Happy Birthday Omar Khayyam

Although we know him best for his poetry it is worth remembering that Khayyam was a mathematician of some note, and an astronomer.  As a scientist he had views on religion that were not popular when he lived when he was labeled a skeptic and a sinner.

In truth he was probably more of an agnostic than an atheist and more of  a Sufi mystic than a sinner.  At heart, as he displays in the quatrain below, he believed that we make our own fate.  He rejects the notion, so beloved of venal faithful of all religions, that you can behave badly on earth and be somehow rewarded in the afterlife.

I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that After-life to spell:
And by and by my Soul return’d to me,
And answer’d “I Myself am Heav’n and Hell



Breaking Step


All across the world armies have standing orders for troops to break step when crossing bridges.

The reason for this comes down to an Irish Family, the Fitzgeralds.

The Fitzgerald family (Geraldine Dynasty) was one of the most powerful anglo-norman Irish families. It is the “F” in John F Kennedy. Over the years the family accumulated vast estates in Ireland, England and in various colonies.

One Scion of the family, a John Fitzgerald of Castle Irwell House in Manchester, at his own expense built the Broughton Suspension Bridge in 1826.

Some years later, in 1831, another Scion of the Fitzgerald family, Lieutenant Percy Slingsby Fitzgerald, led the troops who demolished the bridge. The 60th Rifle Corps were returning from exercises. As they marched they set up a resonance on the bridge. Finding this to be pleasant they struck up a marching song and pounded their feet even harder. The vibrations caused the bridge to fail. Forty soldiers were thrown into the water. Luckily it was only two feet deep on the day, and nobody died. But many were injured, six seriously.

The British Army issued the order to all troops to break step when crossing bridges. The French followed with the collapse of the Angers suspension bridge, when marching was considered to have contributed to the collapse.

The said Percy Slingsby Fitzgerald was brother to the poet, Edward FitzGerald, famous for his translation of the Rubayiat of Omar Khayyam. We will let Edward have the last word with a poem about the madness of spring.

Old Song; by Edward FitzGerald

TIS a dull sight
To see the year dying,
When winter winds
Set the yellow wood sighing:
Sighing, O sighing!

When such a time cometh
I do retire
Into an old room
Beside a bright fire:
O, pile a bright fire!

And there I sit
Reading old things,
Of knights and lorn damsels,
While the wind sings–
O, drearily sings!

I never look out
Nor attend to the blast;
For all to be seen
Is the leaves falling fast:
Falling, falling!

But close at the hearth,
Like a cricket, sit I,
Reading of summer
And chivalry–
Gallant chivalry!

Then with an old friend
I talk of our youth–
How ’twas gladsome, but often
Foolish, forsooth:
But gladsome, gladsome!

Or, to get merry,
We sing some old rhyme
That made the wood ring again
In summer time–
Sweet summer time!

Then go we smoking,
Silent and snug:
Naught passes between us,
Save a brown jug–

And sometimes a tear
Will rise in each eye,
Seeing the two old friends
So merrily–
So merrily!

And ere to bed
Go we, go we,
Down on the ashes
We kneel on the knee,
Praying together!

Thus, then, live I
Till, ‘mid all the gloom,
By Heaven! the bold sun
Is with me in the room
Shining, shining!

Then the clouds part,
Swallows soaring between;
The spring is alive,
And the meadows are green!

I jump up like mad,
Break the old pipe in twain,
And away to the meadows,
The meadows again!