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Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám holds a unique place in English literature. A sensation of the Victorian age, it remains, a century and a half after publication one of the best-loved poems in the language. It was born of the encounter between two minds across seven centuries, when the reclusive Victorian scholar Edward FitzGerald translated a set of verses attributed to the 12th-century Persian poet, Omar Khayyám. Each quatrain is a meditation on the fleeting nature of life. Man is compared, variously, to a bubble poured out with wine, a piece on a chess board, or a clay pot created by a careless maker. Filled with the lush opulence and romance of the East, the Rubáiyát advocated the pleasures of earthly life - wine, love, song – over the uncertain promise of heaven.
Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultán’s Turret in a Noose of Light.
As well as structuring the poem so that it moves from dawn to night, FitzGerald created entirely new lines, images and even whole quatrains. Into his Persian source, he interwove echoes of Greek and Roman literature, the Bible and Shakespeare, so that the Rubáiyát seems at once exotic and familiar, as if its lines have always existed. Above all, the poem owes its power to FitzGerald's absolute mastery of the quatrain form, with its strong unrhymed third line and simple, direct language.
Niroot Puttapipat, one of the most gifted young illustrators working today. His affinity with the late Victorian period and lyrical, almost dreamlike style make him the perfect artist for the Rubáiyát. His pictures are beautifully detailed and rich in texture, capturing the opulence of the poem. They are filled with the rich lapis blue and gold decoration that is such a feature of Eastern art. This Folio Society edition is based on the first edition (1859), with minor emendations. It includes the original introduction and notes by Edward FitzGerald, as well an introduction by A. S. Byatt. In it, she describes how ‘the fusion of melancholy and hedonism FitzGerald created has gripped the imaginations of both the Victorians and subsequent generations’.
This fine edition reproduces all of Niroot Puttapipat’s original illustrations from the 2009 Folio Society Limited Edition: a frontispiece, 15 full-page illustrations and 5 small line drawings in total. The text is set in 16-point Van Dyck, with four quatrains to a page, and with an illustration opposite each page. The verse pages are unpaginated.
The book is printed on Old Mill Stucco Paper, and quarter-bound in Nigerian goatskin with crushed silk sides, with metallic gold endpapers. The lettering on the spine was hand-drawn for this edition by Ged Palmer. He says:
‘For this project I chose to base the lettering style on the Naskh form of Arabic script for its wonderful flowing lines and characteristic tall ascenders. Naskh was one of the earliest scripts to evolve from the original Kufic. It gained popularity after being redesigned by Ibn Muqlah in the 10th century AD and later was reformed by Ibn al-Bawaab and others into an elegant script worthy of the Qur’an. I like to think that Omar Khayyám might have written his original rubáiyái using the Naskh script.’
Ged Palmer explains his designs for the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám book spine