Juan Cole


Attributed to Omar Khayyam
translated by Juan Cole

At dawn a shout
awoke us in
that watering hole:
‘You crazed
Get up and grab that bottle;
let’s finish what we started
before fate starts to finish us.’

Tonight, who brought you, drunk,
here to me?
From behind the curtain,
who brought you here?—
to someone who was on fire
because you were gone—
someone who, like the wind,
sought you everywhere!
Who brought you here?

This world
that was our home
for a brief spell
never brought us anything
but pain and grief;
its a shame that not one of our problems
was ever solved.
We depart
with a thousand regrets
in our hearts.

Get up and come here
for the sake of my heart,
and lend your beauty
to solving my problem.
Bring an earthenware mug
full of wine
for us to drink,
—quick before we’re clay
in the ground
that they quarry
to make mugs.

When I die,
prepare my body in wine
And in place of a eulogy,
lift a glass!
On Resurrection Day
you’ll find my dust
stirring beneath
the threshold
of the bar

Lovers are, all their lives,
frantic and intoxicated—
crazy, distracted,  and disgraced.
When we’re sober, everything annoys us.
But when we’re drunk,
whatever will be,
will be

Although we partiers
may have good color
and smell pleasant,
with cheeks like rubies;
and though we’re tall as a cypress—
it’s just not clear,
in this earthly cabaret,
why I was prettied up.

Where’s the smoke
from my fire around here?
where’s the profit
on my investment around here?
As for the guy
who called me a bar fly,
now really, where’s the bar
around here?

The idol asked the pagan,
“Do you know why
you started bowing down to me?”
—”It was because the One
who looks out through your eyes
shone his light on me!”

If you are looking for love,
try to attract every heart.
In the path
of the Presence,
try to entice every seeker.
A hundred holy temples made
of water and clay
are not worth a single soul.
Why make pilgrimage
to a shrine
when you can win a heart?

From the house of unbelief
to true religion
is a single breath;
From the world of doubt
to certainty
is a single breath;
Enjoy this precious single breath,
for the harvest of our whole lives
is that same one breath.

That priceless ruby
is from another mine,
and that unique pearl
is from a different shop.
Thinking about this and that
is just your imagination, and mine;
the story of passionate love is
from a different tongue.

Night and day
preceded you and me
The vault of the sky
revolved upon some work.
Be careful to tread lightly
on the earth—
you’re walking on people
who used to be someone’s

Pagan temples and mosques
are all houses of worship.
Ringing church bells
are hymns of worship.
The sacred thread of the Parsee,
the synagogue, the rosary
and the crucifix—
in reality, all
are tokens of
servitude to God

On the tablet of fate
was written
the sign of all things.
It is all the same to the
pen whether it writes
the good or the bad.
In destiny, all that must be,
was ordained.
How absurd, to grieve or
struggle against it!

I can’t reveal the mystery
to either saint or sinner;
I can’t say at length
what I’ve said curtly;
I achieve an altered state
that I can’t explain;
I have a secret
that I cannot share.

Persian originals in. E. H. Whinfield, The Quatrains of Omar Khayyam (London: Trubner & Co., 1883)