(previously published 2/14/2013)
Once Upon a Time
Once Upon a Time
As I withdraw the slender book from the box where it has lain for more than four decades, memories rise and I hold quite still as they enfold me in their embrace. In my hands I hold a cherished part of my life, and I see the two of us in another time, another place. We sit, he and I, side by side on the sofa as he reads from this book.
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam rendered into English verse by Edward FitzGerald. I believe this to be FitzGerald’s fourth translation of the Persian poet’s quatrains, though nothing on the frontispiece verifies that. It is a slim volume, less than a hundred pages, its dimensions the approximate size of a paperback book. The front cover is gray with white filigree, the title printed in pink inside a design meant to recall the Persian wellspring of its contents.
He was my love, once upon a time, and was a poet, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I didn’t know until, after many years, I opened a newspaper and saw his picture and the award-winning poem he had written.
I should have guessed as all the clues were there--his intelligence, his erudition, his mastery of the language. He recited vast quantities of poetry from memory, and frequently interspersed conversation with poetic allusions. Occasionally he selected this little volume from the many on my shelves and I sat beside him in silence as his voice and the enigmatic words of the “Rubaiyat” transported me to the ancient Persian realm of Jamshyd and Kaikobad.
I was quite young then, only twenty-one, and much of the meaning of the verses escaped me. I wanted to ask him to explain it to me, to ask if his beliefs were akin to the passages I did understand, and more. Instead I kept silent, not wanting to break the spell. Then the years passed, as did he, and I no longer had the opportunity to ask.
I hope those weren’t his beliefs. Are there words more final than these?
Oh threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain—This Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.
Strange, is it not? That of the myriads who
Before us pass’d the door of Darkness through,
Not one returns to tell us of the Road,
Which to discover we must travel too.?
I have always hoped that someday we will meet again in a place where age and station and public image were of no matter where then I will ask the questions I’ve held to myself all these years.
Then again, with all eternity before us, perhaps I’ll just sit beside him and let his voice transport me once again to an ancient Persian realm.