The other day I noticed this picture displayed at my mother-in-law’s house and was intrigued. It was a gift from her Iranian friends.
The translation of the text was pasted on the back of the picture goes like this:
Yesterday's gone, forget and never mention't.
Tomorrow's not here, waste not your time on't.
That which is not come, that which is yet to come,
forget them all.
Be happy now and waste not your life.
Omar Khayyam Nishapuri (1048-1131)
No matter how many times we hear about the power of now there can never be too many reminders. While it is by no means a new concept (check out the dates above), it is certainly extremely relevant in our overly hedonistic way of life. No wonder we are addicted to the concept. We read books, listen to the experts and gurus telling us how to live in the now, we take webinars and courses in mindfulness. And not to overgeneralize, we do everything , except practice it.
The poem not only made me think about how much I am not living in the present, but it also got me to look up Omar Khayyam Nishapuri. And I am glad I did.
Omar Khayyam, was a Persian polymath, scientist, poet, philosopher, has only been known to the Western world since the 19th century.
While I didn’t find much on him on the Internet except for repeated biographical entries (seemingly from the same source) I found a wonderful long-form text from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Archive.
I took and edited the snippets below from that text.
Impermanence and the Meaning of Life
Omar Khayyam believed that the art of living in the present is the only wisdom there is.
Anything else (like living for the hereafter) is more suitable for the masses.
In another poem he says:
Today is thine to spend, but not to-morrow,
Counting on morrow breedeth naught but sorrow;
Oh! Squander not this breath that heaven hath lent thee,
Nor make too sure another breath to borrow
Temporality of Human Existence
Kayyam observed the impermanence of human existence and the suffering in what seems to be a senseless existence. The observation is contrary to that of the Islamic view presented in the Quran: “I (Allah) have not created the celestial bodies and the earth in vain.” (Quran, 38:27 )
Khayyam seems to have been torn between his faith and his worldly observations resulting in Khayyam the poet failing to see a deep meaning in human existence. In contrast, Khayyam the philosopher remained loyal to the Islamic tradition and a theocentric world view.
In the following poem Khayyam alludes to the temporality of life and its senselessness:
I saw the potter in the market yesterday
Pounding and pounding upon a piece of clay
“Behold,” said the clay to the potter
Treat me gently for once like you,
now I am clay.
Yesterday Is Gone, Tomorrow Is Not Here
While I didn’t mean for this brief reflection to have a pessimistic undertone, I am still greatly inspired by these poems.
Because no matter what we may believe, the impermanence of life and the present moment is what we all know for sure.
And to that, here we go again. (I may print this and stick it to my fridge!)
Aminrazavi, Mehdi and Glen Van Brummelen, “Umar Khayyam”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2017/entries/umar-khayyam/.
This was wonderful. Thank you for sharing these poems, and putting your own interpretation on them
Much appreciated! I enjoyed going through the posts on your site, too.