[11] Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough

by Omar Khayyam

English version by Edward FitzGerald
Original Language Persian/Farsi

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.

-- from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, by Omar Khayyam / Translated by Edward FitzGerald

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This is the classic verse most people think of when you mention The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. FitzGerald's popular alternate rendition still hovers in the air: "A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and Thou..."

These lines can be read on so many different levels. At first glance, Khayyam seems to be giving us a picture of a garden dalliance -- bread, wine, love poetry, and an enticing, unnamed "Thou." A lovers' tryst in the wilderness.

But Khayyam's quatrains should never be taken at face value. In his day, Khayyam was best known as an astronomer and mathematician. But he was also a Sufi, so tradition says. And the Sufi poets, we know, loved to turn the meanings of things inside-out.

Rereading these lines through the Sufi lens, these seemingly earthy images are transformed into the most sublime truths.

Khayyam's mysterious beloved is can be understood as God. This tryst becomes the sacred meeting of soul with the Eternal.

And what about the bread and wine, the book and the wilderness?

Bread is, in many cultures, the fundamental food, the symbol of all food. And food is communion. Think of it this way: The food we eat is the most tangible exchange we make with our environment. Our food is what most immediately connects us with the reality we inhabit. When you take in food, you temporarily negate the illusion of separation between your body and the rest of existence. Food is a breach of the boundary where we normally perceive separation to begin.

So it is quite literally true: food is communion. Eating is an affirmation of interconnection and unity with our environment. What we take in becomes, in a truly visceral way, part of us. And we increasingly become composed of it. Remember the common saying, You are what you eat.

And the wine is the blissful drink of selflessness and divine ecstasy. The book of verse could be a reference to the Quran or, more broadly, any sacred writings -- or perhaps the profound recognition of how all of creation is written with subtle, poetic meaning.

And the wilderness? Our meeting place? Well, that is the heart, the space of awareness at one's core. It is "wild" because it is undefined by concepts and mental labels. The wilderness of the heart is expansive, with reaching tendrils that climb over stone walls until everything is lost in its rich verdure.

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough...

Let's join with Khayyam and sing of our secret love affair with the Divine. Eating our fill of the bread of union, drinking the wine of bliss, we come into the presence the Beloved.

Recommended Books: Omar Khayyam

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Explained The Sufism of the Rubaiyat or the Secret of the Great Paradox Wine of the Mystic: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyan: A Spiritual Interpretation The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (Illustrated Edition)
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11] Here with a