This from The Rubaiyat Omar Khayyam (verses LXXI – LXXIII):
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.
And that inverted Bowl they call the Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’d we live and die,
Lift not your hands to It for help–for It
As impotently moves as you or I.
With Earth’s first Clay They did the Last Man knead,
And there of the Last Harvest sow’d the Seed:
And the first Morning of Creation wrote
What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.
Khayyam was born in Nishappur Iran, in 1048, word has it to a family of tent-makers (khayyami means tent-maker in Arabic).
He was a famed astronomer and mathematician during his own lifetime: calculated the solar year (correct to six decimal places) which laid the foundation for the modern Iranian calendar; laid out the principles of Algebra that eventually made their way to Europe (with a particular emphasis on cubic equations and non-Euclidean Geometry); and was the first to demonstrate that, rather than the universe moving around the earth, the earth actually rotates on its own axis.
Rumor has it that he also postulated a heliocentric theory “well before Copernicus,” (and in the lines of the Rubiyat, no less), though that’s been disputed more recently.
On top of all of those accomplishments, he managed to stack a thousand or so four-line verses like the ones above. His poetry didn’t get much attention until eight centuries after his death, when a British fellow translated them for the western world and in so doing also managed to re-introduced them to the east.
Anyway, Khayyam was a genius.
That first, “the moving finger writes” verse has been stuck in my head because I am swimming in revisions and it’s ringing true. I looked up the verses that came after it and found them equally, eerily pertinent. Khayyam wrote each of his four-liners as a separate poem, and it’s not uncommon to find them strewn about the internet in different orders. But the above sequence is the correct one; it’s how they are ordered in the book. Which I like, because I think these three together offer a lesson about the writing life:
About the illusion of time and the false comfort that delete buttons and second drafts provide. About the limits of even the wisest editors and most patient friends to help you claim the thing you are grasping at. And ultimately about the irrevocability of your own voice.
So, you know, onward.