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Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

A Critical Edition
Edward Fitzgerald. Edited by Christopher Decker

BUY Paper · 258 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813927251 · $25.00 · May 2008

Edward FitzGerald’s translation of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, perhaps the most frequently read Victorian poem and certainly one of the most popular poems in the English language, poses formidable challenges to an editor. FitzGerald compulsively revised his work, alternately swayed by friends’ advice, importuned by his publisher’s commercial interests, and encouraged by public acclaim. In consequence, the editor is faced with four published editions as well as manuscript and proof versions of the poem. Christopher Decker’s critical edition of the Rubáiyát is the first to publish all extant states of the poem and to unearth a full record of its complicated textual evolution.

Decker supplies a rich interpretive context for the Rubáiyát that reveals how its composition was so often a collaborative enterprise. His view of poetic creativity comprehends recent theories of the sociology of texts and challenges the common assumption that the desired product of a critical edition is a single unified text of a literary work. He illuminates the complex process of revision by providing a textual appendix in which a comparative printing lays down each stratum of FitzGerald’s composition. Biographical and textual introductions, making imaginative use of FitzGerald’s correspondence, trace the history of the poem and pay special attention to FitzGerald’s motives for revising, for creating a variously beautiful work in verse.

This definitive edition of the Rubáiyát will be of special interest to scholars and students of Victorian poetry, publishing history, verse translation, literary imitation, and revision. And readers for whom the poem is an old acquaintance will here find fresh ways to appreciate its strengths and finesse.


"Four editions of the Rubáiyát were published during FitzGerald’s lifetime (1809–83). This is the first critical edition to be prepared in accordance with principles of modern textual criticism.... A well-produced book that makes an important contribution.


A model of contemporary textual scholarship.

Nineteenth-Century Literature

Christopher Decker has come forward with a splendid critical edition of the poem, containing FitzGerald’s introductory essay and notes to each version. It prints all four printed versions along with manuscript variants and, most usefully indeed, appends a comparative version in which each quatrain appears in a column with its variants keyed to their order of placement in the four editions as well as revised copy- and proof-texts for that of 1872.

John Hollander · Yale Review

About the Author(s): 

Christopher Decker is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He has also published articles on allusion, literary influence, the history of reading, and appropriations of Shakespeare in Victorian poetry and culture.

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