Page:Quatrains of Omar Khayyam (tr. Whinfield, 1883).djvu/46

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INTRODUCTION.

line of the rhyme of the first and second. Mr. Swinburne's modification of this metre, in which the rhyme is carried on from one quatrain to the next, is not applicable to poems like Omar's, all of which are isolated in sense from the context. Alexandrines would of course correspond, more nearly than decasyllabics, with Rubá'í lines in number of syllables, and they have been extensively used by Bodenstedt and other German translators of Rubá'ís, but, whatever may be the case in German, they are apt to read very heavily in English, even when constructed by skilful verse-makers, and an inferior workman can hardly hope to manage them with anything like success. The shorter length of the decasyllable line is not altogether a disadvantage to the translator. Owing to the large number of monosyllables in English, it is generally adequate to hold the contents of a Persian line a syllable or two longer; and a line erring, if at all, on the side of brevity, has at any rate the advantage of obliging the translator to eschew modern diffuseness, and of making him try to copy the "classical parsimony," the archaic terseness and condensation of the original.

The poet Cowper has a remark on translation from Latin which is eminently true also of translation from Persian. He says, "That is epigrammatic and witty in Latin which would be perfectly insipid in English. .... If a Latin poem is neat, elegant and musical, it is enough, but English readers are not so easily satisfied." Much of Omar's matter, when literally translated, seems very trite and commonplace, many of the "conceits," of which he is so fond, very frigid, and even his peculiar