The Rubaiyat is one of the most popular poems in the world, due no doubt to its soaring imagery, as illustrated by the renowned first quatrain:
Awake! to Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan's Turret in a Noose of Light.
Edward FitzGerald’s first translation was published in 1859 and subsequent editions have been illustrated perhaps more than any other book. Starting with the Elihu Vedder edition of 1884, the turning of the 20th century was a heyday for lavish editions illustrated by the most accomplished book illustrators of the time. Only the best possible papers were used and illustrated plates were often printed separately and 'tipped in' or loosely pasted onto the page. By their nature, print runs were often small and the books expensive. Books such as these and, particularly, the Balfour edition of the Rubaiyat, are extremely scarce. Of those readers who love the poem as I do, few will have the chance to see a copy of Balfour’s edition and even less will ever read it.
The aim of this project, and subsequent projects to follow, is to redress the balance somewhat by bringing beautifully illustrated limited edition books to a wider audience. Digital editions give us the chance to reproduce colour; enhance illustrations, emulate typestyle and layout exactly as in the original limited print edition.
This eBook is a reproduction of the Balfour edition of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam published by Constable in London in 1920. The Balfour Rubaiyat is based on the the first version of FitzGerald’s translation (his translation was subsequently revised 4 times). The eBook also includes Balfour’s full suite of 38 stunning Art Deco illustrations. Sometimes decadent and risqué, the style is reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley. The font used throughout this eBook is Big Caslon, an authentic digital revision of the Caslon letterpress typeface used in the first printing. Biographical notes concerning Omar Khayyam, FitzGerald and Ronald Balfour are included as is the text for all five editions of FitzGerald’s translation.
Balfour's edition is thought to be one of the most beautiful of the many editions of the poem ever to have been published. Like many literary masterpieces, the Rubaiyat works on a number of levels and is always open to interpretation. Balfour’s unique Art Deco take on the these classic lyrical verses truly managed to capture the zeitgeist of the ‘roaring twenties’ and represent a work of Art in their own right.