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Editorial December 2001
Carpe Diem
By Hilary Williamson

Recently, we have been forced to face up to the fragility and impermanence of our lives and to the vital importance of those we love, and the time we can spend with them. The news has been consistently depressing, and we are worried, tired and anxious for the future. Now there is a chill in the air and a long winter looms ahead, but personally I'm tired of all the gloom and doom. Yes, there are many very important issues with which we must contend, but, carpe diem, let's seize the moment and set out to enjoy the holiday season with family and friends.

Carpe Diem! Seize the day ... Aprovecha el dia ... Profitez du moment ... the sentiment is the same, in whatever language it is couched, at whatever time in history. The ancient Romans knew what they were talking about, as did Edward Fitzgerald in his nineteenth century rendition of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:

Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring,
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly - and Lo, the Bird is on the Wing.

This Victorian amateur Orientalist's self-styled transmogrification of the fifteenth century Rubaiyat achieved a cult level of interest in his time, and has remained popular ever since. Though true scholars later designated it a poor translation of what was actually a very spiritual poem, I still enjoy Fitzgerald's rousing verses in a very different fashion from the more literal translations that have followed. For example, compare the final two stanzas above with the version translated by famed poet Robert Graves & Omar Ali-Shah ...

This moment filched from the grey corpse of night
We long may sigh for, never repossess.

Fitzgerald's version is just more optimistic, with a style that struck a strong chord in the hearts of the readers of his day. Here are two more of my favorite stanzas from his engaging transmogrification:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
Ah, Love - could you and I with Him conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits - and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire

So start with Fitzgerald's 'Book of Verses underneath the Bough, A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread', add to it a turkey with trimmings, invite a cheerful crowd of young and old to the table, and celebrate the holidays, each according to his or her own faith. It's time to send cards and e-cards, to get in touch with faraway friends and relatives, time to celebrate the here and now. Carpe diem!
Editor's Note: Read different versions of the Rubaiyat online.
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