I rose, and on the throne of Saturn sate,
But not the knot of human Death and Fate. (7/1859)thThe 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. (76/1868)
Whether at Naishapur or Babylon,
Whether the cup with sweet or bitter run,
The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one. (8/1868)
Ah, fill the Cup:- what boots it to repeat
How Time is slipping underneath our Feet:
Unborn TOMMORROW, and dead YESTERDAY,
Why fret about them if TO-DAY be sweet! (37/1859)
How long, how long, in infinite Pursuit
Of This and That endeavour and dispute?
Than sadden after none, or bitter, fruit. (39/1859)
As with most good poetry there is something going on beneath the surface. Here is another famous Sufi poet, Masnavi of Hafiz, also inviting drunkenness:
Minstrel, bring close together the harp and drum.
With a sweet melody invite all of the lovers to come.
Strike a path that the Sufi into ecstasy goes,
Union through drunkenness will soon end his woes.
The followers of the Prophet Mohammed were not the only ones to use symbolism and allegory in religious art in the middle ages. In the sublime poetic tradition of the Sufi, wine is spirit, drunkenness the intoxication of pure worship, lovers the worshippers. No doubt this double language had its uses in courtly love!
Naturally the modern drinker is entitled to their own interpretation! As Omar himself says:
Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door as in I went. (27/1859)Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! The Hunter of the East has caught
Wake! For the Sun beyond yon Eastern height
Has chased the Session of the Stars from Night;
In allegorical terms there are great differences between the Morning and the Sun, and Night and Flight. Shaft and Noose may be sexual as well as spiritual imagery. It is an interesting exercise to try and pin down the meaning of such poems, and the psychology of their translators!
Consider: what is the most accurate language for medicine: mathematics or poetics? Numbers or metaphors?
Have you found clinical situations in which translation from one language, or type of language, to another has been difficult? Or even compromised clinical care?
Another Islamic physician-polymath of the time was Avicenna, properly called Ibn Sina. He wrote about 450 treatises, including a lengthy poem on the practice of medicine, and is one of the most famed figures in medical history.
References and further reading
Fitzgerald E (1859) (trans.) The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
Smith P (1986) The Book of the Winebringer: Masnavi of Hafiz New Humanity Books
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/arabic/poetry_2.html US National Library of Medicine Islamic Medical Manuscripts