused by a pebble is not a cause of concern for the ocean, which has an infinite number of
waves. The entire collection of poems points to the fact that life is valuable and after
death, no one returns. Poem 64 has a reference to this when it says:
Strange, is it not? That the myriad’s who
Before us pass’d the doors of darkness through,
Not one returns to tell us of the Road,
Which to discover we must travel too.

This poem compares death to darkness, an archetype found in many other books,
including The Bible and the Epic of Gilgamesh. Darkness is compared to death because
darkness is cold, and unfriendly. The Rubaiyat has many other similarities with The Epic
of Gilgamesh. Both books carry the theme that life is valuable, and that often people
waste their lives looking for immortality. Gilgamesh’s attempt to become immortal
eventually lead to his death, a problem which Omar Khyyam tells about.

The Rubaiyat contains many poems, each having a distinct method of conveying
the theme that life is small and that only wisdom and knowledge can make someone truly
immortal against the effects of time. All life ends, and The Rubaiyat reaffirms the belief
that life was created to be lived.