Translations must be attempted; they have their uses, but their value must not be over-estimated. In scientific, historical, and philosophical works their value is in proportion to the faithfulness with which they translate the exact language and intention of the original; and there are literal translations of poems, the sole aim of which is to render as exactly and literally as possible the words and meanings of the originals, but such translations are not in themselves works of art. The translator may delight in what he is so ploddingly and accurately and conscientiously accomplishing, but he delights not in either the thought or the manner of expressing the thought. There are, however, translations which are works of art, translations in which the translator delighted in both the thought and its expression, in which his own individuality is given full play. Such a translation is Fitzgerald's rendering of the "Rubaiyat" of Omar Khayyam. That Khayyam lived at Nishapur in the beginning of the twelfth century is known; that he was a tent-maker and an astronomer is also known; but what he really believed no man knows, and whether he belonged to this sect or that sect no man can tell; according to some, his poems contain mystic allusions to the Deity; according to others, he meant simply what he said and sang, the Epicurean philosophy, eat, drink, for to-morrow ye die. But what the Persian tent-maker really thought was of less importance to Fitzgerald than his own reflections suggested by the original. The original appealed to him; he accepted the old tent-maker at his word, and took delight in rendering in his own manner the original as he understood it; and yet with his translation he took infinite pains. He himself said, "I suppose very few people have ever taken such pains in translation as I have, though certainly not to be literal."
Illustration for quatrain XII of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
(New York: Hodder and Stoughton, 1909)