The Secret Life of a Quatrain & The R.O.K. Unleashed

It’s time… For a whole examination of the Robayyat of Omar Khayyam.

I’m onto it. Collecting the translations in English, French, Spanish, German. And the translations of translations.

And towards a radical new offering, that includes critique and convos inside the new avant-gardish venture of translation.

The Secret Life of a Quatrain. The ROK Unleashed.


From the upcoming Polyglossophilia Bacchanale–UpSet Press, 2024, where a section/explanatory fragment of the ROK Unleashed also appears. This is a full-on engagement with the long history of the Translations of the Robbayat of Omar Khayyam–and all centered around one quatrain…


… A translation that is digressive, multiple, multidirectional. A radical translation!
The universe of the grand translatory intervention! With notes on the side, texts written with the theory of translation inscribed within. The postulates embodied inside. A full text, like any other poetic text. Its manifesto within. With parallel texts even.
The literary translation of a piece on the page appearing on a scroll hung in a gallery and read in that context and given those parameters…

The Participatory Translatory Intervention & Overture
The famed PTIO

From: the ROK Unleashed, folks, I present: the poem, and a fragment:

ORIGINAL POEM and check and fix letters]


Lab bar lab-e kuzeh bordam az ghāyat-e āz

Where I always pause…
Stuck on: thinking of: lab, bar, lab…
Launch: Once upon a time, there was a quat—
Check: there was, once upon a time a quat/… rain: and it started so:
lab bar lab…
Again: once upon a time, a quatrain by one Omar Khayyam of—
Once: upon, a time, there was: a quatrain, and the attempt, at its translations…

This one was the one that launched the adventure: that attempt—the attempt, I write again, the attempt, of course: been going around, everywhere in the world where—I just—think to—or, rather, go, lab bar lab, lab bar lab, lab bar: lab—how to begin to trans-, how to begin to re-create, transcreate, translate: emblematic, not only of OK himself, but, of all translation…

Lip to lip, my murmurs…
Lip, to lip, but then, the operation:
Lip to lip: the necessary operation—no, doesn’t work: that simple.
And this one either: I brought my lip to the lip of—.

>> Carry: on:

Tāzu talabam vāsetey-e ’omr-e derāz

Seemingly innocuous but ‘talabam’, that one, launches a whole—
Question always then: how to: go on: how to, actually, make the one—or, must it be one: no, the answer is no: it should not be just one, but layers, four: threads, leading to critical and participatory translation; of course,
especially since, with Khayyam, it is over: no more translations, no more, no more—

Lab bar lab-e man nahād u goft berāz
Mey khur keh bedin jahān nemiayi bāz

I’ve said it over and over: out loud, in head, sitting, lying, walking, running, screaming even and shouting: there can be no more translations of Khayyam: the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is dead: yes, the ROK, is dead, long live the—the ROK is dead, long live the—the R/O/K. Or: rather, the illusion of the concept of the ROK is dead; what exists is a corpus of appropriations, commentaries, criticisms, an inevitably expanded practice of translating and re-translating, along with all the effects on the source and target languages and cultures that have become intertwined, interacting upon each other in ways that one could not foresee. That, is what needs translation: the commentary/criticism and the creative integration of engagement with all the translations within a wider text. The R/O/K Unleashed, The R/O/K Unchauned, The R/O/K Unplugged—eternally, one must say…

Why? Too many reasons why…
But for sure, Q: How the hell do you go about it—and, how comes it they all got it so, wrong? Check it:

Omar Khayyam, philosopher of renown, Epicurean in certain circles, mystic on a path in others, heretic for some, Sufi for others, hedonist and fundamentalist by turns, surely would not have believed that his quatrains (along with many others later attributed to him) would have attained such fame that in places large and small in all corners of the world, his name would be uttered with adulation reserved for the most revered of poets. Omar Khayyam, son of artisans (we think), administrator and astronomer, mathematician supreme, surely would not have believed that by the year 2012, his quatrains would have been translated into 67 languages (at least), by more than 421 translators, in so many countries that by some accounts, his texts are considered one of the most translated in the history of literature. It is no surprise that 150 years after the first substantial translation of his quatrains by Edward Fitzgerald, the Khayyam machine was initiating as much interest as ever.

Versions: you examine them, you compare them, and in amazement wonder how it’s possible.
More versions in English than there are words in the quatrain, for example!
Direct translations, and then, indirect translations: that’s right, translations of translations!
And from there: translations removed multiple times from the original!
There are many versions derived from the translation of Robert Graves and Omar Ali Shah, for example (The Graves-Shah translation from 1967 that saw much controversy), and into many languages. To mention a handful: into German—a re-translation by Göpels (1995); into French, rendered by Ricord (2005); and into Spanish, by Liano (1995).
[FOR ALL THESE SEE PP. 218-220 OF ORIGINAL. they should all occupy same space. Around these texts. Weaved into all this. We’re only gonna use a few]
At times some of the translators used a slightly different version of the poem, given the controversies surounding the exact texts, and at others they took great liberties given their stylistic tendencies.

Ruel Whitney (1903)
Then to the earth did I appeal again
To learn the myst’ry of the lives of men,
And for my answer I could hear it say:
“Once passed, you never will return this way.”
Omar Khayyam, The Rubaiyat. Newly Paraphrased by Ruel William Whitney.
(Originally published by The Imperial Press, Cleveland and printed privately; Obtained through Nabu Public Domain Reprints.)

Mrs. H.M.Cadell (1899)
With strong desire my lips the cup’s lip sought
From it the cause of weary life to learn.
Its lip pressed my lips close and whispered:—
“Drink, in this world no moment can return.”
The Ruba’yat of Omar Khayam.
(Originally published in London by John Lane; Obtained through Kessinger Publishing’s Legacy Reprints.)

Arthur B. Talbot (1909)
To the jar’s mouth my eager lip I press’d,
For Life’s Elixir making anxious quest;
It join’d its lip to mine, and whisper’d low—
“Drink wine: thou shalt not wake from thy last rest!”
Quatrains of Omar Khayyám. From a literal prose translation, by Eward Heron-Allen, of the earliest known manuscript—Done into verse by Arthur B. Talbot.
(Originally published in London by Elkin Mathews; Obtained through Nabu Public Domain Reprints.)

Throughout the decades, they keep rolling in: initial versions that came right on the heels of the Fitzgerald translation, during what could be termed a Khayyam translation craze (‘trending’, we could say in our parlance); more scholarly ones during the twentieth century; more definitive versions; and even contemporary ones with all sorts of twists.
And a most recent, anonymous version, found in my inbox, courtesy of an admirer/critic (?): I kissed my cup of coffee/With that kiss I drank/Its essence, asking of it, its secrets/It replied by scolding my tongue

For the full engagement with the Omar Khayyam project, stay tuned for the hopefully coming-sometime-soon The R.O.K. Unleashed! where, at last, in its entiretly, The Participatory Translatory Intervention & Overture shall be unplugged, .
The PTIO is a project constituting a new genre of translatory endeavor and composed of four threads (I shall surmise for now, allowing myself all liberties to transform later):
1/a write-aloud: the chronicling of the process of translation and various considerations of the translator. It constitutes the fashioning of theoretical notions and the analyses of the quatrain, in all guises: immediate and studied—fomenting, in its written form, the write-aloud;
2/a critique/history of previous translations—thus integrating the critical engagement with various translatory projects with Khayyamian texts within the translation proper; thus: critique;
3/a digressive parallel thread that is variously connected to the quatrain under consideration and/or the translatory process and/or translations under consideration with forays into the translator’s life: dubbed writer enactions. Happy engagements with digression;
4/the re/Text: with intricate links and symbiotic relationships with the other threads—that is: the text of the translation, one that valorizes and engages in a poetics of incompleteness and is steeped in a poetics of unveiling of the process of translation and cumulative participatory practice. Thus: transcreation.

Together, these threads constitute an overall endeavor that integrates an attempt at translation practice with the analysis of the quatrain, with the critique/commentary of previous translations, and with personal connections.
Together, they create an interventionist, critical/creative apparatus engaged with theories and the history of translation as such, and more specifically, Khayyamian issues.
The Participatory Translatory Intervention and Overture intertwines these threads into a quadripartite ensemble that proposes, through the translatory realm, and through the possibilities of a plurilingual poetics and practice, a new scriptural practice engaging criticism, theory, autobiography, and translation.

Lab bar lab-e kuzeh bordam az ghāyat-e āz

(Lip) (to, on, ) (Edge, lip) (earthen jar
pot, jar
urn, earthen urn)

(this could be ‘deeply impassioned’, in crazed state of mind or something like that—but, it could also be any poetic expression: just fulfills that function)

Tāzu talabam vāsetey-e ‘omr-e derāz

(in order to; from it/he/she; talabam: argh argh: talabam talabam is a hard one yo;
but v.o.d. is not: the secret of long life or, my long life)

Lab bar lab-e man nahād u goft berāz

(lip to lip (now)) (of mine); (placed/…) (and said in secrecy/in…)

Mey khur keh bedin jahān nemiayi bāz

Drink wine?! Or is it? Drink?
No: maybe it’s an exclamation , with a function. Like: Chill. Or: relax!
How about: ‘May’s shore…’

Try: again: let’s have recourse to my neoliterary overture:

Lab bar lab

Lip to edge
ambiguity of both
earthen jar

Need an image that would allow us a perfectly executed image that demonstrates the passage of life, and how the most glorified folks turn into dust and are taken by death no matter what—significance-wise, that is. I know we have tons of things in the U.S., so there’s got to be some earthenware—not even, now that I think about it—an object, a thing associated with modesty, that nourishes us, that transcends the common attributes of an object. Rather: one that is the very archetypical thing that allows us to stay alive, that holds, in essence, the substance that allows us to survive… and that can be associated with death too: its material, recycled, perhaps, made of dust…

Where was I? What do we get: which object, known to the English-speaking world (now, it could also be a metaphoric ‘holder of nourishment’) is known to be used by many all over the world, and has a quality that approaches that of the jar, but that can also allow us to construct a pun, or a syllepsis, on it…—that: is the question, really…

lab: what did she do in that field… I remember the scene, the land: imagining then in a faraway spot the figure: whose arms go around whose? Who starts the flirt? Who launches the—!

Where was I?

I thought: reminded me of another poem with Bahram, a famous one, more on that later, but made me think of Bahram S., which in turn made me think this: this dude’s a loser:—actually: I didn’t think ‘this dude’s a loser’ I thought: this guy’s a jerk. He’s out of it. Taryak-ed out. Why get into it with him. He was trying to put me down. Last time I went there. Maybe not last but one of the last. Baba velesh kon, I remember thinking in my head, despite the fact that it was decades ago, be better than that, snide comments and all—let it go—and still, funnily, this quatrain always makes me think of him!

Shit—this digression thing isn’t working. Or: is it working?! Yes, yes it is: this is Translation with a capital T at its truest goddammit. This is what the literary translator goes through. This type of pain! Or, this type of back and forth, of schizophrenic digression—really, this is just kind of a little fragment, not even the whole deal…

One could go on ad-nauseum, but this theory/practice of radical translation cannot be defined in only one launch—because it is defined through particular givens of a text that one will translate, and in the spirit of the situation and the translator.
And so… The Polyglossophilia Bacchanale allows great openings: the definition and redefinitions of radical translation: the choice of texts, and the operations that these texts go through in the target languages.
Indeed, who says that within the Bacchanale a text needs to be translated in only one other language? Why not multiple, in the same text? Include multiple languages! Create multiple languages! Create a fusion of languages!
Noting all the plurilingual possibilities articulated above in my taxonomy, one could translate a unilingual text into multiple languages!
The Bacchanale is a space for radical translations of all sorts. Of creative translations of all sorts. Of various dimensions. Always and again: a space of emancipatory practice.
And the grand project with long-lost friend Omar K. soon will lead the way. Through the PTIO, coming soon to a (figurative) theatre near you, The R.O.K. Unleashed! Also known as: The R.O.K. Unplugged!