By Sathya Narayana

The rubaiyat (pronounced “roo-bái-yát”) is a Persian form of several quatrains. Its name is derived from the Arabic plural of the word for “quatrain,” rubá’íyah. This, in turn, comes from the Arabic word rubá, meaning “four.” Rubai (the singular form) is a quatrain or a set of two couplets. The Rubai form is more than a thousand years old. Rubaiyat was created by a non-Arab poet by the name Abul Hassan Rodeki. But the rubaiyat form was later taken to glorified heights by Omar Khayyam (1048-1133), a great Persian poet, astronomer, philosopher, and mathematician. Khayyam, lovelorn, became an addict to wine and, inspired by his blossoming delirious muse of memories of his estranged lover, he composed a number of beautiful rubaiyat, filled with love, pain, philosophy, and the panacean benefits of wine. His rubaiyat were translated into a number of languages, including English. Here is an example of Khayyam’s rubaiyat well-translated by the 19th century English poet Edward Fitzgerald (a close friend of the celebrated poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson):

 

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit,
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

But helpless pieces in the game He plays,
Upon this chequer-board of Nights and Days,
He hither and thither moves, and checks… and slays,
Then one by one, back in the Closet lays.

And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The Tavern shouted— “Open then the Door!
You know how little time we have to stay,
And once departed, may return no more.”

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou,
Beside me singing in the Wilderness,
And oh, Wilderness is Paradise enow.

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out of the same Door as in I went.

 

Rubaiyat in English

The English adaptation of rubaiyat is equally beautiful and well suited to modern thought, imagery, and muse. A rubai is, though intended to stand alone, usually a suite of rubai (rubaiyat) composed and arranged in a standard rhyming order. In a single rubai, the rhyme scheme of aaba is used with enjambment (the continuing of a sentence or thought) between the 3rd and 4th lines. The usual meter used is iambic pentameter. Here is an example of a rubaiyat by famous American poet Robert Frost in iambic tetrameter with a deviation of rhyme order in the last stanza (dddd):

 

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

 

Modern poets also composed rubaiyat in iambic pentameter.  The above two poems are also examples of interlocking rubaiyats, which are rubaiyats where the subsequent stanza rhymes its 1st, 2nd, and 4th lines with the sound at the end of the 3rd line in the stanza (rubá’íyah) before it.

Note that the rubaiyat is allowed an unlimited number of stanzas, so extend the pattern as needed: For example, the contemporary poet Bernard M. Jackson preferred to only use three quatrains. The rhyming order for a three -stanza rubaiyat, in theory, is aaba bbcb ccdc. This standard pattern cracks in the concluding stanza, since the third line always assumes the same rhyme ending as that of the third line of the previous stanza and the “d” sound here has no following stanza with which to rhyme. A solution to this crack, which is employed in the interlocking rubaiyat and by Jackson below, is to return the third line of the final stanza to the primary rhyme of the first stanza, creating a beautiful and contemplative circular structure. For example, the rhyme scheme in Jackson’s three-stanza rubaiyat below is as follows: aaba bbcb ccac:

 

To a Lasting Dream

(soft and hard stresses added, with apostrophes and quotation marks respectively, demonstrating the iambic pentameter that was used)

 ‘           ”     ‘            ”            ‘               ”          ‘           ”     ‘       ”
Down/ flee/ting /years /Time’s/ shades/ have/ swif/tly/ flown
Though seasoned joys we never have outgrown;
Besides some rippled brook now let us lie,
To muse upon fond moments we have known.

Sweet fragrance of rare bloom still draws a sigh,
So, too, those woodland haunts we lingered by.
Each summer traces paths of former ways
With welcome spell of dreams that never die.

Thus sipped from fate with gladness, all our days,
There’s nothing may love’s memories erase;
Eternal are the visitors Time has shown,
As life slips through each measures passing phase.

 

Here is another example of a 4-stanza Rubaiyat composed by me.

 

Affluence

The dark muddy puddles on road, by rain
can’t bring, I thought, the times bygone again.
My latest home in town’s posh colony
has well buried my past travails and pain.

The days I whined and ran with agony;
the days I starved and craved for small money;
no more exist in memory. I laid
a lid on that dramatic irony.

For great windfall I gained of late, I bade
good bye to mates, for me, who cried and prayed.
Forgot the days I drank rice-soup in grange
with friends and pools in which we splashed and played.

Better were days of need than these deranged
in binge, in spite of piled fancy mélange.
My food tastes sour; and bitter my Champagne.
I got riches; from me but sleep estranged.

 

Post your own rubaiyat in the comments section below!

 

Once an advocate, Sathya Narayana joined the Government of India as Inspector of Salt in 1984 and got two service promotions. In May 2014, he took voluntary retirement as Superintendent of Salt.

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6 Responses

  1. Dusty Grein

    Thank you for this exploration of a great classical form. I enjoy crafting Rubaiyats, and usually create mine as a crown, by interlocking the first stanza’s primary rhyme into the lone line of the final stanza. Here is one of mine, dedicated to a dear friend.

    I’m Free!

    Adrift upon a cold turbulent sea
    The waves tossed me about violently
    Until I learned how to endure the ride
    No longer will life’s storms discourage me

    I used to be a victim of the tide,
    of cruelty, of circumstance, of pride;
    quite often I would hide my face and cry
    Ashamed of who I was down deep inside.

    Then one dark day, a prayer I thought I’d try
    A voice told me “Stand up and say goodbye
    to fear and hate and anger. You should know
    that you were born with wings, so learn to fly.”

    The tide still surges and the wind may blow
    But now I stand defiantly and throw
    My head back and proclaim aloud “I’m free!”
    As fearlessly I face the vast unknown.

    –dustygrein

    Reply

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