The following lines are from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, who was a Persian mathematician, poet, philosopher and astronomer. Obviously, in the Muslim world, Khayyam was not celebrated in his time or after because of his stance against the accepted religion of his land of origin. Edward FitzGerald popularized the man in the 19th century. Before that, he was all but obscure. The work that I present here, even believers will probably find inspiring in parts. The language is exquisite and the imagery compelling. I have italicized the lines or passages that were particularly meaningful to me. This version is from the Richard Le Gallienne translation, and my comments are interspersed:
… The bird of life is singing on the bough
His two eternal notes of “I and Thou” —
O! hearken well, for soon the song sings through.
And, would we hear it, we must hear it now.
The bird of life is singing in the sun,
Short is his song, nor only just begun, —
A call, a trill, a rapture, then — so soon! —
A silence, and the song is done — is done.
Yea! what is man that deems himself divine?
Man is a flagon, and his soul the wine;
Man is a reed, his soul the sound therein;
Man is a lantern, and his soul the shine.
Would you be happy! hearken, then, the way:
Heed not To-morrow, heed not Yesterday;
The magic words of life are Here and Now —
O fools, that after some to-morrow stray!
Were I a Sultan, say what greater bliss
Were mine to summon to my side than this, —
Dear gleaming face, far brighter than the moon!
O Love! and this immortalizing kiss.
To all of us the thought of heaven is dear —
Why not be sure of it and make it here? (Why not, indeed)
No doubt there is a heaven yonder too.
But ’tis so far away — and you are near.
Men talk of heaven, — there is no heaven but here;
Men talk of hell, — there is no hell but here;
Men of hereafters talk, and future lives, —
O love, there is no other life — but here.
Gay little moon, that hath not understood!
She claps her hands, and calls the red wine good;
O careless and beloved, if she knew
This wine she fancies is my true heart’s blood.
Girl, have you any thought what your eyes mean
You must have stolen them from some dead queen,
O little empty laughing soul that sings
And dances, tell me — What do your eyes mean?
And all this body of ivory and myrrh,
O guard it with some little love and care;
Know your own wonder, worship it with me.
See how I fall before it deep in prayer.
Nor idle I who speak it, nor profane,
This playful wisdom growing out of pain;
How many midnights whitened into morn
Before the seeker knew he sought in vain.
You want to know the Secret — so did I,
Low in the dust I sought it, and on high
Sought it in awful flight from star to star.
The Sultan’s watchman of the starry sky.
Up, up, where Parwin’s hoofs stamp heaven’s floor.
My soul went knocking at each starry door,
‘Till on the stilly top of heaven’s stair.
Clear-eyed I looked — and laughed — and climbed no more.
Of all my seeking this is all my gain:
No agony of any mortal brain
Shall wrest the secret of the life of man;
The Search has taught me that the Search is vain.
Yet sometimes on a sudden all seems clear —
Hush! Hush, my soul, the Secret draweth near;
Make silence ready for the speech divine —
If Heaven should speak, and there be none to hear!
Yea! sometimes on the instant all seems plain,
The simple sun could tell us, or the rain;
The world, caught dreaming with a look of heaven,
Seems on a sudden tip-toe to explain.
Like to a maid who exquisitely turns
A promising face to him who, waiting, burns
In hell to hear her answer — so the world
Tricks all, and hints what no man ever learns.
Look not above, there is no answer there;
Pray not, for no one listens to your prayer;
Near is as near to God as any Far,
And Here is just the same deceit as There.
But here are wine and beautiful young girls.
Be wise and hide your sorrows in their curls,
Dive as you will in life’s mysterious sea,
You shall not bring us any better pearls.
Allah, perchance, the secret word might spell;
If Allah be. He keeps His secret well; (and Yahweh too)
What He hath hidden, who shall hope to find?
Shall God His secret to a maggot tell?
So since with all my passion and my skill.
The world’s mysterious meaning mocks me still.
Shall I not piously believe that I
Am kept in darkness by the heavenly will?
How sad to be a woman — not to know
Aught of the glory of this breast of snow
All unconcerned to comb this mighty hair;
To be a woman and yet never know!
Were I a woman, I would all day long
Sing my own beauty in some holy song
Bend low before it, hushed and half afraid,
And say “I am a woman” all day long.
The Koran! well, come put me to the test —
Lovely old book in hideous error drest —
Believe me, I can quote the Koran too.
The unbeliever knows his Koran best.
And do you think that unto such as you,
A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew,
God gave the Secret, and denied it me? —
Well, well, what matters it! believe that too.
Old Khayyam, say you, is a debauchee;
If only you were half so good as he!
He sins no sins but gentle drunkenness.
Great-hearted mirth, and kind adultery.
But yours the cold heart, and the murderous tongue.
The wintry soul that hates to hear a song,
The close-shut fist, the mean and measuring eye.
And all the little poisoned ways of wrong.
So I be written in the Book of Love,
I have no care about that book above;
Erase my name, or write it, as you please —
So I be written in the Book of Love.
What care I, love, for what the Sufis say?
The Sufis are but drunk another way;
So you be drunk, it matters not the means.
So you be drunk — and glorify your clay.
Drunken myself, and with a merry mind.
An old man passed me, all in vine-leaves twined;
I said, “Old man, hast thou forgotten God?”
“Go, drink yourself,” he said, “for God is kind.”
Did God set grapes a-growing, do you think.
And at the same time make it sin to drink?
Give thanks to Him who foreordained it thus —
Surely He loves to hear the glasses clink”
From God’s own hand this earthly vessel came.
He shaped it thus, be it for fame or shame;
If it be fair — to God be all the praise,
If it be foul — to God alone the blame.
The rest of the poem is worthy of a full read, but this will do. The last two lines here present one of the key arguments against God, one that I had been thinking about long before I picked up any book.
It’s this: we tend to praise him (God) when things go well; we pray to him when things don’t. Yet, isn’t he the author of both good things and tragic things? If he isn’t the author of both, some thing or some power supercedes him or he is powerless to stop bad things from happening or he simply has no desire to interject himself into modern affairs or he is not all-loving nor all-merciful or sympathetic to his children. He simply can’t be all-loving (and omnipotent) and sit by idly wild egregious evils take place around the world, some of them in his name, upon his children. If he is, as I’ve said before, he must be nearly infinitely grieved.
Believers will say, “Well, bad things happen because man is a fallen race and is subject to the ‘curses’ outlined in Genesis because of the original sin.”
But I ask: Did God set life into motion or not? If he did, as the Bible recounts, he foreknew every single event leading up to today. God foreknew every misstep Adam and Eve would take. He foreknew every misstep the people of Israel would take. He foreknew every single misstep I would take. He foreknew the doubts that would later fester and has yet to convince me or impress upon me his existence despite my numerous, numerous, numerous, numerous (yes, 4 repetitions would be accurate) and earnest pleas.
He foreknew the Crusades, carried out in His name. He foreknew the Salem Witch Trials, carried out in His name. He foreknew slavery, carried out in His name. He foreknew the Holocaust, the 6 million death of dwellers of his chosen nation, carried out in His name. Germany was a largely Christian nation at the time, and Hitler never disavowed Catholicism, neither did the Vatican speak out against the Third Reich at the time.
Yet, he, knowing all this, allowed or watched the entire bloody affair down through human history to take place and willed, what would become, the ugly episode of human existence into being. Kurt Vonnegut summarized the human condition in shocking bluntness during a PBS interview in 2005:
Look, after two World Wars and the Holocaust and the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and after the Roman games and after the Spanish Inquisition and after burning witches, the public — shouldn’t we call it off? I mean, we are a disease and should be ashamed of ourselves.
And for what purpose did God will us into being? According to Rick Warren, our purposes are five-fold: worship, fellowship, evangelism, discipleship and ministry. But these would be purposes once a person becomes a Christian. Before that, the purpose would be to become a Christian. But what about the purpose of humans in general, believer or not? Is it for the opportunity to know and enjoy him? For him to know us? But, we ultimately have no choice in the matter, do we? The options are either, believe and form a relationship with him or be gone, “I never knew you.” That’s not a relationship.