It's All In The Game
by A. Charles Corotis


It's All In The Game: A selected Collection of Gay Essays
on Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Mnemosyne,
Assayed from the Provocative Pages of
New Jersey's Literate Review Weekly, The Argus

By A. Charles Corotis



some columnar day, I have promised from time to time, I shall review this or that book whose author has been kind enough to send his work my way.

Alas, I have been grievously derelict in honoring such pledges, finding that one tractile tract a week, however lengthy, is scarcely enough to keep up with current happen­ings, and allows little time for indulging in the luxury either of commentary, critique, or philosophic observation.

Adding to the problem are my frequent sojourns hither and yon: e.g.., Houston just last week. Cursed as I am by this itch for scribbling—cacoethes scribendi— I can't relax and simply enjoy new vistas like sensible folk; I must write my experiences—copiously. Witness the recent transcontinental panegyric with stopovers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas,

Actually I have half a year's supply of these diaritic disquisitions on hand at all times, so far ahead of schedule am I; some have been yellowing in my file for years, sidetracked, since they have no particular time element, by more topical pieces. The temptation to pontificate on current subjects that happen to hit the news is too compelling to resist, especially if there has been an incident in my reasonably active life that permits personalization. This is no mitigation, I know, for the iniquity of procrastination, and it is offered not by way of justification but of explanation.

Anyway, among the relatively recent tomes I've wanted to discuss with you were the latest volume by my friend Andrew Salter, the eminent Park Avenue psychologist who threw down the gauntlet to Freudians with his bluntly labeled Case Against Psychoanalysis; Ralph Wescott's illuminating Walt Whitman in Camden, and Martha deSanto's brave adventure vis-a-vis old Khayyam in her unique The Rubaiyat and The Wine of Cana.

With typical perversity, I think I shall tackle this last first, if for no other reason than the opportunity it gives me to read again the Alcaic prosody with which Edward Fitz-Gerald a century ago adorned the iconoclastic observations of the llth century paynim, Ghiyathuddin Abulfath Omar bin Ibrahim al-Khayyami of Naishapur, more concisely, Omar, son of Abraham the tent maker.

With what boldness brash and rash and wonderful has this earnest disciple of religiosity from Merchantville pitted her well-intentioned stanzas against the magic melody of Omar-FitzGerald!

It is not my purpose to essay a judgement as between the respective and divergent beliefs of Mrs. deSanto and Khay­yam, to give him his Takhallus poetical name. The out­spoken latitudinarian, like Plato's restive and rebellious horse of the human soul, was not above flinging off all good and wholesome counsel and breaking fairly loose.

Omar made no secret of his affection for Dionysius who, in the words of Milton, "first from the purple grape crushed the sweet poison of misused wine." Like Epicurus, he sought to release himself from the prison of affairs and politics; he embraced the Athenian's hedonism, agreeing with him that "we are born once and cannot be born twice, but for all time must be no more. But you, who are not master of to­morrow, postpone your happiness; life is wasted in procras­tination and each one of us dies without allowing himself leisure."

His tetrastichs, too, echo the materialistic paganism of the Roman Lucretius, who complained that mankind ever toils vainly and to no purpose and wastes life in groundless cares: "Men wear themselves out and sweat drops of blood as they struggle on along the strait road of ambition."

Such philosophy of carpe diem shocks Mrs. deSanto, as it has shocked generations before her—"that large infidel" was Tennyson's phrase for the Persian Voltaire—and, deeply re­ligious herself, she has been stirred into audacious action, not with such irony as Carlyle used in labeling pantheism "pot-theism," but in a sincere attempt to transpose Khay­yam's quatrains into a hymnal of faith.

Irrespective of the side you choose between the Eccle-siastes and Democritus, you must admire the courage of one who wades determinedly and untimorously into the river of flowing gold that is the Rubaiyat. Sensuous and satir­ical as is his Epicurean eclogue in a Persian garden, lightly twitting alike the reader and the deity, disdaining moralistic agonizing and ecstatic lamentations, Omar sang his sybaritic song with ear-caressing cadence: "O danad O danad O danad O," breaking off like a wood-pigeon's tremolo.

The sternly Hebraic admonition "vanity, vanity, all is vanity" he answered in light-hearted Grecian "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die."

"The hope men set their hearts upon," he scoffed, "turns ashes, or vanishes like snow .... We are shadows in a phan­tom caravan; hurry, before we reach the Nothing from which we set out .... Make the most of the moment; too soon everything descends into the dust.... Paradise is a far prom­ise; fame is a food for dead men—take the living today."

Even the 19th century English squire, who discovered his long discarded and contemporaneously discredited works, who polished and pumiced them into the literary gems that fascinated the pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabriel Rossetti and thus lifted them from obscurity, wasn't at all sure he shared his inspiration's atomistic libertarianism, his propensity for exalting aesthetic pleasures above all else.

"Having failed, however mistakenly, of finding any Provi­dence but Destiny," FitzGerald says, "and any world but this, he set about making the most of it, preferring rather to soothe the Soul through the Senses into acquiescence with things as he saw them, than to perplex it with vain disquie­tude after what they might be."

Together these two, separated by seven centuries, half a world and linguistic barriers, yet contrived to collaborate in the weaving of a mosaic so beautifully wrought as to enchant the sentiency, with no necessity at all for subscribing to the philosophy, just as one appreciates Bizet's stirring music for "Carmen" with no implication of condonation for her wantonness.

For her verse-by-verse comparison Mrs. deSanto has used FitzGerald's original interpretation. This is the one that begins:

Awake! for morning in the bowl of night 
Has flung the stone that puts the stars to flight: 
And lo! the hunter of the East has caught 
The sultan's turret in a noose of light.

Dreaming when dawn's left hand was in the sky
I heard a voice within the tavern cry,
       "Awake, my little ones, and fill the cup 
Before life's liquor in its cup be dry."

Subsequent editions revised this brilliant beginning con­siderably, although not, in my opinion, for the better. What do you think?

Wake! For the sun, who scatter'd into flight 
The stars before him from the field of night,

       Drives night along with them from heav'n, and strikes 
The sultan's turret with a shaft of light.

        Before the phantom of false morning died, 
        Methought a voice within the tavern cried,

                "When all the temple is prepared within, 
"Why nods the drowsy worshiper outside?"

Other ruba-i were not so completely rewritten. Witness the justly famed 7th, for example:

Come, fill the cup, and in the fire of spring 
The winter garment of repentance fling: 
       The bird of time has but a little way 
To fly—and lo! the bird is on the wing.

The last line becomes To flutter—and the bird is on the wing. The even more famous 11th:

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

becomes in the so-called compressing and sharpening process:

A book of verses underneath the bough,
A jug of wine, a loaf of bread—and thou
       Beside me singing in the wilderness— 
Oh, wilderness were paradise enow!

The 13th of the revision:

Some for the glories of this world; and some 
Sigh for the prophet's paradise to come;

       Ah, take the cash, and let the credit go, 
Nor heed the rumble of a distant drum!

originally was interpreted by FitzGerald to read:

"How sweet is mortal sovranty!"—
think some:
Others—"How blest the paradise to come!"
       Ah! take the cash in hand and waive the rest; 
Oh, the brave music of a distant drum!

Unchanged are these two tetrastichs of magnificent despair:

The worldly hope men set their hearts upon 
Turns ashes—or it prospers; and anon,

       Like snow upon the desert's dusty face 
Lighting a little hour or two—is gone.

And those who husbanded the golden grain,
And those who flung it to the winds like rain,
       Alike to no such aureate earth and turn'd 
As, buried once, men want dug up again

except that they are reversed in the revisions. The original 16th:

Think, in this batter'd caravanserai 
Whose doorways are alternate night and day, 

       How sultan after sultan with his pomp 

Abode his hour or two,, and went his way

is virtually unchanged. Doorways become portals; his hour or two now is his destined hour. Even less changed is:

I sometimes think that never blows so red 
The rose as where some buried Caesar bled;

       That every hyacinth the garden wears 
Dropt in its lap from some once lovely head

the pronominal becoming her lap. Retained intact, happily, was the 20th:

Ah! my beloved, fill the cup that clears 
Today of past regrets and future fears-
Tomorrow?—why, tomorrow I may be 
Myself with yesterday's sev'n thousand years.

The 23rd:

Ah, make the most of ivhat we yet may spend, 
Before we too into the dust descend;
       Dust is dust, and under dust, we lie, 
Sans zuine, sans song, sans singer and—sans end!

was changed only in the third line, thusly: Dust into dust, and under dust to lie.

The 25th:

Why, all the saints and sages who discuss'd Of the two worlds so learnedly are thrust Like foolish prophets forth; their words to scorn Are scatter'd, and their mouths are stopt with dust 

merely made the second line Of the two worlds so wisely-they are thrust.

My favorite of all:

The moving finger writes; and, having writ, 
Moves on: nor all thy piety nor wit
       Shall lure it back to cancel half a line, 
Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it

in the transposition merely has the substitution your for the archaic but moving thy.

FitzGerald's final revision, with 101 stanzas compared to the original 75, contains some of the most provocative, albeit beautiful of the lyrical lines, as though the interpreter hesi­tated before subjecting them to Victorian Britain's mores. Finally he seemed emboldened to go full way; thus:

Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the wise 
To talk; one thing is certain, that life flies;
       One thing is certain, and the rest is lies; 

The flower that once has blown forever dies.

Substituted for these first two lines in the revision are these:

Oh threats of hell and hopes of Paradise! 
One thing at least is certain—this life flies.

Only in the very last stanza did Mrs. deSanto forsake the original for the revision, sacrificing Thyself with shining foot in the first line of the Tamam:

And when like her, oh Saki, you shall pass 
Among the guests star-scatter'd on the grass,
       And in your joyous errand reach the spot 
Where I made One—turn down an empty glass!

Yes, our lady of Merchantville essayed a formidable task in thus crossing rhymes with the Iranian. Skeptic, libertine that he was, he could weave words into a magic spell:

The wine of life keeps oozing drop by drop, T
he leaves of life keep falling one by one.

       Each morn a thousand roses brings, you say: 
Yes, but where leaves the rose of yesterday?

Alike for those who for today prepare, 
And those that after some tomorrow stare,

       A muezzin from the tower of darkness cries, 
"Fools! your reward is neither here nor there."

There was the door to which I found no key; 
There was the veil through which I might not see.

       Some little talk awhile of me and thee 
There was—and then no more of thee and me.

Perplext no more with human or divine, 
Tomorrow's tangle to the winds resign,
       And lose your fingers in the tresses of 
The cypress-slender minister of wine.

And if the wine you drink, the lip you press, 
End in what all begins and ends in—yes;

       Think then you are today what yesterday 
You were—tomorrow you shall not be less.

Waste not your hour, nor in the vain pursuit 
Of this and that endeavor and dispute;

       Better be jocund with the fruitful grape 
Than sadden after none, or bitter, fruit.

You know, my friends, with what a brave carouse 
I made a second marriage in my house;
       Divorced old barren reason from my bed, 
And took the daughter of the vine to spouse.

And lately, by the tavern door agape,
Came shining through the dusk an angel shape

       Bearing a vessel on his shoulder; and 
He bid me taste of it; and 'twas—the grape!

I must abjure the balm of life, I must, 
Scared by some after-reckoning ta'en on trust,
       Or lured with hope of some diviner drink, 

To fill the cup—when crumbled into dust!

I sent my soul through the invisible, 
Some letter of that after-life to spell:
       And by and by my soul return'd to me, 
And answer'd "I myself am heav'n and hell."

And that inverted bowl they call the sky, 
Whereunder crawling coop'd we live and die,
       Lift not your hands to it for help—for it 
As impotently moves as you and I.

And much as wine has play'd the infidel, 
And robb'd me of my robe of honor—well, 

       I wonder often what the vintners buy 

One half so precious as the stuff they sell.

It is of such stuff that Mrs. deSanto's epodic target is made. The lover of lyrical beauty will find The Ru-baiyat and The Wine of Cana a bargain addition to his library, since in one little tome he can get the tentmaker's treasure trove of exquisite if testy tetrastichs and at the same time satisfy his curiosity as to how a sincere Moralist would answer them, verse by verse. Tamam Shud.