The Rubaiyat

An overview of the conflicting themes in Omar Khayyam’s poem.

Omar Khayyam’s poem, “The Rubaiyat”, is a work alive with contrast, conflict, and contradiction. Some of these conflicts are external conflicts, cultural conflicts, physical conflicts, and time. There are also the eternal, internal struggles of sin against holiness, wisdom against lack of knowledge, and faith against unbelief. This paper shows that all of these conflicts show the basic question of the poem: “What is the meaning of life?” Khayyam tries to answer this question many times in the poem. He offers several different answers, many in contradiction of each other. The paper shows that the answer he finally comes up with is one quite against his Muslim faith. It shows that the poem can be seen as an argument between the physical and the spiritual, with the strong, human, physical urges winning out over the weakness of the metaphysical.
“Bringing up Jesus and Moses (as well as David later on) not only brings in organized religion to the piece, but also uses them as references to pre-Islamic religions of the Middle East: Judaism and Christianity. More distinctly pre-Islamic Persian references to Jamyshd (an ancient mythical Persian king and constant presence in the poem) and to Pehlavi (the pre-Islamic Persian language) come up in the fifth and sixth stanzas.”