You Summon Me . . .
You Summon Me . . .
You summon me from silence like a Muse,
And without even asking, freely use
The form I made my own, my Rubáiyát,
On any subject matter that you choose!
As if dependency somehow defined you,
You don’t appear to mind me here behind you
And seem to find a shelter underneath
The shadow of my reputation! Mind you,
I’m not displeased to see this new employment
Of my old quatrain, this fine-tuned toy, meant
To be used for the simultaneous
Delivery of wisdom and enjoyment.
Nor do I reckon that my man FitzGerald—
Edward, not Scott—has been at all imperiled
By what you’ve done already, or are doing:
Though minor, Fitz is permanently laureled.
The one who brought me everlasting fame
Deserves to have his share of the acclaim
He hungered for and in part came to know,
Though now he’s largely known as Whatsisname.
Let others argue whether he construed
My meanings quite as closely as he should
Have done—I’ve come around to see that no
Translation is devoid of attitude.
As for your purposes, which may appear
Pointless to some—or many, as I fear—
Objections are no longer mine to make,
For reasons which I’ll presently make clear.
You follow one who followed my design
And imitate an imitation? Fine:
Whatever feathers you are like to ruffle,
Or hours you’ll have wasted, aren’t mine;
I was already an established brand
Who had no further craving to expand
His empery @copyrightKhayyam:
I did enough to generate demand,
And saw no point in writing more, since whether
I did or not, more quatrains would foregather
Under the great umbrella I had raised:
Write them myself? Let others have the bother!
The problem by which we are most perplexed,
We serial purveyors of the text,
Is that, while so few will have read our latest,
All show such lively interest in our next:
“We hope you’re hard at work now on some vast
New epic which will leave your peers outclassed
Completely, and will shower you with prizes—”
—You haven’t cut the pages on my last,
The one that even friendly critics spurned:
“At some point, one would think he would have learned
To do it better . . .” “Or to give it up . . .”
Of the five copies sold, three were returned.
Didn’t that happen to poor dotty Fitz?
I can’t recall exactly now, but it’s
No matter, really: any writer’s life
Will separate a fellow from his wits!
So whether I wrote a little or a lot,
Or if I wrote it all or wrote it not,
Matters to none at all, including me,
The famous author of the Rubáiyát.
The candle lasted longer than the game,
As countless bards dissembled in my name,
Some quite like me, but others not so much—
Theirs was the labor, mine was the acclaim!
Each of their poems consisted of just four
Lines in Iambic 5, and not one more,
With each of them rhyming A-A-BLANK-A;
But never was there ever such a corps
Of diverse piglets at a single teat.
“Variety” just doesn’t cover it:
I was, as I had never been before,
A multitude: Omar, Omas, Omit.
Once all the weakest had been winnowed out,
By editors who have been known to shout,
“He never could have written lines that bad,
That isn’t his, it can’t be, I’ve no doubt!”
That last one there might not be mine in fact:
Although they are, as usual, exact,
The rhymes are really much more meh than me,
The kind that lesser poets all attract.
Even today no lack of talent bars
A mighty host of wannabe Omars
From cranking out quatrains they claim are mine:
As far from mine as mine are from the stars!
Sorry! I’d no intention to suggest
That you’re just as immodest as the rest.
If I may go on, this led to some confusion,
This multitude of cuckoos in my nest.
Was I an orthodox Mohammedan
Or sceptic of the atheistic clan;
A Sufi whirling in the outer reaches,
Or Greek-inflected epicurean,
A moony sybarite, always in love?
Push, as it happened, never came to shove:
I never had to choose just one of them,
Being, as most are, most of the above.
The last thing that we should expect to find
In any poet is a single mind:
Just pick up any poem that you see,
Whether it’s metrical or the other kind,
And clap it to your ear: a disordered rout
Of voices whisper, mumble, whine, and shout,
Competing—for what else is authorship?
To see if one can drown the many out.
So having other poets first immerse
Themselves in my work and then write my verse
Was just a sound career move on my part—
If poets can be said to have careers.
For in this echo chamber of a form,
A plethora of voices is the norm:
“Who owns this work?” “Is it original?”
Are questions better put to bees aswarm.
Did you write that? Did Fitz? Or is it mine?
At this point our voices intertwine,
And none of us can claim sole ownership
Of an errant stanza or stray line.
Yet all of us have been brought up to count
Originality as paramount,
The sine qua non of the creative act—
Unlikely that without it you’ll amount
To much at all—you surely won’t ascend
Unto the upper ranks of the high end
Creatives, will you? Well, if you’re just not
Original, can’t you at least pretend?
But if you’re still there listening to me,
And odd as it may seem, you seem to be,
You will have long anticipated this:
Forget about originality,
As far back as you go, you cannot reach
The first word trembling on the verge of speech,
Already luminous with all that follows;
And if the past connects us each to each,
Originality means doing what
Was done already by some other mutt
Who’s imitating in his turn another:
“Originality is nothing but
Judicious imitation,” says Voltaire,
Who pauses for a moment with the air
Of one almost expecting a response,
Before he pivots to descend the stair.
So leaving us with nothing left to say,
Our philosophe has made his getaway,
Counting on our fumbling attempts
At vanquishing l’esprit de l’escalier,
Which translates into “What I should have said . . .”
A useful phrase, when all your hopes are dead,
Or you’ve just mumbled, “Thanks for a real nice time,”
And are returning to an unshared bed.
Creation went entirely unheard,
The epigrammatist had the last word,
And in between, the muddled middle beckons
To those of us at home in the absurd;
Using the worn-out tools that you have come by,
As well as those that you yourself supply
From your own toolkit, do as you are able
To keep it going; your inability
And the likelihood that you will be forsaken,
Are unimportant here, are to be taken
For granted, when what only matters is
The dialogue with others you awaken.