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Decker, Christopher

Edward Fitzgerald and Other Men's Flowers: Allusion in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Christopher Decker.
Literary Imagination 6 (2004) 2, pp. 213-239.

One of the most arresting images called to mind in Edward FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám is that of the corpus redivivum, the buried corpse that turns to flowers gently in the grave. The body’s separate members suffer a metamorphosis into other objects that recompose and recollect their bygone looks. Khayyám reflects: I sometimes think that never blows so red The Rose as where some buried Cæsar bled; That every Hyacinth the Garden wears Dropt in its Lap from some once lovely Head. (XVIII)1 Such flowers are an apt metaphor for poetic allusion, since allusion involves the like transformation of a verbal corpus into flowers of new verse. As a poem in which scattered allusions turn outward their local colors, the Rubáiyát can be read in part as an anthology of other men’s flowers. Yet if this trope comprehends FitzGerald’s many acts of allusion in the Rubáiyát, it does not use its strength tyrannously to trump other ways of conceiving literary influence. Even within a single poem more than one kind of
allusive word-game can be played.