Poetry Form - The Rubáiyát

The Rubáiyát Verse Form
by Ariadne Unst

* History. * Form. * Examples. * Your Composition. * References.


The Rubáiyát is a Persian form of several quatrains. Its name derives from the Arabic plural of the word for "quatrain," Rubá'íyah. This, in turn, comes from the Arabic Rubá, meaning "four."


These are the attributes of the Rubáiyát:

  1. This Persian form of poetry is a series of rhymed quatrains. In each quatrain, all lines rhyme except the third, leading to this pattern:

         a        - 2nd line rhymes with the first.
         a        - 4th line rhymes with the first and second.   

  2. An "Interlocking Rubáiyát" is a Rubáiyát where the subsequent stanza rhymes its 1st, 2nd, and 4th lines with the sound at the end of the 3rd line in the stanza (Rubá'íyah) before it. In this form, the 3rd line of the final stanza is also rhymed with the 3 rhymed lines in the first stanza.

    This leads to a form like this example with three stanzas; note that the Rubáiyát" is allowed an unlimited number of stanzas, so extend the pattern as needed:

         a        - 2nd line rhymes with the first.
         a        - 4th line rhymes with the first and second.   
         b        - 1st line rhymes with the third in the previous stanza.
         b        - 2nd line rhymes with the first.
         b        - 4th line rhymes with the first and second.   
         c        - 1st line rhymes with the third in the previous stanza.
         c        - 2nd line rhymes with the first.
         a        - 3rd line rhymes with the first in the opening stanza.
         c        - 4th line rhymes with the first and second.   

  3. The lines are accentual-syllabic, usually tetrameters or pentameters.

Examples of Rubáiyát.

These are some of the favorite quatrains from the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam translated by Edward Fitzgerald:

  Wake! For the Sun who scattered into flight
  The Stars before him from the Field of Night,
  Drives Night along with them from Heaven and Strikes
  The Sultan's Turret with a Shaft of Light.
                               [Stanza 1]

  Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
  The Winter garment of Repentance fling;
  The Bird of Time has but a little way
  To fly - and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.
                  [Stanza 7, 1st edition]

  A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
  A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread -- and Thou
  Beside me singing in the Wilderness --
  Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!
                              [Stanza 12]

  The Moving Finger writes; and having writ,
  Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
  Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
  Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
                              [Stanza 71]

Some poems that have been written in English have the form of the Rubáiyát, or a close approximation. An example is Robert's Frost Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, which begins:

  Whose woods these are I think I know.  
  His house is in the village though;
  He will not see me stopping here
  To watch his woods fill up with snow.

Ezra Pound composed a Rubáiyát that he included on the last page of his Canto LXXX (p. 516 in the New Directions edition of The Cantos); it begins:

  Tudor indeed is gone and every rose,  
  Blood-red, blanch-white that in the sunset glows
  Cries:  "Blood,  Blood,  Blood!" against the gothic stone  
  Of England, as the Howard or Boleyn knows.

Your Composition.

Here are some steps to take in creating a Rubáiyát:

  1. Read Fitzgerald's Fitzgerald's Rubáiyát a dozen times.

  2. For your first Rubáiyát, begin with a short story that you know, perhaps a traditional tale from your family or your culture.

  3. List at least a dozen words that are key to the story.

  4. For each of these words, list half a dozen or more words that rhyme.

  5. Now construct one stanza using a set of these rhymed words. The pattern possibilities of the rhyming will give you ideas for lines that you would never have thought of otherwise. Continue till done. Be patient. You are weaving an interesting tapestry.

A Last Word.

Just because you start with the intention of writing a Rubáiyát, you do not have to keep your poem in that form if it does not work for you and your collaborators. Your attempt to write a formal poem may help you find words that you would not have found otherwise. And you may decide that you choose to end up with a poem in a different form.

Related Publications.

Support us - buy this beautiful edition of the 'Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam' Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: A Critical Edition (Victorian Literature and Culture Series),
Version by Edward Fitzgerald; editor Christopher Decker.

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