The “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” by Edward FitzGerald is — to borrow Winston Churchill’s wonderful phrase — “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

A poem by an eccentric Victorian Gentleman that consists of his translation of some of the hundreds of poems that are believed to be the work of an ancient Persian mathematician named Omar Khayyam.

Edward FitzGerald had never been to Persia — the furthest east he ever travelled was Paris — but something in his verses touched something deep in the psyche of English-speaking people all around the world.

As for Omar Khayyam, he was extremely famous in his time, so famous that contemporaries referred to him as “Philosopher of the World”, and “Sage of the Universe”, but there’s no conclusive evidence that he ever wrote poetry.

“A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

If you ask people if they know this poem by Edward FitzGerald you’ll get at least three different answers. The first group will be almost indignant that you should ask, as though you’re somehow insulting their education. “Why of course!” they’ll say. “Of course, we know it! Who doesn’t?” The second group will tell you that, yes, they’ve read it, or read bits of it, maybe even memorized a verse or two, but that they really don’t know much about it. And a third group will say — “Never heard of it.”

My presentation tells the fascinating story of how the poem came to be written; and what it went on to become — the most widely-published poem in the English language. I then perform the poem in the character of the old Persian sage, speaking to his young lover, in a secluded place, on the first day of Spring, almost a thousand years ago.

The whole thing takes about an hour. I’d love to bring it to a venue near you.