Apr 11 2011

Omar Khayyam – Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough

Published by at 8:37 am under Poetry

[11] Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough
by Omar Khayyam

English version by Edward FitzGerald

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse — and Thou
      Beside me singing in the Wilderness —
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.

— from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, by Omar Khayyam / Translated by Edward FitzGerald


/ Photo by kochtopf /

This is the classic verse that most people think of first from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. That alternate translation still hovers in the air: “A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and Thou…”

These lines can be read on so many different levels. At first glance, Khayyam seems to be giving us a picture of a garden dalliance — bread, wine, love poetry, and an enticing, unnamed “Thou.” A lovers’ tryst in the wilderness.

But, of course, in the Sufi tradition, these seemingly earthy images are transformed into the most sublime of meanings.

Khayyam’s mysterious beloved is God. This is the sacred meeting of soul with the Eternal.

And what about the bread and wine, the book and the wilderness?

Bread is, in many cultures, the fundamental food, the symbol of all food. And food is communion. Think of it this way: The food we eat is the most tangible exchange we make with our environment. Our food is what most immediately connects us with the reality we inhabit. When you take in food, you temporarily negate the illusion of separation between your body and the rest of existence. Food is a breach of the boundary where we normally perceive separation to begin.

So it is really true, food is communion. It is an affirmation of interconnection and unity with our environment. What we take in becomes, in a very visceral way, a part of us. And we increasingly become composed of it. Remember the common saying, You are what you eat.

And the wine is the blissful drink of selflessness and divine ecstasy. The book of verse could be a reference to the Quran or, more broadly, any sacred writings — or perhaps the profound recognition of how all of creation is written with subtle, poetic meaning.

And the wilderness? Our meeting place? Well, that is the heart, the space of awareness at one’s core. It is “wild” because it is undefined by concepts and mental labels. The wilderness of the heart is expansive, with reaching tendrils that climb over stone walls until everything is lost in its rich verdure.

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough…

Let’s join with Khayyam and sing of our secret love affair with the Divine. Eating our fill of the bread of union, drinking the wine of bliss, we come into the presence the Beloved.

Time for a spring picnic perhaps!

Omar Khayyam, Omar Khayyam poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Omar Khayyam

Iran/Persia (11th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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.

More poetry by Omar Khayyam

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10 responses so far

10 Responses to “Omar Khayyam – Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough”

  1. Afton Blakeon 11 Apr 2011 at 11:00 am

    Thank you for this truly incredible expansion of the symbolic meaning of one of my favorite versus. I had no idea. I would love to see you work through the other verses in the same way.

  2. Lorraineon 11 Apr 2011 at 2:25 pm

    Wow! I feel I’ve stumbled across an inexhaustible gold mine of poetry that is not only accessible but delivered to my door daily! Gratitude! i will gladly become a $2 a month subscriber, a small price to pay for these gems that arrive complete with commentary. Awesome! love it! Thank you!

  3. Tiaon 11 Apr 2011 at 9:06 pm

    Ivan,

    You are such a gift, cool water to thirsty lips.
    Thank you.

  4. Nueon 11 Apr 2011 at 9:27 pm

    It is complete, there is nothing more or less, all in the moment.

  5. Nueon 11 Apr 2011 at 9:31 pm

    It is complete, there is nothing more or less, all is in the moment.

  6. ahmed41on 11 Apr 2011 at 10:36 pm

    Sir,
    Omar Khyyam is my HERO.

    With a little bit of effort and patience, any one can learn and teach mathematics.

    BUT to be creative in mathematics ?!–that happens
    to one or two in a hundred years,perhaps.

    Now top that with being a poet
    and a mathematician__that’s rare indeed.

    Don’t forget that FITZGERALD
    did not translate the Rubaiyat
    of Khyyam, he trans-created it.

    Awake ! for Morning in the Bowl of Night

    Has flung the stone that puts the stars to flight

    And lo ! the hunter of the east has caught

    the Sultan’s turret in a noose of Light

    بر خیز و بیا، بیا زبہر دل ما

    حل کن بجمال خویش مشکل ما

    یک کوزہء مے بیار تا نوش کنیم

    زان پیش کہ کوزھا کنند از ما

    Not just poetry,
    Khyyam was commissioned by Sultan Jalaluddin to reform the lunar calendar.

    His effort resulted in what is known as the Khyyami or the Jallali calendar, which is a solar calendar.
    It requires much less correction than our Gregorian calendar.
    The same calendar system is in use today , termed as the KHURSHEEDI ( solar ) calendar in IRAN & in Afghanistan .
    But in each country the names of the months have different names owing to deep cultural reasons

    Let have more of
    old Khayyam !!!

  7. Jackieon 12 Apr 2011 at 5:45 am

    Thank you Ivan for your expanson of the meaning of this verse. Loved it! Thanks!!!

  8. aparrnaon 12 Apr 2011 at 9:49 pm

    Brilliant stuff Ahmed. Thank you for sharing the Farsi couplet…. Much help for a learner of Farsi. I’d love it if you could also give the transliteration with it.

  9. simonbaghon 16 Apr 2011 at 9:26 am

    Hi Ivan,

    From that jug of wine that is never harmful,
    Once more fill yours cup and mine also full
    Guy, sip it before time grinds you into dust,
    A pot out of your dust potters to make fast

    Khayyam, recreated by simonbagh

  10. Marcelleon 02 Apr 2017 at 1:19 am

    Perfect Interpretation…we are all so driven by our ‘romantic ideals/selves’ that many would see that SNIPPET of the script and think ‘forbidden love story’…are we projecting? 😉 I read the entire translation, and initially thought “He’s talking about our relationship with Earth/Mother Nature”. This completed it for me. Thank You!

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