Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

Edward FitzGerald

Illustrated by William Morris

William Morris’s exquisitely transcribed and illuminated 1872 version of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám is reproduced in complete facsimile in this new Folio Society edition.


The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám holds a unique place in English literature. A sensation of the Victorian age, it remains one of the best-loved poems in English. It was born of an 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 and a clay pot created by a fickle maker. Filled with the lush opulence of the East as romanticised by the Pre-Raphaelites, the Rubáiyát advocated the pleasures of earthly life – wine, love, song – over the uncertain promise of heaven.

Production details

Bound in blocked cloth based on the 1872 original binding

32 pages

Printed in colour and gold ink throughout

Blocked cloth slipcase

˝ x 4¾˝

Reimagining literature

‘FitzGerald’s poem is an elegant day-long meditation on life, death, happiness and the pleasures of imbibing’

  1. Daily Telegraph

Fitzgerald was notoriously free with his translation. As well as structuring the poem so that it moves from dawn to nightfall, he wrote new lines and even whole quatrains. He wove echoes of Greek and Roman literature, the Bible and Shakespeare into his Persian source 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 Khayyám’s quatrain form, with its strong, mostly unrhymed, third line and simple, direct language.

William Morris’s illustrated edition

Here with a loaf of bread beneath the bough
A flask of wine, a book of verse, and thou
Beside me singing in the wilderness,
And wilderness is paradise enow.

William Morris created four versions of the Rubáiyát and we have selected the version that best exemplifies his unique and enduring style: the 1872 edition held by the British Library (Add MS 37832). The intricacy of the design on each calligraphed page is stunning, with recurrent patterns of delicate, nature-inspired motifs and exquisite classical and religious figures. Morris designed the borders and ornamental additions, sharing the work of the illustrations with fellow artist and designer Edward Burne-Jones – The figures were then painted in by Charles Fairfax Murray. Our edition of one of William Morris’s finest and most elaborate works is a complete facsimile of the manuscript, and includes a personal note by Morris at the end.

Printed in lustrous gold and full colour throughout, the cloth binding features an intricate floral gold-block design by Morris and is presented in a cloth slipcase with gold-block titling.

There was a door to which I found no key,
There was a veil past which I could not see,
Some little talk awhile of Me and Thee,
There seemed, and then no more of Thee and Me.


Edward FitzGerald was born in Suffolk in 1808 to one of the wealthiest families in England. In 1816, the FitzGeralds moved to St Germain in France but, they returned to England in 1818. Edward went to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1826 and it was here that he met fellow writers, including William Makepeace Thackeray. The pull of France proved overwhelming and FitzGerald moved to France in 1830 where he stayed for a few years before returning to the county of his birth. His work was mainly concerned with translation and he had a particular interest in Oriental studies. The first translation of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám garnered little attention in literary circles but, as it was slowly discovered by scholars, it became more noteworthy. In 1868, FitzGerald revised the copy for a new edition and it was this work that would define his career. Fitzgerald died in 1883.


Without doubt, the best-known designer of the 19th century, William Morris was born in Walthamstow, London, in 1834. He had a privileged upbringing that allowed him the time to indulge his interest in the natural world and architecture. Set for a life in the Church, Morris studied at Oxford and it was here that he met Edward Burne-Jones, who would become a lifelong friend and collaborator. It became clear that they both had a greater calling for artistic, rather than religious careers, and they both became artists. Morris and his circle of artistic associates became focused on interiors, producing wall hangings and paintings and stained-glass installations. Although commissioned to decorate high-profile interiors, including the dining room at St James’s Palace, Morris concentrated on designing fabrics, carpets and wall coverings. He also worked on his writing, producing well-received poetry and prose. His Kelmscott Press printed books in a medieval style and Morris continued working until his death in 1896.


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