A correspondent of mine recently described how his father learnt the whole poem, stanza by stanza, as a prisoner in a Japanese camp; another’s father did the same in a Rangoon outpost. Fitz Gerald, far from being recognised as a leading poet, has been disregarded by the literary establishment. Does its origin (in translation) invalidate it as an independent work?Is The Rubaiyat affected by the way poetry is taught nowadays, with a ban on learning anything by heart? Laurence Housman saw the dangers of popular acclaim and worried that The Rubaiyat might be “acceptable to all but scholars and pedants”.His 1993 novel, A Lesson Before Dying, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.Gaines has been a Mac Arthur Foundation fellow, awarded the National Humanities Medal, and inducted into the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) as a Chevalier.
Four of his works have been made into television movies.
Let no one assume that the poetry of The Rubaiyat is of slender value and achievement. The stanza alone, called rubai in the original Persian, is an astonishing innovation in English poetry.
Who would have believed that the most common of all our poetic forms could have been reinvented as late as the mid-19th century?
The academic world tends to be suspicious of anything that is widely enjoyed, which may be why there is no single monograph devoted to this poet.
A recent study of English poetry ran to nearly 1,000 pages and 1,000 poets without even mentioning The Rubaiyat.