Apr 11 2011
 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 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.