Letter: Kebabs: food of love

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Sir: The title of Angela Lambert's article 'A book, a glass of wine, but no thou' (10 August) alludes to Omar Kayyam's much- quoted Rubaiyat, and cites the celebrated line 'A flask of wine, a book of verse, and thou . . .'

Fitzgerald's admirable (though very free) translation of the Rubaiyat departed from the original in this line, as in many others. The Persian poet used the word 'kebab' (meat on the skewer) and not 'ketab' (book). It not only rhymes with 'sherab' ('wine' in Persian), but also, as a literary notion, these two words are inseparable in the Persian language.

Fitzgerald, himself, did not know Persian and had to rely on friends for the meaning of the words. Did he, perhaps, deliberately misinterpret in this case in order to give an English flavour to the verse? If so, a mistranslation has become one of the most frequently quoted lines in English poetry.

Yours sincerely,

LEILA ENAYAT-SERAJ

Geneva, Switzerland

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