The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: Summary & Analysis
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam presents an interesting challenge to any reader trying to sort through its heavy symbolism and not-so-obvious theme. Not only does the poem provide us with a compelling surface story, but a second look at the text can reveal a rich collection of seperate meanings hidden in the poem’s objective descriptions and sprawling narrative-which in the space of a few pages includes such disparate characters as the Moon, God, the Snake (and his traditional Christian neighborhood, Paradise), the “Balm of Life”, not to mention nearly every animal and sexual symbol the human mind can come up with.
Obviously, on one level, ...view middle of the document...
” Later the narrator compares the Grape to an angel. It’s clear this person has something of an obsession.
But all of these seemingly transparent references to drinking beg for a deeper analysis. Writing a really great poem about blowing off the next day to get trashed does not get you into the literary canon. Of particular interest is the symbol of the “Cup” or “Bowl” (or even “Pot” at one point in the poem), and the “Wine” that the narrator seems to be drawing out of it on every occasion.
The “Cup”, in Western society, is nearly always synonymous with some sort of prize or contest. Besides the Cup being semi-obviously equated with the vagina and therefore a kind of sexual conquest in our society’s male-driven history, there is also the legend of the Holy Grail-The Cup of Life, which grants eternal life to anybody lucky enough to find it. There is a parable in the Bible about a woman who, having been married several times out of either lust or financial necessity, goes to the well for water and finds Jesus there, dispensing wisdom in his usual manner. As she gets water, Jesus tells her, “Whosoever drinks from that well will thirst again.” Whether or not this convinces the woman to renounce worldly pleasures and become a Christian is never made clear.
So what then is this “Cup” that the poet makes twenty-five references to throughout the poem (including “Vessel”,”Urn”,”Bowl”, and “Glass”)? It’s fairly easy to argue that the cup is a symbol for life and the act of living. It’s also a curse-no cup is bottomless, so it follows that:
a) you can’t enjoy the wine unless you drink it, but
b) the more you drink, the quicker it ends.
Now a different theme arises from the symbols the author is using. Is it really time to “Seize the Day” and drink it up while we have the chance? The sixty-third stanza uses another symbol to explain it: “One thing is certain and the rest is Lies/ The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.” Throughout the poem death is seen as being an empty cup (Stanza 72): “And that inverted Bowl they call the Sky,/ Whereunder crawling coop’d we live and die,” and in the fortieth stanza: “Do you devoutly do the like, till Heav’n/ To Earth invert you- like an empty Cup.” In the twenty-second stanza, “some we loved. . . Have drunk their Cup a Round or two. . . And one by one crept silently to rest.” The author seems to recognize that once the drinking’s over, so is life.
Later the author converses with several pots of different sizes (Stanzas 82-90). This highly metaphorical description of the philosophical “pots” giving their opinion on their “potter” (i.e. people talking about God) further emphasizes the idea that human souls are finite vessels that, once emptied, have served their use. In Stanza 89, a pot says, “My Clay with long Oblivion is gone dry:/ But fill me with the old familiar Juice,/ Methinks I might recover by and by.”
Which brings us to the question of that “Juice”. One could say that the “wine” that the poet praises for a...