Down at the loading dock, me and the guys get into a lot of good-natured scraps about sports teams and movies and whatnot. Sure, it gets a little heated sometimes, but it's always in good fun. When it comes to poetry, though, there are days when I just want to haul off and punch their sorry faces.
Especially Tony. I mean, he's entitled to his opinion and all, and if he doesn't acknowledge that Keats was the greatest English poet of the 19th century, that doesn't make him evil or nothing. But when he starts mouthing off about The Rubaiyat Of Omar Khayyam being one of the five greatest poems ever, I want to clock him in the nuts. The Rubaiyat Of Omar Khayyam? A towering achievement that stands beside the likes of Beowulf and The Faerie Queen? What the fuck is Tony smoking, and where can I get some?
I've owned one copy or another of that steaming pile of turd since I was 10 years old, and I never once got past the halfway mark. I could write a better Rubaiyat than that, and I've never been published. I swear, that thing's worse than The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner.
When I was a kid, I just figured it was Edward Fitzgerald's translation that was lacking. I was certain I'd learn to love the poem when a more authoritative version finally came out. But in the years that followed, none of the other translations held my attention, either. Whether it was E.H. Whinfield's so-called "definitive" version or A.J. Arberry's, one thing remained constant: The Rubaiyat blew.
Still not convinced that such a classic poem could be that bad, I learned Arabic so I could read it in the original text. And you know what? It still sucked! Jesus, I can't tell you how awful it was. It may actually have been worse in Arabic than in any of the English translations. They should call Omar Khayyam "Ozymandias Khayyam," because when I look on his works, I despair!
If Khayyam's Rubaiyat was all you had to go on, you'd think Islam was some stuffy, soulless religion, not the vibrant, living faith it is. Khayyam's ham-fisted quasi-narrative leaves any sensible reader flipping back and forth between quatrains to remember exactly what he said just four lines before. How in holy hell did this train wreck of a poem ever get published? Omar Khayyam Sr. must have run a publishing house or something.
Not that it's saying much, but I could kick some major Rubaiyat ass compared to that Khayyam hack. The Rubaiyat Of Gord Hunsacker would be, well, shit, it would be publishable, which is more than I can say for Khayyam's.
This is just off the top of my head. I'm not even calling this all that great or anything, but here's at least a passable quatrain that muses upon man's mortality:
Woe betide man for his shortness of days,
Soon to be dust though frantically he prays.
Envy the mountain, a million years here,
A billion, too; and it evermore stays.
You see? Now, that's a Rubaiyat. A couple hundred more lines like those, and you'd have a goddamn Rubaiyat you wouldn't be ashamed to tell your friends you wrote!
Now, of course, the guys down at the dock always ask me, "If you could do so much better, why don't you?" They're totally missing the point! I got a wife and kids to support! I can't just quit my job to write another Rubaiyat, no matter how much better it'd be than Omar Fucking Dipshit Khayyam's.
I just wish I could hop in a time machine and travel back to 12th Century Khorasan. I'd tell Khayyam to stick to math and astronomy, and leave the poetry to folks who have a friggin' clue.