Mar 13 2013
 And David’s Lips are lock’t; but in divine
by Omar Khayyam
English version by Edward FitzGerald
And David’s Lips are lock’t; but in divine
High piping Pehlevi, with “Wine! Wine! Wine!
“Red Wine!” — the Nightingale cries to the Rose
That yellow Cheek of hers to incarnadine.
— from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, by Omar Khayyam / Translated by Edward FitzGerald
/ Photo by LutherHarkon /
“David’s Lips are lock’t” — saying nothing, except singing the praises of wine. I’ve spoken several times before of wine as a metaphor for bliss and the ‘celestial drink’ of divine communion…
The relationship of the nightingale to the rose is important in Middle Eastern love poetry, and it becomes elevated to sacred levels of meaning in the poetry of the Sufis.
The rose, with its wine-like scent and deep red color, is sometimes thought of as a more tangible embodiment of wine. More broadly, it is a symbol of the Beloved, of God. The rose unfolds in a gentle circling that invites one to yield inward. It is a symbol of lovers and of union. The rose resonates strongly with the gently awakened heart.
The rose grows from a bush of thorns yet reveals a delicate inner beauty and shares an intimate, sweet wine-like fragrance, symbolic of how the soul emerges from the tribulations of worldly difficulty and, in so doing, recognizes her innate beauty.
The nightingale, like a lover, sings its heartbreaking songs in the cool of the evening, in love with the beauty of the rose. In sacred poetry, then, the rose is God and the nightingale is the spiritual seeker who calls out in the night, like the devout in midnight prayers or zikr.
Reread that last phrase again: “the Nightingale cries to the Rose / That yellow Cheek of hers to incarnadine.” The most obvious way to read this is that nightingale with her yellow cheek calls out to the “incarnadine” red of the rose. But a possible alternate reading is that the yellow cheek is transformed, somehow taking on the “incarnadine” (blood-red, life-filled) color of the rose. Read this way, the more passionately the lover yearns for the Beloved, aches for the Beloved, calls out to the Beloved, the more the lover takes on the nature of the Beloved. In divine communion, we don’t merely touch the Eternal, we discover it emerging from within.
Omar Khayyam was best known in his time as a mathematician and astronomer. His theorems are still studied by mathematicians today. His poetry really only became widely read when Edward FitzGerald collected several quatrains (rubaiyat) attributed to Khayyam and translated them into English as the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
The common view in the West of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is that it is a collection of sensual love poems. Although some scholars debate this question, many people assert that Omar Khayyam was a Sufi, as well as a poet and mathematician, and that his Rubaiyat can only be truly understood using the language of mystical metaphor.