"'Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days" - Omar Khayyám
Composed in the eleventh century, and translated into English in 1859, The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám explores the brevity of life and the uncertainty of what lies beyond. In the face of mortality, his collected verses make an impassioned plea to live life to the fullest.
He uses a vast quantity of staggering metaphors throughout the poem, but we especially loved this one, of life as a checkerboard of alternating nights and days, where we play our best game against fate, which inevitably captures every piece and puts it back in "the closet." The entire passage reads:
"Tis all a Chequer-board of nights and days
Where Destiny with men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
And one by one back in the closet lays."
We chose a chessboard for our subject, and for the light and dark spaces, used fragments of medieval pottery from Khayyam's home city of Nishapur to represent the sun and moon. One King has fallen, and another surveys the edge of the board where he will on some tomorrow be with "Yesterday's Sev'n Thousand Years."
All of which would be pretty dreary, were it not that it instills in Khayyam an urgency to live life to the fullest. Seize the day!