Saturday, January 7, 2012

In the Room They Left

When I was growing up and would lament some lost opportunity, my dad used to quote to me from his favorite poem:   
"The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it."
This is the famous Stanza 51 from The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, a long poem by an 11th century Persian astronomer, mathematician and poet ‒ Ghiyathuddin Abulfath Omar bin Ibrahim Al-Khayyami. The manuscript of the poem was discovered in the Bodleian Library in Oxford in the mid-19th century by Edward Fitzgerald (1809-1883), a friend of Thackeray and Tennyson. Fitzgerald, who had studied Persian at the University of Oxford, translated and adapted the obscure poem. It was published as a penny pamphlet that sold barely any copies until it was taken up and popularized by the Pre-Raphaelite poets Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Swinburne. Since then, it has appeared around the world in 650 editions in 70 different languages. It has been set to music by 100 composers and illustrated by 150 artists (including Edmund Dulac as in the lovely picture above).
The poem was very popular in the first half of the 20th century and was very well known to all schoolchildren of that era, including my father. The poem’s seize the day theme resonated with him.  This was how he lived his life. No regrets and no looking back.  He made plenty of mistakes as we all do, but he never dwelled on them but forged onto the next challenge. While this meant he sometimes didn’t take the time to learn from his mistakes, it also meant that he was a man singularly devoid of self-pity. It also meant that he managed to stay positive. Even in the face of a terminal diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis, he lived every day to the fullest, right to the end. In that respect in particular, he remains an inspiration to me.  
He died on January 8th 2008 - four years ago tomorrow.
“And we, that now make merry in the Room
They left, and Summer dresses in new bloom,
Ourselves must we beneath the Couch of Earth
Descend – ourselves to make a Couch – for whom?

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie
Sans wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and sans End!”

Rest in peace, Dad.

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