18 March 2013
Just as with the compositions of a musical master like Mozart, in which there are no misplaced or arbitrary notes, so with Khayyam’s poem, Rubaiyat, the words have been carefully selected and orchestrated to produce both melodious sound and harmonious conceptual counterpoint. Khayyam’s Rubaiyat utilizes a pessimistic, resigned tone and metaphors of Moving Fingers and checkerboards to present a theme of the uncontrollability of life. Pervading the poem is a sense of helplessness against forces beyond the control of man. The universe, time, and of course fate will have their way no matter what man does to counteract their power. “The Moving Finger writes; and having writ, moves on: not all your Piety nor Wit shall lure it back to cancel half a Line” (Khayyam 597). Stanza 71 presents a metaphor of fate as a Moving Finger, who writes man’s destiny. Khayyam strikes a somber, melancholy note when he continually reminds the reader that death will ultimately claim everyone. And after it does, he says, what then? Consequently, Khayyam is unable to commit himself to belief in an afterlife, therefore he believes in living for today. “But helpless Pieces of the Game He plays, Upon this Checker-board of Nights and Days” (Khayyam 597). Here he likens destiny to a checkerboard, stating that destiny plays games with men, who are but pieces on a checkerboard to be moved and slain, reestablishing that fate is uncontrollable, and rolls on, heedless. By using simple metaphors, the poet has intentionally presented two interpretations of the same theme: life’s finite and ends soon. In a way, this poem is like one of those drawings that, when you turn it upside down, becoming something entirely different than what it was right side up. And the poet never really gives instructions on which way to hold it.