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A rose from Omar Khayyám’s Grave

Cycling club buddies John Ambrose, Trevor Ilott and Al Capon

Many years ago, when the world was young, I belonged to a couple of cycling clubs in my hometown of Ipswich, Suffolk. The members of one of these clubs enjoyed time trials and grass-track racing while the members of the other club enjoyed touring through the tranquil roads of Suffolk. In general, I preferred touring to racing.

In those days it was possible for quite a large group of cyclists to travel safely through the English country roads without meeting up with many cars. Not so today!

Woodbridge, an ancient town of narrow streets and delightful Georgian house fronts, was a popular destination. Near Woodbridge was the home of Edward FitzGerald, the translator of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (a 12th-century Persian poet). FitzGerald’s was a free translation of the quatrains of this 12th century Persian poet. He believed a translation from another language, such as Persian, cannot be literal and maintain the spirit of the original.

The poem contains a wealth of phrases both memorized by many and widely quoted, such as: “A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread – and Thou”, “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ”, “A book of Verses underneath the Bough” and “Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go” and “Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!”

Edward FitzGerald, was not, of course, the only translator of the Rubáiyát but his elegant version is a delightful poetic achievement in its own right and undoubtedly the best known and the most quoted.

FitzGerald is buried at Boulge in a simple grave in the churchyard, at the head of which is a rose grown from seeds taken by the Scottish artist William Simpson from a bush on the grave of Omar Khayyám at Naishapur in Persia (now Iran). The seeds were first taken to Kew Garden where they were encouraged to develop into a tree before being planted at Boulge.
My visit there, with the cycling club, was a very long time ago. I recall the gravesite was in poor repair but the pink roses still bloomed. Perhaps they still do.

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