In this lesson, we introduce one of the greats of Persian Sufi poetry, Omar Khayyam. Khayyam was a 12th century poet and a true renaissance man- in addition to being one of the most well known Iranian poets, he was also a famed mathematician and astronomer. This shouldn't be surprising, however, as these disciplines greatly informed one another.
This poem, which we are calling khosh bāsh, or 'be glad', is one of my favorites, and something I consider a sort of mantra in life. In it, he reminds us that life is fleeting, that we all will eventually die, and therefore, now that we are here, we should be glad.
how are you?
Note: In Persian, as in many other languages, there is a formal and an informal way of speaking. We will be covering this in more detail in later lessons. For now, however, chetor-ee is the informal way of asking someone how they are, so it should only be used with people that you are familiar with. hālé shomā chetor-é is the formal expression for ‘how are you.’
Spelling note: In written Persian, words are not capitalized. For this reason, we do not capitalize Persian words written in phonetic English in the guides.
Pronunciation tip: kh is one of two unique sounds in the Persian language that is not used in the English language. It should be repeated daily until mastered, as it is essential to successfully speak Persian. Listen to the podcast for more information on how to make the sound.
|chetor-ee||how are you?|
|khayli khoobam||I’m very well|
|khoob neestam||I’m not well|
|bad neestam||I’m not bad|
|chetor-een?||how are you? (formal)|
|hālé shomā chetor-é?||how are you? (formal)|
|hālet chetor-é?||how are you? (informal)|
|khoob-ee?||are you well? (informal)|
|chetor peesh meeré?||how’s it going?|
|ché khabar?||what’s the news? (what’s up?)|
Leyla: hello and welcome to the fourth poem in our poetry series. Salam fared
Fared: salam leyla jan
Leyla: so today we are breaking from- our poems have been getting progressively heavier and heavier, and we thought we’d break from that a little bit and come to a short and sweet poem. Very short, very sweet, very easy to memorize, and that is the poem by Khayyam.
Fared: Omar Khayyam, an 11th century Persian mathmetician and poem, an astronomer who was born in the city of Neishabur, which is in the northeastern part of Iran. And what is Neishabur also known for in addition to Omar Khayyam is pottery.
Leyla: And Khayyam wrote a very specific type of poem called the
Fared: Rubayat. And we’ve done so many different styles now from modern from Forough to the Masnavi with Rumi the 12th century. And here we have a simpler version of poetry, the rubayat, which is basically a four part quatrain. And a quatrain here as you know there are different styles of poetry, you have the ghazal, the rubayat, the four quatrant is rhythmic, it’s simple, it has a message, and you see Khayyam’s poetry expressed through the rubayat.
Leyla: Right, and Khayyam was very, like you said, he was a carpe diem type of person, living in the moment and this poem is one of my absolute favorites. It was one that my grandfather wrote out and had framed for all of us, he loved this poem, he had me memorize it, and we would always recite it together, so it plays a very special place in my heart. For my wedding, actually, I had it written out on all the tables as a theme for life.
Fared: I was honored to have met your grandfather. He was like a character out of a book when I met him, he had a coat and a hat. And Leyla has been reciting this one poem for me for the past 20 years, and it’s a privilege to actually dive into these four lines. Because even though it’s just four lines, I’m sure we can talk about it for the next 30 minutes.
Leyla: Right, and the language of this poem is, remember, a little more classical, so it’s not necessarily the way we would talk today like Forough Farrokhzad’s poems or Sohrab Sepehri’s poems would be, so there’s a little more to talk about with the language, but, without much further ado, let’s have Fared read us the poem.
Yes, he begins the poem with his own name.
Leyla: By addressing himself
Fared: Khayyam, agar ze bade mastee, khosh bash
Ba mah rokhee agar neshastee, khosh bash
Chon aghebateh kareh jahan neestee hast
Engar keh neestee, cho hastee, khosh bash
Fared: And notice there was some intonation that I’m putting behind, because I’m making it very conversational. Because it’s a conversation with himself. Obviously this can be read in many ways, but let’s go back to the first line, Khayyam, agar ze bade mastee,
Leyla: khosh bash. And first let’s say what khosh bash because obviously this gets repeated a lot. Khosh means happy, but I almost hesitate to translate it as happy because it’s not quite happy, it’s something like glad or in a good spot, or
Fared: chill, blissful
Leyla: Yes, cheerful
Fared: gay, merry, pleasing, cheerful, sweet
Leyla: Be glad, I like be glad
Fared: Be glad, or chill out. Khayyam- he’s saying hey dude, he’s talking to himself. ‘Agar ze bade mastee’, and what is agar- If. Agar ze, of, agar ze bade, if of the cup, agar ze bade mastee, if you are drunk of the cup, if your cup has brought you intoxication, if you have become drunk. Khayyam, agar ze bade mastee
Leyla: khosh bash
Fared: be happy
Leyla: have fun
Fared: So if you’re drunk off a cup of wine, be happy. Don’t let the nervousness of the world get to you- chill out. You’re having a glass of wine- Khayyam, agar ze bade mastee, khosh bash. And then he goes on to the second line,
Leyla: ba mah rokhee agar neshastee, khosh bash, which mah rokh is a moon faced person. Which, in Iranian culture, we’ve talked about this before, the image of this moon faced woman, that’s the most beautiful archetype, is a woman with the face of the moon, so like a round face with joined eyebrows. So if you’re sitting next to a moon faced girl, be happy
Fared: Ba mah rokhee agar neshastee, khosh bash. And mah rokh- when Persian want to say to each other ‘you are so perfect, you are so beautiful’, we say ‘you have become so much like the moon’. And probably if you tell a non Persian that they look like they moon, they would say ‘Are you calling me fat?’
Leyla: Right, but in Persian culture, it’s quite a compliment
Fared: It’s a compliment. So here Khayyam in the second line- in the first line he’s saying Khayyam, if you’re having a glass of wine, chill out and enjoy it, and in the second line he’s saying ‘and if you’re sitting next to a babe, enjoy it!’ You know, if you’re sitting next to someone beautiful, if you’re enjoying your glass of wine with your beautiful moon faced girl, you’re beloved- and here we should talk about the fact that some people will say, well, this is not really about the mah rokhee keh neshaste- this is not about the moon faced lover, this is about god.
Leyla: Right, or getting drunk off of wine, is about being intoxicated about being intoxicated off God
Fared: Right, it’s about repeating the same mantra 90 times.
Fared: Or it’s because you’re actually drinking some Shiraz, which is probably from the 10th century- I wonder what that would taste like now. Chon aghebateh kareh jahan neestee hast. And mind you I’ve been hearing this poem from Leyla for 20 years
Leyla: Haha, yes, so aghebat is the conclusion. Kareh jahan is the work of the world. So the conclusion of the world. So because the conclusion of this world is neestee- neestee is to not be. Non existence.
Fared: Because in the end, we’ll cease to be. Engar keh neestee- this is the fourth line by the way. Choh hastee, khosh bash. And I love this paradox of the duality of existence and non existence, and you see that in Sufi poetry, you see it all over the Masnavi, to be and not be
Leyla: Right, neestee va hastee, the state of being and not being. Neestee is the state of not being, hastee is the state of being.
Leyla: hast is to be
Fared: hast is to be and neest is to not be
Chon aghebateh kareh jahan neestee hast- because in the end this universe goes to nothing- because you’re going to die essentially. So the first two lines, if you’re having a glass of wine, enjoy it, if you’re sitting next to a pretty girl, enjoy it, because essentially you’re going to die one day, since you’re actually not dead- be happy, chill out.
Leyla: That’s right, so that last line, it’s saying it’s as if you’re already not there.
Fared: So if you’re having a panic attack, if you’re thinking what do I do, we have president trump as our president, I would say this is the type of poem you would read to cease the moment, carpe diem.
Leyla: And a lot of people go through near death experiences in order to have these feelings, in order to have this feeling. Like, all of a sudden, they go through these near death experiences and they realize the line between alive and dead is just a very thin line, so that makes them appreciate life already. So this poem is saying that instead of the near death experience, just assume that you’re already gone, and then realize, well, actually I’m here. Being is so much better than not being, that I should be glad. And I feel like it’s also talking about very simple pleasures. He’s not saying if you’re vacationing in Europe be glad, he’s saying, if you’re even sitting in the presence of a beautiful person, be glad. These are the things that give life meaning, you know? Is getting drunk off wine, good food, good friends, surrounding yourself with beautiful things- that’s what gives life meaning. So take in these simple pleasures, and be glad. And that’s all it is, it’s very simple, very beautiful.
Fared: Then why is everyone stressing out all the time?
Leyla: Because they need more Khayyam!
Fared: They need more Khayyam and they need more poetry in their lives, whether it be English poetry, or Persian poetry.
Leyla: And my grandfather always said, these poems are an instruction for living. That’s why he wrote them out for us in these books, because he said we don’t need to look to anything else, we have these instructions for living, and this is what we have to follow- and I thought this poem was a beautiful one.
Fared: It is, and I’ve known it through Leyla for a long time, and one thing that’s interesting about carpe diem and Khayyam is that we’ve been having poetry sit downs for roughly two decades now, which is not a small amount of time, which makes me feel in my 30s, but Khayyam is one of those poets that is not only celebrated among Iranians, but was also translated by Fitzgerald way way back, I almost want to say the 17th or 18th century I believe he translated it, but I know that Khayyam was imported by the west as carpe diem, and I think it was easily digestable because of the simplicity of its quatrains and because its message was not going to shy anyone away or cause any controversy because who can really go up against these simple statements.
Leyla: But you know, these simple statements, like I remember the Dalai Lama came and talked when we were in school, did you go to that?
Fared: I did
Leyla: Right, and remember at the time he said such simple things like ‘Love is important’ and this and that and afterwards I felt so underwhelmed, but now years later, those words have just stayed with me and infiltrated me, just simple things like ‘be glad- what are you doing worrying’. And I think it’s these simple mantras that make life worth living, like be glad
Fared: And I love you brought Dalai Lama up, because you know Buddhism has become a way of living for me, I’ve been going to a Buddhist monastery in New Mexico, and my teacher Hosan, she is a Buddhist of the Japanese tradition, and really beautiful meditation sessions with her when we do shoot off to the ether and when I speak to her, she speaks to me like Khayyam, that theres nothing but beautiful and celebration of the moment.
Leyla: Well, I think that was a short sweet beautiful poem, and this is one that I really hope the listeners will send in, everyone should memorize this, and recite it when you’re feeling down.
Fared: And please have a glass of wine with a moon faced friend sitting right next to you, curate the same scene that Khayyam was at, and have a conversation with yourself. And not only for the video that you’re sending to us, but do it for yourself.
Leyla: I love that
Fared: Do it for yourself first, recite these things for yourself, because this is a voice from the 12th century coming back and telling us to chill out.
Leyla: And Khayyam lived until he was 82 years old, but now he’s gone, and writing endures through the centuries. And listeners, go to our website, we have a brand new poetry page that we’re very excited about. You can read about the poets that we’ve been discussing, you can go through the poets, and we will fill it out with information on the poets we’ve been covering. Thanks Fared for being with us, and bye.