Juan Cole: Selections from the Mongol-Era Robā`īyāt of Omar Khayyām

Translated by Juan Cole

Nozhat al-Majāles[1]:

The night and day were there before we were.

In every age shone greatness like the sun.

On every part of earth you set your foot

you’re standing on the sweetheart of someone.

As hidden as the phoenix bird must be

each mystery within the deepest sea.

Within the shell there lies an unseen pearl;

that droplet is the secret of the sea.

I don’t drink wine to flee my poverty

nor to get drunk because of grief or shame.

I drink to fill my heart with happiness;

I do not drink now that you are my flame.

Lam`at al-Serāj[2]

If you should wish to wisely pass your life,

drink wine, for it has never harmed a soul.

I hold that its sole benefit is this:

That it can liberate you from yourself.

Tārīkh-e Vassāf[3]

Beneath your feet lie buried in the ground

an idol’s locks and a beloved’s gown;

each spear above the royal parapet;

a minister’s hand and a sultan’s crown.

“Kholāsat al-ash`ār fi al-Robā`īyat,” Safīneh-‘e Tabrīz:[4]

Wine server, rise and bring shame to my name.

The old and young have often seen our like.

Musician, my physician, sing a song,

then grab a wine decanter: a chord strike!

Mo’nes al-Ahrar[5]

The dawn has broken: rise, you hopeless flirt,

and gently – gently—sip some wine and strum.

For those who dwell here will not be here long.

Of those who left, not one again will come.

When New Year’s rainclouds wash the tulip’s face,

get up and to red wine your will entrust.

Since this green lawn that now delights your eye

Tomorrow will be growing from your dust.

A drop of water formed, joining the sea.

A mote of dust became as one with earth.

A fly buzzed in and then could not be seen.

What is your coming into this world worth?

The days of this age stand ashamed of one

who sits distressed at cares and all alone.

Drink deep from a wine cup and pluck the strings

before your cup is broken on a stone.

No one has reached the secret of this gem:

This sea of being hides itself no more.

All of them spoke, but only for themselves.

Of that which is, none can express its lore.

I threw my clay mug down upon a stone,

Committing, drunk, this sheer barbarity.

That cup addressed me in a mystic tongue:

“Once I was like you; you will be like me.”


This cycle inside which we come and go

Has neither a beginning nor an end.

No one can breathe a word about where we

came from or to what place our way we wend.



[1] Drawn from Sayyed `Ali Mīr-Afzalī, Robā`īyāt-e Khayyām dar Manābi`-e Kohan (Tehran: Markaz-e Nashr-e Daneshgāh-e Tehrān, 2003), pp. 39-47.

[2] In Mīr-Afzalī, Robā`īyāt, pp. 59-61.

[3] In Mīr-Afzalī, Robā`īyāt, , p. 64

[4] In Mīr-Afzalī, Robā`īyāt, p. 72.

[5] Mohammad ibn Bahr Jājarmī, Mo’nes al-Ahrār, dated 1340, in E. Denison Ross, “’Omar Khayyam,”

Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies 4, 3 (1927), pp. 433-439.